Michigan public workers demonstrate to support those they serve

Michigan state workers who help people in need get public assistance and are members of UAW Local 600 on November 28 picketed a Detroit office of the state Department of Human Services to support their clients who have been denied public assistance because of cuts to the state budget.

UAW Local 6000 members are on the front lines every day to work for Michigan families and help them navigate a welfare system that’s getting meaner by the day,” said UAW Vice-president Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Public Sector and Health Care Servicing Department. “Our members who work at DHS offices as social workers and welfare eligibility specialists are outraged by the new law and the insidious ‘Rocket Docket’ system instituted under the guise of saving taxpayer dollars. We don’t want to see 29,000 more of Michigan’s poorest children thrown into deeper poverty.”

The Michigan Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder enacted a new state budget last summer that cut many services that working people depend on. Included in those cuts is a provision that denies public assistance benefits to families after they have received benefits for 48 months. Those who have already received public assistance for 48 months or more were told in October that they would no longer be receiving benfits.

More than 12,000 families, including 29,000 children, were affected. Of those, 929 families filed an appeal. DHS Director Maura Corrigan decided to hear all 929 appeals in two days, and instructed those who appealed to show up at their local DHS office on November 28 and 29 for hearings. The appeals are being held by telephone with an administrative judge presiding. Corrigan calls these sped-up hearings her “Rocket Docket.”

With their picket line, UAW 6000 members are trying to draw attention to the unfairness of the appeal process and the unfairness of the hardship being imposed on the state’s poorest people.

“DHS is trying to rush through hearings for clients who believe their cash assistance case should not have closed,” reads a statement on UAW 6000’s website. “DHS scheduled 929 hearings in two days across the state, and bragged about how they were going to dispose of so many cases so quickly. The problem is that people have rights too, even if DHS wants to ignore this.”

Local 6000 members were joined on the picket line by welfare rights advocates and other community supporters. Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization told the Michigan Citizen that holding so many hearings in such a short time period was unfair. “It’s an attack on the rights of welfare recipients,” Taylor said. “They’re not getting a chance to have their case heard.”

Jim Walkowicz, chairperson of the Labor Management Team for UAW Local 6000 agreed. “It’s outrageous,” said  Walkowicz to the Michigan Citizen. “It’s trumping all sorts of due process rights. People have a right to file for a hearing and be heard.”

Michigan has been one of the states hit hardest by the economic downturn. Its unemployment rate is 10.6 percent, the fifth highest in the US. It’s difficult to imagine where those who are being denied public assistance will turn to for help.

The average cash payment for a person receiving public assistance is only $515, but according to the The Detroit News, a spokesperson for Gov. Snyder said that the denying this benefit is necessary because the state can’t afford to offer cash for so long.

People on public assistance aren’t the only ones feeling the sting of Gov. Snyder’s budget cutting. Low-income workers will see their state taxes increase because their earned income tax credit has been lowered. Senior citizens on pensions will see their tax bill go up because their pensions are no longer exempted from state income taxes.

Businesses, however, have fared better under Gov. Snyder’s watch. They will pay an estimated $1.1 billion dollars less in taxes thanks to business tax cuts endorsed by Gov. Snyder.

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