The Family Independence Program (FIP) provides cash assistance to families with dependent children. Sometimes it is called Cash Assistance, TANF, or FIA. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) decides who qualifies for FIP. If you apply, they will look at who is in your household. MDHHS will ask about your household’s income and assets. There is a time limit on FIP, so they will also look at whether you have gotten FIP before.
Who is Eligible?
A family must have at least one adult and one child to get FIP. The adult must be the primary caretaker of a dependent child who lives in the household. A primary caretaker is an adult responsible for the care and supervision of a child. A dependent child is a child who is not an emancipated minor and lives with a caretaker. The child must either be under 18 years old, or 18 and a full–time high school student. For FIP purposes, a disabled adult child is not considered a dependent child.
There are some exceptions to the requirement that a dependent child has to live in the household. If you are pregnant, you may be eligible for FIP. You might also be eligible for FIP if your child is in foster care but expected to return home within a year.
You must live in Michigan to qualify for FIP. Your family cannot get cash assistance from any other state if you are applying for FIP in Michigan.
To be eligible for FIP, you must have at least one citizen or qualified lawful immigrant in your family who is part of your household. The citizen or qualified lawful immigrant does not have to be the adult caretaker. Even if other family members are out of status (not lawfully in the U.S.), this will not stop your application.
Generally, all non-citizen children with permanent resident status (green cards) or VAWA are eligible for FIP. Non-citizen adults who have permanent resident status or VAWA for five years or more are also eligible. Asylees and refugees are also eligible for FIP. Some other categories of immigrants are also eligible, including certified victims of human trafficking and Cuban/Haitian entrants. Immigrants who do not fall in one of the eligibility categories cannot get FIP. People who refuse to share their immigration status are also not eligible.
MDHHS cannot require social security numbers or immigration documents from individuals who are not applying for benefits. For example, if a parent is applying for benefits on behalf of their child but not themselves, MDHHS cannot require proof of citizenship from the parent.
If you have questions about FIP for immigrants, you may want to speak with someone at your local MDHHS Office. Your local legal services office may also be able to help you. You can use the Guide to Legal Help to see if you qualify for free legal advice from your local legal services office. Even if they are not able to represent you, they could still offer you advice and other help.
If you speak limited English, MDHHS must provide you with an interpreter. Be sure to tell MDHHS that you need an interpreter or need help understanding documents in English. You have a right to bring your own interpreter if you prefer. The application is also available in different languages. You can apply online and have someone help you.
FIP has both state and federal time limits. Michigan law allows eligible adults to get FIP for no more than 48 months in their lifetime. Federal law allows eligible adults to get FIP for no more than 60 months in their lifetime. There are special rules for how the law decides what months count under both state and federal law.
To learn more, read Time Limits for the Family Independence Program (FIP, or Cash Assistance).
Income and Asset Limits
FIP has income and asset limits. These limits are based on the size of your FIP household. A FIP household will include the dependent child, the child’s parents, and child’s siblings if they are dependent children.
Income is money you get. Examples of income that are counted are wages, child support, and Social Security benefits. Some types of income are not counted, like educational income.
Assets are things you own. Both real and personal property are counted. Real property includes land and things attached to it. Personal property includes cash, investments, and retirement accounts. Some types of assets are not counted, like your car and personal belongings.
If you think that MDHHS has counted your income and assets wrongly, you can request a hearing. You can use the Do-It-Yourself MDHHS Hearing Request tool to complete your request. Make a copy of the form to keep for your records.
To learn more about these limits, read Income and Asset Limits for the Family Independence Program (FIP, or Cash Assistance).
The PATH Program and FIP Work Rules
If you are an adult applying for FIP, you must follow a work participation program called PATH. PATH stands for “Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope.” PATH begins with a 10-day assessment period in which caseworkers help you with employment barriers. Your FIP case will not open until you finish the 10-day assessment. Some people can be deferred (do not have to participate for a short period of time) from PATH. Some examples of why someone can be deferred are if they have a disability, or if they are caring for a child with a disability.
Once you start getting FIP you must follow work rules. You must complete a Jobs and Self-Sufficiency Survey and develop a Family Self-Sufficiency Plan (FSSP). The FSSP will list the work activities that you must do weekly to get FIP. These activities could be up to 40 hours per week. If you break work rules without good cause (a good reason) MDHHS may do any of the following:
Deny your application
Stop cash assistance for your whole family for three months for the first time, six months for the second time, and for your lifetime for the third time
Count all penalty months toward your 48-month state lifetime limit
If you have good cause why you couldn’t follow the PATH work rules, you have the right to request a hearing. You can use the Do-It-Yourself MDHHS Hearing Request tool to complete your request. Make a copy of the form to keep for your records.
To learn more about PATH and FIP work rules, read The Family Independence Program (FIP, or Cash Assistance) Work Rules and PATH.
