MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

School closures slam door on low-income kids

Added August 26th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Schools are important cornerstones for communities, and the hasty and far-reaching school closures recently proposed will have a variety of adverse impacts on Michigan’s communities, teachers, families and kids. Earlier this week, I participated in a media roundtable with several school groups to draw attention to these concerns.

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The League’s Gilda Jacobs joined Don Wotruba from the Michigan Association of School Boards, Ray Telman from Middle Cities Education Association and Chris Wigent from the Michigan Association of School Administrators at a media roundtable this week to discuss school closures and the potential impact on low-income communities and families of color.

While something certainly must be done to address Michigan’s struggling public schools, these proposed school closures, ranging between 10 and 100 schools, stand to cause more problems than they resolve. In fact, this move stands to further the racial and economic disparities that are currently rife in education in Michigan.

Many struggling schools are in urban and low-income areas and cities like Flint and Detroit that are already in crisis, and closing community schools will compound these problems. Families with more money can send their kids to private and charter schools in the same area, while low-income kids will be taken further from home and out of their environment.

This connection also exposes a budget issue, as state funding for at-risk pupils and school districts has been stagnant. In addition, state funding for support services for low-income families have also dramatically declined.

Parents and kids in these poor-performing districts will be forced to find other school options, often much farther away and in unfamiliar areas. In some districts, kids end up having to transfer to rival neighborhood schools, where their safety has been a huge concern, or to schools that are overcrowded themselves, also struggling academically and ill-equipped for a huge influx of new students.

School closures will put a particularly high strain on working parents, single parents and those with lower incomes that might not have viable transportation options—no school bus route, no public transit, one car or no car at all—to get their kids to school. Many parents don’t have the flexible work schedules to accommodate these new, longer commutes, either.

There are myriad factors that affect the health and learning of kids, and when a school closes, many low-income areas and communities of color lose other important programs housed in them, like pre-K programs, health clinics and more. Many schools also act as summer meal sites, with closures meaning less access to free, healthy food for local low-income kids.

These closed schools will likely stand empty, further hurting communities. They will be more than an eyesore—they will be dangerous sites that may still attract kids, as well as vandalism and other criminal activity. So much of a neighborhood or community’s value is tied in to the quality of schools available, and closed schools will also hurt property values and a community’s appeal.

These proposed closures are the latest in a long line of policies that have hurt families and kids of color and those with lower incomes more than anyone else. We need to be investing education and improving schools and working to improve race equity, not shuttering schools haphazardly and widening racial divides.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

For the nonprofit community, social media is more than likes

Added August 19th, 2016 by Chelsea Lewis | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Chelsea Lewis

Social media isn’t only about likes, despite popular belief. It isn’t about going viral or breaking a million followers. For the nonprofit world, social media is about interaction, education and creating a community.

Social media isn’t just a flashy trend that allows you to post what you had for lunch on Instagram. Instead it’s a powerful tool that allows conversations to take place all over the world, enables people to respond in real-time to life-changing events and allows us to connect like never before.

Social media is important to many industries, especially for those of us who work in the realm of advocacy.

We know working in the nonprofit industry—especially around public policy—that it’s tremendously important to engage fellow advocates and provide education to those who are looking for more information about our work or cause. This used to mean meetings—lots and lots of meetings. These face-to-face conversations are beneficial and allow us to start dialogues about issues that are critical to our work. We can spark an idea or even start to make changes in the lives of others.

But these interactions, these meetings take time, a large amount of resources and a lot of schedule juggling. Social media allows for that process to be streamlined. Personal interaction should never be fully replaced, but social media can be used to supplement those meetings.

In addition, it enables us to create a much larger and more diverse community. Social media allows nonprofit professionals to have these conversations and reach entire populations that traditionally wouldn’t attend an event or community forum. Thousands of individuals check their Facebook and Twitter feed daily; we have access to them through the touch of a keyboard.

Having a strong and engaged social media community is key to having success online. One post could reach thousands of people, which means your message and your cause could be seen by thousands.

Before jumping into the social media deep end of the pool, it’s important to understand which platform will be best for your nonprofit and consider a few other helpful tips.

