MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Good news: The ACA is working as intended

Added August 25th, 2015 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

It has been said many times before, but bears repeating—the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is doing what it was designed to do. The ACA has succeeded in providing quality healthcare coverage and reducing the number of uninsured, and with its consumer protections, fewer individuals are experiencing trouble paying medical bills. According to a recent Gallup Poll, only Texas maintains an uninsured rate greater than 20% of its residents, no state has reported a statistically significant increase since 2013, and seven states through the first half of 2015 have uninsured rates that are at or below 5%.

Those who oppose the law continue the drum beat that the law is failing, especially as another presidential election heats up, but the research tells a different story.

The positive national findings are confirmed in Michigan according to the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation’s (CHRT) 2014 Cover Michigan Survey. The report stated, “Overall, the number of residents reporting they were uninsured, struggled to pay medical bills and/or delayed seeking needed medical care has dropped significantly compared to CHRT survey findings before the launch of the ACA coverage expansions.” The survey found the percent of adult Michiganders without healthcare coverage declined from 14% in 2012 to 7% in 2014 and that the percent of residents who had difficulty paying medical bills declined from 27% in 2012 to 20% in 2014.

In addition, the ACA has not resulted in the dramatic job losses and reductions in work hours that opponents predicted. A recent analysis by ADP Research Institute, the research arm of a payroll-management firm, found that on an aggregate basis, jobs have not been lost or hours reduced because of requirements of the ACA. An improving economy is seen as having the greatest impact, with full-time jobs increasing by 9% between 2010 and 2015, and part-time jobs decreasing slightly.

There is also good news on health insurance rate increases for plans being sold on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace in 2016. While many states are reporting average increases of more than 10%, for Michigan, the average insurance rate increase approved by the Department of Insurance and Financial Services is only about 6.5%. The approved increases do vary considerably by plan, ranging from an increase of 35.8% to a decrease of 12.6%. The Michigan increase is described as “modest.”

The ACA is not perfect and amending the law could improve its benefits, but this data shows it is achieving its goal. Thanks to the ACA, great gains have been made in health insurance coverage and affordability for moderate and low-income residents without the dire negative impacts and consequences predicted by the law’s opponents.

  – Jan Hudson

A two-generation strategy to reduce poverty and increase school success

Added August 21st, 2015 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

The message was loud and clear at the State Board of Education meeting last week: family income and school success are inextricably linked, and Michigan’s school reform efforts will not succeed if the state doesn’t address that reality.

League President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs was invited by the State Board and new Superintendent Brian Whiston to address what it would take to make Michigan a top ten state for education. The Board is seeking input from education and business groups, advocacy organizations, teachers and parents—with the goal of developing a much-needed plan for action.

As the recent Kids Count Data Book revealed, child poverty is increasing in Michigan despite overall economic recovery, with 28% of all young children living in poverty, and rates much higher for children of color. The sad reality is that public policy decisions have made the problem worse, including reductions in the state Earned Income Tax Credit and punitive school truancy policies.

The impact of childhood poverty on education and the economy is clear:

  • The number of school children eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches continues to be the most reliable predictor of standardized test scores, and little has changed despite years of reform efforts.
  • Children in low-income families are more than twice as likely to repeat a grade, a strong predictor of school dropout. One of four adults who spend more than three years in poverty fails to receive a high school diploma.
  • Only one-quarter of women who spend half of their childhood in poverty are consistently employed as adults.

The League supports a two-generation solution to poverty and education that ensures that all children are ready for school and can succeed once they enter the school house doors, and simultaneously helps parents get the education and training they need to increase family income.

Our top three priorities include:

1. Reduce disparities based on income, race and place by targeting resources to high poverty districts and communities of color, beginning with full funding of the At-Risk program. The At-Risk program allocates funds to school districts based on the number of low-income children. With the governor’s leadership there will be a much-needed increase in the 2016 budget year—the first in more than a decade—but the program is not fully funded and needs to be.

