A northern Michigan state lawmaker is defending legislation that would require able-bodied people to work an average of 29 hours per week to qualify for Medicaid.
Opponents of the bill say it would unfairly affect African-Americans living in cities.
The bill has a number of exemptions, including ones for students, pregnant women and disabled people.
People who live in counties with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or higher would also be exempt from the work requirement – as long as they’re looking for a job.
If the bill passed today, all the areas exempted would be in rural, mostly white counties.
Cities like Detroit and Flint, which have high unemployment and are predominantly black, would not be exempt. That’s because the counties they’re part of have lower unemployment rates overall.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) is a co-sponsor of the bill. He says accusations of racial bias are false.
He says people in places like Mackinac County face unique challenges to employment – different than those in urban areas.
“For example, I’ve been a big proponent of public transit – granted the Metro Detroit area public transit isn’t everything it should be – but many of our counties in northern Michigan and the U.P. don’t have any transit,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt says he hopes the bill will encourage able-bodied people on Medicaid to get back to work.
"We are not going to put those with physical or mental challenges on the street," Schmidt says. "We're not putting old people out. This is aimed at able-bodied adults."
There are around one million able-bodied adults on Medicaid in Michigan, according to an analysis done by the House Fiscal Agency. The report estimates the number would drop by 10 to 15 percent if the legislation became law.
Gov. Rick Snyder released a statement criticizing the legislation last month. He says more people with Medicaid saves taxpayers money.
The bill passed the Senate last month and is currently in the House.