MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Despite positive developments in funding for housing services, threats remain

Added June 12th, 2018 by Julie Cassidy | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Julie Cassidy

In an era of relentless attacks on the services and policies that empower struggling families to achieve their American dream, federal housing assistance is the latest target.

Earlier this year, Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), announced a proposal to raise rents for families that receive federal rental assistance, eliminate some of the income deductions used to calculate eligibility and benefit levels, and impose work requirements on able-bodied adult recipients.

Rental assistance encompasses several programs, such as public housing and Section 8 housing vouchers, that ensure that more than 145,000 Michigan families can afford a roof over their heads. Safe, affordable housing is a crucial social determinant of health. People who can’t afford quality housing are forced to make budget trade-offs that jeopardize health and safety, limit academic performance and earning potential, and make it extremely difficult to rise out of poverty.

federal rental assistance promotes health ed & work 400x400Fortunately, Congress has rejected Secretary Carson’s plan thus far. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved a spending bill that increases HUD funding by nearly $2 billion, in addition to the 10% increase Congress agreed to in the omnibus budget bill earlier this year. The Senate’s bill for budget year 2019 largely maintains existing housing assistance services and even increases funding for some programs, including public housing, homeless assistance and vouchers for veterans and youth aging out of foster care. Although the HUD bill approved earlier by a House subcommittee includes lower funding than the Senate’s version, it too avoids the rent increases and other harmful cuts desired by the Trump administration.

But we can’t let our guard down just yet. The House Financial Services Committee has held a hearing and reportedly could soon vote on draft legislation that’s received substantially less attention than Secretary Carson’s proposal but could have an even more devastating impact on families that receive housing assistance. Sponsored by Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL), this bill would:

  • Replace the current method for calculating a family’s rent obligation (30% of household income, which is the level at which housing is widely considered to be “affordable”) with an income-based tiered rent structure, penalizing some working tenants with steep rent increases for a modest increase in earnings.
  • Allow elimination of income deductions for childcare and medical expenses in calculating eligibility and benefit levels, which would harm seniors, people with disabilities and working families with children.
  • Allow a tenant’s benefits to be reduced every two years regardless of income, essentially imposing an arbitrary time limit on housing assistance.
  • Allow public housing agencies (PHAs) to establish other rent setting policies with little HUD oversight or assurance of resident protection, potentially creating a patchwork of rent structures that impede tenants who need to move among communities to pursue economic opportunities.
  • In a misguided attempt to serve more households, allow PHAs to reduce the per-household voucher amount to a level that won’t support housing stability or enable struggling families to live in neighborhoods with better opportunities for health, education and employment.

This bill is counterproductive to the goal of moving families that use housing assistance to self-sufficiency. Let your U.S. Representatives know it will harm some of our nation’s most vulnerable people, create barriers to work and weaken communities. As members of the House Financial Services Committee, Michigan Congressmen Bill Huizenga and Dan Kildee in particular should hear from their constituents and advocates in their districts. Finally, if housing assistance has made a difference for your family, the League wants to hear from you! A personal story is often the most powerful tool when it comes to making policy changes. Please consider emailing us to share your story today.

— Julie Cassidy

 

My road to policy

Added June 11th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Logan Drummond

Logan Drummond

In my home county, over a five-year period, the poverty rate for families was at 17.5%, including nearly 20% of children under 18, and over 40% of single parent (female) families. These rates contribute to less revenue from property taxes for schools, which in turn leads to fewer resources for public education than higher-income areas. Gaps in services have been a long-running issue in rural and other communities where many have lower incomes. My experience in my hometown showcases such gaps in the example of school funding and how it can impact students’ experiences.

Lenawee County

Lenawee County

I was born in a rural town in Southeast Michigan. My mother was originally from Belgium, and my brother was on the autism spectrum. Fitting into this town was a difficult and potentially impossible task for our family. Not only were we isolated without family ties and support in town, but we were further alienated because people were unaware of what autism was, so my brother was often the victim of bullying. These experiences led me to become a social worker and a policy advocate, and I want to continue to fight against injustices that any oppressed individuals might face by influencing and informing policy change.

