MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

An ode to the policies we love

Added February 14th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry

Yes, we’re into data. Yes, we love watching live feeds from the Michigan House and Senate. Yes, we actually enjoy talking about tax policy and reading spreadsheets.

But just because we’re nerds doesn’t mean we don’t have heart. Even though what we work on might seem a little wonkish, the entire reason we do what we do is that we have big hearts and love the people of Michigan and the policies they depend on. And we can even get a little poetic (when we’re forced by the communications director to do so…).  Today, we give you our love letters to policies.

Victoria Crouse

Victoria Crouse

Victoria Crouse, Policy Fellow

Dear DACA,

Thank you for opening this country’s arms to young immigrants, keeping families intact and giving everyone a shot at the American dream



Alicia Guevara Warren

Alicia Guevara Warren

Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count Director

Dear Home Visiting Programs,

How I love the support and coaching that your home visitors give to kids and families every day. I admire the dedication of home visitors and the diverse models with varying focuses and evidence-based results. I am loving that Congress reauthorized funding for five years for MIECHV (Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting).


Gilda Z. Jacobs, President & CEO

Gilda Z. Jacobs

Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO

Dear Supporters of the League,

My heart belongs to you, our dear helpful friends.
You make our work count…on you it depends!

Through fight after fight, through thick and through thin
You give us the strength to help Michigan win.

Renell Weathers

Renell Weathers

Renell Weathers, Community Engagement Director

Heat and Eat, you are so sweet!

Helping seniors and kids stay strong all year long…
with you fully funded, Michigan can’t go wrong!

Thanks, legislators, for keeping Heat and Eat in the budget!

Jenny Kinne

Jenny Kinne

Jenny Kinne, Community Engagement Specialist

I love you, advocates
Please don’t protest my affections!



Alex Rossman

Alex Rossman

Alex Rossman, Communications Director

Healthy Michigan Plan, How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways…

$235,000,000 in state budget savings, 673,000 people you care for, 30,000 new jobs each year…

ONE devoted admirer.

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Karen Holcomb-Merrill, Vice President

Thank you, racial equity,
Barriers exposed
So we can tear them all down



Rachel Richards

Rachel Richards

Rachel Richards, Legislative Coordinator

Taxes pay for roads…

Taxes pay for schools…

I love paying taxes…

And so should you!

Peter Ruark

Peter Ruark

Peter Ruark, Senior Policy Analyst

 UI is “U” and “I”.

Cutting Unemployment Insurance is a broken promise that breaks my heart.



Emily Schwarzkopf

Emily Schwarzkopf

Emily Schwarzkopf, Policy Analyst

Four failed attempts to repeal you…

Sorry, ACA

Congress just can’t quit you!


Once we finished our love letters, we felt that we still had more affection to express, so we put together some videos to share far and wide!

I need you like working families need the EITC. 

You warm my heart like LIHEAP warms homes.

You feed my soul like SNAP feeds families.

UR my paid sick leave during flu season.

Policies We Love…




#FightingForFamilies with League’s new census fact sheets

Added February 8th, 2018 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Every year in December, the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau publishes a wealth of economic, housing, race and educational attainment information. This information is useful for policymakers, public administrators, advocates and direct service providers as they work to meet the needs of their communities. But the data is also helpful for all residents to better understand the issues facing their area and our state as a whole

The Michigan League for Public Policy has made it a tradition to publish fact sheets with some of this census information on the state, county, municipal, legislative and congressional district, and American Indian reservation levels. The new fact sheets are now up on our website in printable form for you to use for communicating with lawmakers, writing stories for the media, and planning or assessing service projects and programs. We would love to hear how you use the fact sheets!

Here at the League, the annual census data helps us analyze and inform our policy work, to see what’s working, what isn’t, and what still needs to be addressed. In particular, this data continues to underscore the fact that Michigan’s comeback story is not reaching everyone in the state and too many people are still struggling. Statewide, the poverty rate was 16.3% for 2017. The child poverty rate was 22.8%—nearly 1 in 4 Michigan kids were living in poverty last year. These residents aren’t feeling any “recovery.”

