MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Maintaining cultural ties and family stability for American Indian Children

Added November 25th, 2014 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

American Indian children in Michigan are the most likely to be removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect: 1.5 times the rate of white children and the highest of all children of color in the state, according to the Michigan Race Equity Coalition. They are also more likely to age out of the foster care system. It is disturbing, however, that the rate of investigation for abuse and/or neglect is lower compared with white children.

Removing American Indian children from their homes at higher rates is cause for alarm. Research indicates that placement in the foster care system can lead to an increased risk of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, substance abuse, and more. Although American Indian children in Michigan fare better than their peers in other states, the disparities in the child welfare system persist, creating instability for American Indian children and their families and jeopardizing their cultural ties.

Photo from Livingston Community News. Native American Veterans of Southeastern Michigan event.

As background, Michigan is one of the top 10 states with the largest American Indian populations in the country. The state is home to 130,000 American Indians, including 14,000 children. We have 12 federally recognized tribes and the vast majority of American Indians in the state do not live on a reservation. In 2013, the Department of Human Services supervised 240 Indian child welfare cases; a number that tribal representatives believe to be understated.

The Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, was passed by Congress in 1978 to protect the best interest of American Indian children and to promote stability and security for tribes and families. The most recent annual progress report found that to be in better compliance with ICWA, DHS needed improvements in four areas:

  • Notification to Indian parents and tribes of state proceedings involving Indian children and their right to intervene.
  • Placement preferences of Indian children in foster care, pre-adoptive, and adoptive homes.
  • Active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family when parties seek to place a child in foster care or for adoption.
  • Tribal right to intervene in state proceedings or transfer proceedings to the jurisdiction of the tribe.

To strengthen practices used in American Indian child welfare cases, the Michigan Legislature enacted the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act in 2012. However, embedding ICWA in state law is not enough. Training in the law and cultural competency for all workers at every point in the system—caseworkers, court employees, and others—is critical. Additionally, there needs to be active recruitment of Indian foster care and adoptive homes. Also important to measure compliance and improvements, along with having the ability to identify areas of inadequacy in the system, is data collection.

Finally, as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, appreciating cultural differences and continuing to build and develop relationships with Michigan’s tribes and their leaders will truly enhance outcomes for American Indian children and their families.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

Moving from mass incarceration to mass education

Added November 21st, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

Michigan needs to spend less on prisons and more on schools.

Between 1986 and 2013, Michigan’s spending on prisons jumped 147% when inflation is counted, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Meanwhile, per-pupil foundation spending in Michigan remains lower than before the Great Recession began.

“Even as states spend more on corrections, they are underinvesting in educating children and young adults, especially those in high-poverty neighborhoods. At least 30 states (including Michigan) are providing less general funding per student this year for K-12 schools than before the recession, after adjusting for inflation…’’ a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concludes.

Dennis Schrantz of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and Shaka Senghor of the Atonement Project at the League's recent policy forum.

Just last month, the League sponsored a policy forum on reducing mass incarceration. The upshot of the forum is that Michigan’s unusually long prison sentences mean that more dollars than necessary are being spent on corrections without improving public safety. And students are not getting what they need to avoid the “school to prison” pipeline.

Laura Sager, executive director of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, spoke about the need for a sentencing commission to examine Michigan’s sentencing structure with an eye on reducing the prison population.

Sager said that mandatory minimums and harsh penalties for drug offenses are not the cause of mass incarceration in Michigan. Unusually long prison sentences drive high costs without providing additional safety, she said. Judges set a minimum and maximum sentence but it is the state Parole Board has the ultimate decision on how much time a prisoner will serve after the minimum sentence is completed.Incarceration also costs $35,000 per inmate per year — more than a year of college at the University of Michigan.

A package of bills by Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, that could see action in lame-duck session next month, is aimed at reducing the time offenders spend in prison and jail. It would require “presumptive parole” for inmates who have served their minimum sentence unless there were “substantial and compelling” reasons to deny parole. The language of the package is still being negotiated, according to CAPPS, but the introduction is a very hopeful step.

Michigan’s parole system has long been criticized for allowing parole board members to pile on additional punishment beyond the judges’ sentences rather than look at the inmate’s prison record.