I used to fight bullies, and now I want to fight systemic bullying. The work that the Michigan League for Public Policy does every day—including their advocacy for equity in our society at every level, including public schools—led to my interest in their summer internship. The League impacts state and federal issues, while also taking into account grassroots organizations and the communities affected by these policies.

There may have been avenues in terms of policy that may have prevented what my brother and I experienced, in addition to many other pressing issues in the city. My hometown’s school system was desperately underfunded (my high school principal was also our Spanish teacher, for example). By the time I graduated from high school, most of the best teachers were leaving because of declines in their income and benefits due to budget cuts. Plus, they could find better paying jobs in other districts. If there had been more funding, perhaps there would have been more school staff that could have prevented some of the bullying. There may have been more training for our teachers on how to approach and support someone with autism in their classes.

The impacts of uneven funding per student in public schools can be seen across the state and country. Wealthy communities and their schools have higher property tax revenues so they receive the best educational experience possible. All while schools like mine and in other high-poverty communities receive less funding due to having much lower property values. My city had nearly $2,000 less funding in total resources per pupil than another, more affluent city that was only 20 minutes away. This is another example of the need to promote equity by providing funding based on need.

The reason I want to be a public policy advocate through a social work lens is to find ways of promoting equity in our society, and to try to ensure that fewer people feel bullied thanks to those changes. One example of the Michigan League for Public Policy’s advocacy for equity is their support of the At-Risk Program, which provides funding to increase resources for high-poverty schools. The League raised the concern that the program has been underfunded, and this observation may lead to more increases in the program’s funding, ultimately providing more support to places like my hometown’s schools. My personal experiences with policy and its effects show exactly why I chose to work in policy, and why the Michigan League for Public Policy already feels like a perfect fit.

— Logan Drummond

More work needed on child care investments

Added June 8th, 2018 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Yesterday morning, a joint House/Senate conference committee approved a final budget for child care services for the 2019 budget year. At issue was how Michigan would allocate $65 million in new federal funds to improve access to high quality child care for families with low wages.

On the positive side, the committee approved a new payment system for child care providers—many of whom are small businesses operating at the margin. Child care providers have struggled with hourly payments for child care—a policy that doesn’t align with how they generally bill parents, which is for half-day or full-day care on at least a weekly basis. In addition to the burden of documenting hours of care, with hourly billing, providers could not count on a steady stream of income, making some less willing to care for children with state subsidies.

The final budget adds $15 million in new federal funding to establish biweekly payments with the following schedule: (1) providers caring for children up to 30 hours every two weeks are paid hourly; (2) those between 31 and 60 hours of care are paid at 60 hours; (3) between 61 to 80 hours receive payments for 80 hours; and (4) for 81 to 90 hours, payments are for 90 hours of care.

child care 350x233While this steadier stream of income is important to ensure a supply of child care for families working at low wage jobs, there is much that wasn’t achieved in the 2019 budget. First, the conference committee rejected a Senate-proposed increase in the rates paid to child care providers. Low rates make it difficult for providers to improve the quality of care, including hiring and retaining qualified staff and maintaining their facilities. In the end, low rates can force child care providers to make business decisions to not take children who are receiving state subsidies, or force families to pick up the difference between what the subsidy provides and what the provider charges other families.

Also not addressed in the final budget was Michigan’s restrictive income eligibility threshold for child care—the second lowest in the nation. In response to new federal requirements, Michigan raised its “exit” eligibility level to 250% of poverty so families could keep their child care even if they get more hours or a small pay increase. This 2015 policy change helped to stem the decline in the number of families receiving child care assistance, and the Legislature is now predicting a caseload increase in 2019 at a cost of nearly $25 million. However, all families entering the child care program must earn less than 130% of poverty, and caseloads remain well below those a decade ago.

