Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, partners take on welfare myths. Launch statewide Welfare 101: Busting myths about welfare campaign

Contact: Edward Woods III, Office of Communications director 517-373-7394

April 1, 2010

Michigan's troubling economic climate has caused an unprecedented number of families to seek help paying their bills or putting food on their tables. But with that staggering increase in demand for services come myths that are tarnishing the purpose of the welfare system. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services launched a statewide campaign to bust those myths with facts, Director Ismael Ahmed announced today.

"I want to caution Michigan residents from believing the myths they hear about welfare and those who ask for help," said Ahmed, who was accompanied by representatives from the Michigan Farmers Market Association and more than 15 partner agencies and organizations. "Today, it is more likely than ever before that your relative, friend or neighbor collects one or more welfare benefits because of unemployment or home foreclosure.

"We are taking a stand to educate people on what welfare really does for Michigan's vulnerable children, adults and families. And this is not April Fools."

The "Welfare 101: busting myths about welfare" campaign is an effort to reduce the widespread negative perceptions and show how valuable the welfare system is for so many Michigan residents, as well as to the state's economy.

For example, Michigan successfully pursued and secured more than $500 million in additional funds in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 to help residents and create jobs statewide.

Just last month, as many as 180,000 households that currently receive food assistance saw an increased benefit of about $88 per month on average. In fact, Michigan is one of only five states that have been able to change how we calculate benefits, resulting in more food assistance for thousands of people.

Just this one program could put an estimated $16 million in additional direct food dollars into Michigan communities each month and nearly $200 million into communities each year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that every $5 of food benefits generates about $9.20 in economic activity in communities. The additional direct food benefits put into communities could generate an estimated $360 million in annual economic activity, including through increased demand for goods and services.

In fiscal year 2009, more than 2.5 million people in Michigan - or more than a quarter of the state's population - received one of five welfare programs. That includes cash, food, medical, state disability or child development and care assistance. Thousands more used benefits or services related to energy assistance, adult and child abuse or neglect, foster care or adoption, home help services or other assistance.

Additionally, the number of farmers markets accepting Bridge Cards grew to 30 in 2009, up from just three markets in 2006, said Dru Montri, who manages the Michigan Farmers Market Association. The amount of benefits redeemed also grew, from about $15,000 in 2007 to nearly $300,000 this past year. Welfare recipients can use the Bridge card to access some of their benefits; it works just like a debit card.

"We know that these food assistance programs put additional direct food dollars into Michigan's farmers markets and communities each year," Montri said. "We are happy to join the Michigan Department of Human Services in a campaign to bust myths about welfare."

Among the myths busted:

Myth:    Welfare recipients are a drain on the system.

Fact:     The average family receiving assistance is a single parent with two children, who receive help for typically less than two years. The parent probably works part-time earning minimum wage. The family may live on $700 to $800 a month between part-time income and benefits. This places the family at about 50 percent of the federal poverty income guideline for a family of three of about $1,474 a month.

Myth:    Welfare is full of fraud and no one's doing anything about it.

Fact:     Clients who receive food assistance benefits are restricted to purchasing food and related products. The federal Government Accountability Office estimates that for every $1 in food stamps, about 1 cent is obtained fraudulently. Families with children receiving cash under the Family Independence Program (FIP) can spend the benefits as they choose. In fiscal year 2009, the MDHHS' Office of Inspector General expanded the department's fraud prevention efforts. During that year, the office completed 5,214 recipient fraud investigations, in which agents identified fraud of $18.6 million and recouped $4.90 for ever $1 spent investigating fraud. The office was recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as first in the Midwest region for new fraud claims established, fraud claims recouped, amount of fraud determined and total disqualifications.

"It appears the skeptics are more concerned about the 1 cent than the 99 cents spent to feed Michigan's vulnerable citizens and stimulate Michigan's economy. That's why it's so important to bust these myths because they create a stigma that may prevent some people who truly need our help, like families with children and the elderly, to come forward," said Barbara Anders, MDHHS' financial and quality service deputy director. "Take it upon yourselves to educate others about welfare."

Other partners in attendance: Governor's Commission on Community Action and Economic Development; Michigan Food Policy Council; Michigan State Housing Development Authority; Capital Area United Way; Michigan League for Human Services; Lansing Capital Area Salvation Army; Loaves and Fishes; City of Lansing; Cristo Rey Community Center; Capital Area Michigan Works; Haven House; Voices for Action; Governor's Office of Community and Faith Based Initiatives; Michigan Office of Services to the Aging; Clergy Forum of Lansing; I AM Ministries; Lansing Community College; Michigan Community College Association; and the Michigan Community Action Agency Association.

For more information about Welfare 101: Busting myths about welfare, please visit www.michigan.gov/welfare101. Follow MDHHS on Twitter @MichiganDHS or become a fan at www.facebook.com/MichiganDHS.