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Senate committee to discuss taking cash assistance from families with truant children

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Detroit Public Schools is offering 45 schools to charter companies.

On Wednesday a state senate panel will review a billthat would cut off welfare benefits to families whose children skip school repeatedly.

About 29,000 families get cash assistance in Michigan now. Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services has been cutting off families with kids who don’t show up for school.

DHHS has had the policy in place since 2012. About 350 families have been cut off in that time, according to department spokesman Bob Wheaton. 

House Bill 4041would turn a department policy into state law.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell is with the Michigan League for Public Policy. She says punishing a family is the wrong approach.

“Help the families figure out what the barriers are to that child coming to school,” she said.

Zehnder-Merrell says the behavior of one child can have a serious impact for the whole family, under the proposed bill.

“To remove a cash benefit which provides stable housing for the entire family simply puts more children at risk of not being able to attend school,” she said.

But Wheaton says benefits are only cut off after all other options have been exhausted. Families who are cut off from assistance can appeal to an administrative law judge, he said.

Students who are under age 16 would have to come to school, or risk losing benefits for the family. Families with students older than 16 would risk losing only benefits for that student, the bill’s sponsor, state Representative Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said.

“The best defense I think we have against poverty is a good education,” he said. Pscholka cites his own  experience as a child, growing up in a single-parent household.

“I wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve had in life if my mom hadn’t really pushed me and made sure I was in class every day,” he said.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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