New Michigan policy linking welfare to school attendance intended to 'take a bite out of generational poverty'
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Linking welfare payments to school absences is intended to “take a bite out of generational poverty” through education, according to a state agency.
Starting Monday, parents applying for some welfare benefits through the state Human Services Department will have to prove their children are regularly attending class.
The move is being cheered by school districts, though some advocates say truancy affects families of all incomes and the policy unfairly focuses those who are struggling.
But Human Services Department spokesman Dave Akerly said the goal is to make sure children are getting the education they need.
“We’re trying to take a bite out of generational poverty, and one way to do that is get kids to stay in class and finish school,” he said.
The policy goes into effect on Monday, and affects new applicants others as they work through an annual review. The state has about 60,000 cases, and the average family in the program receives about $468 a month, he said.
"We're trying to take a bite out of generational poverty, and one way to do that is get kids to stay in class and finish school."Parents must provide a form completed by their schools indicating children are complying with the attendance policy. The state also has a plan for parents who are homeschooling their children.
Akerly said there are provisions for special circumstances, such as an extended sickness.
RELATED: Read the details of the new state policy.
The state also has plans to embed social workers in some high-need districts “to help families and catch little problems before they turn into big problems,” he said.
Gov. Rick Snyder called for the change in March as part of his special message on public safety, delivered in Flint, one of four cities to get special assistance.
Grand Rapids educators called the new policy “one more tool in our toolbox to help children get the education they need.”
District spokesman John Helmholdt said 21 percent of the district’s students are considered chronically absent.
RELATED: Educators say linking welfare to school attendance could be effective tool against truancy
But advocates for people in need said the policy might be hurt some families without helping solve the overall problems with school attendance.
Judy Putnam, spokeswoman for the Michigan League of Human Services, said there is no doubt that children need to be in school. But she said it’s hard to tell what percentage of chronically absent students come from homes receiving cash assistance.