---- — DETROIT (AP) — People applying for cash welfare in Michigan will have to wait until after a three-week work readiness assessment to start getting benefits under a program that Gov. Rick Snyder's administration announced Wednesday.
Starting Jan. 1, applicants for cash aid will be referred to a new program created by the state Department of Human Services and the state's job agencies. The new Path program replaces the state's Jet program "and focuses on connecting clients with resources to move past barriers to employment," said Human Services spokesman David Akerly.
Under Path, applicants will work one-on-one with human services and job placement case workers to identify barriers to work.
"Our clients apply for cash assistance in varying degrees of job readiness," Human Services Director Maura D. Corrigan said in a statement. "For many, issues ranging from transportation to literacy and child care will make finding and keeping a job nearly impossible. Together with our partners ... we are committed to helping our clients work through these challenges by dedicating the 21-day assessment and resource allocation period necessary to be successful on their path to independence."
Applicants won't get cash benefits during the three weeks. If they qualify for aid, the benefits will be retroactive to the date of application.
The Jet program has been in place since 2007, and orientation periods have been inconsistent, ranging from four hours to three days, the department said. Michigan has fallen far short of federal guidelines that half of people getting cash aid be in work training or seeking jobs, and it risks losing U.S. financial support, the state said.
"The complexity of multiple challenges or particular circumstances makes the 21 days necessary to fully engage the clients in charting their paths to independence as well as identifying resources," Akerly said.
A spokeswoman for one of Michigan's leading human services advocacy groups said the intensive assessment period is a welcome change, but the delay in the start of benefits could hurt those who are already in the midst of a crisis.
"Many families that are seeking these benefits are running out of options," said Judy Putnam of the Michigan League for Public Policy. "We're worried that it could cause harm to these children."
With 10 million residents, Michigan had about 295,000 cash welfare recipients in fiscal 2012, according to Mlive.com. About 130,000 of those recipients were referred to the Jet program.
A typical cash benefits applicant such as a single mother with school- or preschool-age children often lacks the reserves when losing a job and will find it hard to wait for aid to start, Putnam said.
Transportation, child care and job skills are key barriers to employment, and the state is right to focus on them, she said. On the other hand, she said, the availability of help to overcome them is uneven around the state.
"We'll certainly be looking to see the governor's budget and what provisions it has," Putnam said.