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A federal judge orders Mich. health department to halt welfare cuts

A federal district court judge Tuesday afternoon ordered the state of Michigan to stop actions to cut an estimated 30,000 people off the welfare rolls in the state.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued an order restraining the state from cutting off any benefits and ordering the Department of Human Services to address due process issues in the way people were notified of the intent to cut them off.

The welfare cuts are part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget deal which capped welfare cash benefits to a lifetime limit of 48 months — a year less than the federal limit. The new policy went into effect on Saturday with the beginning of the new fiscal year for the state. On Monday, the Saginaw-based Center for Civil Justice filed suit in federal court seeking a temporary and permanent restraining order alleging that those facing a cut off were not given their full due process rights, reports the Saginaw News.

The Center contended in the federal lawsuit the state Department of Human Services failed to follow recipients’ constitutional due process rights with vague notices about a “secret policy” that wasn’t published until the change took effect Oct. 1. The center wasn’t challenging the law, but the notification process, among other points, officials said.

The hearing in Detroit was not without fireworks. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Raymond O. Howd had argued the state gave adequate notice.

Borman said the department could have published the policy to avoid confusion before the benefits were cutoff. He chided the department for a “slight of hand” in referring in the letters to a 90-day notice to request an administrative hearing to appeal a loss of benefits, but giving recipients 10 days to notify the department of a person’s appeal.

“That’s like a pretty tricky thing, isn’t it?” the judge asked Howd. “Like now you see it, now you don’t.”

Howd said 270 families made the deadline. “This isn’t a game,” he told the judge.

For his part, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office says the governor will abide by the ruling.

“We’re happy to comply with the judge’s order and give another notice to affected recipients that more closely reflects the concerns noted,” said Sara Wurfel, Snyder’s spokesperson. “DHS will continue its intense outreach efforts and working hard to make sure families are connected to the resources necessary to achieve independence and to help them access a host of others programs – from food assistance and Medicaid to child care, temporary rental assistance and job placement initiatives – they may be eligible for.”

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