While Facebook is the most popular social media website (as of the second quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.71 billion monthly active users), it might not be the most effective. For example, Twitter has become particularly popular for news and real-time information, so you might want to live tweet an event. If you are looking for clothing or food donations, Instagram might be a better fit, as you can appeal to individuals through strong visual messages.

Many businesses are using social media to build their brands through visually stunning stories. The nonprofit community is full of personal and emotional stories that can describe our work better than a paragraph of text. Social media should be personal, just like the nonprofit industry.

Take the time to understand where your audience is located on social media and start a conversation with them, just like you would in a small group meeting. Take your conversations to the next level and engage with an audience in real time around the world.

So yes, while likes and follows are great (and encouraged), social media can be so much more to the nonprofit community. We hope you will continue to use it to engage with us. If you haven’t already, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

—Chelsea Lewis

Service benefits our communities and us!

Added August 10th, 2016 by Mary Logan | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Mary Logan

Like many, I enjoy the feeling of giving.

It likely began at a young age growing up in a family with four brothers and four sisters in which being aware of others’ needs was part of my daily life. I especially think of my mom who, despite raising a large family, always made time to volunteer, greet new neighbors and offer assistance. And she did so in simple ways and in a humble manner—never insisting or expecting that her children act accordingly. But her example was ingrained nonetheless, and resulted in the rest of us having a similar desire to reach out and help others.

That same attitude of giving is prevalent among my coworkers at the League. And in my 37 years working here, it doesn’t seem to matter who comes and who goes, the overall culture is that of a caring, giving staff.

You hear regularly about the work the League and our dedicated staff is doing at the policy level to enhance the lives of Michigan residents and families, but you may not be aware of other efforts we’re involved in.

donations haven houseOne in particular is our annual staff donation drive for Haven House—a vital organization in our Lansing community that provides emergency housing and support services for families with children. The shelter helps families who are homeless prepare for permanent housing by developing and promoting self-sufficiency, stability and financial responsibility. We have been proudly supporting Haven House and the families they serve for several years, and we do it during the summer months when service organizations are often in greater need and Haven House supplies run very low.

Most of the items we donate are used to create “Welcome Home” kits that are given to families when they move into their new homes. These kits include many necessary household items that cannot be purchased with food stamps.

The staff at Haven House is equally committed and passionate about helping others, and we are happy to do our part to support them. It’s always fun to see their delighted faces when we drop off our donations, and even greater to think about the families who will be using them. This year, Haven House Volunteer and Special Projects Coordinator Leah Weidner, who wasn’t there when we made the delivery, emailed later to say, “Just got in from a training and was so excited to see the hall lined with items . . . Thank you again and from the entire staff and families of Haven House. We’re so grateful to have you as a community partner.”

I feel very fortunate to be part of a team in which our leader, Gilda Jacobs, not only encourages staff to engage in community activities, but also allows time for us to do so throughout the year. While our work focuses on broad policy change, we also value community service and the great people and organizations who have made helping others their mission as well.

— Mary Logan

We need to narrow Michigan’s income gap

Added August 4th, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

It’s no secret—income inequality exists in Michigan. However, when nearly 1 in 4 kids still live in poverty in the state and when too many Michigan residents must cobble together multiple part-time jobs just to barely make ends meet, income inequality is a problem. And more must be done to lift our most vulnerable residents to help narrow the gap.

money 22x moreA new fact sheet released by the League begins to explore Michigan’s income gap, the issues it causes and what can be done to reduce the disparity. According to a recent report, Michigan is the 11th most unequal state in income in the nation, with its top 1% earning 22 times more than the rest of its workers. Over the past 30-plus years, income growth for top earners far outpaced growth of the bottom 99%. Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, incomes for the top grew by over 26% while incomes for the rest of the state stagnated.

Income inequality is a much bigger and broader issue than simply the top compared to the rest of us. Income gaps exist regionally, between genders and along race and ethnicity lines. In Michigan, median incomes for full-time working women continue to trail those of men by nearly $13,000, and workers of color made $3 less per hour than white workers. These disparities exist regardless of educational attainment.