MI_TeleTownFinal 400 x 266As our economy evolves, a college degree or training is becoming more essential to getting a good job and a reasonable wage. But more than 50% of Michigan residents 25 and older do not have a college degree. The gender wage gap also remains a significant problem. Last year, the median wage for women was $38,518 compared to $50,760 for men. That means women are making around 76 cents on the dollar compared to men, which is below the national average (80 cents). And you can see the adverse impact that is having right on the same fact sheet, which shows 44.3% of female single-parent families were in poverty last year.

These are some of the issues we’re working to draw attention to this week as part of the Fighting for Families Week of Action sponsored by our friends at the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), a strategy center and support network for state legislators from around the country who seek to strengthen our democracy, advocate for working families, defend civil rights and liberties, and protect the environment. Among the activities this week will be a telephone town hall discussion TONIGHT in which you can ask state legislators and advocates (including yours truly) about such topics as good jobs, earned sick and family leave, overtime rules, predictable scheduling and wage theft.

The census data information and the League’s fact sheets will be useful for our discussion tonight, and I hope you can join us. But also keep these fact sheets in mind to inform your own work and advocacy on behalf of better policies to serve all Michigan residents.

— Peter Ruark

We’re in it for the people, not politics

Added February 7th, 2018 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Guess who’s not running for election in 2018? Me. That’s not news, really, but it does provide some insight into the stance that we’ve taken against the Legislature’s push for tax cuts through an increase in the state personal exemption. Though the cuts were supported by leaders on both sides of the aisle, we at the League looked beyond the aisle at the people in our state. The real people.

When the state Legislature came up with its tax plans, which were at odds with Governor Rick Snyder’s more responsible plan, I sat with our staff to take a look. They’re experts in this. When they examined the data they saw a nominal tax cut that would barely create enough annual savings for families to get an oil change or an afternoon of child care.

But “We cut your taxes” sounds pretty good in a campaign ad.

Copy of Final tax graphic 600x240What does “We cut your taxes” look like in a practical sense, though? Well, I’ve already addressed the paltry savings it would bring to Michigan families. But what about how it would impact our state as a whole?

For starters, the tax plans could create up to a $200 million hole in the state budget. Where will that money come from? If history is any indication, we suppose it will come from programs that support things like roads, bridges, police, our kids’ education and our families’ basic needs.

And this isn’t an ordinary tax cut. It comes at a most tumultuous and uncertain time, as the federal tax plan leaves so many unanswered questions. Federal funding makes up 40% of our state budget, and cuts in Washington mean cuts to services and programs that help millions of Michiganders thrive. To make reckless cuts like this during such turbulent times is myopic at best.

When companies like Amazon take a look at our state’s landscape and decide to pass, Michigan should probably start listening to them. When the governor calls for fiscal responsibility to maintain the state’s positive trajectory, Michigan should listen. When the state treasurer, arguably the sharpest financial mind in the state, urges caution, Michigan should listen. When the conservative-leaning Detroit News editorial board writes that investments are better than tax cuts right now, Michigan should listen. When economic experts continue pushing for careful budgeting, Michigan should listen. When the people of our state place tax cuts low on their list of priorities, Michigan should listen.

More importantly, when young, talented people are leaving our state, we all must start listening to them. They aren’t in search of tax cuts. They’re in search of the things we should be investing in: strong infrastructure, mass transit, safe housing, great educational systems and a quality standard of living.

If the best plan legislators can come up with for Michiganders is a tax cut, then the Legislature needs to start listening.

Now is a time for fiscal responsibility. We know that doesn’t sound like something that will make Michigan a more vibrant and attractive state, but it is. Carefully budgeting our money allows the state to invest in the things we need to gain and retain a talented workforce.