“The economic health of many low-income neighborhoods, which face disproportionately high incarceration rates, could particularly improve if states reordered their spending in such a way. States could use the freed-up funds in a number of ways, such as expanding access to high-quality preschool, reducing class sizes in high-poverty schools, and revising state funding formulas to invest more in high-poverty neighborhoods,’’ the Center’s report suggests.

Michigan spends $1.2 billion more on corrections in 2013 than it did in 1986, the report found. That’s a lot of money that could be better invested in our students and in our future.

– Judy Putnam

Second debut of starts Saturday

Added November 14th, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

The Health Insurance Marketplace is scheduled to open Saturday for its second season debut. Hopefully the Affordable Care Act plan will be much improved from last year. Kevin Counihan, a Michigan native and federal official overseeing the federal Marketplace, is confident it will.

“I feel very good about it. We’ve been making a lot of progress,” Counihan told MLive.

Saturday will begin to tell the story. Open enrollment runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15, 2015. Coverage will begin Jan. 1 for enrollments completed by Dec. 15. For those who enroll in the second half of the month (16th – last day), it takes a little longer for coverage to start. For example, enrollments completed on Jan. 17 would provide coverage beginning March 1.

Individuals will be able to shop for, compare and enroll in new coverage. Those already enrolled will be able to compare their current coverage to other plans or prices in the Marketplace and determine if they want to re-enroll or change plans. It will be very important to review and compare options, rather than simply renewing, as new or better plans for lower cost may have been included in the Marketplace this year. There are four new insurers participating in the Marketplace, and many insurers actually reduced their premiums for 2015.

A new feature of the Marketplace is the ability to “shop” – review plans and information and compare plans without establishing an account or applying for coverage. It provides a new and easy way to preview plan prices and benefits. In addition to the shopping and enrollment opportunities, the Marketplace website also includes helpful information about enrollment, time frames, coverage and many more topics.

For many individuals and families help will be essential to complete the process and make the best selections for their situations. They may also need help understanding the new language of insurance and how it works. More than four out of 10 uninsured people could not correctly identify key health insurance terms, such as “premium,” “deductible,” and “provider network,” according to survey results published recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Even more of the uninsured could not correctly answer questions that required calculating the amount an insured person would have to pay for a hospital stay (61%) or an out-of-network lab test (91%) based on the plan’s cost-sharing requirements.” The Kaiser Family Foundation also released a new video to help consumers understand the new terms and what they mean.

Fortunately Michigan has numerous resources and opportunities for individual assistance at no cost. Navigators and others who are available to provide individual assistance can be located through the Enroll Michigan website or by calling the Enroll Michigan office at 517.367.7293. The Marketplace also has a call center to assist with applications or to answer questions and is open 24-7. The call center number is 1-800-318-2596.  Insurance agents can also provide information and assistance to individuals, but they will likely be representing specific companies so would likely not provide an impartial perspective.

The Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services website includes helpful information or staff can be reached by phone to assist with questions or concerns at 1-877-999-6442. A premium estimator is also available on the Department’s website to provide an estimate of premiums and available tax credits.

So, happy shopping, and it’s not even Black Friday!

– Jan Hudson

Children thrive when parents succeed

Added November 12th, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Roughly half of Michigan’s young children ages 0-8 live in low-income families where meeting basic needs is a daily challenge.

Living in a financially stressed family during childhood has a long-term impact on education and employment. A child who spends the critical early years in poverty is less likely to graduate from high school and remain employed as an adult. To be more effective in assisting these families, public and private programs need to address the needs of both parents and children.

In the majority of Michigan’s low-income families with young children no parent has a year-round full-time job (56%) nor a credential beyond a high school diploma (79%) severely limiting their opportunities to secure well-paid job, according to the latest policy report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Getting access to higher education as a nontraditional student has become much more difficult at a time the state needs a more educated workforce. Over the past decade Michigan policymakers have eliminated all public university and community college grants for older students. Most (85%) parents of young children in Michigan families with income below 200% of the poverty level (roughly $47,000 for a family of four) are over age 25.

