State House moves to tie truancy to cash assistance

Alisha Green
Associated Press

Lansing — A Michigan Human Services Department policy of requiring school attendance for families receiving cash assistance would become law under a bill that passed the House on Thursday.

The measure would make the department policy law, in which a family would lose eligibility for the Family Independence Program if a child ages 6 through 15 doesn’t meet certain attendance requirements. Children ages 16-19 who are still dependents and haven’t graduated from high school would lose cash assistance for themselves if they don’t meet attendance requirements.

Bill sponsor Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said multiple precautions would be taken before removing people from cash assistance, and the legislation would help “break the cycle of generational poverty.”

Several Democrats spoke against the bill on the House floor before the 74-36 vote, saying that while truancy is a problem that should be addressed, the legislation doesn’t outline clear steps for doing so before removing an entire family from cash assistance.

“This gives a rebellious child a lot of power,” said Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon. She added there is no consistent definition of truancy from one school district to another, so the legislation could create inconsistencies.

The elimination of benefits would not be permanent, Pscholka said on the floor, because families could re-enroll for benefits if a child attends school for 21 days.

Pscholka grew up in a single-parent household headed by his mother, and he said going to school helped him find positive male role models.

“My male role models were my teachers, my coaches, and quite frankly I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” he said.

Addressing truancy with some “tough love” can help give kids a chance in life, he said.

“The best defense we have against poverty is a good education,” he added.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.