LANSING , MI – Could this mean the end of welfare as we know it?
A bill has passed in the Michigan Senate that would require those receiving public assistance to do some â€œvolunteerâ€ work. Another bill, which passed the House Commerce Committee, requires drug testing, revoking benefits for welfare recipients who refuse the test or who test positive.
â€œWhat [the legislation] does, it says, in order for your to receive your cash assistance, your welfare check, you must provide some kind of community service to the community,â€ said the volunteer work billâ€™s sponsor, State Senator Joe Hune, who representsÂ Livingston and Shiawasse counties in Mid-Michigan.
Hune says he was inspired by a constituent who began to volunteer while on welfare â€” and that community service evolved into full employment.
â€œThe whole intention is to make certain folks have some skin in the game, and I donâ€™t feel that thereâ€™s any problem with making folks go out and do some kind of community service in order to receive their cash assistance,â€ Hune said.
State Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, thinks the bills take aim at people who are already suffering their lowest moments.
â€œThese people, they already need as much money as they can get, they wouldnâ€™t be asking for it if they didnâ€™t need it,â€ he said. â€œIt seems that this philosophy that everyone must have skin in the game, you know, itâ€™s like you may have some financial issues, you may be down and out â€¦ That kind of philosophy to me â€” if youâ€™re healthy bodied, I can see it â€” but for a lot of people, I just think that it is very intrusive.â€
How, specifically, would the programs work? Hune said he purposely designed the bill to be ambiguous.
â€œWe â€¦ kind of left it up to the Department of Human Services to implement it, kind of how they see fit,â€ said Hune. â€œSometimes when the legislature puts something in action and puts too many details in place, there can be problems with the system.â€
The legislation would not affect those on food stamps.
The volunteer bill now heads to the House of Representativesâ€™ Families, Children and Seniors Committee, while the drug testing bill heads to the full House for a vote.
â€œA lot of people are embarrassed to even be there (asking for benefits), and they have this put on them â€” Itâ€™s this feeling that â€˜This is what the public wants.â€™ But the public doesnâ€™t want to see people beaten down,â€ Gregory said.