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New welfare limits in Michigan take effect Saturday, lawsuit seeks to stop them

A group of families on welfare has filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to block a new limit on benefits that takes effect tomorrow. The rule sets a 48-month cap on cash assistance payments.

Thousands of families will lose cash assistance payments because they have hit the four-year maximum on collecting benefits.

The payments are used to meet living expenses such as food, rent and clothing. The lawsuit says the state violated the rights of welfare clients by failing to provide them with enough notice the cutoff was coming. Some human services advocates say it’s a mistake to impose the new limits while Michigan has an 11 percent unemployment rate. The lawsuit asks a federal judge to block the new rule.

Governor Rick Snyder signed the law four weeks ago.

State Department of Human Services officials say everyone affected was sent multiple notices.

Deputy Director Brian Rooney said efforts are also being made to connect families with other services such as job placement help.

"We are working very closely with different faith groups, with other community partners, with the Michigan Works Association, to help people with job placement, to help with their rental assistance," said Rooney.

Rooney says the new 48-month limit helps ensure that public assistance does not become a way of life for the families that use it.

Human services advocates say job placement is not much help in a state where more than one in 10 people who are looking can’t find work.

Scott Dzurka is with the Michigan Association of United Ways. He says it may take awhile to sort out the effects of the new welfare rule.

"Just considering that many of the recipients may have some other temporary other assistance, friends or relatives that can get them through for a few months, but by the time we hit spring, we may really see a significant impact and the hardest-hit will be coming forward in the spring," said Dzurka.

Dzurka says those numbers will build as more people hit the 48-month limit. He says more people will be looking for help in January. That’s when extended jobless benefits expire for thousands of unemployed people.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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