A bill recently approved by the Michigan Senate could see families lose welfare benefits if their child routinely misses school.
The bill, referred to as the “Parental Responsibility Act,” would offer the state the ability to deny assistance from the Family Independence Program to any family with a child who continues to be absent from school.
For children younger than 16, the entire family would be affected by the new law. Children older than 16 would be removed from the family, who could then continue to receive the assistance.
While the policy is already in use by the Michigan Department of Health and Family Services in an effort to cut down on students who are chronically absent from school, House Bill 4041 would make the policy permanent as a state law.
“The whole goal here is to make sure children are in school because they will succeed and they will have the chance to move ahead with their lives if they are in school,” said state Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan.
However, many Democrats and a number of Republicans oppose the bill, calling it a “war on the poor.” Senator Coleman Young II looked to add an amendment that would prevent the state from cutting assistance to any family at the end of the school year because they would not be able to apply for reinstatement over the summer months.
“This is not about helping poor people. This is about kicking people while they’re down,” Young said as it became clear his amendment would fail. “It’s wrong. It’s disgusting. It needs to stop.”
Senator Bert Johnson suggested an additional amendment that would allow other family members to stay on the assistance program despite one child being habitually truant.
“While I understand the sponsor’s goal of promoting responsible parenting and reducing absenteeism, I find it too severe to punish an entire family for the actions of one child,” Johnson said.
The Michigan League for Public Policy also stands in opposition to the bill and is pushing for a veto from Governor Rick Snyder. The organization is arguing that over half a million children in the state are already living in poverty, reports Jonathan Oosting for Michigan Live.
“The goal of increasing school attendance is laudable; we all want students in school, learning and getting the education needed to end the cycle of poverty,” MLPP President Gilda Jacobs said in a statement. “But this bill won’t get kids to school. However, it is certain to push more kids deeper into poverty, making it even more difficult to get to school.”
While the legislation was approved by the House in March, it needs to approve a variety of changes made within the Senate prior to being sent to Governor Snyder for final approval.