Not only does the state not offer financial support to help with college costs for older adults, the state’s woefully inadequate child care subsidy fails to meet the needs of low-wage workers and students. It offers payments substantially below the market rate and only on an hourly basis — severely limiting child care options for families in need of care. Furthermore, eligibility for the subsidy ends when parental income rises only marginally above the poverty level where absorbing the cost of care, which averages over $500 a month, would not be feasible, thus disrupting the stability of care.

One of every eight parents in the state’s low-income families with young children reported that problems with child care resulted in changing, quitting or not taking a job.

Employer practices impose additional stress on working parents who struggle to meet their responsibilities as parents. Parents in part-time, low-wage employment typically lack benefits, as well as flexible and predictable schedules. The constant juggle of changing work schedules and family responsibilities exacts an emotional as well as a physical toll.

Unfortunately programs targeted to assist low-income families rarely address the needs of both parents and children in the family. For example, job training programs do not focus on the quality or accessibility of child care. This latest Casey report makes several recommendations on strategies to strengthen the whole family, including:

  • Providing parents with multiple pathways to family-supporting jobs and financial stability through access to employment and training programs, and state and federal assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Structuring public systems to respond to the realities of today’s families through interagency collaboration and streamlined application systems.
  • Using existing neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty.

In order for children to thrive, their parents must have access to the tools and supports they need to be successful as parents, as well as workers in an economy that requires postsecondary training or education for a job with a family-supporting wage. We cannot afford to delay addressing these issues. The future of over half a million of the state’s young children is at stake.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

11% of Mich. vets in households receiving food aid

Added November 11th, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

More than one in every 10 Michigan veterans lives in a household that receives food assistance, a new policy brief estimates.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released today in time for Veterans Day, is a reminder that thousands of struggling veterans use food assistance (formerly food stamps) to put food on the table.

The program, called Food Assistance Program in Michigan and SNAP at the federal level, helps 73,100 veterans — about 11% of Michigan’s vets. Michigan is one of 10 states where more than 10% of veterans are in households on food assistance.

“For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families,’’ the report states.

Food assistance has been a vital lifeline to many in Michigan as the state continues to recover from heavy job losses and falling income from the Great Recession.

Despite high unemployment and stagnating poverty, Michigan policymakers have made it harder rather than easier to get food assistance:

  • For a relatively small amount of additional heating assistance, Michigan could have opted to keep a ‘heat and eat’ provision that secured extra federal food assistance to families needing help with utilities. Only four states, including Michigan, of 16 using this option declined to continue by increasing help with utilities.
  • Michigan is bucking the trend nationwide by requiring a harsh food asset test that is not required by the federal government. Considering that the benefits are 100% federally paid, it’s unnecessary for Michigan to make it harder for veterans and others to access food assistance.

As policymakers continue to look for ways to tighten eligibility for public assistance in Michigan, it’s a good reminder that among those being harmed are veterans, who deserve help when they need it in return for the sacrifices they have made.

– Judy Putnam



Fix the roads but don’t make it harder to get to work!

Added November 10th, 2014 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

It is without a doubt that Michigan’s roads are among the worst in the country. The state invests the least per capita in our transportation infrastructure than every other state and it costs Michigan drivers hundreds of dollars a year.

However, a decade of budget cuts and historically low revenues, combined with the fact that the gas tax has lost its purchasing power, have made for difficult conversations about how to fix our roads.

The League’s latest report, Road Funding Proposals: Let’s Not Make it Harder for People to Get to Work, released today, concludes that each road funding proposal — whether it recommends an increase in taxes or fees or sets aside current revenues — has an adverse effect on people, especially on those who are already struggling to make ends meet and get ahead in this economy.

Let’s consider one proposal that doesn’t increase revenues and would dedicate state funds from the sales tax collections to roads. Current sales tax revenues almost entirely support schools and local communities. Schools already have fewer resources and staff, and Michigan students — our future workforce — are falling behind academically. Local communities are suffering and do not have the services needed to attract and retain people and businesses. It would be irresponsible and dangerous to continue taking more funds away from these entities and would not be helpful for Michigan’s economic recovery.

Now, there are also proposals that invest in our roads and economic growth while increasing revenues rather than redirecting funding from schools and communities. These proposals would, however, affect those earning the lowest wages the most, which needs to be taken into consideration if people are to be able to get to work and support their families.