Lawmakers must use restraint when looking at the budget. It may seem counter-intuitive for an organization like ours to oppose credits for child care or for senior populations, but we can’t examine issues in silos. Tax cuts and the budget go hand-in-hand, and we cannot risk losing funding for programs that help those who are most in need. These credits and tax cuts look might look good on campaign materials, but we know our state doesn’t have the revenue to implement them properly.

I’m not running for election and neither is the League. Instead, we’re hoping to be the voice of reason in this already-hectic election year. Right now, the people of Michigan deserve investment in the things that matter, not symbolic tax cuts designed for a political campaign.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

The state budget: Another chance to work toward racial equity for children and families

Added February 1st, 2018 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Over 35 years ago when I launched a career in advocacy, I was a little dismayed to learn that one of my tasks was to monitor and analyze the state budget. For a young social worker intent on creating change, it seemed a dry and “wonky” pursuit.

I soon learned that control over the state’s purse strings is one of the greatest powers lawmakers have, and that a high level of civic and community engagement is necessary for real change to occur. And, I found a home in the Michigan League for Public Policy—an organization that is focused like a laser on racial and economic justice and understands that the state budget is a potent tool for achieving it.

Next week Governor Rick Snyder will release his budget for 2019, and the Michigan Legislature will begin to craft its own. The League will be in the Capitol during every step of the process, and will be sharing that information with you. We will be advocating for our prioritiessteps we believe the state must take to achieve racial equity and ensure that all children and families thrive in Michigan. More importantly, we want to be a resource to you as you communicate with your elected officials about what you, your family and your community need.

Budget priorities_Address Racial Ethnic Social JusticeTogether, we have a long way to go. The data are clear and well-documented in the League’s Kids Count reports. Families and children of color are being held back from many of the traditional pathways to economic opportunity and security. Michigan, like the rest of the country, is growing in diversity and its economy rests on the ability to make sure that all children have what it takes to move the state forward.

At the heart of racial and ethnic disparities is a long history of systemic barriers including the historical impact of redlining on homeownership, segregation in public schools, differences in educational quality and opportunity, racial discrimination in the workplace, and inequities in the ability to accumulate assets and build wealth.

Those inequities persist today in part because of state budgets and other public policies that do not recognize the extra resources required to overcome the cumulative effects of racism and discrimination. State budgets are not “colorblind”—even if their disproportionate impact is unintended. For example, despite the reality that children of color are two to three times more likely to live in poverty, state funding for programs to ensure that children’s basic needs are met has plummeted—largely because of state policies that restrict eligibility.

As a first step, the League is calling on state lawmakers to incorporate an analysis of the racial, ethnic and social justice impact of budget decisions they are making. We believe that a concerted effort to face racial and ethnic inequities head-on is required or they will continue to be perpetuated.

Please join us in advocating for a state budget that creates better equity for children and families. Check out our resources including tips for influencing the state budget, fact sheets on our budget priorities for 2019, and an analysis of the current state budget’s impact on children and families of color. By joining forces we can make change.

— Pat Sorenson

Kids are the future, so let’s teach them to count

Added January 30th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alexa Krout

Alexa Krout

My name is Alexa and I am one of the newest interns at the Michigan League for Public Policy. I look forward to this exciting opportunity to work with the amazing staff here and gain experience in state policy as well as advocate for the people—and kids—of Michigan.

I am currently an undergraduate student in my final semester at James Madison College of Michigan State University, where I am studying International Relations and Spanish. I have a strong interest in the international community and how the world is changing how different cultures interact with one another; in the U.S, this is rooted in individual states. Not only the state, but how the state government interacts with the community, especially children. Children are our future and if we don’t put more resources into them, there will be no growth for the overall community in the seemingly near future.