Other gaps in Michigan’s child care system that must still be closed are the lack of high-quality care in many underserved communities; shortages of affordable infant care; and the scarcity of care for parents who work evenings, weekends or with uncertain schedules.

Michigan has a long way to go in building a high-quality child care system that meets the needs of working parents. The state is expecting an additional $65 million in federal child care funds in the current budget year and subsequent years, and must ensure that those funds are fully expended in ways that benefit the children and families most in need. Further, to make high-quality child care affordable for all working families, it is time to look at other sources of revenue. Michigan is third from the bottom of states in its use of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant dollars for child care, and state General Fund commitments are minimal.

Parents are struggling with the high cost of child care, and business leaders understand that the lack of child care affects their bottom line in terms of recruitment and retention. If Michigan lawmakers are serious about growing the state’s economy and encouraging work, they must rethink investments in child care.

— Pat Sorenson

It’s always time to campaign for what’s right

Added June 6th, 2018 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Running for office is no picnic. It takes willpower, dedication, tireless supporters, long nights, longer days, good walking shoes and lots of coffee. I applaud the folks who are working this summer to earn the support of the people they want to represent—the job of campaigning is a tough one, indeed. And I know that everyone out there running for office believes they’re doing what’s right for their communities, but it’s easy for some leaders to lose sight of that goal when faced with partisan politics.

Here at the League, we have the advantage of a nonpartisan agenda. We’re able to fight for what we know will help the people of Michigan, and we don’t need to be concerned with mudslinging based on political parties. That doesn’t mean we don’t face challenges, though. And our biggest challenge right now comes from an attack not on Democrats or Republicans, but an attack on all Michiganders with low incomes.

We’ve been fighting Senate Bill 897, which will take healthcare from vulnerable Michiganders by placing harsh work requirements on Medicaid recipients. The House Appropriations Committee will take up this bill TOMORROW. If you haven’t already, please contact your lawmaker and tell them to oppose this bill. We’re so disturbed by this assault on Michiganders who already struggle to put food on the table—and we’re deeply concerned that they have become pawns in an election year blame game. People with low incomes are not the cause of our state’s problems, and lawmakers must stop spreading that harmful myth.

Act Now 275x275We’re committed to stopping this bill, and if reports of Governor Snyder agreeing to it are true, then we urge him to reconsider. This shortsighted bill would upend the Healthy Michigan Plan, which was built due to his successful efforts. No exemptions or amendments will make Senate Bill 897 a good piece of policy.

While the bill is deeply concerning, there are certainly some bright spots in our work lately. One of these is our involvement in the Promote the Vote Michigan campaign. We joined Promote the Vote early on because none of our goals as an organization can be met if Michigan doesn’t start with a foundation of fair elections. I encourage you to explore the campaign’s website and attend some of their training and advocacy meetings. Michiganders can’t win if they can’t count on a voting system that works for everyone.

In other election-related news, we’re also glad to see that the issue of earned sick leave should finally be making its way to the ballot in November. It’s just common sense to make sure people can stay home when illness hits them or their children. It’s better for workers, employers and the public good.

We also know that the 2019 state budget is close to being finalized, and we’re hopeful that with some additional revenue the Legislature will invest in programs and infrastructure that will help Michigan’s workers and families.

As we continue to work for Michigan this summer, we want to thank you for all you do to help the League. Whether it’s by following us on social media, sharing your story with us, or simply staying up to date on our activities through email, your support means the world to us. And if you support the work we do in spirit, please consider supporting it with a gift. We know that you may have many commitments during this election year, but your donation makes it possible for us to improve the lives of all Michiganders through policy and advocacy. Our goals don’t follow an election calendar—we’re fighting consistently and without partisanship to build a stronger Michigan.

And please don’t forget that we’re here for you. Our candidate questions, advocacy guides, interactive data and reports are designed to help you make a difference in your own communities. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like more information about how to use those resources.

