Snyder’s welfare plan needs ‘mother of all waivers’

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday the federal government may need to grant Michigan “the mother of all waivers” for his administration to redesign some 145 different social services programs.

Snyder’s ambitious “river of opportunity” agenda that he unveiled Tuesday in his State of the State address may involve a complex untangling of a federally financed state bureaucracy for the governor to make government programs more “people centric” instead of program-driven.

That’s because many health, social welfare and job training programs largely funded by the federal government are tied to certain outcomes and strings attached by Congress or the Obama administration.

Changing the dynamics or approach to a federally funded program typically requires a waiver from Washington or the risk of losing the attached funding.

“I’ve already told the staff that we should theoretically be preparing for 145-plus waivers — or the mother of all waivers, depending on how you want to look at it,” Snyder said Thursday in an interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board. “This is the way you should approach this. This is not to be incremental.”

Snyder wants to reshape state services for the poor and disadvantaged to ensure individuals are not “sliced and diced” into separate programs that only address a portion of their needs and barriers to living productive lives.

Details of this remake of state government remain vague. Snyder is expected to give more details Feb. 11 when he presents his 2016 fiscal year budget plan to lawmakers.

The governor has said he wants lawmakers to fund an expansion of two programs his administration has been piloting for the past three years.

The first is Pathways to Potential, a program that has embedded Department of Human Services social workers inside 219 schools across 22 counties. The social workers are addressing high rates of student absenteeism and helping connect parents with various state programs and assistance.

The governor also wants to expand his administration’s Community Ventures program, which has helped 3,000 chronically unemployed residents find jobs with more than 100 companies seeking low-skilled workers.

Snyder said Thursday he wants to blend those programs with existing workforce development and social services to make delivery more seamless for residents seeking help. Both programs could be integrated with expanding skilled trades training programs, which Snyder says will be a priority in his proposed budget.

The Republican governor acknowledged it’s possible President Barack Obama’s administration may not let him tinker with longstanding federal programs.

But the Obama administration did allow Snyder and the Legislature to make changes to the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor to require new recipients to pay nominal premiums and take more initiative in leading healthy lives.

“We’ll go give it a good try, give it a good shot,” Snyder told The News.