General Assistance Cuts, Part 1

General Assistance Cuts, Part 1 (1991)

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Themes: Leadership | Urban Challenges | Poverty, Progress, and the Rise of African-American Businesses and Professionals |

Guests: Maryann Mahaffey, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Joan Doyen
Host : Cliff Russell
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: This program from the fall of 1991 is the first of two DBJ broadcasts examining one of the hot-button issues in Michigan at that time - the state's decision to balance its budget by slashing its spending on general assistance welfare.


Gov. John Engler, a Republican, had won election to the state's chief executive post in November 1990 while promising to cut general assistance, which provided monetary assistance and medical care payments for tens of thousands of women, children, disabled people and workers whose unemployment benefits had run out. Engler argued that many of the general assistance recipients were able bodied and should be required to find work to support themselves; opponents of the cuts argued that the vast majority of recipients had no reasonable prospects for employment and that many would be left to fend for themselves in poverty and hunger.


Cliff Russell - who was the program's guest host at the time - moderates a discussion by a panel of guests that includes Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey; State Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, who later was elected to Congress, and whose son, Kwame, later became Detroit's mayor; and Joan Doyen, president of UAW Local 6000, which represents the state's social workers. At the time of the broadcast, the cuts had not yet taken place but were set to be enacted October 1.


Kilpatrick says the state's cuts are part of a larger, nationwide pattern that involves cutting programs for women, children and the disabled. "What we're seeing is a national turn away from our people concept from the leaders of this country and this state," she says. "I think general assistance is just a piece of that."


Mahaffey agrees, saying, "We've been through a period, beginning in 1980, of selfishness, selfishness that has been raised to the level of high art; appealing to people to do what will help you and the devil take everybody else."


Doyen says the majority of people affected by the general assistance cuts are not able-bodied adults who can find work. "Forty-three percent of these are women," she says. "They are displaced home workers. Forty-nine percent of these people don't have a high school diploma. Society has failed them." More than 80 percent would not meet the requirements to enlist in the military, she says.


The program includes several calls from viewers with questions and comments. One of the callers is a woman with an enlarged heart and high blood pressure seeking help in getting the medication she needs. Kilpatrick's poignant response is that there really is nowhere for her to get help.


Russell poses the question of what opponents of the cuts should be doing, but the panelists have few short-term suggestions. Kilpatrick points out that Engler has a majority in the state Legislature to back up his policies.


The program is interesting for its examination of the impact of an important public policy shift on many of the city's - and state's - poorest resident. But it also is interesting for the insight it offers into the personalities and priorities of Mahaffey and Kilpatrick - two prominent Detroit political leaders.


Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 4, File 16, GA (General Assistance)…Gone Forever? Pt. 1 – October 28, 1991 – Show # 2301


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