I am excited for the opportunity to help advocate for children that are too young to have their voices heard, particularly in education and education reforms, which are essential parts of life. The education I have received throughout my life has shaped me into the person I am today, in and out of the classroom. But, unfortunately, not everyone is given the same opportunity. Educational opportunities for youth of color in underdeveloped areas is extremely lacking and if all students don’t get that essential knowledge and experience, then Michigan is sending a clear message about its values and the state will not thrive.

AECF Kids Count

AECF Kids Count

My educational experience hasn’t always been the easiest, but it is one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I am very grateful for the opportunities that have arisen from it. I’ve learned how to make my voice heard even though I am often soft-spoken, and I have gained the ability to analyze detailed text, think critically and formulate an unbiased argument. All of this is not only beneficial for education, but is essential to succeeding in everyday life. What I have learned throughout my education is that not only do I have a say, but I have the ability to advocate for those without equal opportunity.

Additionally, throughout my professional experience I have been focused on youth and youth development in education, a topic that I am passionate about. During an internship that I had last summer, I had the chance to work with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that advocated and supplied resources to youth in underdeveloped nations, providing the backing they needed to succeed. With my background in Spanish, I hope to be able to advocate for a community that not only struggles with a lack of educational opportunity, but also the inability to communicate effectively with people around them.

My prior experience, along with everything I’ve learned throughout my education and life, will help me excel in my work here with the Kids Count in Michigan project. I hope to bring a different perspective to the table and not only offer valuable insight on how the state and individual communities can help raise awareness, but help develop and promote policy solutions on how to get kids learning in and out of the classroom. Without youth, there is no future; the change of our world starts with the kids who will grow to be the leaders of tomorrow. After all, the best gift someone can give is the ability to receive an education—which every kid should be able to benefit from.

— Alexa Krout


The EITC: The good, the great and the unfortunate

Added January 26th, 2018 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

It’s no surprise that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of my favorite topics to talk about (I’ve talked about it here, and here, and here, and pretty much to anyone who will listen). I didn’t have a chance to write about it much in the past year, mostly due to other on-going state and federal tax issues, so I’m glad to be back promoting this great credit at tax time.

Too many taxpayers with low to moderate incomes don’t claim all of the credits they are eligible for at tax time, and today is dedicated to raising awareness about all of the awesome things that the EITC can do! The EITC is a sensible tool for helping Michigan’s families keep working and make ends meet.

During 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported that 766,000 Michigan taxpayers claimed the EITC, and received about $2,489 on average. This put $1.9 billion back into our local economies, as recipients used their credits to pay for things that helped them keep working, such as child care and transportation, as well as groceries, utility bills and paying down debt.

eitc webMichigan also provides an added boost to these residents through a state EITC equal to 6% of the federal credit. In the 2015 tax year (filed in 2016), about 757,000 households raising over 1 million children benefitted from the Michigan EITC. The state credit averaged $145, with families raising at least two children receiving a bigger benefit, and put $109.5 million back into Michigan’s economy. The Michigan credit itself helped pull more than 6,500 households above the poverty line.

That’s the good news, but we could make it much better.

To maximize its benefit, the Michigan EITC should be restored to 20% of the federal credit, where it was before being cut to 6% in 2011. The dollars from an increased state credit would flow right back into local economies and give Michigan businesses a boost. The EITC also has a long-lasting positive impact on the lives of children, whose parents are better able to meet their needs. Research shows that children in working families getting the EITC are more likely to perform better and go further in school and to work and earn more as adults. If the credit had been 20% in 2015, recipients would have seen an average of $337 more.

Unfortunately, the federal tax bill that was signed into law will have a small impact on federal, and therefore state, claimants. While the bill did not make any direct changes to the EITC, the change in the inflation adjustment will erode the federal and state EITC over time. According to modeling by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, in 2019 about 1,400 fewer filers (about 0.4%) will qualify for the credit, resulting in $7 million in fewer federal credits being distributed to the state. By 2027 about 14,500 fewer filers (about 2%) will qualify for the credit, resulting in a loss of $96 million of federal credit value. The same filers who lose their federal EITC will also lose their ability to claim their state EITC, resulting in a loss of additional local economic support.

