MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

An interview with analyst Julie Cassidy on health equity

Added July 20th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry

Earlier in July, League policy analyst Julie Cassidy attended the Michigan Public Health Institute’s Health Equity and Social Justice Workshop. Here, she weighs in on some questions relating to the workshop and to inequity in the healthcare industry.

Q: What are the root causes of health inequity?
A. We look a lot at “upstream factors” related to a person’s health, such as access to transportation, housing conditions, access to healthy food, that sort of thing. But there are actually factors even further upstream than that, and the three main ones are institutional racism, class oppression, and gender discrimination. Those things have a major influence on the social determinants of health.

Q: Can you give an example of this kind of inequity?
A: We learned that African-American patients on Medicare are three times more likely to have a limb amputated as White patients on Medicare. Both groups had similar health backgrounds. So we talked about why that might be. One reason might be geographic. Hospitals or healthcare facilities in areas with larger-than-average African-American populations might have different practices and policies that ultimately result in more amputations. Additionally, African-Americans might face more barriers than people of other races to measures that can prevent amputation.

2017_Health-and-Safety_WebBut there could also be implicit bias on the part of the healthcare provider, which is a frightening issue. Providers might be making unconscious judgments about a person’s ability to manage their own health, or they might be making judgments about the value of people’s bodies based on race. The doctor might assume “This person is not going to do what I tell them to do to manage this problem, so I might as well just amputate to avoid further problems.” It’s really disturbing to think about. But we need to think about it if we want to effect change.

Q: Can you explain the social justice movement taking place in public health?
A: We learned that public health arose in the first place as a response to industrialization, which is really interesting. Through the public health field, we made all these historic advances in health status through things like the abolition of child labor, food safety, adequate housing and the establishment of the minimum wage. Over time, though, the role of public health began to serve more of a technical and managerial role, while many inequities in society were exposed, and of course many have worsened. We’re now going back to those social justice roots. We’re examining how power imbalances and issues of privilege affect public health.

Q: What was the biggest takeaway from the workshop for someone in your position?
A: I saw that there was still a lot of value in applying the concepts to our policy work. The workshop presented a particular framework that resonated with me: The Four Levels of Oppression and Change. This was helpful to me in thinking about where we can be most effective in promoting a policy change. The levels are: Personal, Interpersonal, Institutional, and Cultural. Cultural refers to those broader ideas about what is normal or right or true. A permanent change requires intervention on all four levels, and one person or even one group can’t make those big changes. Working in the policy area, we focus mostly on the institutional level, but this framework helped me to be more conscious of the right ways to make decisions about the kind of advocacy we’re engaged in.

Q: What are some stories from the event that impacted you?
A: We shared a lot of personal stories about experiences with poverty or injustice, and discussed the trauma that a lot of people with low incomes can face, from infancy to adulthood. We watched a film called “The Raising of America” that detailed the community trauma that occurs. It followed an urban neighborhood made up mainly of people of color. What really stood out to me was that children growing up in this community were experiencing the same kind of stress that causes PTSD, basically from the day they’re born. It’s the same kind of stress that you hear about people experiencing in combat. But in this case it’s constant, not just one isolated event. It’s a lifelong trauma in many cases, and we talked a lot about the community bonds that are necessary to keep people healthy and safe.

Q: What is it that community leaders and groups should be doing to help?
A: Well, there’s a history of disinvestment in low-income communities and communities where there are a lot of people of color. And that comes out in the form of a lack of parks and greenspace, programs for kids—in some of these areas it’s not safe to go for a walk. So there has to be a focus on making these investments in communities where they’re most needed, not just in communities where residents have the money and can decide to pay higher taxes.

In the film, one community put in a neighborhood fitness center. Some people would look at that and say, “That’s a luxury. Why is this low-income community wasting its tax dollars on a gym?” But if your neighborhood is not safe for jogging, if you can’t send your kids outside to play in their own yard, and if we accept the premise that exercise is important to maintaining good health and that people have a responsibility to exercise, then a gym is essential. Those are the kind of things that we should be investing in.

