It is no secret that Michigan is in the throes of a protracted economic crisis. With the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country at 10.9%, a bleeding manufacturing sector, and teeming welfare rolls, “the Great Lakes State” is facing grim financial conditions into the foreseeable future. The state’s budgetary pain receives ample media coverage. However, its impending humanitarian crisis is scarcely a blip on the daily news radar. At a time when the need for a financial safety net has never been more vital for families throughout the state, Michigan’s legislature has passed a law capping welfare assistance at 48 consecutive months, effective retroactively. This means that as of Oct. 1, more than 12,000 families will lose the assistance they are relying upon in order to afford food, shelter and basic medical care in this dismal job market. More than 25,000 children will be adversely affected by these caps. The legislature is specifically cutting enrollment in the Family Independence Program (FIP), and Food Assistance Program (FAP), both of which provide temporary cash assistance. The FAP directly targets low-income families with minor children. Funds are used to pay for such expenses as rent, heat, utilities, clothing, food and personal care items.

The majority of children affected by these cuts live in Detroit, a city with its own set of overwhelming fiscal problems. Most recently, the city’s Department of Human Services, the entity tasked with implementing and distributing cash assistance to its low income population, has come under fire for alleged mismanagement of over $200,000 in federal grant funds. An independent investigation by local news outlet, The Detroit Free Press, uncovered the diversion of federal money from social service programs to fund the purchase of expensive office furniture and supplies. Deeming the state’s subsequent investigation completely inadequate, the Federal Government has announced it too will be reviewing the city’s actions; a move expected to begin in October. Yet in the midst of these devastating cuts at the state level and gross fiscal mismanagement and corruption in his city, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced his intention to divert even more funding from this population. He is seeking permission to use $316,000 of federal Head Start funding to finance moving and renovation expenses for one of the city social service agencies; a decision that is gauche at best in light of recent scandals and, at worst, perpetration of a harsh injustice.

Mayor Bing predicates his support for this action on the dangerous state of disrepair and infestation plaguing the existing facilities. These conditions demonstrably exist, but the diversion of financial resources would come at the expense of crucial social programs. As Bing and other public officials, primarily at the state level, make budgetary decisions, it is manifest that they fail to truly appreciate the human costs involved, especially as they pertain to the state’s children. Even in times of governmental desperation and austerity it is inexcusable to fail our kids. It is yet more egregious when city leaders are seeking to cut funding from programs that some of the most vulnerable of the child population depend upon. Head Start is designed to provide low-income 3-4 year olds with such essential social service supports as nutrition and medical assistance.

Despite the overwhelming hardship facing families and children that are in the most vulnerable of circumstances, it is apparently the view of the Michigan State legislature that the dearth of employment options available to even the most qualified job candidates in the state is of no consequence, and that 10 weeks is ample time to secure employment before their benefits are pulled. How this move will save the state money, or promote economic growth is unclear. It is equally unclear where lawmakers expect these individuals to find employment. The stark reality is those who can afford to leave the state will flee their communities in search of jobs, and those unable to leave will be left to suffer, perhaps in the streets or in the already overcrowded homeless shelters, or be forced to take more drastic, violent measures. District social service offices across the state seem to be anticipating the rise in violence that is inevitable to follow the law’s enactment—several agencies have installed bullet proof glass, placing signs in the window stating they have no cash on the premises, presumably to deter attempted robbery. The individuals these agencies are steeling themselves against, welfare recipients that state legislators have deemed unworthy of extended assistance are also parents. The cash benefits these parents are losing are being lost by their children. The homes these parents will be forced to leave, the food and clothing these parents will not be able to purchase, are homes and food and clothing being denied their children. With an unacceptable number of Michigan children already living in poverty at almost 20% of the state population, it is unfathomable how these lawmakers can, in good conscience, allow even more children to suffer the trauma of poverty. This impending catastrophe in Michigan should serve as a call to action. We simply cannot afford the real and devastating costs to children of unethical budget cuts.