Also, currently about 1 in 5 Michigan residents who are eligible for the credit do not claim it. A married couple filing jointly with three kids can make up to $59,930 and still qualify for a credit. A single parent raising one child can earn up to $39,617 and receive a credit. Families with children receive a greater credit than those without.

To see if you’re eligible, and to get some free tax preparation help, go to: Do not pay for a rapid-refund product that will cost you more in the long run than if you wait for your tax return to be processed and refund to be paid. And please help spread the word about all the good the EITC does in Michigan and what we can do to improve it.

— Rachel Richards

Political theory meets practical public policy

Added January 24th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

First off, I know what you’re probably thinking: “there’s no way Spike is his actual name.” While I cannot fault you for thinking that (it is a rather odd, if not interesting name) it does in fact appear on my legal birth certificate (as a middle name, Jack is my first, but how can I not go by Spike, right?).

While my family now lives in East Lansing, I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Denver, Colorado. What that means of course is that I spent most of my free time in the mountains hiking about, and enjoying the fantastic Tex-Mex food of the Southwest. Interestingly enough, I prefer the warmth of an indoor batting cage to the cold of a snow-covered slope, so I actually didn’t spend much time at all skiing or snowboarding. Hopefully that doesn’t discredit me as a Coloradan.

Upon moving to East Lansing and shortly thereafter graduating from East Lansing High, I enrolled in Michigan State University and chose to major within James Madison College. Currently, I am a junior, and my particular field of study is Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy. I am highly fascinated by the Constitution, the founding of our country, and the age-old debates of State vs. Federal authority, the role of civic participation in a democratic republic, the constant issues of class, and others, all pertinent at the conception of our nation and even now, as I write this blog.

Beyond my historicalMI Capitol and MI Flag and philosophical interests (which are numerous, and I love to discuss and debate these with anyone who is at all intrigued), I realize the importance and practicality of understanding policy, and the current political landscape. My knowledge of policy had been somewhat limited until debates really ramped up in early 2017 as the GOP set off on their first attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The press coverage surrounding the event caught my attention, as I’m sure it did for many, but what I got from CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to critically comprehend the elements regarding healthcare, and why it was such a divisive issue.

While the argument as to whether or not the government should have a role in determining the healthcare of individuals is extremely important from an ideological standpoint, I knew that I needed to know more about why costs were so high, the quality of the care, who was going to be adversely affected should the Individual Mandate be repealed, the state of the healthcare market, and why, in the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country in the world, there was an uninsured rate higher than any other developed nation.

My drive to learn and create a strong foundation rooted in a mixture of philosophy, ideology and strong policy knowledge, plus a little nudging from my friend and fellow Madison student Lorenzo, has led me here, to the League. I am incredibly excited to be a part of this team, to learn from everyone, and to contribute to the fantastic body of work of this organization.

With that longwinded introduction out of the way (thanks, James Madison), I’m ready and eager to get to work with the rest of the League and its partners and supporters, and am thankful for the warm welcome and exciting opportunity.

— Spike Dearing

2017: A blog odyssey, part deux

Added January 19th, 2018 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

Earlier this month when I was working on a recap of our best blogs of 2017, it was becoming more of a Casey Kasem Top 40 than a David Letterman Top Ten. While it’s nice to look back at what was shared the most, that’s just one measurement of a blog’s importance and resonance. As the editor of our blog, I was particularly proud of the issues we tackled in 2017, and I think you will be, too. Here are some of the other great blogs and pressing policy issues that I wanted to highlight from the past year.

We had a firsthand account of a 17-year-old’s experience being treated like an adult in the justice system, and why we need to “Raise the Age.”

