MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

KIDS COUNT at 25!

Added July 22nd, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

Life for Michigan kids improved in important ways since 1990 with fewer children dying and fewer births to teens, the 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today, finds.

These are heartening trends because they prove that good public policy does make a positive difference. For example, the state’s graduated driver’s license helped reduced the number of teens dying on the highway and sustained public health and education campaigns resulted in fewer teen pregnancies.

While there were many improvements since 1990, troubling trends over the quarter century for Michigan are a big jump in poverty, more kids living in unaffordable housing and more children being raised by single parents.

The report also gives a picture of how Michigan compares with other states. This year, Michigan ranked 32nd for overall child well-being, with No. 1 being the best. This puts Michigan in the bottom half of states — and most concerning– the bottom quarter of the states for education, one of four domains ranked in the report.

At 38th for education, it ranks with many traditionally poor states in the South, while our Midwest neighbors fare much better, including Minnesota, which is the fifth best in the country for overall child well-being and sixth best in education.

It’s worth noting that Michigan’s test scores and other education indicators haven’t plummeted. In fact, they have improved some since the 1990 Data Book, and are about the same as last year’s report. The drop from 32nd last year to 38th this year for education means that other states are improving faster.

In other words, Michigan is running in place while other states race ahead.

Michigan ranks 37th for students not proficient in reading in fourth grade, 38th for eighth-grade math and 39th for students graduating on time.

Only in preschool, where Michigan ranks as the 23rd best among the states, is Michigan in the top half of states in the area of education. Just over half of 3- and 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, and that rate is surely on the track to improve as Michigan invests $65 million this year and an additional $65 million for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 in expanding preschool for 4-year-olds.

We know that for kids to be successful, they need strong families, good schools and safe and supportive communities. To achieve that, the League, the KIDS COUNT Michigan partner, recommends:

  • Restoring education funding cut since the start of the Great Recession, with a focus on making sure kids can read by the end of third grade.
  • Supporting families earning the least through tax credits and more robust food and cash assistance.
  • Increasing child care payments to help working parents.
  • Investing in strategies to reduce the 8.4 percent of Michigan babies born too small, particularly in communities of color.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve learned a lot about how to improve kids’ lives. Those lessons, combined with political will, can help us create opportunities for all children.

– Judy Putnam

 

‘Double up food bucks’ help families stay healthy, stretch budget

Added July 17th, 2014 by Yannet Lathrop | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Yannet Lathrop

Eating healthy is difficult when budgets are tight. Even more so when the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) is what that keep families from going hungry. But thanks to Double Up Food Bucks, a program of the Fair Food Network, families receiving food assistance can double their food budgets to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating vendors.

Fresh veggiesThere are various ways to participate in the program. Generally, when Bridge Card recipients use their food assistance benefits to shop at participating farmers’ markets, they receive a matching amount (up to $20 per day) to spend on Michigan-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. At Detroit grocery stores, the matching amount is $10 per day.

Programs such as Double Up Food Bucks complement small food budgets and are very much needed in Michigan. The state continues to struggle with high rates of hunger, despite an improving economy. Since 2007, food insecurity in Michigan has not budged from a rate of 13.4%, the third highest in the Midwestern Great Lakes region.

Although dropping a bit since 2011, the state continues to have a high rate of participation in SNAP, with 17% of the total Michigan population receiving this assistance in March 2014 – a reflection of the tough economic times in the state. Furthermore, among Michigan workers employed in the service industry, a majority do not earn enough to make ends meet without some form of public assistance.

The additional $20 that Double Up Food Bucks provides can make a big difference to these families. It not only allows them to eat healthier, but also helps plug holes in their food budgets. Despite the need, food assistance benefits are very modest and have been steadily decreasing over the past few years, with a sharp drop in November 2013.  In Michigan, the average benefit is $128 per person per month, or just $1.42 per meal.

Double Up Food Bucks runs through Oct. 31, and has more than 150 participating locations across the state. More information in English, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic can be found on their website.

– Yannet Lathrop

100,000 kids get reason to smile, 400,000 left out

Added July 9th, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

With the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties, 100,000 kids (and their parents) will have reason to smile as they gain access to this highly successful program starting Oct. 1.

Healthy Kids Dental  is a public-private partnership between the Department of Community Health and Delta Dental of Michigan. The program is available to Medicaid-eligible children under age 21 in 78 counties in which the Department is funded to contract with Delta Dental.

The state budget beginning Oct. 1 includes $5.4 million in state funds and $10.3 million in federal funds to expand to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties. The program, administered by Delta Dental, uses Delta’s commercial network and pays higher rates than Medicaid.