2. Invest in early care and education with a stronger focus on child care and services for families with infants and toddlers. With the governor and Legislature’s leadership, Michigan has made great strides in enrolling low-income 4-year-olds in high quality preschool programs. Yet to be addressed are the woefully inadequate investments in children from birth through age 3—the time of greatest brain growth and learning. Among the early priorities are increased access to proven home-visiting programs and state funds for infants and toddlers who have been identified by the Early On program as having developmental delays.

From a two-generation perspective, greater investments in child care are especially critical. Without subsidies, high quality child care is unaffordable for most low-wage parents, and children placed in unsafe or low quality care can miss a critical window for early learning, with lifelong repercussions. Unfortunately, Michigan has some of the lowest eligibility and payment rates in the country, and the number of families helped by Michigan’s child care subsidy has plummeted.

3. Strengthen adult education and training. Adult education is a transition into the postsecondary education or training needed to create a competitive workforce in Michigan. Over 222,000 Michigan adults lack a high school diploma or GED, but fewer than 7% are enrolled in adult education and funding for adult education has dropped an astonishing 90% since 1996.

While alleviating poverty cannot be the primary focus of public schools, we also cannot continue to proceed with reform efforts with our heads in the sand, denying the indisputable impact of income, race and place on school success. We applaud the initiative taken by the Superintendent and the State Board and appreciate the opportunity to be involved. We hope their work will lead to policies and investments that can help move the dial on education.

– Pat Sorenson


Federal reform will expand immigrants’ economic contributions at the state level

Added August 19th, 2015 by Seema Singh | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Seema Singh

Despite ongoing political rhetoric designed to raise fear and animosity surrounding immigration, immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, contribute a great deal to Michigan’s economy. There are many reasons why federal immigration reform through expansion of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) makes economic sense for Michigan as a whole.

The Center for American Progress did a state by state analysis of the economic impact of DACA and DAPA expansion policies. For Michigan it estimates that these expansions would result in a $1.86 billion increase in cumulative Gross Domestic Product and create 230 new jobs. Another recent study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) shows undocumented immigrants pay a greater proportion of their income through sales and property taxes as well as income taxes.

About 75% of undocumented immigrants still file income taxes annually, and undocumented immigrants paid about $11.8 billion around the country in state and local taxes in 2012. The ITEP report focused on the impact of federal reform of DAPA and DACA that would allow undocumented immigrants meeting certain criteria to stay in the U.S. temporarily without fear of deportation.

According to the report’s findings, granting undocumented immigrants lawful permanent residence will:

    • Raise the taxes that they pay on average from 8-8.7% based on an increase in earnings;
    • Will lift state and local tax collections by about $2.2 billion a year.

Undocumented immigrants grow up and attend school in Michigan, but face significant challenges due to their status when it comes time to go to college or enter the workforce. In 2013, many Michigan universities changed policies to offer in-state tuition to undocumented youth; however, these students still do not qualify for state aid, and many young undocumented students are still unaware that college is even an option. Many of these students would qualify for deferred action under DACA, broadening their educational and professional horizons while helping Michigan keep up with the demand for health and other college-educated professions.

Meanwhile, many politicians have recently been outspoken about “sanctuary cities,” which have become an unwarranted scapegoat for an unfortunate crime. Sanctuary cities are communities that provide some protection for undocumented immigrants, where local police generally do not enforce federal immigration laws, varying with each locality. These policies are meant to enhance trust between communities and police and decrease use of courts and jails for nonviolent offenders. Arizona-style immigration legislation was recently introduced in Michigan. This knee-jerk legislation is bad policy, and as Arizona showed, the potential cost of this type of legislation is already quite clear — including expensive litigation, business losses and high training costs.

At a time when Michigan seeks to attract and keep young skilled workers in the state, and become a global hub for innovation, it is important that the contributions of undocumented immigrants are not overlooked. Reforms like DAPA and DACA could add a much needed economic boost to the economy, resulting in more jobs, greater individual earnings, and ultimately more state revenue that is needed to fund vital services like transportation and schools for the entire state.