The League hired a new policy fellow, Victoria Crouse, who wrote several blogs on the experiences of an immigrant family and the threats many immigrants have faced in the last year—including the Muslim Ban(s) and the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

BestBlogsOf2017We continue to lift up racial equity, and the historic and systemic issues that have contributed to current disparities. With 2017 being the 50th Anniversary of the racial uprising in Detroit, we had the opportunity to share the perspectives of our community engagement director Renell Weathers and our CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs who were both living in the Detroit area at the time. We also tackled the harrowing incident in Charlottesville both directly and in a broader policy context.

Through our blogs and our policy work, the League also keeps speaking up for women’s issues, the policies that benefit them and the political rhetoric that doesn’t.

One of the perks of having an economist as our board chair is that we were able to draw on the expertise of Charles Ballard for a look at the Affordable Care Act from an economic angle.

The League’s blog certainly tackled some heavy topics, but we also try to have some fun with it. Our work covers the same range of emotions that our lives do, and the blog is meant to reflect that.

The League put together a couple blogs that allowed all of the staff to share some personal perspectives on what we were thankful for and how healthcare had benefited many of our lives.

We got to do a fun interview-style blog with Phyllis Killips, who celebrated 40 years of service the League this year.

We had great blogs from our interns from the past year—Casey Paskus, Lorenzo Santavicca, Eric Staats and Mallory Boyce.

And in honor of having a Friday the 13th fall in October in 2017, I managed to meld my love for horror movies and progressive public policy in 13 things Congress has in common with Jason Voorhees. I also realized an 11-year dream of making a pun that combines state revenue estimates and an Ice Cube reference.

Our staff and supporters all care about the same things (well, most of the same things—see above), and our blog is one way we can connect on that. Stay tuned to our social media to see what we’ll be working on and writing about in the coming year, and you can also subscribe to our blog via email or RSS feed to get updates directly. Thanks for reading!

— Alex Rossman

We fixed how fraud is determined, now let’s fix the rest of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance system

Added January 18th, 2018 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Governor Rick Snyder, just before Christmas, signed into law a bill package with fixes to Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system that will prevent the false fraud accusation travesty (which we blogged about here, here and here) from happening again. That is the good news.

The new laws will not, however, make reparations to the tens of thousands of workers and their families who were hurt by being falsely accused of fraud and having their wages and tax refunds garnished—and in some cases went into bankruptcy or foreclosure.

The new laws also do not make fundamental changes that would bring Michigan’s UI system in line with its neighbor states by making it easier for lower-paid unemployed workers to access benefits as they look for work, and by increasing the amount of the benefits. The Michigan League for Public Policy has proposed several such changes in its new report, Falling Short 2017: Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Continues to Neglect Many Workers Who Need It.

The last time we did a Falling Short report was in 2011, and unfortunately little has improved since then. Michigan’s UI system continues to lag behind other states in the Upper Midwest:

  • Michigan still pays the lowest maximum benefit, and its average weekly benefit as a percent of wages remains lowest.
  • Michigan still has the lowest UI coverage.
  • Michigan still provides the fewest weeks of benefits.
  • Michigan spends far less on UI per unemployed worker than several other Midwest states.

MI UI fig 8Michigan enacted several bad unemployment policies over the past 25 years. One was decoupling the maximum UI benefit from state average weekly wages in 1994. Prior to that year, the maximum UI benefit was equal to 58% of state average weekly wages, so as wages go up (or very occasionally in recession years, down), the benefits go up (or down) as well. Beginning in 1994, the maximum benefit was set as a flat rate that only the Michigan Legislature can change. That rate has been $362 since 2002, which, when adjusted for inflation, is worth only $266 today.

Another anti-worker change Michigan made was in 2011, when it became the first state in the nation to reduce the maximum number of weeks that unemployed workers can receive benefits as they look for work. Prior to that, all states had a 26-week maximum, although many workers don’t receive that many weeks of benefits because they find work before the maximum is reached. Michigan’s move to reduce the maximum was quite extreme, especially since our state had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at the time. Sadly, a tiny handful of other states saw Michigan do it and followed suit.

