A new policy takes effect today in Michigan that links a family’s welfare benefits to children’s school attendance. Families that apply or re-apply for cash assistance will have to prove their kids did not have more than 10 unexcused absences from school in the past year.
David Akerly, with the Michigan Department of Human Services, says the plan is to help end future generations of poverty. He says kids who don’t attend classes won’t graduate from high school, and are likely to wind up on public assistance as adults.
“There are plenty of people who are struggling who make sure their kids get to school,” he says. “You know, being poor does not mean you don’t care about your kids going to school. But if there’s a problem with your kids not going to school, it can definitely compound whatever problems that you’re having right now, and take them into another generation down the road.”
Akerly says getting kids to school can also connect them to other services for families that are struggling.
Some welfare rights advocates say the policy still does not do enough to deal with many of the reasons why kids in struggling families miss school.
“Let’s work with these families that have more challenges as low- income families – whether it’s child care issues, or transportation issues, or a single mom trying to figure out how to get her kids to school in the morning. It’s not clear to us how this policy is going to address the underlying causes,” says Karen Holcomb-Merrill, with the Michigan League for Human Services.