–  Seema Singh


Michigan getting it right on public assistance for former offenders

Added August 12th, 2015 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

When we at the Michigan League for Public Policy blog on public assistance, it is often about our state cutting support services or otherwise failing those in need. Today, however, we are happy to share the good news that Michigan is better than most states when it comes to providing public assistance to offenders convicted of drug felonies.

Since 1996, federal “welfare reform” law has prohibited individuals with felony drug convictions and their families from receiving cash or food assistance. However, states are allowed to waive the restriction in full or in part and provide assistance to otherwise qualifying individuals with felony drug convictions.

While a majority of states have waived the cash assistance ban at least in part, Michigan is one of only 15 states that has no ban at all. In Michigan, a person who has completed punishment for a felony drug conviction can receive cash assistance from the Family Independence Program if he or she otherwise qualifies. Likewise, Michigan is one of only 19 states that has no ban at all on former drug offenders receiving food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.









Providing assistance to former offenders as they try to restart their lives is important in preventing recidivism. They made mistakes, they served their punishment and they are working to rebuild their lives, and the state is rightfully willing to assist them with that. These offenders often face job and housing barriers and social stigmas when trying to reintegrate into the mainstream, and society and the individual both benefit when the transition is successful. Public social services programs help ensure that.

It is true that Michigan must make changes to its cash assistance program to better meet the needs of poor families by raising the monthly benefit level, expanding eligibility (one must be at 51% of the poverty line in order to receive cash assistance) and allowing more opportunities for skill-building. However, our state is doing right to not exclude former drug offenders from public assistance. When former offenders successfully assimilate into society, we all benefit.

UPDATE: While Michigan does not bar individuals with one drug felony conviction from receiving cash or food assistance, it bars individuals from both kinds of assistance for life if they have two or more felony drug convictions that occurred after Aug. 22, 1996.

– Peter Ruark


Leveling the financial playing field for married couples

Added August 7th, 2015 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

In June, the United States Supreme Court made history in the 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, striking down state bans on same-sex marriage. Regardless of whether you agree with the decision, the impact of this ruling goes far beyond wedding bells and cake.

The decision opened up to all couples not only the right to marry, but also to divorce, to adopt a spouse’s children, to visit the other in the hospital and make medical decisions, and to plan for retirement. The decision also likely allowed couples to gain access to various employment benefits, such as health insurance coverage. And it leveled the financial playing field, making tax and estate planning much simpler.

This tax benefit is especially apparent in Michigan. Michigan’s income tax code piggybacks off of the federal tax code, so generally if you file a joint federal return, you file a joint state return. However, following the Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, because Michigan did not recognize same-sex marriages, these couples had to file as single at the state level, although they filed a joint federal return. This resulted in many couples having to prepare five returns – a federal joint return, two dummy federal single returns and two state single returns based off of the information provided in the single federal returns. Thankfully, the Obergefell case cleared up this conflicting policy, and now married couples can all choose to file joint returns.

Surprisingly, the state may also benefit from same-sex marriages in tax revenue. According to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, weddings will allow the state to realize an estimated $3.2 million in sales tax revenue in the first three years, in addition to the positive tourism, job creation and local economic impact.

Michigan and the rest of the nation still have a long way to go in the fight for equality. In many states, including Michigan, a person can still be fired, denied housing and discriminated against simply for being gay or lesbian. But until then, this historic decision has had a positive effect on many of the residents in Michigan, including checking “married filing jointly.

– Rachel Richards


Michigan families need federal action on EITC, CTC

Added August 5th, 2015 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

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While much attention has been focused recently on protecting the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), there is equally urgent action needed in Washington to save critical pieces of the federal EITC and Child Tax Credit (CTC). The federal and Michigan EITCs combine to provide much-needed support to help working families rise out of poverty, and we have to fight this battle on multiple fronts in order to protect these valuable tools.

