More food assistance available this month

MARQUETTE — All Michigan families who are eligible for food assistance benefits will receive at least an additional $95 payment this month to help lower the cost of groceries, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Monday.

The additional assistance will help over 1.3 million residents in more than 700,000 households, the governor’s office said.

“Michiganders will receive additional assistance to put food on the table in March as we continue growing our economy,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This relief ensures that families can thrive and help us build on our economic momentum. We will continue collaborating with our federal partners to get things done by lowering out-of-pocket food costs and put money in people’s pockets with our proposals to roll back the retirement tax, triple the earned income tax credit and lower the cost of gas.”

In April 2020, some Michigan residents began receiving additional food assistance under this program, the governor’s office reported. Last May, all eligible households began getting extra monthly benefits. Federal approval, the governor’s office pointed out, is necessary every month.

Eligible clients will see additional food assistance benefits on their Bridge Card by Monday. These benefits will be loaded onto Bridge Cards as a separate payment from the assistance that was provided earlier in the month.

All households eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will receive an increase of at least $95 monthly, even if they are already receiving the maximum payment or are close to that amount, the governor’s office said. Households that received over $95 to bring them to the maximum payment for their group size will continue to receive that larger amount.

These are the maximum allowable benefits for SNAP customers based on their respective household size: one person, $250; two persons, $459; three persons, $658; four persons, $835; five persons, $992; six persons, $1,190; seven persons, $1,316; and eight persons, $1,504.

The federal government is providing additional funding to states for food assistance under House Resolution 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The governor’s office indicated that eligible families do not need to reapply to receive the additional benefits. People who receive food assistance can check their benefits balance on their Michigan Bridge Card by going online to www.michigan.gov/MIBridges or calling a consumer service representative toll-free at 888-678-8914. They can ask questions about the additional benefits by calling or emailing their caseworker.

Physician shortage reported

More state investment is needed to end Michigan’s growing physician shortage to ensure all residents have access to affordable, comprehensive primary health care where they live, officials with the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians said on Monday.

“Studies show that people who see their primary care physician for care tend to live longer and are healthier,” said Srikar Reddy, president and family physician with Ascension Medical Group in downstate South Lyon, in a statement. “We need help addressing the growing shortage of family physicians to protect the health of Michiganders, prevent significant increases in health care costs, and ensure patients can access care from their local physicians.”

During Michigan’s Family Medicine Week, which runs through Saturday, family physicians, family physicians-in-training and medical educators are gathering to highlight the need to address the growing primary care physician shortage before it escalates, MAFP said.

Only 33% of the health care workforce in Michigan is composed of primary care physicians, including family doctors, which is short of what is recommended for the best health outcomes, officials said.

Michigan already has fewer primary care physicians in the workforce than recommended and it’s only going to get worse, said Jennifer R. Aloff of downstate Midland Family Physicians, in a statement.

“If we don’t address this shortage now, health outcomes across the state are going to worsen and we’re bound to end up with a true primary care crisis,” Aloff said.

The group also hopes to make access to care more equitable across the state by increasing the number of physicians in underserved areas of the state.

There are 269 health professional shortage areas in Michigan where there aren’t any or there are too few primary care physicians, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

It is estimated there will be a shortage of 860 primary care physicians in Michigan by 2030. That means Michigan will need a 12% increase in its current primary care workforce to maintain today’s rates of primary care use.

“More state investment in primary care would help us get more new physicians into the field and focus on increasing health care access in the underserved areas of Michigan,” said Michael C. Bishop, program director of the family medicine residency program at Mercy Health Grand Rapids, in a statement. “Investing in programs that address the shortage will benefit future primary care physicians, communities where local care is currently scarce, and patients all across the state.”

The primary care physician shortage has been caused by many factors, including overall population growth, a growing aging population and the large number of physicians in the workforce nearing retirement, MAFP officials said. Officials estimated that two out of every five active physicians will be 65 or older within the next 10 years. Additionally, some physicians are opting to leave patient care before retirement age due to burnout.

MAFP has called on state leaders to invest an additional $31.4 million in two areas:

≤ Expanding the resident physician program of MIDOCS, a state-funded program set up to expand graduate medical education residency positions in primary care specialties while recruiting and retaining physicians in underserved areas of Michigan.

≤ Expand the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program, which assists employers in recruiting and retaining primary care physicians and helps reduce their medical education debt in exchange for practicing in an area of the state facing a health professional shortage. Currently only 40% of program applicants receive awards, showing there is demand for the program’s expansion.

MAFP said it applauds Whitmer’s inclusion of this item in her fiscal year 2023 budget recommendations, which not only calls for continued funding for the program, but would expand it to behavioral health professionals.

“The expansion of both the MIDOCS and Michigan State Loan Repayment Program would go a long way in helping address the growing primary care physician shortage we are facing,” said David Lick, program director, vice chair of education and professor within the department of family medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, in a statement. “As we celebrate Family Medicine Week, we are asking our state leaders to invest in the medical specialty that everyone needs throughout their life, that has been shown to keep people healthy and effectively manage chronic conditions and helps prevent more costly care.”

NMU updates numbers

Northern Michigan University’s COVID-reporting dashboard, found at https://nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/dashboard, indicated that as of Monday, there were two active COVID-19 cases.

There have been 249 cases during the winter semester so far. The on-campus vaccination rate is 77.7%, NMU reported.

The fall semester case total was 137.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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