News Story

Number of Michigan Welfare Recipients Declines 70 Percent

Economic growth and enforcing limits drive decrease in number of people since 2011

The number of people receiving welfare cash assistance from the state has plummeted since Gov. Rick Snyder took office, partly due to the improved economy but also because the state now enforces a limit on how long beneficiaries could receive cash benefits.

There were 227,490 people receiving cash assistance benefits from the state in 2011. As of August 2015, that number was down to 64,492. The state welfare agency's Family Independence Program provides temporary cash assistance to pregnant women and families with children. The program also attempts many interventions to get people employed in long-term jobs.

From 2005 to 2011, the number of people in this program held consistently in the low 200,000s range. It varied from 202,693 (2009) to 237,102 (2007). However, in 2011, with control of the Legislature and governor's office for the first time since 2002, Republicans adopted reforms that, along with economic growth, have helped reduce the number of people on welfare from 154,941 (2012), to 129,185 (2013) and 89,957 (2014).

The state’s major welfare assistance program is food stamps, now distributed with a debit card system. In August, the state of Michigan paid for $188.7 million in purchases by 1.5 million people.

By comparison, the 64,492 people on traditional welfare cash assistance received $9.1 million from the state.

Bob Wheaton, the spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, attributed some of the drop to the state’s improving economy. Michigan’s unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in December of 2010, but only 5.0 percent this September.

The state is now enforcing a 48-month lifetime limit on cash assistance. Wheaton said the time limit was in place previously but not enforced. The state also enforced federal 60-month time limits going back to the federal and state welfare reforms of 1996.

“As the governor said at the time of the decision to enforce time limits, this was returning cash assistance to its original intent — a transitional program to help families as they work toward self-sufficiency while preserving the safety net for families most in need,” Wheaton said in an email.

He also said many cash assistance recipients have found jobs through another state program called Michigan Works. The state has also stepped up this program's fraud prevention efforts over the last past five years, Wheaton said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.