Q: What about the healthcare industry? Other than education, what are some steps that can be taken to combat inequity?
A: As the healthcare field moves more and more toward a team-based model and community- and home-based care, we might need to rethink the traditional credentials used to determine whether someone is qualified to be a healthcare provider. People from families with low incomes, people of color, and people with disabilities face a lot of barriers to getting the education required to provide healthcare under the traditional model. However, we need people from these communities and demographic groups to play a role in public health. They have a perspective that is often lacking, and they can be more effective in connecting with the service population, building trust, and helping doctors and policymakers to better serve these populations.

Q: What can Michigan residents do to help stop this inequity?
A: If you don’t work in the public health or policy field, it can be tough to make a direct impact. But honestly, a lot of it comes back to the importance of listening to people when they talk about their experiences, and just having empathy. These things start close to us, so we have to have uncomfortable conversation with our friends and co-workers and families. We need to have the tools to address these conversations as they come up—to learn to address bias and racism and assumptions, to be deliberate and intentional with the language that we use. We can get at the cultural level of oppression when we begin to examine our personal relationships.

Q: Where could someone go to learn more about health equity and social justice?
A: Some good educational resources could be found at Center for Global Policy Solutions, Demos, the Center for Social Inclusion and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. People in Michigan looking to do advocacy work could contact Action of Greater Lansing, Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance , their local Black Lives Matter groups, or their local health departments. The Ingham County Health Department has some great resources, for example.



Weaving a wider safety net is good for all kids

Added July 14th, 2017 by Laura Millard Ross | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Laura Millard Ross

This morning, a neighbor dropped my son off at a babysitter’s. The sitter will shuttle him to a sports class later today, where a coach will keep an eye on him and remind him to use the bathroom when necessary. He’ll go back to another friend’s house after that and play Uno with her until I pick him up. In just a few hours, my son will have been supported by four adults who are not his family members. This day is pretty typical for him. Working parents need all the help they can get, and I firmly believe in the idea of children being raised with community support.

In my classroom, it’s not much different. When students feel supported by everyone—teachers, parents, counselors, lunchroom attendants, secretaries, coaches—they are more successful. We all play a role in our kids’ well-being; they need to know we care.

In Michigan, though, we are ranked 41st in the area of education by the 2017 national KIDS COUNT Data Book. In the 2015-2016 school year, 27.4% of our students were considered “chronically absent”, which means they missed at least 10% of the school year. Over 9% have dropped out of high school. These kids need our support most of all.

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

I’m fortunate enough to teach in a school district with excellent resources and a kind, caring staff. But sometimes there are pieces to the puzzle that we can’t find. A student will miss several days of school. We’ll send an email that bounces back. We’ll call home and often there’s no answer. We’ll track down siblings and other family members.

But as teachers, we’re limited in what we can do to help kids who are at risk. We need a bigger community. In my experience, despite many 80s movies that would have us believe otherwise, truancy is not typically due to kids skipping school to hit the local arcade. There’s usually a reason more valid than that.

When a student returns from a mysterious absence, we might learn that she had to work for a few days to help the family out. Or maybe he had to babysit his nieces and nephews so his sister could go to her job. Sometimes it’s the flu. Sometimes the explanation is more worrisome than that. And sometimes we don’t hear an explanation at all, which is the scariest piece. Kids who are struggling need all the help that they can get, and we as teachers can only do so much.

That’s why I was so pleased to see that the 2018 Michigan budget signed by Governor Rick Snyder today included an expansion for the Pathways to Potential program. Part of the Department of Health & Human Services, Pathways works to build partnerships between schools and families. The program places “success coaches” in schools to help break down barriers and connect kids and their families with the services and supports they need to thrive.

Whether it’s helping kids get winter gear, bringing in therapy dogs, giving free haircuts, or simply sharing smiles and laughter, these coaches are making a difference. They’re one more adult in the building who cares about kids. And they care about parents, too, offering advice on counseling, health benefits, crime prevention, and other resources that are available to families.

In the program’s first year, truancy rates dropped by 9% in the 21 schools that piloted it. Today, over 200 schools benefit from Pathways to Potential. My school is not on the list, but I’m so glad to see that the program will continue to grow next year. Community is key, and putting support directly in schools just makes good sense.