That means as of Oct. 1, Healthy Kids Dental will be available to Medicaid-eligible children in all counties except Wayne, Oakland and Kent. These counties are home to hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families, representing nearly 40% of Michigan’s Medicaid-eligible children. A significant percentage of those left out are children of color.

While it is great that 100,000 children will gain access to comprehensive dental services, it is critical that all Medicaid-eligible children in Michigan have access to this program and to good oral health opportunities. Tooth decay remains the No. 1 chronic disease in children, but it is preventable with access to good dental care. Like potholes, cavities just grow larger, more expensive to repair and more painful.

All children need to be able to learn and progress in school, but toothaches and other dental problems cause them to lose concentration or miss school. In a study of low-income children in Los Angeles, researchers found that elementary students missed 2.1 days of school each year due to dental problems while high school students missed 2.3 days and parents missed 2.5 days of work.

In addition, untreated problems can impact overall health, including growth and nutrition as well as behavior. Inadequate oral health treatment in childhood can result in ongoing problems in adulthood, including missed work, inability to get a job, or aggravated chronic health conditions.

The Michigan Oral Health Coalition report, 2013 Check-Up on Oral Health, documents a number of key oral health indicators by county, including the number of Medicaid-participating dentists, the number of Healthy Kids Dental participating dentists as well as the estimated cost of “dental neglect.”

While we celebrate the addition of Kalamazoo and Macomb counties to the list of Healthy Kids Dental covered counties, we must not lose sight of the kids left behind. Healthy Kids Dental must be expanded statewide to the remaining 402,000 children, improving their health and learning potential, while reducing pain and cost.

-- Jan Hudson-

 

Need Facts About Your County?

Added July 8th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

How much does a parent need to earn to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in your county? What percentage of children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school? What percent of the population in your county is Native American?

Answers to questions such as these can be found in the new, updated county fact sheets called Mapping the Facts, by the Michigan League for Public Policy. We developed these fact sheets for advocates, policymakers and concerned citizens. The sheets have been updated with the latest data available, including 2012 poverty statistics.

If you run a nonprofit, you can use the statistics in these fact sheets for your fundraising. If you are in a health or education occupation, the information can provide useful information about the populations with whom you work. Journalists, city or county administrators and even political candidates will find these sheets useful.

The Mapping the Facts feature is popular. Over the past year, it has been accessed on the League’s website nearly 5,000 times.

The League is very interested in hearing how these county fact sheets help you in your work. E-mail us at pruark@mlpp.org. We welcome your feedback!

F for no effort: Michigan fails working families

Added July 7th, 2014 by Yannet Lathrop | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Yannet Lathrop

Workplace policies have been on the minds of many over the past two years, with minimum wage and right-to-work rising to the top of debate in Michigan.

Yet, two important labor issues have not received nearly as much thought, despite their relevance to a wide number of Michiganians: paid sick days, and family and medical leave.

A new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, could bring this issue the attention it requires. According to the report, Michigan is one of 17 states to score an F in family-friendly workplace laws for new parents, and it is the only Great Lakes state to receive this grade. Other states in the failing grade category include Alabama and Mississippi.

The National Partnership for Women and Families awarded each state points for state policies that support new parents in the private and public sector. Specifically, the group looked at the existence of state laws that exceed family and parental leave guarantees under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act; maternity leave to prepare for and recover from pregnancy and child birth; sick time flexibility to care for a new child or ill partner; workplace accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations; and workplace accommodations so new birth mothers who have returned to work can continue to provide breast milk to their new babies.

Michigan, along with other F-grade states, does not have any such enhanced protections for new parents, and was not awarded any points. In contrast, other Great Lakes states such as Illinois and Minnesota each received passing grades (B and B-minus, respectively). California received the highest grade, A-minus, among all states in the report, while Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey and the District of Columbia each earned a B-plus.

As in the rest of the country, most Michigan families (98%) have at least one parent in the labor force. In fact, according to 2012 Census data, a majority (67%) of married couple families with minor children are dual-income families where both parents work to provide for the family.

Given the preponderance of working families with minor children in the state, laws that expand federal protections for working families in times of illness or the arrival of a new child are a policy imperative.

– Yannet Lathrop

Budget: Glass half empty or half full?

Added July 2nd, 2014 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
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The newly finalized state budget for the year that begins Oct. 1 is truly a glass-half-empty-or-half-full dilemma.

On one hand, investments in early education, health and services for seniors are needed and so very welcome.

These include $65 million to expand the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s public preschool. An estimated 10,000 4-year-olds will benefit, offering more hope for their future success as adults and a stronger Michigan workforce.This is in addition to the same amount added in 2014.

