State budget panel trims university funding 15%, caps welfare

Lansing—Welfare benefits would be limited to 48 months and 124,000 children will no longer get an $80 clothing allowance under a joint House-Senate Department of Human Services budget approved by the Senate this afternoon.

The Senate earlier today approved by a 26-16 vote a joint House-Senate budget for higher education that trims 15 percent in funding from state universities that Snyder has proposed. Both budgets now head to the House, where they are expected to be approved by the Republican majority.

A $1.9 billion Department of Corrections budget passed out of committee and awaits action in the Senate. The plan would cut $70.8 million from the department’s budget, including $31.3 million to be saved by competitively bidding the housing of 1,750 prisoners.

The House and Senate are reconciling budget bills for various state departments. They must both concur and pass the final budgets before they can be sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. Earlier, the Legislature passed a tax reform plan that awaits Snyder’s signature. The plan eliminates the Michigan Business Tax, imposes a 6 percent corporate tax on some businesses, eliminates many business and personal tax credits and imposes a phased-in tax on pensions.

The House will roll all of the state budgets into two “omnibus” bills, one for higher education, community colleges and universities, and the other for the rest of the budget.

The Legislature hopes to send the complete budget to Gov. Rick Snyder by May 31 to be signed into law.

The 48-month lifetime limit on welfare is retroactive, and would begin immediately if the budget also passes in the House and is signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates 12,600 families, about 15 percent of state caseloads, would be immediately tossed off welfare rolls, saving more than $77 million from the state’s main checking account.

Democrats on the committee said the cuts will leave many families without help at a time when few jobs are available for laid off workers. People with a mental or physical disability, who are caring for a disabled family member, domestic violence victims and women in advance pregnancy or who recently have given birth would be exempt from the 48-month lifetime limit.

“Ninety percent of families on (welfare) are working, but not earning enough to leave assistance,” Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, told the committee. “I would have preferred to see it phased out.”

Republicans said the cuts are necessary and noted they aren’t as harsh as either chamber had approved in their separate budgets. Children of working parents would no longer be able to receive an average $80 allowance for school clothes under the budget, but the bill would increase the amount their parents can earn while receiving benefits by about $4,000. Children in foster care aren’t affected.

“We actually gave more to those people and encouraged them to work, incentivized them to work,” said Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville.

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