As I remember to thank the members of my little community for what they do for my kiddo each day, I’ll also do my part to help the Pathways to Potential program reach all Michigan kiddos who would benefit.

— Laura Millard Ross

Is Michigan a welcoming state?

Added July 11th, 2017 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

When I was in college, I helped mentor a young high school student who had recently moved to the area with his parents from Oaxaca in Mexico. While in school, we spent time working on school work and learning English. But we also talked about missing his family back home and about why his family chose southwest Michigan, of all places, as a place to land.

While this young man and I haven’t kept in touch over the years, he has stuck with me. Our conversations come to me more today as we face a pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment throughout our state and nation.

Within a week of taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that essentially restricted travel to the United States from several Muslim-majority nations. Many people, including legal residents, refugees fleeing war-torn countries and students, got caught by this ban and were forced into limbo, to remain at airports or to return to the country they traveled from. This ban has since been halted, and a subsequent one will soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

Since then, it seems some people, lawmakers and government agencies think they’ve been given license to discriminate.

More than once in the past six months, I’ve seen newspaper stories about immigration raids in cities near where I live, and in other cities, I’ve heard stories of immigration officials waiting outside of schools. In Michigan, legislation is pending on the House floor that takes aim at any local government that might have a “sanctuary policy,” and there was recently discussion on a bill that would make English the state’s official language. These bills are unnecessary—solutions in search of a problem—and are simply meant to divide “us” from “them.” The League and many of our partners opposed these bills, but the Legislature may move forward anyway.

ITEP Undoc Immigrant State 400x225Furthermore, the Trump tax plan and budget call for requiring a Social Security number to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, which just stokes the anti-immigrant sentiment. The IRS already requires a taxpayer to have a Social Security number to receive the EITC. So this really isn’t a policy change. Furthermore, by targeting assistance intended to benefit children, and which studies have shown have long-lasting positive impacts on the lives and well-being of children, this only hurts many U.S. children who have no control over their parents’ immigration status.

Did you know immigrants pay taxes? In fact, in Michigan, undocumented immigrants pay roughly $86.7 million in state and local taxes (and would pay more if they were granted full legal status). Their effective tax rate is already higher than the top 1% in Michigan. And regardless of legal status, they are not stealing our jobs or our benefits.

Too often immigrants are treated as culprits for whatever ails us, when really they make this nation a richer place to live. The young man I mentored over a decade ago saw the United States—and the great state of Michigan—as an opportunity for a better life. And while I hope I helped him, I know he improved my life greatly.

I do have hope though. I have hope when I look at my son with one of his best friends, whose family comes from a country in northern Africa. While I know my son sees their differences, all he really wants to do is play with his friend. And in the future, I hope that he doesn’t see those differences as something that divides them but rather as something that unites them.

— Rachel Richards

A better budget for all Michiganians

Added July 7th, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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In our world, “winning” isn’t clear-cut. There’s no finish line, no time limit, no line judges, and certainly no landslides. Our victories are determined not by a final score, but by a day-to-day analysis of how Michiganians are impacted by policies and programs. And when the state budget bills were passed by the Michigan Legislature in late June, they included several victories for us and the people we’re fighting for.

diversity 428x200Though we still have concerns about certain elements of the final budget, we are pleased that this budget was largely created with the well-being of Michigan residents in mind.

Food Security

One of our most important policy priorities is that of food security, and the new budget certainly earns solid marks in that area. A major goal of the League this year has been to support “heat and eat” to secure additional food assistance for hundreds of thousands of Michigan families, seniors and people with disabilities. Seeing this program funded is reassuring. The budget contains support for other valuable food programs, including “double-up food bucks” in Flint, which helps residents who receive food assistance make their dollars go further when purchasing fruits and vegetables that help combat the effects of lead exposure.

We had hopes that the Legislature would fund the Corner Store initiative, which provides grants to small food retailers, allowing them to make fresh, nutritious foods available in low- and moderate-income areas. However, we are grateful for the acknowledgment that this is an important program and hope that funding becomes available for it in the future. Another positive point in the healthy foods column is funding for farmers markets to purchase wireless equipment, allowing them to accept Bridge Cards.