The three provisions of the federal EITC and CTC that are set to expire are: a larger EITC for families raising three or more children; a reduction in the EITC “marriage penalty” that some two-earner families face; and a lower CTC earnings exclusion that expands the credit to very low-income working families. These stipulations are critical to helping millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents make ends meet and afford the very things that keep them working, such as child care and transportation.

If Congress does not preserve these provisions, more than 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, will lose part or all of their EITC or CTC. Right here in Michigan, 727,000 children in 415,000 Michigan families will lose some or all of their working-family tax credits and 176,000 children, and 357,000 Michiganders overall, will be pushed into—or deeper into—poverty.

Although these credits are facing uncertainty, some legislators in Washington have made clear their plans to make many expiring business tax breaks permanent. Rather than pitting our businesses and our workers against each other, the League and our allies are simply asking that these credits be treated equally and made permanent together.

If Congress is willing to make any corporate tax breaks permanent, they should in good conscience be willing to do the same to ensure that vulnerable working families are not left behind. The formula for economic success should include businesses and workers alike, and both state and federal elected officials should be working to reduce poverty and the need for government assistance, not the other way around.

The EITC and CTC are two of the nation’s most effective pro-work, anti-poverty policies—and research shows their impacts on the well-being of poor children and their families are long-lasting. By enabling one generation to work their way out of poverty, these credits help break the poverty cycle and give kids a better chance at success when they grow up.

These credits help families and also our state economy as a whole. According to the most recent data available, the EITC boosted the incomes of 846,000 Michigan households, putting about $1.9 billion into Michigan’s economy. The CTC also had a wide reach in Michigan, with 551,000 Michigan households receiving the credit.

We have to stop looking at these credits solely as line items in a budget, but rather as faces in our communities. These are the workers, parents, and veterans that live in our neighborhoods and work in our restaurants, shops, senior centers, daycares and schools.

About 62,000 Michigan veteran and military families receive the EITC or CTC, and about 602,000 Michigan mothers and 362,000 fathers in working families receive one or both of the credits.

As Congress considers making the recent EITC and CTC improvements permanent, it also has an opportunity to fix a glaring gap in the EITC that excludes workers who are not raising dependent children, including young people just starting out and noncustodial parents. This oversight in the federal income tax system virtually taxes millions of working poor adults into poverty, and making a more adequate EITC available to these workers would help correct this problem. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and President Barack Obama have proposed nearly identical proposals to expand the EITC for these childless workers, and Congress should seize this opportunity to act in a bipartisan way.

The state and federal EITC and CTC only go to people who work and are specifically designed to encourage employment and self-sufficiency. The EITC and CTC have a history of bipartisan support—from President Ronald Reagan to President Bill Clinton. It is now up to Washington to continue that bipartisan support by working together to save these important provisions and strengthen the EITC for childless workers.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs


Happy 50th anniversary Medicaid

Added July 30th, 2015 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the bill signing that created the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Michigan’s John Dingell was present at the signing in 1965, and in recent years continued to push for Medicaid expansion in Michigan that is helping so many more individuals today.

It is truly mind-boggling to think about the millions of individuals in Michigan the Medicaid program has served and saved since it was implemented in October 1966. Medicaid and Healthy Michigan Plan enrollment currently exceeds two million residents. The breadth of the program’s impacts as well as the vital supports and health and financial security the program provides is remarkable.

I think about the babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units who have survived and thrived because of Medicaid, or the elderly and those with disabilities who have been able to live independently and remain in their homes or communities because of the programs and services provided by Medicaid. From newborns to seniors and everyone in between, Medicaid continues to help Michigan citizens receive the care they need.

I’m sure all of us have a family member, friend or acquaintance who has benefitted from the Medicaid program. I am so grateful my mother-in-law was able to enroll in the MIChoice waiver program and receive services that allowed her to remain in her own home when she was no longer able to care for herself.

I applaud the governor and Legislature for expanding Medicaid and creating the Healthy Michigan Plan. This program is providing healthcare coverage and services to hundreds of thousands of residents who had previously been forced to go without coverage, and many had to forego needed medical treatment. They now have the opportunity to take control of their health and take care of themselves, and not just be fearful of what might be coming next. They are able to see a doctor when they need to, obtain needed medications and go to a dentist.