We need to fix income inequality. The income gap affects Michiganians’ abilities to pay for healthcare or save for retirement or a child’s college education. And while income disparities exist at the national level, Michigan can implement state policies to help narrow the gap including:

The League will continue to highlight this important issue in a series of fact sheets. Income inequality is a persistent and increasing problem in Michigan, hurting Michigan residents, communities and the economy, and state policymakers must do more to bridge the divide.

— Rachel Richards

Vote today! Our lives depend on it

Added August 2nd, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Today is the primary election, a day that has a major impact on our Legislature and our state. That is why I want to implore all of you to VOTE TODAY.

As a former elected official at the state and local level, I have always appreciated the importance of voting—my political life depended on it! But I see its power even more heading up the League, because all of our lives depend on voting.

vote hereVoting shapes our policy landscape, as it determines who goes to Lansing—and to Washington—to fight on your behalf. Voting holds elected officials accountable for their stance on the issues you care about, and for their actions in office. But not voting also has an effect—and consequences, especially in the primary election.

Due to redistricting, the primary winners from the dominant party in your neck of the woods are usually all but guaranteed a victory in November. So, if you truly want to capitalize on your vote and make it count in the Michigan Legislature, today is the day to make it to the polls.

Polls are open today from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Not sure if you’re registered or where your polling place is? You can find that information here.

Here at the League, we have also put together some materials to help inform your vote on the issues that are important to you. Please use these materials below to see what’s going on in your community, and to hold candidates accountable on what they need to address.

20 Policy Questions for Candidates
Legislative District Fact Sheets
Kids Count County Profiles
Earned Income Tax Credit (By Legislative District) Fact Sheets
County Fact Sheets
Select City Fact Sheets
American Indian Reservation and Trust Lands Fact Sheets

Remember…today, our state policies are in your hands. Your vote is your power. Use it!

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”

Added July 29th, 2016 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

It was 20 years ago, in 1996, that Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that transformed cash assistance from a federal entitlement program (meaning that all who meet the eligibility requirements receive a direct federal benefit) to a block grant through which states fund their own programs. The Family Independence Program (FIP) is Michigan’s cash assistance program that is funded by the block grant—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Unlike Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), TANF gave states wide latitude to set their own eligibility levels and work requirements. It allowed states to use federal funds for other things besides cash assistance as long as the expenditure fit within four general purposes of TANF.

Advocates were concerned at the time that transferring cash assistance to the state level would lead to a “race to the bottom” in which states would spend as little money as possible on needy families and push them into low-wage jobs that would not help them leave poverty. Some even within the Clinton administration warned that it would actually increase poverty.

As preparations begin for the reauthorization of TANF, the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities takes a look at the past 20 years and finds that “welfare reform” did not in fact help poor families in the way that it could have. Fewer families below the federal poverty line are receiving cash assistance and the benefits have eroded with inflation over time. Moreover, states in general have been spending only half of their TANF block grants on basic assistance, child care or work activities, with the other half going to other uses that fit within the four purposes of TANF (including supplanting state funding for popular programs with TANF funds).

blog 29_July_2016Immediately before the passage of the welfare reform legislation in 1996, 184,000 Michigan families received cash assistance and 88 families received benefits for every 100 families with children in poverty. In 2014, only 39,000 families in our state received cash assistance and the cash assistance-to-poverty ratio was only 14 to 100. By May 2016, the number of families receiving cash assistance fell even further, to 22,573 families.

Between 2001 and 2011, Michigan’s unemployment and poverty rates soared and Michigan had what was sometimes referred to as a one-state recession (Michigan led the nation in unemployment for four straight years). During that time, FIP caseloads remained flat overall and even decreased at some points, showing a serious inability to respond to very real need. Currently, a family must be at HALF the federal poverty line in order to begin receiving cash assistance through FIP.

Michigan’s monthly FIP benefit is also very low: only $492 per month for a family of three without any other income. A family of three can combine earnings with cash assistance only up to $1,183 a month, with benefits decreasing as the parent earns more money, but that still only brings the family to 74% of the poverty level.

Michigan also does not spend any of its TANF block grant on child care for families who are leaving cash assistance, making it difficult for such families to become economically self-sufficient. As a result, the child care subsidy is far lower than market rates, making it difficult for struggling families to find quality child care and putting their jobs (and perhaps their children) at risk.