Child Care and Education

Child care is another big focus of the League’s, not just due to the learning environment it provides for kids but because of the significant expense and concern it means for most parents. The final budget includes $8.4 million in state general funds and $19.4 million total to increase child care provider reimbursements—paving the way for more access to higher-quality care for families with low incomes. In addition, $5.5 million in federal funding from the Child Care Development Fund is appropriated to increase the entry eligibility level from 125% to 130%of poverty.

The expansion of At-Risk funding for students in struggling families is encouraging, as is the increase in per-pupil funding, particularly at the high school level. While the increase is not yet on par with inflation, it is certainly a move in the right direction. Another gain is the Legislature’s decision to increase funding for the Pathways to Potential program, which places ‘success coaches’ in schools to identify barriers faced by students and their families. This important program—left out of an earlier budget draft—will help students access important services, and the League commends Gov. Rick Snyder for recommending its expansion.


The decision to continue funding the Healthy Michigan Plan is a positive for all Michiganians—especially the 670,000 residents who rely on the plan for healthcare.

Department of Corrections

We are pleased that the Residential Alternative to Prison program was expanded. It provides low-risk probation violators an opportunity to avoid going to prison and instead enter a residential program in which they receive occupational training and cognitive behavioral programming. The budget not only continues this program in Wayne County, but adds $1.5 million to replicate it in 13 counties on the west side of the state.

Federal Cuts Loom

Unfortunately, the gains made in this budget could be undone by the senseless and insensitive policies being considered in Washington. If the Trump budget or the U.S. Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) are passed, the people of our state will lose many valuable resources and benefits. These federal cuts and program eliminations would dramatically shift costs to our state budget and force the Michigan Legislature to make cuts of their own.

While we celebrate the victories in the 2018 state budget, we urge you to take action against these proposals that would undo the good progress we’ve made. Please keep up the pressure in the fight against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the elimination of the highly successful Healthy Michigan Plan. And if you haven’t already, please contact your members of Congress and tell them you strongly oppose the Trump budget and its historically harmful cuts to the services our residents depend on.

Our success in the state budget process shows the power of persistence and advocacy. We will continue to put that same energy into policy work at the federal level, and we hope you will, too.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Helping women helps children

Added June 30th, 2017 by Harriet McTigue | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Harriet McTigue

I’ve always been interested in how our society treats women. Women are impacted negatively in almost every sphere of their lives: social, personal, economic, professional. Women are less likely than men to be in the labor force, and more likely to live in poverty. And it’s even worse for women of color who face a number of institutional barriers.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about how women are affected in policy: maternity leave and child care policies in the Trump budget that benefits the rich, the American Health Care Act’s negative affect on women, access to equal pay … and the list goes on. All of these policies that impact women usually have consequences—positive and negative—for our children. If women can’t afford healthcare, housing and basic necessities, it’s often children who suffer. We can only work to help our children through the equal support of their mothers.

Kids mom brushing teethData shows that a family’s struggles are a child’s struggles. In Michigan, 22% of our children are in poverty, 54% of third graders aren’t reading proficient, 9.1% have dropped out of high school and 15% live in households that were food insecure in the past year. The average median income for Michigan families with children is $61,600, and for Black/African-American households that number is less than half: $27,200. Ten percent of children live in extreme poverty, and 24% of Black/African-American children experience extreme poverty. All of these factors of children’s well-being are directly influenced by parents’ economic standing.

Parents often face significant obstacles in their daily lives. And when families can’t afford to provide food or buy school lunches, don’t have reliable forms of transportation, or have to work multiple jobs during teacher office hours, students experience challenges outside their control.

If you want to help children, you have to help the people in charge of them: parents. And often in cases of poverty, their mothers. Fifty-two percent of Michigan children living in one-parent (mother) households are in poverty.

Women and families need to be fully supported if they’re going to be successful and if we’re going to have a successful society. Our government needs to accept responsibility for better supporting our families and our children.

My experience as a woman, and as a child in a household with income instability, pushed me towards policy and political science, because disadvantaged and vulnerable people need to be heard in our world and our culture. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work. The League works tirelessly to improve the economic security of those living in Michigan, and to improve the lives of children.

To take care of children we must take care of their families.

As a new member of the League, this is why I do the work that I do. As a data lover, I hope to help inform work that improves the lives of kids, mothers and all families in Michigan.