Whether you’re knocking on doors, making phone calls or just spending time in the hammock, I wish you a wonderful start of the summer season.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Earned sick leave likely to be on the ballot in November

Added May 30th, 2018 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

This past Tuesday, dozens of advocates and petition circulators convened in the library of Lansing’s Central Methodist Church to announce the gathering of more than 380,000 signatures to put earned sick leave on the ballot this coming November. Organizers then took the boxes of signed petitions to the Michigan board of Canvassers for certification.

Spearheaded by a group called Michigan Time to Care, the proposal would allow people to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers could earn up to nine days of paid sick time per year, depending on the size of the business.

sick girlPutting earned sick leave on the ballot gives voters an opportunity to do something that Michigan’s Legislature has persistently refused to do: establish that all workers should have the opportunity to earn time for sick leave in order to recuperate or take care of their children without losing pay.

It has not been for lack of trying by some legislators, however, who introduced earned sick leave bills on more than one occasion that that were never given a hearing by House and Senate leadership. Around the same time, President Obama urged Congress to pass a national earned sick leave law, and that also was denied a hearing by leadership.

Despite polling showing that this is something that a majority of Michigan residents want, the Michigan Legislature has gone in the opposite direction. Not only did it let the bills for a statewide earned sick leave policy die, but it passed a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting their own earned sick leave ordinances.

worker cutting meat_sickEarned sick leave is good for workers, helping them to keep their pay and their jobs when they cannot go into work for good reason—something many in the professional world may take for granted. It is also good for their children, who can get the rest and care they need rather than going to school or day care and exposing other children to their sickness. Finally, it is good for public health. Do you want your loved one in the hospital to be taken care of by a nurse with a cold, or your restaurant food prepared by a cook with the flu, because they cannot take time off when sick?

The Michigan League for Public Policy has long advocated for earned sick leave and for other family-friendly workplace policies. We encourage support for this proposal in November.

— Peter Ruark

The looming danger of deeper tax cuts

Added May 29th, 2018 by Victoria Crouse | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Victoria Crouse

When I was a little girl, almost every day of summer each year was spent at the small public library across the street from my family’s apartment. A familiar haven by the time I was 7, the library was where I could peruse dozens of books, access a computer, attend free movie screenings, and even win books through summer reading programs. Public libraries were a formative part of my childhood, and they continue to be a unique anchor in many communities across the state, in part because of the tax dollars that help fund them. I’m not alone in my appreciation of publicly funded services. Let me share how publicly funded programs have personally impacted some of my colleagues at the League:

Gilda Z. Jacobs, President & CEO

Gilda Z. Jacobs

Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO

 “One of the reasons that I moved into my neighborhood 43 years ago was because my kids could ride their bikes to school, the community center and the public library. Our public school is top notch and our streets and sidewalks are snowplowed in the winter. And now my grandchildren enjoy the parks as well. All of this is made possible because my neighbors are willing to invest in all of these quality of life areas (yes-paying taxes!)”

 

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Karen Holcomb-Merrill, Vice President

“When my kids were young, one of my favorite things to do was to read with them and to take them to the library to choose books. Now (a few years later!), my grandsons have also discovered the library in their community and going to pick out books is one of their favorite activities!”

 

 

 

Laura Ross

Laura Ross

Laura Ross, Communications Associate

“As a high school teacher, I work with kids every day whose families struggle to make ends meet. When tax day comes, I’m happy to contribute because I know that some of those dollars go to help students like mine. Kids can’t possibly get ahead academically if their families are having trouble meeting basic needs. I’m proud of the fact that my tax dollars go toward helping kids access food, healthcare and safe housing.”

 

Logan Drummond

Logan Drummond

Logan Drummond, Intern

“I attended the University of Michigan for my undergraduate education thanks to the financial aid that was provided by the school. Financial aid made it possible for my family to afford tuition, and it cleared the path for me to pursue a graduate school degree.”

 

 

Rachel Richards

Rachel Richards

Rachel Richards, Legislative Coordinator

“My family and I love and appreciate our public schools! As the daughter, granddaughter, sister and cousin of teachers, I understand the value and commitment that public school teachers contribute to schools across the state. Every day, teachers are helping to shape the minds of the future leaders of the world.”

