News Story

Recipe For Food Stamps Teacher: Seven In Household, Low Seniority

It takes a rare combination of circumstances

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer is getting criticism for claiming there are teachers in Michigan whose pay is so low they’re on food stamps.

Bridge Magazine reported: “After several days, the MEA connected Truth Squad with a teacher outside Kalamazoo who said her family — a husband and five children – has been on food stamps for three years. As sole provider, the woman had gross earnings of about $33,000 in 2017-18 as a first-year teacher.”

The magazine concluded, “But Whitmer’s rhetoric about teachers on food stamps, while apparently true, misleadingly suggests a profession in which poverty-level pay is common.”

This is not the first time Michigan Capitol Confidential has reported on union claims (going back to 2012) of teachers on food stamps. Eligibility for the benefit relies primarily on two factors, household income and the number of people in the household. For any full-time Michigan teacher to be eligible for food stamps, household size has to be a major factor.

The person the MEA found to support its narrative illustrates why such cases are so improbable. The federal income limit for food stamps with a household of seven people is $48,288. The household in the story qualifies because it has seven members and a sole provider working at the bottom end of the union pay scale.

If this teacher’s husband worked a minimum-wage job on a full-time basis, the family would not qualify for food stamps.

One of the first teacher-on-food-stamps claims that Michigan Capitol Confidential examined was Grand Rapids-area teacher Tina Ratliff. The second-grade teacher made her claim in a March 4, 2013, MLive article.

Ratliff had a gross salary of $48,791 in 2013-14. But in that MLive article, she said her two-week take-home pay was $555.39, or $14,440 a year.

Ratliff’s gross salary increased to $54,330 by 2016-17, an 11.4 percent increase over a three-year period. To be eligible for food stamps today with a $54,330 salary, she would need to be in a household containing nine people with no one else earning $5,000 or more.