Poverty Solutions director named special counselor for MDHHS


H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan and professor of social work and public policy, has been named special counselor to the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Photo of Luke Shaefer
H. Luke Shaefer

For the next two years, within his position as director of Poverty Solutions, Shaefer will work with the department’s human services policy leadership teams on a set of anti-poverty and economic mobility initiatives to enhance public benefit programs and identify pathways for sustainable employment for those with major barriers to work.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to draw on Professor Shaefer’s experience and expertise in our efforts to enhance the ways we serve families, promote work, and dignify and streamline our policies and processes,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon.

Shaefer will work with state partners to provide research evidence, data and analysis, and policy recommendations for MDHHS leadership to consider. The special counselor designation will allow him to spend a portion of his time advising and facilitating discussions on high-level human services and anti-poverty policy.

“I look forward to combining the research and action-based efforts of the university with our state partners to bring about positive change for Michigan’s most vulnerable families,” said Shaefer.

This work builds on efforts to advise MDHHS on a set of poverty-related program and policy recommendations that Poverty Solutions undertook over the summer, as well as current efforts to provide data support.

At the department’s request, Shaefer and faculty from across U-M departments examined a set of actionable program and policy recommendations focused on strengthening work supports and reducing the negative impacts of “benefit cliffs,” which reduce the positive rewards to employment for families by abruptly cutting access to public benefits.

Poverty Solutions also convened several focus groups to help inform the recommendations in partnership with Community Action Agencies and other regional organizations across the state, including in Wayne County, Clare County, and Marquette County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Since July, Amanda Nothaft, data and evaluation manager at Poverty Solutions, has provided data analysis for MDHHS that the department would not otherwise have had the capacity to complete.

Nothaft’s work evaluating asset limit policies was critical to MDHHS’s change in policy that will become effective Dec. 1. The change will simplify and streamline access to critical benefits by raising and standardizing asset limits across a variety of benefit programs, and no longer requiring applicants to gather extensive documentation of their assets that has been proven to reduce access.


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