— Harriet McTigue

Red alert: Delay on healthcare is time to redouble efforts

Added June 28th, 2017 by Emily Schwarzkopf | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Emily Schwarzkopf

Monday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score on the U.S. Senate healthcare bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act or BCRA. According to the report from the nonpartisan CBO, nothing in the bill makes care better and it is largely a continuation of the flaws in the House-passed healthcare bill.

Over the last two days, a vote by the Senate on their healthcare bill went from imminent to delayed at least a week. But we still need to keep fighting and make sure everyone knows how bad the BCRA is.

The CBO report shows that under the Senate healthcare plan:

  • 15 million people would become uninsured in 2018, with a total of 22 million people by 2026.
  • Federal funding to states for Medicaid would decline by $772 billion, forcing states to increase provider rates or reduce care. These cuts would also force states to look at funding priorities whether it be infrastructure, education or healthcare.
  • States’ Medicaid expansion programs would be phased out. In Michigan, that would mean the over 670,000 Michiganians who receive care through the Healthy Michigan Plan would lose health coverage.
  • Individuals may lose coverage to critical health services including treatment for substance use disorders and maternity care.
  • Average healthcare premiums would go up 20% in 2018.
  • Individuals who are low income will pay more for less comprehensive coverage.
  • Four million people with employer-sponsored coverage would lose insurance.
  • Nearly all of the coverage gains experienced under the ACA would be eliminated by 2026 and the uninsured rate among the non-elderly would rise almost to its 2010 level, before the ACA took effect. (Under the ACA, the uninsured fell to a historic low of nine percent.)

I’ll admit, I have been having a hard time over the past couple of months thinking that legislation that hurts this many people would and could actually pass. I understand that there is a legislative process and following the announcement that the vote will be delayed, I’m sure that over the coming days and weeks we will see changes made to this bill, but changes may still result in large sums of people losing life-saving care.

CBPP BCRA-AHCA Comparsion 575x525

I want to enjoy my Fourth of July and I want you to do the same, but maybe you can also take a few minutes over the next couple of weeks to call Congress at (202) 224-3121 or attend an event or town hall and tell your Representative that you will not accept any healthcare bill that:

  • Reduces healthcare coverage;
  • Ends Medicaid expansion and the Healthy Michigan Plan;
  • Ends the traditional Medicaid program as we know it through per capita caps or block grants; and
  • Makes individual market coverage less affordable.

This delay on a vote is a great sign, but the fight is not over. We must keep up our pressure on our members of Congress. Thankfully, Michigan’s two U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters have already come out in strong opposition to the BCRA (but it doesn’t hurt to thank them for their support). The lives, safety net and economic peace of mind of our fellow Michiganians and Americans are at stake.

— Emily Schwarzkopf

Philosophy, career changes and granola bars: How kids can inspire our choices

Added June 23rd, 2017 by Laura Millard Ross | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Laura Millard Ross

It’s hard for high school teachers like me to motivate teenagers, but I’ve found that—surprisingly—good old philosophy always gets them talking and thinking.

I start with Plato’s cave, delve into some Nietzsche, and touch on Camus. During one unit, I explain to my students Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The lesson starts simply enough: I draw a triangle on the board and explain the concept. I show them that if we don’t have shelter, if we’re hungry, if we’re cold, we can’t move up the hierarchy.

As the lesson continues, I watch. The students begin to look around the room. I can see, suddenly, a bit of empathy. A bit of compassion. They realize that kids who may struggle academically or socially are likely facing much deeper problems outside the classroom. Maybe the girl who doesn’t say much in class is financially supporting her siblings. Maybe the boy who doesn’t hand in homework is hungry. Maybe the student who has trouble keeping friends has been moving from couch to couch, without a permanent home.

I know the power of understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy because it is one of the most impactful lessons I have learned. It gives me a helpful lens to use when I deal with frustration in the classroom. It allows me to feel compassion and to understand when kids fall asleep in class, or when they don’t finish homework. It’s the reason I keep a box of granola bars in my desk. The reason I’m willing to extend a deadline or stay after school to work with students. And this year, it’s the reason I feel called to leave my classroom.

