Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, partners bust welfare myths
MDHHS reveals statistics that show economic pain is not limited to poor, urban areas

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

May 18, 2010

SAGINAW - Michigan's troubling economic climate has caused an unprecedented number of families to seek help paying their bills or putting food on their tables. However, that hardship is not just happening to families in poor, urban areas. The economic pain is being felt everywhere, including in the suburbs or wealthier areas of the state. This is just one of the many myths that are tarnishing the purpose of the welfare system, which is why the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is continuing its statewide campaign to bust those myths with facts, Director Ismael Ahmed said today. 

"Those myths have caused a stigma that may prevent some people who truly need help, especially families with young children and the elderly, to come forward," Ahmed said at the event. "We want to put an end to that because the safety net helps families make ends meet and get back on their feet." 

MDHHS representatives and partners dispelled myths at a Saginaw event today as part of the department's "Welfare 101: busting myths about welfare" campaign. The campaign was launched April 1 in an effort to reduce 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 directly and to create jobs statewide. 

As many as 180,000 households that currently receive food assistance saw an increased benefit in March 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. 

"Our fellow Michiganders who receive some sort of state and federal assistance are integral contributors to both urban and rural local economies," said Lillie L. Williams, executive director of the Saginaw County Community Action Committee, Inc., and a member of the Governor's Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity. 

"They, like all of us in this great state, consume the goods and services necessary to support our families. We all need to look deeper when we hear characterizations and recognize that we are connected economically and socially as Michigan residents." 

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. 

Among the myths busted during today's event: 

Myth: Welfare recipients only live in poor, urban areas, not the suburbs or wealthier areas of the state. 

Fact:  Michigan residents are struggling to put food on their tables and pay their bills in communities statewide. MDHHS has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of families seeking temporary assistance, including in Michigan's more-affluent suburban communities. 

For example, Birch Run and Flushing each saw more than a 40 percent increase in the number of people coming to the MDHHS for food assistance. Also, the communities saw more than 30 percent increases in Medicaid rolls. 

Foreclosures are also impacting counties throughout Michigan. Saginaw County saw a nearly 52 percent increase in home foreclosures from 2005 to 2009, while Genesee saw a 62 percent increase. The state increase was 66.7 percent. 

"The myth that the poorer, urban communities are the only ones impacted by the home foreclosures is completely false," said Randy Barst, director of the Saginaw County MDHHS. "The state's economic troubles are being felt everywhere." 

The fact is more Michigan residents are struggling today than ever before, said Barbara Anders, MDHHS' financial and quality service deputy director. 

"Today, the need is great but at least MDHHS' welfare programs can ease the burden on a temporary basis," Anders said. "It is more important than ever before to do your part to educate the skeptics. Be vigilant and make sure you don't fall into this trap yourself." 

Other partners in attendance included: Saginaw County Community Action Committee, Inc.; SVRS Industries, Inc.; Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works!; Saginaw County MDHHS Board; Saginaw County Youth Protection Council; United Way of Saginaw; Center for Civil Justice; Greater Coleman Temple COGIC; Early Childhood & Parenting Services Saginaw ISD; Saginaw Community Foundation; Child Abuse & Neglect Council of Saginaw; Saginaw County Commission on Aging; Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office; Saginaw Valley Rehabilitation Center; Saginaw County Commissioner Judy Lincoln; Envicare Consulting, Inc.; First Ward Community Center; Ames United Methodist Church; Family Treatment Court; Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority; and St. Mary's of Michigan. 

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 http://www.facebook.com/MichiganDHS.