Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

April 10, 2013

Lawmakers far apart on cutting caseworkers

LANSING (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Tuesday approved vastly different plans to fund public assistance for the poor and protect children from abuse and neglect, with a House panel voting to cut more than 1,000 state jobs, or nearly 9 percent, from the Michigan agency that handles welfare, food stamps and foster care.

A Senate subcommittee later approved a Department of Human Services budget with 270 fewer funded positions than in the current fiscal year. That version is closer to Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal — which would trim about 30 jobs — and the Senate’s job reductions in the child protective services division would not happen if the state has trouble meeting caseload-to-staff ratios required under a court-ordered mandate.

Differences must be resolved after the spending plans clear the full House and Senate and before lawmakers’ June deadline to pass the next state budget.

“This is a pretty hard body blow when we’ve made significant inroads here over the last couple years across all programs and platforms of this agency,” DHS spokesman Dave Akerly said of the House budget. “We don’t feel that it’s in any way, shape or form a realistic budget.”

Three juvenile justice facilities also would close and the youth offenders sent to private facilities under the House plan, which is in stark contrast to what the Republican governor proposed. The proposal drew criticism from Democrats who said caseloads would rise 7 percent for already stressed workers and warned the budget would hamper Michigan’s ability to comply with a legal settlement mandating that it improve conditions for children needing foster care and protective services.

“We cannot afford to have any more children under our care killed or abused or neglected. It’s our responsibility as a state,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat.

The cuts to the 12,000-worker agency are needed because Republicans will not support Snyder’s call for a surcharge on all power bills to cover emergency energy aid for low-income residents, said Rep. Peter MacGregor, a Republican from Kent County’s Cannon Township and chairman of the House human services budget subcommittee.

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