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SB897 Threatens the Healthcare of Formerly Incarcerated People

Updated: May 23, 2018

The Michigan Senate has passed Bill 897, requiring recipients of Medicaid to work at least 29 hours a week. The bill is now being considered in the Michigan House where it has strong support. The business community in Michigan has supported the measure as a way address labor shortages by pushing people back into the workforce.

Many healthcare proponents and advocates for the poor in Michigan have argued that this bill is an inhumane way to create incentives to enter the labor force. They note that the bill has insufficient exemptions for people with mental health barriers to employment and still others point out that the bill unfairly targets the urban poor by creating exemptions for counties with high unemployment, but not cities with the same.

We at CJV also note that most formerly incarcerated people, many of whom depend upon Medicaid for health care--including mental health services essential to their successful reintegration to society--will not be exempted from the demands of this legislation. While it looks like the bill would give returning citizens a short-term exemption after they leave prison, there is no general exemption for people with criminal records.

This is a problem because people with criminal records face high barriers to employment in Michigan, and many are unable to find work, not unwilling. Indeed, many employers refuse to hire people with criminal histories, even if the convictions are decades old.

Whether legal or extra-legal, these barriers exist outside of a person’s control, and thus reveal the fallacy inherent in SB 897: often unemployment (and underemployment) is not a choice, but a product of personal circumstances that have nothing to do with one’s desire (or incentives) to work.

SB 897 does not address the realities many of our fellow Michiganders have to face in their daily lives and will arbitrarily strip healthcare (including their mental health care) from many of those who can least afford to lose it, including people with criminal histories. This is bad public policy that is likely to cause not only needless human suffering, but an increase in crime. We at CJV believe the proponents of SB 897 should answer for that at the polls.

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