Finally, Michigan has failed to update its eligibility rules that would enable unemployed lower-paid workers who are firmly attached to the labor market to collect UI benefits as they seek new jobs. A much lower percentage of employed workers in Michigan is eligible for UI due to this legislative negligence.

Now that the UI fraud determination laws have been strengthened, UI will probably fall off the media radar and out of public attention, but we must continue to improve the system. There is much more work that needs to be done to bring Michigan’s UI into the 21st century. This is not just about providing a safety net for unemployed workers and their families, but also about helping local economies that suffer when spending goes down.

Some may ask why we should worry about UI now, when the economy is improving. My response is, why wait until the next recession hits and layoffs again plague our state to fix the program that can alleviate family and community hardship? Let’s do what needs to be done to support workers and businesses today and in any economic climate ahead.

— Peter Ruark

Wishing for the stork to bring some common sense

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

Having recently returned to work following maternity leave, I’ve been reflecting on my experience with pregnancy, childbirth and clumsily learning how to care for my now five-month-old baby. Humans aren’t delivered by storks and we don’t spring from our parents’ heads as fully formed adults capable of caring for ourselves, but the attitudes shaping this country’s policies surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care often seem to be based on ancient mythology and silly stories parents tell their kids to avoid awkward conversations about sex.

Sadly, these misguided notions have been invoked as justification to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the law’s critics have asserted that men can’t get pregnant and pregnancy is not a disease (although before the ACA’s enactment, insurance companies could consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition warranting higher premium charges and deductibles if not outright denial of coverage).

Despite not experiencing any of the scary complications that can occur during the nondisease of pregnancy, I’m befuddled by a prevailing mindset that discourages prenatal coverage as a standard element of health insurance and paid leave time for new mothers and fathers. This attitude certainly isn’t conducive to good health for children, parents or families.

Some have suggested that the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies sold on the healthcare exchange cover obstetric care constitutes special coverage unfairly given to women at men’s expense. However, every single one of us, regardless of sex, exists because someone with a uterus carried us for months and then gave birth through a usually long, painful and sometimes traumatic process (which, in the United States, is shamefully often threatening to health and life). That some of the insurance premiums paid by people who will never become pregnant ultimately cover expenses associated with pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care isn’t an injustice, it’s just paying it forward.

In waiting until age 37 to have a child, I’ve heard countless lectures about how selfish it is to be childless by choice and that we all have a duty to procreate for various reasons (all of them ironically selfish). But when it comes time to pay for it, human reproduction is suddenly viewed as an extraordinary burden to employers, other insurance subscribers and society at large rather than the natural process by which every one of us comes into this world.

Yes, healthcare for pregnant people, fetuses and newborns is expensive (as is healthcare for all other humans in the United States), and accommodating absences for new parents presents challenges to employers and coworkers. But it doesn’t look like nature will be changing the way our species perpetuates itself anytime soon–there’s no reason to single out pregnancy and childbirth from other naturally occurring health conditions, so we might as well learn to deal with them in ways that don’t cause further losses to society.

Family LeaveToday, my daughter is healthy and happy, largely because we have insurance that covered most of the costs, my employer provides paid parental leave and is accommodating of my family’s needs, and we could afford for my husband to take an extended unpaid leave along with me. But many American families aren’t so fortunate.

Families with low incomes, families of color and single parents have the least access to so many of the supports that save lives and strengthen families and are then cruelly stereotyped as inferior, while white, middle-class, married couples who are more likely to have robust insurance coverage, access to high-quality health providers and paid leave benefits are admonished to have more children so as to maintain an adequate population of “people like us”.

Historically, the stork has been revered as a sign of good fortune, even enjoying special protection in some cultures. Why don’t we show such regard for the actual human bearers and nurturers of children? A society that claims to value children’s lives must also value their parents’ lives, especially during the early years when so much crucial development takes place, and reflect this value in its policies related to health and family.

— Julie Cassidy

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