Add to that full funding for the Healthy Michigan Plan (Michigan’s Medicaid expansion with more than 300,000 enrollees!), the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental offering better access to dental care in two additional counties and the elimination of waiting lists for senior meals, and my cup runneth over!

On the other hand (and in the glass-half-empty category), the budget does not begin to undo the years of harm from cuts to vital services and infrastructure.

Based on falling cash assistance caseloads, the final Department of Human Services budget reduced cash assistance known as the Family Independence Program to $146.6 million — down 32% from the current fiscal year.

The number of families receiving help is at the lowest level in more than 40 years, even as unemployment remains high. At 7.5% in May, it’s the sixth highest in the country. Remember that this is a program to help families with children cover the most basic of needs – shelter and utilities.

To address unmet human needs we need to look at the reasons for the falling caseloads. The department, unfortunately, has ceased publishing data on why cases are closed. Restrictive policies have no doubt played a big role in the plummeting caseloads, including strict enforcement of lifetime limits for FIP with no discretion to waive time limits for those parents playing by the rules.

Despite rising poverty, restrictions on the Food Assistance Program (nearly all from federal funds) were continued in this budget. These include the 2011 optional state asset test for food benefits and the failure to increase energy assistance to avoid reducing food benefits for an estimated 235,000 low-income families in Michigan due to changes in the “heat and eat’’ provisions of the federal Farm Bill.

Restoring child abuse and neglect prevention services is another missed opportunity in the budget. Total funding for family preservation and prevention programs dropped by nearly 19% from $60.6 million in 2005. Yet the number of substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect grew by more than 20% between in the same time period.

Some education increases are hard to categorize as half empty or half full. They are needed but do not come close to restoring harmful cuts that began even before the Great Recession. Included in the budget are modest increases to K-12, universities and community colleges, and an increase in a scholarship program for students from low-income households. After years of cuts, this budget is moving education funding in the right direction but clearly not fast enough.

Left unfinished by lawmakers before they broke for the summer was a solution to pay for much-needed repairs in our pothole-riddled roads. It’s clear that something must be done but it should not be at the expense of those who can least afford it.

Increasing or earmarking sales and use taxes will divert dollars away from healthcare, public safety and other necessities. We would end up taxing diapers, toiletries and other nonfood goods to pay for roads. Raising taxes on fuel is a good option, but we must ensure that workers earning the least will be able to afford transportation to work. A targeted tax credit, such as restoring a portion of the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit to offset the increase in fuel taxes, could make it a solution that works.

In fact, we might call it a full glass indeed.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

If there’s a will, there’s a way

Added June 30th, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

A new video and visually engaging report out today strongly makes the case for rebuilding the state’s education system, protecting Michigan’s abundant natural resources and investing in roads and our communities.

The project is called The Michigan Dream at Risk, from the Michigan Economic Center, an affiliate of Prima Civitas, a nonprofit organization that works to create resilient, adaptable communities in Michigan.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, the League’s president and CEO, and board members Charley Ballard and Bob Kleine were interviewed for the project. (more…)

A stronger Michigan economy is within reach

Added June 25th, 2014 by Karen Holcomb-Merrill | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Yes we can grow Michigan’s economy, create good jobs and expand opportunities for all Michiganians with the right public policy decisions. A new report by Erica Williams at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how policymakers can make that happen.

Williams explains that states need to invest adequately in education, healthcare, transportation and workforce development. And in order to do that, they need to make decisions about how to raise and spend revenues with an eye toward the future. (more…)

Vets lose benefits as we celebrate Fourth of July

Added June 24th, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

Just as we head into one of our most patriotic celebrations of the year next week (the Fourth of July), a new estimate out shows that 285,000 unemployed veterans will lose jobless benefits by the end of June, including thousands of out-of-work vets in Michigan.

Extended benefits known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation expired Dec. 28. Congress’ failure to extend the benefits means that 1.3 million workers were cut off from unemployment benefits nationwide at the end of last year, with an additional 1.6 million exhausting their regular state benefits in the first six months of this year. Included in those numbers are nearly 300,000 jobless vets, Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates. (more…)

Youth behind bars

Added June 23rd, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Why do we recognize the immaturity of youth under age 18 in every other area except criminal justice? Isn’t it a bit odd to define maturity by criminal activity?

Over 20,000 Michigan youth have been placed in adult probation, prison or jail over the past decade, according to the report Youth Behind Bars released earlier this month by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. Researchers found that most of these youth in the adult system committed nonviolent offenses, and almost three of five had no prior record. One-quarter had received mental health treatment before being imprisoned. (more…)

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