Rethinking Government Assistance: Steps To Keeping Your EBT

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By Denguhlanga Julia Kapilango

It’s an oft-repeated narrative that says, many of the problems in our Black communities are due to a welfare system that requires Black men be absent from their homes.  Linked to this is the prominent belief that Black women on welfare are lazy and making a whole lot of babies. These stereotypes insult the experience of everyday Black women and Black men who are making our Black world a greater place by serving their communities in ways that are non-traditional. Some have degrees in Business Administration, while others hold Ph.Ds in Streetology. 

Black women and Black men use their gifts and skills to carve out opportunities to be the change they want to see. From starting and managing community gardens or offering computer training to senior citizens, their volunteerism translates into showing up as working, productive American citizens. Yet, when it is explained that some Black women and Black men are re-funded by our United States government for housing and food, something changes. The once heroic perception of being a strong pillar in our community shifts into negative stereotypes as both Republicans and Democrats have enacted legislation with punitive work requirements.


 Why do we downplay governmental assistance only when its termed ‘welfare’?  Everyone in America is a recipient of governmental assistance. Several non-profits receive government assistance by way of grant funding, which continues to move our country forward. The Wall Street banks were all recipients of government assistance programs during the 2008 crash. We termed it as ‘bailouts’. Receiving Pell Grants for education is governmental assistance. 

Through current efforts to curtail supplemental food programs and other essential supports for people struggling to survive, we are once again seeing a destructive narrative emerge. Now there is the enactment of (ABAWDs) Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents requirements that people must meet in order to continue receiving governmental food assistance benefits. The new rules will cut off about 700,000 people from food supplements provided through the EBT card (the Electronic Benefits Transfer). House Resolution 3734, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which established work requirements for assistance was passed in 1996. It was introduced by Republican Representative John Kasich of Ohio, passed by both house and senate, then signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 22.  

Twenty-three years later, members in our Black community are in a position of forced labor unless we educate ourselves on meeting State of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services requirements to keep their food assistance benefits.  Depending on your caseworker’s level of professionalism, empathy and follow-up, you can get cut off without knowing anything. You will get letters stating there is a 3-month period remaining in getting your benefits. You will also receive another letter stating you missed the first month of meeting the new work requirements. Before you know it your benefits end, without you even knowing the reason. However, there are a few ways that we can pull together to ensure members of our Black community keep their benefits.  


First, talk with your friends and family members that have gotten letters warning them to meet the State’s work requirements. Next, make sure each person obtains from their caseworker the required amount of hours needed to continue receiving their EBT. Explain that each person must contact their caseworker and request a Community Service Activity Report form. It is important that each person understands that going through Michigan Works or volunteering for community service are not the only ways to meet the 80-hour per month work requirements. 

Anyone needing to meet requirements can also volunteer at a non-profit. There are several national non-profits such as United Way, NAACP, Urban League, and National Action Network that have local offices. Then there are several smaller  non-profits such as We Want Green, Too, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, National Association of Black Women Entrepreneurs, Motor City Freedom Riders, and Riverwise. Let’s not forget our black churches, our African –centered schools and Black medical practices. 

Your community service hours are calculated based on the state’s minimum wage of $9.25. For example, if someone is receiving $194 in EBT, then a guestimated community service requirement for hours equals around 20 to 22 hours per month, 5 to 6 hours a week, or about an hour and a half a day, Monday through Sunday.  All of this is based on the non-profit’s hours of operation and also, what resources and skills the non-profit needs. A lot of non-profits need help with social media posting, attending community events as their representative, answering and making telephone calls, designing media releases or flyers, doing interviews on behalf of the non-profit, providing different types of training, and the list goes on.  

Please keep in mind, this article is written as a tool to support active, creative, giving Black community members that are placed in this able-bodied requirement system. We are using our Black power to support each other. Let’s continue. 


Denguhlanga Julia Kapilango is a published author of nine books. She has appeared in numerous publications, including the Detroit News, New York Times, Detroit Free Press and has appeared on WJLB.  Her writings have also been published in the Michigan Chronicle and McCormick Theological Seminary. Kapilango’s lectures have addressed affirmative action, transformation, African American History, co- creation, and racial reconciliation.  Her multimedia projects include Michigan Humanities Council Heritage Tracking Advancement Project and CW50’s For My People to name a few. Kapilango holds a dual MBA and is currently working on her doctorate. She is a champion for transformation community building.