Michigan can do much better with the $775 million it receives each year in federal TANF funds. While conversations go on at the national level about how to make TANF more effective in responding to need, Michigan has to have that conversation as well. A few good steps would be:

  • Increasing the cash assistance monthly benefit to a level that will bring families up to at least the federal poverty line if they are working full time.
  • Modify eligibility rules to enable more working families living in poverty to qualify for assistance.
  • Strengthen the child care subsidy to help working parents meet their children’s needs without risking losing their jobs.

— Peter Ruark

When are we going to really value education?

Added July 27th, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Earlier this month, yet another damning report came out showing how badly the state of our educational system in Michigan is. We’ve seen the national 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book rank Michigan in the bottom ten in the nation on education. An adequacy study commissioned by the State of Michigan—which seems to have received little attention from state leaders—found that the state isn’t spending nearly enough on education, especially for students from families with low incomes. Then there’s the Education Trust—Midwest report predicting that Michigan will fall to 48th in the country in fourth-grade reading achievement by 2030 without changes. Now, our beloved state is one of a handful of states to be highlighted for its rate of growth in corrections spending, which was five times more than spending in education.

Where is the sense of urgency to prioritize our children’s needs?

When are we going to really value educationInvesting in kids, especially in their education, results in a more competitive workforce for businesses and the economy, more revenue for stronger communities and an overall healthier state. However, this most recent report from the U.S. Department of Education shows that over a 33-year period Michigan had the lowest growth in PK-12 education spending (18%) in the country while corrections spending rose by 219%.

The connection between education and incarceration is clear. According to the Department of Education’s report, researchers have estimated that if the high school graduation rate were to increase by 10%, there would be a 9% reduction in arrest rates. We also know that many people who find themselves in prison have not graduated from high school.

A strong educational system—that serves all children and recognizes current inequities—can become a powerful tool providing opportunities for economic security, better health, reduced criminal justice contact and more. These are not points that are argued against by state policymakers. However, we still await meaningful, comprehensive action. Yes, Michigan has been a leader in expanding four-year-old preschool, but that cannot be the end-all solution to improving things like third-grade reading. Building a foundation for lifelong learning begins with healthy births to moms who have access to earned paid sick leave and other supports in resource-rich, clean and safe communities with public transportation and affordable, quality child care.

On the other side, there are several bipartisan proposals moving in the Michigan Legislature that would reduce corrections spending and the prison population. Led by state Senator John Proos is a bill package to reduce recidivism and improve probation and parole which has passed the Senate. In the House, Representative Harvey Santana helped to get “Raise the Age” legislation passed. And, to help at-risk youth by addressing “Zero Tolerance” policies and reduce expulsions and suspensions through restorative practices are House-passed bills led by Representative Andy Schor.

It is a shame that Michigan stands out for not only poor educational outcomes, but for investing more to incarcerate people than to educate our children. While there appears to be bipartisan support for solutions to reduce reliance on incarceration and corrections spending, state leadership is sorely needed to reform and improve our educational system.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Families left in limbo after Supreme Court ruling on immigration

Added July 21st, 2016 by Seema Singh | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Seema Singh

The United States Supreme Court recently tied 4-4 on a long-awaited decision to allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens a pathway to citizenship. Due to the tie vote an injunction on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) will remain in place, continuing to leave tens of thousands of parents in limbo. It is estimated that the DAPA program would have kept 43,000 children with their parents.

Children of MI immigrants graphicsThis would have been an important step forward because immigrant children live in fear of deportation of family members and friends. Under the Obama administration more immigrants have been deported than under any other president, making this fear imminent. Recent declines in deportation are attributed to fewer people illegally migrating. While the administration has stated that the focus of these policies is not intended to affect law-abiding residents, many such families have been separated in the process.

It is possible for another case to be brought next year ruling on the legality of the DAPA program once the vacant Supreme Court seat is filled. Some advocates are calling on the president to use executive pardons to prevent further punishment and deportation of undocumented immigrants. This avenue would still leave people without an opportunity to gain work permits or citizenship.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) filled a loophole for longtime childhood residents to have a path to citizenship and has given hope to many youth around the country. Undocumented students attend schools and are part of our communities. Once many youth graduate, however, job opportunities are currently closed to them.

