STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Hunger is still a problem in Michigan. It might be getting worse.

Jessica Lucia

More and more people, especially kids, need help getting food.

Last year, one in every five kids lived in households that depended on SNAP benefits (you know, food stamps) to help put food on the table. In Michigan, SNAP fed well over a million and a half peopleevery single month.

The program has been rolled back all across the county, with states creating new time limits or work requirements as conditions. Next year, nearly one million of the poorest people across the country will be cut off, including 40,000 Michigan residents that Gilda Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, says will then be at risk for going hungry.

The cuts effect those adults without jobs, children, and disabilities. They'll lose their benefits after 3 months if they do not find 20 hours per week of work or become enrolled in a job training program. Searching for a job doesn’t count.

Jacobs says many of the available jobs require training that people don’t have. 

Though the cuts will be targeted at unemployed adults without kids, families that manage to hang on to their benefits could still feel the impact. For example, if an aunt or grandparent can’t cover the cost of groceries after losing SNAP support, family members are those most likely pick up the slack.

As for places like food banks and soup kitchens, Jacobs says community service provides are already under “huge strain." 

Schools are witnessing evidence of more hungry kids, too. For the first time in a long time, the majority (51%) of kids in public schools nationwide depend on free or reduced-price lunches because they, or their schools, are low income. In Michigan, 47% of public school students are from low-income families and over three quarters of a million kids need help accessing food.

Good news: there’s a chance SNAP cuts might not happen. It depends on Michigan’s eligibility for an waiver, called the Able Bodied Adults without Dependents Waiver.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture will decide on the waiver this May, says Jacobs. Waivers can be statewide or county specific and are granted based on how unemployment rates in the area compare to the national average.

The current national unemployment rate is about 5.6%, and Michigan’s hovers at 6.3%. If the decision were to be made right now, Michigan would likely receive the waiver that Jacobs says is “really, really important.” Michigan has received the waiver every year since 2004.  The state Department of Human Services says they will continue to examine the issue as it makes the decision whether or not to apply for the waiver this year.

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