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Whitmer Signs Bill Ending Asset Test for Food Assistance in Michigan

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by Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance
July 12, 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a repeal Wednesday of Michigan’s requirement that an asset test be performed when being considered for eligibility for food assistance.

Under the current law, which will now soon reflect the deletion of the asset test requirement, households with more than $15,000 in assets, whether that be savings in the bank or vehicles, are ineligible for food assistance.

Currently, 36 other states do not implement a state-ordered asset test on top of federal requirements for food assistance eligibility.

Michigan’s asset testing for years put families in difficult situations, forcing those who may have needed a little help after getting laid off from work to make impossible decisions like selling their car or emptying their bank account, Whitmer said in a news release Wednesday.

“No one should be forced to sell their car or empty their savings account to feed themselves and their children,” Whitmer said. “Food benefits must be accessible for Michiganders who need them without illogical tradeoffs.”

The end of asset testing in Michigan comes after months of mass unemployment during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, 1.6 million households in Michigan, or 39% of population, could not afford to cover their basic needs such as food, rent and childcare, according to a report released by the Michigan Association of United Ways in April.

Sponsor for Senate Bill 35, the legislation to delete the asset test, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced similar legislation in the past two legislative sessions. He noted earlier this year that public perception of the people who receive food assistance have tainted legislation nationally and it’s time for Michigan to right a previous “blunder.”

“People are convinced there are poor people defrauding the system…That was born out of a philosophy that was cemented in the minds of people back in the ‘80s,” Irwin told the Advance in January. “People are completely desperate and broken before you give them any assistance; I think that is cruel and inefficient and just wrong on so many levels.” 

However, House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) on Wednesday blasted the legislation.

“Michiganders are always ready to support people who need temporary help to get back up on their feet, but Democrats are turning the food assistance program on its head. Without this test measuring people’s wealth, even lottery winners and other millionaires could rake in food stamps paid for with our tax dollars that should be going to those who truly need help feeding their families,” Hall said in a news release.

Asset testing goes against Michiganders’ values and punishes families as they try to feed their families after hitting a roadblock, Monique Stanton, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in the governor’s news release Wednesday. 

Stanton added that the change will not only help the 710,500 Michiganders already receiving assistance, including more than 531,000 children, it will save the state time and money by eliminating an extra task for frontline caseworkers for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 

“Eliminating the asset test means that kids can be strong for school and play, and parents can focus on the future,” Stanton said. “Plus, the move will help stimulate local economies by ensuring families have enough money to buy food at their local grocers. We’re grateful to Sen. Jeff Irwin and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for making sure Michigan joins the 36 other states that have realized that basic human needs shouldn’t be withheld from kids and families.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.