DAPA and DACA make economic sense and make our communities safer, and give these youth an opportunity to contribute taxes and support families.

But there are more than just economic concerns as these reforms await action. Too often overlooked is the basic importance of keeping children with their parents and creating a family-friendly state where children can live free from fear. Michigan is a diverse state with a long history of immigration. As we continue to welcome new residents, we must put sensible policies into place so that all of our communities are better off.

— Seema Singh

Using your vote and your voice

Added July 18th, 2016 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

It’s an election year. But what that means to people is very different.

When it comes to familiarity with politics, I’m admittedly a little spoiled. My mom was going door-to-door on a campaign when she was eight months pregnant with me and I’ve been around politics ever since.

Publication1I was lucky enough to get a job in the Legislature, working in the Michigan Senate for almost ten years before joining the League last summer to continue the fight to improve public policy. I know for too many people, politics can be intimidating or disenchanting. But it doesn’t have to be.

Having worked both in and out of the Capitol, the greatest insight I can share is that every person can make a difference. Though it may not always feel like it, elected officials do pay attention to the voters they serve and public opinion can influence policy. Many state laws started as a concern or suggestion from a constituent. Many bad ideas (like eliminating the Michigan EITC) have been thwarted by strong, active and vocal opposition from residents as well as organizations.

Here at the League, we are continuously working to make sure everyone feels engaged with the political process. And we’ve got the tools for you to do it.

The League has put together a series of questions for YOU to ask your candidates this election season at public forums, rallies and other events—or even when they come to your front door. This information will enable you to help draw other voters’ attention to these issues, get a good read on candidates, get them talking on the record and on the stump about the issues you care about, and in turn, hold them accountable if and when they are elected.

We use research and data to drive our public policy agenda, and we want you to do the same. We have put together a variety of fact sheets with local data so you can see what’s going on in your area and demand action to change it from your elected officials. We also have an advocacy toolkit with tips on how to engage in and influence the political process.

Check these out:

Legislative District Fact Sheets
Kids Count County Profiles
Earned Income Tax Credit (By Legislative District) Fact Sheets
County Fact Sheets
Select City Fact Sheets
American Indian Reservation and Trust Lands Fact Sheets

Finally, please vote in the primary election on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. With Michigan’s legislative districts drawn the way they are, the primary winners from the dominant party in the area are usually a lock in November. So, in many cases, now is when your vote holds the most power. We also want to encourage you to go beyond voting. It is the most important step in our democracy, but there’s so much more you can and should do to shape our political landscape and shift public policy. The above information can help with that.

We want to hear from you

Added July 8th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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As we head into July, summer is in full swing. With it, we are afforded a brief respite from the legislative grind and a prime opportunity to refine our work. And that starts with you.

We want to improve how we communicate, interact and engage with you. We have put together a very short survey on our efforts to see what’s working, what isn’t, and what we can do differently. We truly appreciate your support of our work, and we hope that you will take a few minutes to fill out this brief survey to help us better serve you. Your input means the world to us, so please give us five minutes of your time to fill this out.

This summer, we are also excitedly preparing for our 2016 public policy forum on October 10, 2016, which will be tackling the issue of race equity in public policy. Race can be a difficult topic for some, but the prevalence of racial disparities in our state’s policies must be addressed. There is additional information on our keynote speaker and agenda included below, and we hope you will mark your calendars and join us.

Finally, even with the budget bills being enacted, there are a few of our funding priorities that are still pressing and can’t wait another whole year to be addressed: Heat and Eat to increase food assistance and expanding eligibility for Michigan’s child care subsidy. In the 2017 budget, lawmakers missed these two major opportunities to make minimal state investments to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding while better serving our residents. But it is not too late for them to take action and we will keep working with legislators to push for supplemental funding now to capitalize on these programs.

Whether we’re analyzing the budget or tackling tough issues like race equity, the most important part of our work, always, is you. And in order to do our work effectively, we need to hear from you.

Thank you for being a part of the League.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

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