 

 

My colleagues truly value the many public services and programs in communities across the state. Here’s the thing: public libraries and dozens of other important public services would cease to exist without our tax dollars. This is why, when I learned about the 2015 road funding package that included a personal income tax rate cut, I was incredibly frustrated.

This tax law was passed almost a decade before the first rate cut could even take place, making it impossible for economists to estimate the potential fiscal impact of tax rate cuts on vital public programs that Michiganders depend on. The personal income tax rate cut is set up in such a way that it triggers when state revenue exceeds a certain cap, beginning in 2023. The tax rate cut can trigger every year thereafter until the personal income tax is reduced to zero. A new report from the League shows that incremental cuts to the personal income tax would eventually eliminate a funding stream worth about $10 billion and put a significant strain on the state’s ability to fund schools, roads, safety net programs and public safety.

The truth is, if we love Michigan, we must fund Michigan. It’s time for policymakers to halt their attacks on important state revenue sources like the personal income tax. History has shown us that tax cuts are not an economic development strategy; they only dig us into a deeper fiscal hole. Policymakers must reverse this tax law before it’s too late. It’s the morally and fiscally responsible thing to do.

You can help us protect the services and program Michiganders care about by contacting your legislator today and letting them know that it’s time to reverse this dangerous tax cut trigger law. Contact your legislator today:

State Representative: http://www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic/frmFindARep.aspx

State Senator: http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

— Vikki Crouse

 

Proposed Medicaid eligibility restrictions have costly unintended consequences

Added May 23rd, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Aviva Aron-Dine

Aviva Aron-Dine

This is a guest blog by Aviva Aron-Dine, Vice President for Health Policy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Proposals to take Medicaid coverage away from people who don’t work or engage in work activities for a set number of hours each month will lead to large coverage losses, worse access to care, and less financial security, previous CBPP analyses showed. And they’re unlikely to advance their goal of increasing employment; in fact, they’ll likely make it harder for some people to work. Two new CBPP analyses (see here and here) show that, on top of these problems, these state proposals for waivers from federal Medicaid rules (some of which the Trump Administration has already approved) will have other, likely unintended, harmful consequences.

Many of those losing coverage will either be eligible people who lose Medicaid due to red tape or workers with unstable jobs who experience gaps in employment or can’t find enough hours of work every month.

  • Some eligible people will lose coverage due to complexity and state errors. The new Medicaid eligibility restrictions are extraordinarily complex for both states and enrollees, a new CBPP analysis explains. States will face an array of challenges to administer the new requirements correctly, such as tracking each enrollee’s compliance each month. And all enrollees, including those who are meeting the requirements, will have to jump through new hoops to stay covered. People who are working or engaged in work activities for a sufficient number of hours each month will have to understand which activities count toward the requirement, how many hours they must complete, and how to document their hours in these activities in accordance with state specifications. Enrollees who should qualify for exemptions will need to understand the exemption criteria, obtain and submit the needed documentation, and renew their exemptions periodically.

Experience with eligibility restrictions in Medicaid and work requirements in other federal programs shows that many eligible people will lose coverage. Certain vulnerable groups are particularly ill-equipped to cope with added red tape, which is why studies have found that people with physical disabilities, mental health needs, and substance use disorders are disproportionately likely to lose benefits, even though many should qualify for exemptions.

State errors will also cause some eligible people to lose coverage. Notably, two states with newly approved waivers, Kentucky and Arkansas, have struggled to implement other recent policy and system changes, causing tens of thousands of enrollees to lose coverage.

  • Working people will lose coverage because they can’t meet the work requirement every month. Most Medicaid enrollees work, but in unstable jobs in which hours fluctuate from month to month and in which an illness, family emergency, or disruption in child care or transportation can lead to job loss. As a result, nearly half (46 percent) of working low-income people who could be subject to Medicaid work requirements would face the risk of losing coverage under an 80-hour per-month standard, an earlier CBPP analysis found. Even among people working at least 1,000 hours per year (people meeting an 80-hour-per-month requirement on average), 1 in 4 would fall short at least one month during the year.

