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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2011

Federal judge stops Michigan from welfare cuts


DETROIT — A federal judge on Tuesday halted a major round of cuts in Michigan's welfare program, saying the state did a poor job of notifying thousands of people that they no longer would receive cash benefits.

Republicans who control the Legislature and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder had approved a stricter four-year cap on cash payments, starting Oct. 1, in the latest effort to reduce welfare benefits in Michigan. But U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued a restraining order that prevents people from being terminated.

Borman ordered that new notices be sent. The lawsuit filed by advocates for the poor alleges more than 10,000 families and more than 20,000 children will be affected.

Borman said termination requires specific notice under law, and "these necessary requirements were not met or even close to met. ... None of the notices mentions or refers to any statutory authority or policy directives, or even mentions that the terminations are a result of a change in the law."

"The new notice shall also provide the required information regarding the recipient's rights to a hearing, and specifically shall inform the recipient what action they must take in order to maintain their current level of benefits," the judge said.

Michigan adopted a four-year cash limit that had several exceptions in 2007, under then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. But the changes approved this year are stricter.

The new law is expected to reduce the number of children and adults receiving cash assistance by nearly a fifth, from more than 221,000 to around 180,000. Enforcing the four-year limit is expected save the state more than $60 million annually.

The revamped program has some exemptions, including for disabled residents who can't work or for people who care for a disabled spouse or child. Supporters of the new cash cap said it would help rid the system of abuse and identify people who are capable of working.

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