As background, Michigan’s sales and excise taxes are the most regressive, meaning that lower wage earners pay a larger share of their income towards these taxes than wealthier people. The bottom poorest families in Michigan pay 3% of their income towards the general sales tax while the top earners pay 0.5% of their income. Increasing the sales tax to pay for roads would result in these families shouldering too large a portion of the solution to fix roads.

However, replacing the gas and diesel flat taxes with a tax based on the wholesale price of gas, while also considered regressive, would actually have a slightly smaller impact on the household budgets of those earning the least.

Keep in mind that even though this is a preferred way to fix our roads, increasing taxes would still have a disproportionate impact on low-income earners. To provide some relief and help people still afford to get to work, the state could restore the Michigan EITC to 20% of the federal EITC and ensure that funding is also invested in public transportation as many low-income workers depend on it.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

400,000 reasons to give thanks

Added November 5th, 2014 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
From the First Tuesday newsletter
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As we head into the month of November, there are more than 400,000 reasons to give thanks.

That’s how many previously uninsured or underinsured people in Michigan are now able to access healthcare thanks to the Healthy Michigan Plan.

The plan passed the Michigan Legislature last year with bipartisan support as part of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. About half the states have taken this step to improve the health of their citizens.

The League was part of a strong, diverse coalition that supported the expansion. Those efforts are now bearing an amazing amount of fruit.

In just six months, enrollment exceeded the first-year expectations.

Just how phenomenal this is in Michigan is evident in the League’s latest interactive map. On the map below, hover your mouse over a county. You will find an estimate of the uninsured and how many people signed up for the Healthy Michigan Plan in just the first six months. In all, more than 400,000 have enrolled.

In some counties, there are more enrolled than previously thought were uninsured! While some of these may have had limited insurance and were really underinsured, it’s a good benchmark to gauge the level of tremendous need.

Genesee County is particularly notable with a large number of its residents joining the plan.

The Affordable Care Act is indeed the gift that keeps on giving. Besides offering comprehensive healthcare coverage to thousands of low-income adults, many of them holding full-time jobs, the Affordable Care Act has offered many positive benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Nearly 273,000 in Michigan have signed up for insurance through the Marketplace. Enrollment begins again Nov. 15.
  • There are 94,000 young adults in Michigan benefiting from the provision that allows parents to keep their children on their plans until they turn 26 years old.
  • A requirement that health insurance companies spend 80 cents or more of premiums on healthcare or improvements to healthcare, or give the money back, resulted in $13.2 million in rebates to more than 184,000 in Michigan in 2013. The average refund was $118 per family. Since implementation in 2011, rebates to Michigan consumers have exceeded $45 million.
  • Most insurers can no longer deny coverage for a pre-existing condition, benefiting 4.4 million nonelderly in Michigan with some type of health condition.

With so many more in Michigan accessing preventive care, it means that good health is a goal within reach for those enrolling in the Healthy Michigan Plan.

The success of this program to date is indeed a reason to celebrate.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

It’s time for Michigan to clear the air!

Added October 30th, 2014 by Shannon Nobles | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Shannon Nobles

Electricity production in Michigan is contributing to health problems, especially for vulnerable children in our state, and we need to do something about that.

More than half of Michigan’s electricity currently comes from burning coal, which fills the air with dangerous pollutants: carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, such as soot and smog. These contaminants lead to numerous health issues and trigger asthma attacks and respiratory disease. (more…)

High-quality, affordable child care elusive

Added October 28th, 2014 by Pat Sorenson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Although Michigan has started to address its long-neglected child care system, the state has a long way to go to make high-quality child care affordable and easily accessible, especially for low- and moderate-income working parents.

That is the conclusion of a new report on child care assistance policies. (more…)

Americans want Congress to invest in kids

Added October 22nd, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

A national public opinion poll just released by the Children’s Leadership Council found strong support for increased funding for effective programs that improve the lives of children and youth across the age spectrum, from birth to adulthood.

“Elected officials have an obligation to support, protect and defend programs that invest in and assist children, youth and their families. Americans are asking for no less,” says Randi Carmen Schmidt, executive director of the Children’s Leadership Council, which commissioned the poll. (more…)

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