About 60 percent of Medicaid enrollees who could be subject to work requirements under Trump Administration guidance work at some point during the year, 15 percent report they couldn’t work due to illness or disability, and another 18 percent are caregivers or in school, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates. With large shares of workers and people with serious health needs at risk of losing coverage, the majority of enrollees at risk likely fall into one of these groups.

These proposals will also have large costs for states, the federal government, and health care providers.

  • Implementing complex new eligibility restrictions will cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per state. States and the federal government will pay millions of dollars to information technology (IT) vendors and other contractors to change notices and forms to capture more information and reprogram eligibility systems to add and track new requirements. And states will have to hire staff to administer the new rules and monitor compliance.

As estimates from nine states implementing or considering such proposals show, projected costs are typically in the tens of millions of dollars per year, with even higher start-up costs for some states. Kentucky plans to spend $186 million in fiscal year 2018 and another $187 million in 2019 to implement its waiver. And a work requirement considered by Pennsylvania’s legislature would have cost $600 million and require 300 additional staff to administer, according to a state official. Effectively, these proposals divert some state and federal dollars from providing health care to creating new bureaucracy.

  • Coverage losses from eligibility restrictions will increase uncompensated care costs. As our other new analysis explains, work requirements and other barriers to coverage in Medicaid threaten to reverse the large drop in uncompensated care costs achieved as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansion and other major coverage provisions took effect. Those costs fell by 30 percent nationwide as a share of hospital operating budgets between 2013 and 2015, with the largest drops in states experiencing the largest coverage gains: costs fell by an average of 47 percent in Medicaid expansion states. Reduced uncompensated care costs have benefited low-income families, who’ve seen large reductions in medical debt and, as a result, better access to credit. They’ve also benefited hospitals — especially rural hospitals — and other providers, as well as state budgets. Because new eligibility restrictions are projected to reverse a meaningful share of the coverage gains under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, they will likely reverse a significant share of uncompensated care savings as well.

— Aviva Aron-Dine

Getting state priorities right by investing in children and families

Added May 18th, 2018 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

With the reassurance that state revenues will grow slightly next year, state legislators will soon meet to iron out differences between the House and Senate spending plans for 2019. Decisions are expected to be made quickly, in part because it is an election year and both House and Senate members are eager to return to their districts to campaign. At the League, we hope that in their haste lawmakers don’t forget to make wise investments in the state’s children and families—many of whom have yet to recover fully from the great recession in Michigan and nationally.

Kids Count data show that despite lower unemployment rates statewide, for many families the only jobs available are low-wage and lack benefits, leaving parents struggling to make ends meet. The result has been stubbornly high rates of poverty, affecting one of every five children in the state, including more than 40% of African-American and 30% of Latinx children.

So what is the connection between the state budget and childhood poverty? It is through the allocation of state revenues—not campaign slogans—that lawmakers reveal their true priorities. By controlling the state’s purse strings, Michigan legislators have the power to change the odds for families struggling to find their way in the state’s shifting economy by investing in human capital, including health and human services, education, and early childhood education and care.

Poverty is itself a barrier to work. Parents who struggle to secure adequate food, clothing, shelter and transportation are less able to find and keep jobs—much less get the education and training they need to move forward and secure their children’s futures. Yet, state investments in public assistance programs that help stabilize families and ensure that children do not live in deep poverty have dropped dramatically.

House_Senate Human Srvcs chart 2One painfully blatant example is the state’s failure to increase income assistance grants for decades, along with the adoption of strict lifetime limits and other punitive policies for the Family Independence Program (FIP). The result has been a steep decline in the number of children receiving income assistance at the same time that child poverty remains high.