To continue the Medicaid tradition of “keeping us healthy,” it is essential that federal and state policymakers work together to enable the Healthy Michigan Plan to continue. State officials are currently in discussion with federal officials to try to work through policy changes required by the state law that may not conform with federal law or regulation. If agreement cannot be reached, state lawmakers may have to step in on behalf of their constituents to modify the law to continue this very successful program.

While some consider high enrollment in Medicaid an economic failure, an alternative to simply being uninsured is not clear. Some people will never be able to get enough hours (due to the nature of their jobs) to qualify for employer-sponsored coverage or their pay will remain too low to allow them to purchase coverage for themselves and their families. I’m thankful that Medicaid is there as a support system for those low-income individuals and families. In addition, there are many small employers who are not mandated to provide coverage and will never be able to afford to. I’m grateful Medicaid is there as a safety net for those small employers and their employees.

The success of our state’s insurance market should not just be measured by who is providing the coverage and whether it’s the public or private sector, but by whether or not we have a healthier population and workforce and improved quality of life for all Michigan residents. In that regard, Medicaid continues to have resounding results.

Let’s celebrate the Medicaid program for the good that it has done over the last 50 years, work with policymakers to continue the long history of innovation and improvement in the program, and commit to thwarting any efforts at the state or federal levels that would diminish this efficient, effective program.

Congratulations to all of those individuals who have made the Medicaid program what it is! Here’s to the next 50 years!

– Jan Hudson


Tipped wages transfer business risks to workers

Added July 29th, 2015 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Do you tip your server generously when you dine out?

Hopefully you do, because your server may earn less than you think. Restaurants are only required to pay their servers $3.10 per hour in Michigan, which is 38% of the minimum wage for non-tipped professions. (This will rise concurrently with the regular minimum wage to $3.52 by 2018, remaining at 38% at each wage step.)

The tipped employee minimum wage enables restaurants to keep their menu prices low while allowing patrons to voluntarily subsidize their servers’ low wages, in effect passing the risk of slow business or stingy customers onto the workers.

With Michigan’s recent economic struggles, more people have turned to service industry jobs. In fact, tipped work is one of the fastest growing occupations and one of the lowest paid, and low tipped wages are inordinately hurting women and people of color.

To narrow the wage gap for all workers, Michigan should eliminate the tipped employee wage, and require restaurants and other employers to pay tipped workers no less than the regular minimum wage. There are currently bills in the Michigan Legislature—House Bill 4720 and Senate Bill 373—that would do that. If more politically feasible, raising the tipped wage to a higher percentage of the regular minimum wage (i.e., 65% rather than the current 38%) would be a positive step. But in the current political climate, no help for low-paid tipped workers seems likely; the restaurant lobby will surely fight any proposal to raise or eliminate the tipped minimum wage.

In many countries, tipping is not expected. Some restaurants in the United States have already eliminated the tipping tradition and advertised themselves as tip-free restaurants, by either adding on a gratuity to the meal checks or by raising their menu prices. Diners pay roughly the same amount as they would if they were expected to tip, but the servers’ take-home pay is not put at risk by slow business days or customers not following the tipping protocol.

One thing concerned diners can do is find out which restaurants pay their servers a tipped wage higher than the minimum required, and which have eliminated the tipping system altogether. Those would be good restaurants to support next time you are hungry.

You can also contact your legislators and urge them to support one fair wage for all workers and end the tipped wage income gap.

 – Peter Ruark

Senator Nofs’ energy package leaves much to be desired

Added July 22nd, 2015 by Shannon Nobles | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Shannon Nobles

The two-bill energy package (Senate Bill 437 and Senate Bill 438) recently proposed by Senate Energy and Technology Committee Chair, Senator Mike Nofs, is bad policy because it not only reverses Michigan’s clean energy goals, which research shows are having a positive impact on the state, but changes the definition of clean energy to include burning tires.

