Governor Jennifer Granholm vetoed a “welfare reform” bill passed earlier this month by the Michigan House and Senate. The reform bill, enthusiastically supported by Grand Rapids Congressperson Jerry Kooiman, would have added a number of restrictions to the state’s welfare system including a lifetime limit to benefits, removing people from welfare after four years, and adding a “three-strikes” policy where three procedural violations would have eliminated a recipient’s welfare benefits for a two-year period. It is also worth noting that Representative Kooiman’s bill was opposed by many in his district who accused him of ignoring the concerns of African-Americans living in his district while he talked about the need for “tough love” and discussed cutting benefits as “incentives” to move people out of the system.
The Conservative-led effort to “reform” welfare in Michigan comes as a similar effort in Washington is underway with federal welfare policy. As was the case in Michigan, the “reform” being discussed nationally has more to do with the targeting of those struggling in the current economy rather than making any genuine effort to improve people’s conditions. Both the federal and state discussions of changing welfare centered on requiring “able-bodied” people to work more, but such efforts have largely moved welfare recipients into low-income, unskilled jobs while affecting single mothers particularly hard. The proposed federal legislation would enact penalties where if a recipient does not fulfill work requirements for two months, their assistance would be revoked.