Safety nets

For a comprehensive list of assistance available through the Michigan Department of Human Services, go to and click on "Assistance Programs" on the left for a menu of cash and food assistance, child care and medical and emergency services or call 517-373-2035.

Here are descriptions of a few of the program available and some eligibility and application information:

One difference between now and 1929 is unemployment pay — we have it and they didn't. At least not at the start. But after Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932, New Deal reforms and protections began to be instituted. Money would keep circulating, even when lots of people were out of work. Just this week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill making unemployment benefits available for as long as 79 weeks. The money comes from taxes that companies pay the state. Further extensions can be made under certain circumstances, but the typical length of time for benefits does not exceed one year. The maximum allotment is $387 a week. Unfortunately, the time from filing to collecting the first check takes at least three weeks, and maybe as long as a few months.


Another safety net not available when the economy came crashing down 80 years ago: When low-income families, elderly or disabled people have difficulty finding an affordable place to live, they can turn to Section 8 Housing Assistance. To qualify for Section 8, the income limit for a one-person household is $21,050. The limit increases if there are more people; there can be as many as eight people living in one household with a combined income not exceeding $39,750.


Food Stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
Eligibility for the state's food assistance program is determined generally by household income with some expenses taken into account. Because there are no clear-cut standards, the state has an online survey that helps determine eligibility (at Participants can purchase food — not alcohol, tobacco or food "for immediate consumption" — at authorized food stores, or seeds or plants to grow their own food using what's known as a Bridge Card. Enrollment takes between seven and 30 days, and requires an application to the Department of Human Services. For information, call 1-800-481-4989.

The program known as "WIC" — short for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — provides nutritious foods in an effort to improve pregnancy outcomes and child growth and development for nearly 200,000 people each month. Women who are pregnant or have young children qualify based on an income scale beginning at $9.25 hourly and reaching to nearly $66,000 annually for a family of eight. The program provides coupons for food, nutritional education and health care referrals. To apply, call 1-800-26-BIRTH.


The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (aka COBRA) allows workers who lose health care coverage along with their jobs the chance to purchase coverage under certain circumstances. Some people who were involuntarily terminated after Sept. 1 can get a 65 percent reduction of their COBRA premium for up to nine months thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. For information, contact your former employer or the U.S. Department of Labor at 1-866-444-3272 or

Even if you have other health insurance, you may still qualify for Medicaid through one of its various programs for adults, families, pregnant women and children. Medicaid has income limits, but they vary by program and the residence of applicants. Medicaid may pay medical bills for up to three months before enrollment, which can take between 10 and 90 days. For more information:

Other programs
Two state programs help with medical costs for people who are not eligible for Medicaid. The state's Adult Medical Program helps pay basic medical costs for low-income people with assets of less than $3,000. The Resident County Hospitalization plan helps low-income individuals pay for overnight hospital stays. Eligibility varies by county. For information about both programs, contact a DHS office.


Michigan Works!
Twenty-five local agencies throughout the state are part of this state education and job training program. For Wayne and Monroe counties, contact Southeast Michigan Community Alliance at or 734-229-3500. In Macomb and St. Clair counties, contact or 586-469-5220. In Oakland County, contact the Workforce Development Department at or 248-858-5520. The statewide telephone number for Michigan Works! is 1-800-285-WORK.

No Worker Left Behind
If you're unemployed or have received a layoff or termination notice, the No Worker Left Behind program could provide tuition up to $10,000 for two years at a community college, university or other training program. Qualified applicants are high school graduates with family income of $40,000 or less per year. An assessment is required at a local Michigan Works! office. For more information, call 1-800-285-WORK or visit or

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