For Immediate Release
October 17, 2019
Governor Whitmer makes significant move to help struggling Michiganders
Governor, Department of Health and Human Services to implement major increase to state’s asset test limit on assistance programs
LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement today that the Department of Health and Human Services is increasing the asset test limit for cash, food and heating assistance programs to $15,000. The new rule also eliminates vehicle considerations for cash and food assistance and allows applicants and recipients to self-attest, changes that lift a considerable paperwork burden from those who need assistance. The statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.
The statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.
“For too long, Michigan policymakers have been perpetuating stereotypes and creating unnecessary barriers to services and basic needs for struggling residents. Michigan’s asset test has significantly undercut the actual ‘assistance’ in the state’s cash, food and heating assistance programs, making it harder for residents and families to utilize benefits and outright punishing families for sound financial management and savings-building.
Governor Whitmer and Director Gordon understand this, and by significantly raising the state’s asset test limits on all programs, they are making great strides in fixing this counterintuitive policy. Raising the asset test has been one of our primary policy recommendations for reducing poverty in Michigan, and we are grateful to the governor and Department of Health and Human Services for making this much-needed change to better help residents, families and kids. The League will also continue to advocate for the Legislature to join 34 other states and eliminate the asset limit for food assistance completely.
“Hardworking Michiganders want to be able care for their families and work towards financial security, and one of the best ways for households to do that is to be able to set some money aside to save for emergencies and plan for the future. This is an effective and sensible way to build a more prosperous and equitable state for all Michiganders and will help families maintain a financial cushion and plan for the future, without losing vital help putting food on the table.”
The League has been working on this issue for a long time as a major way to help reduce poverty in Michigan, including it in the League’s Owner’s Manual for Michigan policy agenda and its annual budget priorities. One in 7 Michiganders don’t have enough to eat and an estimated 1.8 million live in communities with few affordable healthy food options, leading to incalculable costs in healthcare for diet-related diseases and unfulfilled potential among students and workers.
In 2002, the federal government gave states the option of setting their own asset limits for food assistance, including eliminating them entirely. Since then, 34 states and the District of Columbia have eliminated their asset tests. Michigan was one of the first states to eliminate the asset limits, but reinstated them in 2012.
Michigan’s asset test for food assistance is a state policy that can be reversed. Since states control the food assistance asset test, Michigan could opt to eliminate it or increase the level. To receive food assistance, families currently cannot have more than $5,000 in countable assets, with some exemptions for vehicles. Countable assets include, among others, checking and savings accounts.
Eliminating the asset test would not increase state costs, and may even save the state money. Food assistance benefits are entirely federally funded, so any increases in benefits would not come from the state’s General Fund. However, the state participates in food assistance administrative costs with a 50% match. Given already high caseloads for eligibility specialists, eliminating the food assistance asset test could streamline the state’s efforts.
The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.