How Do I Apply?
To apply for FIP, submit an application to MDHHS. The application process takes around 45 days to complete. The fastest way to apply is online through the MI Bridges Portal. If you apply online you will have proof of your application. You can also apply in person at your local MDHHS office. Your local MDHHS office has to give you a paper application form if you ask for it. You can also print an application form and fill it out before going to MDHHS.
You can have a friend or family member help you complete the application if you want. If you have trouble reading or writing, MDHHS must help you, but you need to let them know that you need help. Some MDHHS offices have computer stations where you can apply through the MI Bridges Portal with help from an employee.
When you apply, you will be asked to prove important parts of your application. This means you may have to show documents such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, state ID cards, driver licenses, or passports. You may also need documents that show your income and expenses. This could include pay stubs, bank statements and proof of rent (such as a lease or rent receipt). These documents must be less than 30 days old.
When you submit a FIP application, you are swearing that all of the information you gave is true and complete to the best of your knowledge. So, if you don’t understand a question, it is better to ask for help than to guess.
MDHHS will contact you and set up a conference to go over your family’s FIP application. They will ask about any parts of the application that you did not complete, and you can ask questions to help you understand. You should bring your important documents to this conference. The conference is also an opportunity to learn about your rights. You can bring someone with you to this conference if you need help.
If you speak limited English, MDHHS must provide you with an interpreter. Be sure to tell MDHHS that you need an interpreter or need help understanding documents in English. You also have a right to bring your own interpreter if you prefer. The application is available in different languages. You can also apply online and have someone help you.
Once you are approved, you will get a Bridge Card. A Bridge Card is like a debit card that can be used at many stores and markets. You can use your Bridge Card to withdraw cash at ATMs. There are some restrictions on what you may buy with your Bridge Card. If you need to order a new Bridge Card, call 888-678-8914.
Report any changes in your household size, income, or assets to MDHHS. You must report the changes within 10 days of the change. If you do not, your benefits could be reduced or suspended. The easiest and most reliable way to report changes is online using MI Bridges. You can also call MI Bridges at 888-642-7434 or use DHS Form-2240 to report changes.
It is best to report changes in writing and keep copies of the e-mail, fax, or letter as proof you reported the changes on time. If you report a change and there is negative action you do not agree with, such as if your FIP monthly amount decreases, you have the right to request a hearing. You can use the Do-It-Yourself MDHHS Hearing Request tool to complete your request. Make a copy of the form to keep for your records.
Restrictions on Spending
There are restrictions on how you can spend FIP benefits. MDHHS policy says that you are not allowed to use your Bridge Card to pay for:
- Lottery tickets or other gambling activities
- Alcohol or tobacco
- Illegal activities
MDHHS also says that you can’t use your Bridge Card at any of these types of businesses:
- Spas or massage parlors
- Tattoo shops
- Bail bond agencies
- Adult entertainment
- Cruise ships
Problems Getting FIP
MDHHS may deny your application, decrease your benefit amount, or close your case. If you have problems getting your FIP benefits, use the Guide to Legal Help to see if you qualify for free legal help from your local legal services office.
If MDHHS denies your application for benefits and you disagree with the decision, you have the right to ask for a hearing. You can use the Do-It-Yourself MDHHS Hearing Request tool to fill out the form you need to ask for a hearing. Make a copy of the form to keep for your records.
All legal cases have time limits, and it is important to appeal on time. The limit for MDHHS appeals is 90 days from the date on the notice. In some cases, it may be advisable to both reapply and request a hearing. You may want to consider talking to an attorney about your appeal. Use the Guide to Legal Help to see if you qualify for free legal help from your local legal services office. Even if they are not able to represent you, they could still offer you advice and other help
Case Closures, Terminations, or Decreases
If you believe MDHHS wrongfully closed your case, terminated, or decreased your benefits, you have the right to request a hearing. If you request the hearing within 10 days of the date on the negative notice, you can ask to continue getting your benefits until the hearing decision is made. You may need to repay those benefits if MDHHS decides that you were not entitled to them. You might be eligible for retroactive benefits if you request a hearing within 90 days of the negative action and you win. Retroactive benefits mean you could get a payment on your Bridge Card to make up for your benefits that MDHHS did not pay you, but should have.
If you believe MDHHS made a wrong decision about your case, request a hearing. You can use the Do-It-Yourself MDHHS Hearing Request tool to complete your request. Make a copy of the form to keep for your records.
You can mail or drop off your request in person. If you mail your request, you may want to send it by certified mail. Be sure to direct it to the hearing coordinator, not your caseworker. If you drop off your request, sign the log book in the office lobby (if available). If you have a phone, take a picture of your signature in the log book for your records. You could also ask the person who takes the request to stamp your copy as proof of when you dropped it off.
If you have questions about retroactive benefits, your local legal services office may be able to help you. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find a legal services office near you.