The governor recommended a very meager FIP grant increase of 1.2% for 2019, an increase that equates to $2 per person per month and leaves the maximum grant at only 29% of poverty. The House and Senate rejected even this tiny recognition of the continual erosion in purchasing power of state assistance, seemingly unaware that 80% of the beneficiaries are children, or not understanding that children won’t succeed if their parents can’t.

The League supports the governor’s grant increase as a baby step in the right direction, and further seeks an expansion of the annual clothing allowance for children receiving income assistance. In addition, the League is advocating for adequate healthcare services, more access to high quality child care for families with low wages, funds to expand the early identification of children with developmental delays and better support for high-poverty schools. Check out the League’s website for summaries of the differences between the House and Senate budgets, and join us by contacting your legislators.

— Pat Sorenson

Let’s talk sense about SNAP: The House bill would burden families and states with unnecessary paperwork

Added May 16th, 2018 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Many Americans say they hate government bureaucracy, excessive paperwork and unnecessary spending, but that is what some are pushing for in a vote that will likely take place in the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow.

At issue are changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to families and individuals with low incomes, most of whom are either working, looking for work or physically unable to work. SNAP must be reauthorized every five years, and reauthorization provides a time to make policy changes to the program as well as provide the next five years’ funding.

In an election year, telling voters one is going to “make people on Food Stamps* get up and go to work” can make for a good applause line, but it is based on bad policy and the faulty assumption that SNAP recipients do not work.

Far from discouraging work, SNAP is a work support and often functions as a temporary safety net for laid-off workers as they look for work. Most lower-paid workers cannot collect Unemployment Insurance, and SNAP helps their families put food on the table until they find a job. For working families with low incomes, SNAP provides some food assistance to help prevent them from being put in a position where they must choose between paying a medical or utility bill and buying adequate groceries. In an average month, more than four-fifths of SNAP households with a working-age, non-disabled adult are either working or between jobs.

However, the feel-good U.S. House proposal requiring all non-disabled, non-elderly SNAP recipients to submit monthly paperwork on the hours they’ve worked, and requiring all states to collect and process such paperwork, adds an onerous and ineffective burden on states and recipients. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states, this work requirement expansion “would impose substantial administrative costs on states and reverse 15 years of efforts by federal policymakers and states to make access to the program easier for working families that are juggling work and family obligations.”

It would also increase the amount of paperwork families need to submit (and state workers need to process) to prove they do not have too much money in the bank and that their cars are not worth too much. Many states have reduced this paperwork and made the process more efficient, but the House bill would bring back a top-heavy, one-size-fits-all process for reporting assets. Reducing government bureaucracy, indeed!

It is not too late to call your member of Congress to urge them to oppose parts of this bill and to support amendments to improve the bill. Here is a brief outline of the things in the U.S. House bill that the Michigan League for Public policy opposes—and a couple of things we like:

New Work Requirements and Programs:

  • The League opposes the House bill’s requirement that all SNAP participants age 18-59 (not disabled or raising child under 6) to work and/or participate in a work program at least 20 hours per week, and to provide monthly documentation of that work.
  • The League opposes mandating states to set up new work programs to help households meet work requirements, which would cost a lot of money for states and likely duplicate existing programs.
  • The League opposes the implementation of any new work requirements or programs before Congress is given the results of demonstration projects (which are nearing completion and for which Congress appropriated $200 million in FY 2013) to test various approaches to employment services, work programs, and work requirements.

 Asset Limit:

  • The League supports the House bill’s raising of the federal asset limit from $2,250 ($3,250 for households with elderly or disabled) to $7,000 ($12,000 elderly or disabled). Michigan has its own asset limit of $5,000 and would have to adopt the higher federal limit of $7,000 if it were enacted.
  • The League opposes the House bill’s reinstatement of a federal vehicle allowance and taking away states’ ability to establish a higher or more flexible allowance. Michigan has no vehicle value limit for household’s first vehicle and a value limit of $15,000 for the second vehicle, but the House committee bill would impose a $12,000 limit on all vehicles.

