Michigan’s poor are having an increasingly hard time making ends meet according to a recently completed study and numerous social service organizations throughout the state. According to the 2003 Market Basket Survey (which measures the buying power of the poor) cash assistance and food stamps, which make up all of what the poor receive, cover only 5 percent of the income needed to pay for food, clothing, and housing. One year ago public assistance provided 60 percent.

“That’s a very dramatic drop, one I haven’t seen in the seven or eight years that we’ve been doing this.” stated Ellen Speckman-Randall, executive directer of the Michigan County Social Services Association, which conducted the annual survey. According to a Muskegon Chronicle article on the subject the survey showed that “ a family of three would qualify for $9,830 a year in government cash assistance, food stamps and a back-to-school clothing allowance. That same family would spend an average of $18,137 in rent, utilities, transportation, food, and clothing.”

Cash assistance grants have not increased for ten years under conservative Republican Gov. John Engler and now, with a new governor, Jennifer Granholm, improvement is unlikely because of the state’s projected $1.7 billion deficit.

Child and Family Associates sees an urgency in the public need particularly for children. One suggestion is an added one cent tax on each can of beer to generate $20 million, the money to be used to increase the back-to-school clothing allowance from $25 to $100. Much more than just this is needed to ensure the well-being of poor children.

Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature cut the clothing allowance from $75 to $25 to assist the Republican tax cuts for the rich. Another aspect to this plan was that lawmakers cut eligibility, limiting it to children four years and older who are on public assistance. This cut off infants and toddlers who were eligible before. It has been noted that this past winter many children have had to go to school without coats, without boots, without hats.

On a wider scale prominent West Michigan Social Activist and advocate for the poor, Father Jack LaGoe, said, “A nation willing to put itself into a debt of $400 billion a year, for the foreseeable future, asking only the poor and lower middle class to pay for it has lost it’s vision and any hope of peace.”

The author can be reached at brimac6@hotmail.com