Maslows Hierarchy 525x326This choice may seem counterintuitive, but I promise there’s a purpose. When I saw that the Michigan League for Public Policy was hiring a communications associate this spring, I realized it was a chance for me to make a difference in kids’ lives outside my classroom walls. While teaching provides incredible opportunities to impact children, we are not often able to help them meet their most basic needs. I’ve struggled with this for years, and I realized that leaving the classroom might be the best way for me to make a difference to the children in my classroom.

This new role with the League will be the best of both worlds. I can still be with my students each day as I teach part time, but I will also be able to help the League fulfill its mission of addressing poverty and creating economic opportunity for all Michigan residents—especially our kids. I will still be ready with granola bars and hugs at school, but I’m eager to help our state’s kids meet their needs beyond that realm. I am so grateful to be part of the work being done here.

— Laura Millard Ross

Michigan continues to lag behind nationally in outcomes for kids

Added June 21st, 2017 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Data point after data point seems to demonstrate clearly that we are failing to educate our children in Michigan. We know the importance that education has to achieving long-term economic security. Education levels also impact health and other outcomes over time. And poverty, health and communities have an effect on how well kids are able to learn. This means that our policies should recognize that our educators alone cannot improve the system or outcomes, and that policies need to support our teachers and schools along with their partners in helping kids to reach their potential.

infographic - PublisherKids living in poverty or with low incomes also face a number of challenges. Of fourth-grade students whose families have low incomes, 84% were not proficient in reading compared to around 60% of students whose families were not low income. Where children live and attend school can also impact their outcomes. Albeit reading proficiency is not much better, but fourth-graders attending schools in suburban areas tend to have better rates of proficiency compared to students in city, town and rural communities.

Also impacting child development and outcomes, like education, are the notably high rates of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods. Michigan ranked 41st in the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book with 17% of kids living in areas with concentrated povertya worsening trend from 2008-2012. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities in the data: Michigan has the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the country for African-American children and top five highest for Latino kids. Children living in high-poverty communities and attend schools located in these areas are likely to have limited access to resources or parks and recreation and be exposed to more crime and violence. These adverse childhood experiences are not only traumatic to child well-being, but carry into adulthood. Michigan must invest in communities.

What does this mean for our kids who are growing up in an evolving and competitive global economy?

Schools with larger numbers of students with low incomes struggle to help their students overcome many of the barriers their students face and experience every day—and they cannot be expected to improve educational outcomes alone. Recent investments in the At-Risk program—an equitable approach to target resources in high-poverty schools—and in child care are moves in the right direction. Programs like Communities in Schools, Pathways to Potential and before- and after-school programs are great examples of addressing the whole child and family to help kids thrive and need to be expanded. And, using a cradle to career strategy through the use of programs like home visitation and adult education are critical.

Our educators, however, are the foundation for our kids’ learning and they must be supported. Recent moves by the Legislature to “reform” the teacher retirement system will do nothing to retain and attract some of our most important figures for our kids. This is a move backwards and will do nothing to improve the quality of education. The League will continue to support students, families, schools and communities as we work to get Michigan heading in the right direction on education.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

The Trump budget: A triple threat to household energy security and health

Added June 16th, 2017 by Julie Cassidy | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Julie Cassidy

In March, President Donald Trump released his first “skinny budget”—a preview of his priorities and desires for federal spending in the upcoming fiscal year. He recently released a more detailed budget proposal that reaffirms his intention to fulfill his sweeping promises of national prosperity at the expense of millions of Americans who already are just getting by on the skinniest of budgets.

Although Trump proposes alarming cuts to many services that provide a basic living standard for people with the fewest financial resources, for now I’d like to focus on just one aspect: home energy needs. The president has targeted for elimination the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which struggling families rely on for survival in the short term and to transition to economic self-sufficiency in the long term.

LIHEAP graphicPeople who can’t afford to spend much on housing often end up in old, poorly insulated homes where the rent or mortgage is low but the energy costs are exorbitant; thus, despite their efforts to budget responsibly, the poor condition of their living space limits their ability to get ahead. Federal funds make quality housing more affordable through help with utility bill payment, energy-related crisis assistance, permanent reduction in energy use through weatherization, and repairs necessary to make homes safe and energy efficient. As a result, there’s more money in household budgets for other basics such as food, transportation and healthcare. Furthermore, we all benefit from weatherization and energy efficiency measures through increased electric grid reliability and reduced pollution.