 Categorical Eligibility:

  • The League opposes the House bill’s elimination of expanded categorical eligibility, which lets certain households who receive other assistance receive SNAP if their gross income is below 200% (instead of 130%) of poverty. According to CBPP, 20,000 households and 45,000 individuals in Michigan would lose SNAP eligibility if it were eliminated.

 Child Support Enforcement:

  • The League opposes the House bill’s requirement that parents or guardians not living with the child’s other parent cooperate with child support enforcement in order to receive SNAP benefits. (It is currently a state option and Michigan is currently one of six states that takes this option.)
  • The League supports eliminating a state option to sanction noncustodial parents who are in arrears on child support payments. (Michigan takes this option.)

Mandating Transitional Benefits:

  • The League supports the House bill’s requirement that all states provide five months of transitional SNAP benefits to families that leave TANF cash assistance without requiring them to reapply or submit additional paperwork. (This is currently a state option. Michigan does not take this option because all cash assistance recipients are categorically eligible for SNAP and most continue to receive SNAP after leaving cash assistance.)

Increasing Earned Income Deduction:

  • The League supports the House bill’s increase of the earned income deduction (used to calculate benefits) from 20% to 22% of earnings, which gives a modest benefit increase to households with earnings.

*Although the name of the program was changed from the Food Stamp Program to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program nearly ten years ago, some politicians continue to use the former name, perhaps due to its pejorative connotations.

Why policy matters – even to those seemingly outside of its reach

Added May 16th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Charlotte Jonkman

Charlotte Jonkman

My name is Charlotte Jonkman and I am one of the new interns here at the League. Introductions have never been easy for me – primarily because my path to this point in life has been relatively uneventful. I grew up in Jenison, Michigan with my parents and two older brothers, along with my entire extended family less than a half hour’s drive away. I attended private school from preschool through high school and chose to continue that path, enrolling in Baylor University where I am now one semester away from receiving my bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Though the term “boring” often comes to mind when I reflect on the past 20 years, I have come to appreciate that “privileged” might serve as a more apt descriptor.

Recognition of that privilege served as the catalyst for my interest in public policy. I still remember a 10th grade teacher asking the class how often our lives interacted with the government. Some students cited their trips to the DMV to receive their driver’s licenses or the tax forms they’d filed due to recently-acquired first jobs—encounters that occur annually, at most. The majority of us were surprised when our teacher went on to explain how government impacts our lives at every turn, from the electricity powering the classroom lights to the clean water flowing from nearby drinking fountains to the (unrelentingly pothole-filled) roads we’d driven to school.

students taking testLooking back now, I know that we were lucky to be surprised. Children attending underfunded schools or relying on government assistance to put food on their plates feel the presence of public policy in their lives far more than I ever did. That realization–that the world is a whole lot bigger and more complex than my little corner of West Michigan—drove me to become more engaged in the news and, from there, to desire a better understanding of the policies everyone seemed to have such strong opinion about.

Since then, my initial interest has grown into a passion for utilizing the daily interaction between citizens and government to improve the lives of those who cannot claim the privilege of a mundane childhood. Specifically, I am passionate about providing economic opportunity through the protection of labor rights and the expansion of access to healthcare. In these policy areas and others, I have learned a lot over the past few years. Through my university classes, I have gained knowledge in political history and the workings of government. I continue to expand my understanding of public policy through independent reading and, admittedly, countless hours spent listening to political and historical podcasts. Unfortunately, my ever-growing Netflix queue will have to wait until “Slow Burn” has taught me all there is to know about Watergate and the New York Times’ “The Daily” has updated me on the news of the day.

While, like most people, the mere mention of annual budget negotiations or subcommittee meetings does not necessarily get my blood pumping, the benefit that seemingly miniscule changes in public policies might bring to thousands of lives drives me to continue learning and growing and is what led me to the League. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be part of an organization that shares my focus on the human impact of public policy and works to make that impact a positive one. And I am excited to spend the summer learning from and working with the many committed and passionate individuals here at the League.

— Charlotte Jonkman

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