How Effective Will Law Cutting Welfare for Truancy Be?

More kids are skipping school consistently than there are families collecting welfare

A new law that kicks in next June threatens to cut off cash welfare payments to low-income families whose children routinely skip school with no valid excuse. At first glance, this looks like a potentially effective get-tough policy, especially in communities where nearly half the students are labeled "chronically absent" by the state.

However, the law’s potential impact remains uncertain. That’s due in part to another trend that most would regard as positive: The number of Michigan residents collecting cash payments from the Family Independence Program has fallen, and was down to just 64,492 in August, compared to 227,490 as recently as 2011.

The latest figure translates into around 27,000 households across the state currently collecting these benefits. Yet in Wayne County alone, 98,752 schoolchildren were considered chronically absent during the 2013-14 school year, the most recent for which figures are available. Statewide, the figure was 389,542 chronically absent students. The state considers students chronically absent if they miss more than 10 school days a year.

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In other words, households collecting cash welfare benefits may represent a smaller slice of the truancy problem than many lawmakers imagined when they approved the new law.

In addition, the state already had the authority to take away benefits for excessive truancy even before Public Act 56 of 2015 was enacted. According to Bob Wheaton, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, 350 families have lost their benefits for this reason.

Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said the potential impact of the policy appears to be nominal if there were just 27,000 families on cash assistance statewide and only 350 had been stripped of benefits.

“But we have no way of knowing how many kids are in school because of this policy,” Drolet said.

Wheaton said the state only takes away assistance from families that are truant after “exhausting opportunities to work with families to address school attendance issues.”

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See also:

With Half of the Students Chronically Absent, New Truancy Law Would Strip Welfare From Families

Two-Thirds of Detroit Students Chronically Absent

Number of MIchigan Welfare Recipients Declines 70 Percent


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