The elimination of these services would certainly have an impact in Michigan, where LIHEAP served nearly 455,000 households in budget year 2016. Approximately half of these households were below 75 percent of the federal poverty line and about 40 percent included an elderly person, a child age 5 or younger, or a person with a disability. Even with these resources, applicant households generally outnumber those actually funded by tens of thousands in a given year. Moreover, Michigan is a “heat and eat” state, meaning that households receiving at least $20 in heating assistance qualify for an increase in their monthly food assistance benefits. Thus, axing LIHEAP would directly increase hunger among some of the state’s most vulnerable people and further jeopardize their health.

The loss of all of these services would hinder working recipients’ ability to achieve economic security and punish those who can’t work—mainly children, seniors and people with disabilities—with potentially life-threatening consequences. Even more people would have to choose between freezing to death in the winter and resorting to unsafe measures in an attempt to keep warm. More people would have to try to survive on an unhealthy diet because they can’t afford the energy to power a refrigerator or stove. More people who rely on home medical equipment would have to forego treatment or get it in a healthcare facility, which may be associated with higher system-wide costs, worse health outcomes and a lower quality of life.

This is hardly a successful blueprint for American greatness. It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to cut people off from utility bill assistance while eliminating funding for home improvements and weatherization measures that can reduce their need for such assistance in the first place. It’s downright cruel to do so while pushing legislation that will raise out-of-pocket insurance costs and rescind coverage that millions of people need in order to combat the negative health effects of household energy insecurity.

It’s often said that the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use. The same can be said for healthcare. If we want Americans to enjoy better health at a lower cost, investing in quality housing and home energy security is common sense. Tell your congressional representatives to protect these vital services that reduce pollution, lower healthcare costs and empower people with low incomes to achieve economic independence.

— Julie Cassidy

President Trump’s attack on food assistance is expensive for Michigan, devastating for families

Added June 15th, 2017 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) helps more than 726,000 Michigan households put food on their tables. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would shift a significant share of the cost of SNAP and other vital programs to states, however, and would for the first time allow states to cut SNAP benefits. This would seriously threaten SNAP’s long-term success in reducing hunger and malnutrition, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Although states are responsible for some of the administrative costs, SNAP benefits have always been fully funded by the federal government and passed through by the states directly to households. This is to ensure that regional disparities in hunger, poverty and resources are properly addressed, which in turn helps ensure that low-income households have access to adequate food regardless of the state in which they live.

Microsoft PowerPoint - SNAP graphicThe president’s budget would end this longstanding and successful approach by forcing states to cover 10% of SNAP benefit costs beginning in 2020 and increasing that share to 25% in 2023 and later years. The proposal would cut federal SNAP funding by $116 billion over a decade and shift the costs to states, costing Michigan $542 million in additional annual costs and nearly $3.8 billion over the full 10 years of the Trump budget. This is all in addition to the potential block granting of SNAP that would also cause major problems for Michigan.

Lest any readers doubt the integrity and effectiveness of SNAP as a federal assistance program, here are a few facts:

The Trump budget proposal jeopardizes the ability of struggling families to put food on their tables. Given the size of the cost shift to states, Michigan would have to either drastically cut monthly food assistance benefits for SNAP participants (which states are allowed to do under the proposal), cut state funding for other critical programs or raise taxes. Do we really want to put our state in such a position rather than support a federal assistance program that has been working very well?

What is more, this cost shift would come on top of hundreds of billions of dollars in other cost shifts to states in the Trump budget. In total, the president’s budget would shift about $453 billion annually to states and localities once cuts are fully implemented in 2027—while at the same time including massive tax cuts largely for the wealthy and corporations that would likely cost several trillion dollars over the coming decade.

This is the biggest attack that we’ve seen in decades on the programs that Michigan and American families are depending on to survive. We urge readers to contact your members of Congress and urge them to reject the president’s SNAP cuts and other devastating budget cuts.

— Peter Ruark

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