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Michigan is reinstating work requirements for people on food assistance

Groceries, including milk, eggs and produce, sitting on a counter.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Officials display the healthy food low income parents could buy through the pilot program.

Michigan will reinstate a requirement that all able-bodied adults without dependents work 20 hours a week to qualify for food assistance.

That requirement was lifted in 2002 because of high unemployment. When unemployment dropped, the federal government required that it go back on the books. 

Fourteen counties started implementing the requirement last year. Starting October 1st, it will be again be implemented statewide.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will be sending out around 67,000 letters to those affected by the change. The change will require people to work an average of 20 hours per week in a month, either in “unsubsidized employment,” “an approved employment and training program,” or by “volunteering at a nonprofit organization."

Markell Miller is the Director of Food Programs for Food Gatherers. The group distributes to food pantries in Washtenaw County. She joined Stateside to talk about what the requirement means for organizations like hers. 

“I think what’s important to realize about this work requirement is that it doesn’t affect that many people. I think many people are going to maintain their benefits and not see anything that impacts their assistance,” Miller said. “However, for the people who are subject to the work requirement, it can be pretty disruptive to getting food on the table.”

Food Gatherersconducted a studylast year with the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning about the local impact of re-implementing the policy.

“Many people that were subject to the work requirement didn’t know that they could volunteer to maintain eligibility if they were having trouble finding employment,” Miller explained. 

Exemption from the work requirement still applies to those who are “physically or mentally unable to work for 20 hours, are pregnant or care for a child under age 6, or someone who is incapacitated,” according to a press release from the MDHHS. The department is planning to provide resources to help those who are affected as the policy is re-implemented this fall. 

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