The League’s concern with this package of bills is that, while we’d like to be optimistic that renewables and energy efficiency are included in the Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) –  essentially an energy planning tool which includes a statewide planning process filed by utilities and overseen by the Public Service Commission — without a mandate there is no guarantee. It is important that a higher mandate is set for renewable energy, as well as a structure of accountability to meet the standard being put in place.

Not only does this package repeal Michigan’s renewable energy standard, which will increase pollution, kill jobs and increase costs for families and businesses, it will also destroy Michigan’s highly successful energy efficiency programs. The destruction of these programs will lead to increased utility bills and more pollution, while simultaneously sending clean energy jobs to other states. Low-income families have a hard enough time making ends meet, so the cost savings from energy efficiency programs is crucial.

As noted by the League previously, increasing the renewable portfolio standard is vital to the health of our communities and positive economic effects in the state. Supporters of the Senate energy package are optimistic that the IRP portion of the bills will include renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, but it is not a guarantee. We need to be moving forward to maximize the state’s clean energy benefits with our policies, not taking dangerous steps backward.

Senator Nofs is holding hearings on this legislation throughout the summer and many groups are testifying in opposition. The League stands in opposition to these bills, because increasing the renewable energy standard and energy efficiency programs are the only way to see a decrease in harmful carbon pollutants that are negatively affecting our communities, and will ultimately achieve cost savings throughout the economy.

 – Shannon Nobles

Economic recovery leaves Michigan children behind

Added July 21st, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Michigan is the “comeback state,” so we’ve heard. But, for whom? Michigan has more children living in poverty now than it did in the last full year of the Great Recession. Not only that, but since 2008, there are more children whose parents lack secure employment and more children living in concentrated poverty. Children and families in Michigan are being left behind in the economic recovery.

According to the new 2015 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan’s ranking in overall child well-being has fallen for the second straight year. The state now ranks 33rd in the country overall, while other states that have chosen to invest in programs that support economic growth and people are doing better, like Minnesota, which ranks first in the country for overall child well-being.

The report, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, ranks Michigan in four domains:

  • Education: 37th
  • Economic well-being: 33rd
  • Family and community: 29th
  • Health: 23rd

It is clear that the strategy to reduce taxes and disinvest in programs that support families has not worked. Even after significant tax breaks for corporations, parents are still struggling to find good-paying and stable jobs to achieve financial security for themselves and their children. The data book reveals that the number of children with parents without secure employment increased to 33%. That is a rate increase of 6% since the last year of the Great Recession and ranks Michigan in the bottom third of states.

We also continue to have an unacceptable number of children living in poverty and a widening economic gap between white children and children of color. The data book reports that the child poverty rate in Michigan increased by 26% with nearly one in every four children living in poverty, including nearly one in every two African American children and almost one in every three Latino children. Also startling is the increasing number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods. The rate increased by 21%.

Given the impact that poverty has on educational outcomes, it isn’t surprising that the state’s lowest ranking is in education. The number of students considered not proficient in math and reading stagnated over the period in the data book. These trends occurred at the same time that the state made cuts in education spending. Although, in the upcoming budget year, over $31 million has been dedicated to initiatives and programs to improve third-grade reading, including some funding for early childhood investments—critical to long-term outcomes.

The state has had some substantial wins in children’s health since the Great Recession, such as a continued reduction in the number of kids without insurance, the number of teen births, and the number of teens using alcohol and drugs. However, these gains are overshadowed by the large number of kids living in poverty and poor educational outcomes.

If we are really to help children in our state thrive, we need to understand the importance of providing parents with the tools and support they need. Taking a two-generation approach is a proven practice to improve outcomes for children by ensuring that parents have access to opportunities like adult education, higher-wage jobs with benefits, and quality affordable child care. We also need a fair tax system that includes the state Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven poverty reduction tool. And, we need to continue strong investments in early childhood programs to ensure that kids are ready to learn by the time they get to school.

 – Alicia Guevara Warren

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