Lansing Update: December 2, 2005

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. Welfare Reform Passes House and Senate, Dangerous Limitations Included
  2. Teacher Loan Forgiveness Bill Passes House
  3. Bills Requiring Background Checks for Long-Term Care Employees Heads to Full House

Welfare Reform Passes House and Senate, Dangerous Limitations Included

The Michigan Senate and House of Representatives this week passed measures that will reform the state’s assistance programs for the first time since 1996. While important provisions such as job training and education are part of the package, measures that create a harmful “lifetime limit” for those Michigan citizens who are among our most vulnerable and needy are also included.

Since its inception in 1963 the Michigan Catholic Conference has consistently become involved when the state proposes changes to the welfare system. Maintaining that the focus of welfare reform must be poverty, not poor people—the Conference is advocating to the legislature that current reforms must be enacted with compassion, respect and dignity for the poor.

During negotiations for the 2005–06 state budget many lawmakers vocalized the need for welfare reform in Michigan due to elevated costs and a high number of people who were returning to the rolls after a short time off of assistance. In response, the Senate and House of Representatives this week passed differing versions of welfare reform—which next week will have the differences resolved in conference committee.

Lifetime limits are a major concern of the Michigan Catholic Conference due to Michigan’s cyclical economy, personal disabilities, lasting family situations and other debilitating conditions. The Conference and many other advocacy organizations that speak for the poor maintain that an imposed lifetime limit would only further jeopardize the state’s most vulnerable population.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Bill Passes House

Legislation that would allow teachers in at-risk schools to receive forgiveness for any loans they obtained through the state won approval by the House this week.

Specifically, House Bill 4123, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Mortimer (R-Jackson) would allow a teacher who has received a student loan from the Michigan Department of Treasury to receive a grant, with the maximum aggregate amount equal to the individual’s eligible debt. Before each consecutive year of individual teaching in any at-risk school, for up to ten consecutive years, an authority created by the state would award a partial grant in the amount equal to ten percent of that eligible debt. Teachers would be eligible if they work in a school where at least fifty percent of the students enrolled meet the income eligibility criteria for free breakfast, lunch or milk.

As the bill was originally introduced, it provided loan forgiveness only to public school teachers. Michigan Catholic Conference staff was successful in efforts to amend the bill to include those in non-public schools. The bill passed the House 92-13 with immediate effect and now awaits consideration from the Senate Education Committee.

MCC staff will continue to monitor the bill and advocate for full participation of non-public school teachers.

Bills Requiring Background Checks for Long-Term Care Employees Heads to Full House

The House Senior Health, Security and Retirement Committee reported a package of bills this week that includes required FBI fingerprint checks for all nursing home, hospice and adult foster care applicants. The bills would also expand criminal background checks for all potential employees of long-term care facilities and would require abuse and neglect training programs for home directors.

The measures (HB 5166, HB 5167, HB 5168 and HB 5448) are all part of a $25 million federal initiative to crack down on elder abuse. Michigan is one of seven states chosen for the Criminal Background Check National pilot project. The state was granted $5 million to implement a system that could later be adopted on a federal level to protect the elderly and developmentally disabled living in state funded homes, from caregiver exploitation.

Among other things the bills include automatic employment disqualification for all felony conviction and for some misdemeanor drug charges. The Senate is considering similar legislation (SB 621, SB 622 and SB 623), but unlike the Senate version, the House legislation does not include annual checks and would create a review board to consider employment despite a conviction.