2018-06-07 / News

Bill affecting the “working poor” discussed locally

By Tanya Terry
810-452-2645 • tterry@mihomepaper.com

BURTON — After the Senate passed Senate Bill No. 897 with the purpose of requiring able-bodied adults to work a 29 hour average a week per month in order to continue receiving Medicaid benefits, the bill was discussed at State Representative Tim Sneller’s (D) Burton coffee hour June 1.

“The purpose of adding workforce engagement requirements to the medical assistance program as provided in section 107B is to assist, encourage and prepare an able-bodied adult for a life of self sufficiency and independence from government interference,” the act reads.

Sneller said the people who would be affected are those who are commonly referred to as the working poor, who often work multiple jobs.

“These people aren’t just sitting at home eating bonbons,” Sneller said. “Look at Walmart. Walmart doesn’t offer their workers healthcare. They pay them such low wages they qualify for Medicaid.”

Sneller said emergency rooms may become the only means of healthcare for some people.

“What about people who pick tomatoes,” he asked. “That’s seasonal, and they don’t qualify for unemployment because they don’t work six months of unbroken time.”

The work referred to in the act is not limited to employment, but can include self-employment, attending high school equivalency test preparation programs or pursuing postsecondary education, participation in tribal employment programs or vocational training related to employment, internships and participation in court-ordered substance disorder treatments or those prescribed by a licensed professional.

If the act also passes in the House of Representatives, in which it is now, able-bodied adults will be required to verify they are meeting the workforce engagement requirements by the fifth of each month for the previous month’s qualifying activity.

Exemption from the work requirements would be granted for a recipient who is pregnant, receiving disability benefits, a full-time student, medically frail, the caretaker of a family member under six years old or of a dependent with a disability who is in need of fulltime care or an incapacitated individual. Good cause temporary exemptions would be given to those with medical conditions requiring work benefits or who is a recipient under 21 years old who has previously been in foster care.

Edith Robbins, who attended the coffee hour, said she does not agree with the bill, however. She and others there said everyone should have healthcare.

Mayor Paula Zelenko said one of the reason she joined Sneller at his coffee hour is because he gives her updates on some of the Senate bills. Following the coffee hour, she said she was going to research the bill further to have answers for residents who may call her about the bill.

“I think it’s up to the employer to set the hours a person works for the business,” Zelenko said. “It’s not up to the state legislature to set hours a person has to work to get health benefits. The fact a person is engaged in employment who is able-bodied is already a requirement. What kind of work a person does and how many hours they work should be up to the individual business. We have folks that are low income even though they are working two jobs. There are only so many hours in a day.”

Zelenko said she wondered if in the case of a person who had three minimum wage jobs and four hours in between jobs the hours spent traveling to the jobs counted towards the requirement.

If the act passes in the House of Representatives, it will require the Department of Heath and Human Services to implement Section 107b, which the bill enacts, by October 1, 2019 and to give 90 days’ advance notice of the workforce engagement requirements to recipients who likely would be subject to them.

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