Last week, Michigan’s Children along with the University of Michigan School of Social Work (UM-SSW) convened a gathering of social service and outreach agencies to gain a better understanding of the recent policy changes to the Family Independence Program – the state’s cash assistance program – and how social service providers can better outreach to families getting cut off cash assistance. Friends of Michigan’s Children including the Center for Civil Justice, United Way, Alternatives for Girls, Southwest Solutions, and Starfish Family Services were in attendance at the extremely sobering meeting. The bottom line – too many families in Southeast Michigan, particularly families of color, are losing their cash assistance as many begin to prepare for the cold holiday season.
The unclear and nontransparent process of notifying families of the changes to their cash assistance has left many families confused as to the appeal process; what services they can and cannot receive; and how to keep their children safe, fed and warm during these winter months. And the loss of cash assistance is on top of numerous other cuts to benefits that assist low-income families including child care assistance, clothing assistance for children, and asset testing for food assistance benefits. Luckily for Michigan, great social service agencies throughout our state are doing everything they can to help families during this difficult time. But will this be enough?
Last week’s convening walked service providers through the MI-BRIDGES web portal where families can change their monthly income and check their DHS benefits as well as the United Way’s 2-1-1 website where individuals can search for other non-DHS resources available to families.
For Michigan’s Children, last week’s meeting was the first step among many steps in our efforts to build a case to strengthen public policies for Michigan’s low-income families. Though policy change can be a slow and drawn-out process, convening front line workers and agencies, collaborating with partners and sharing information is critical to informing policymakers on the best policy solutions to support low-income families and children.