MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

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

How about better pay? Why Paul Ryan’s poverty proposal misses the point.

Added June 30th, 2016 by Mario Gruszczynski | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Mario Gruszczynski

A renewed discussion of poverty is welcome in a time when 1 in 6 Michiganians and nearly 1 in 4 children in Michigan are living in poverty. That’s why Speaker Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty proposal, A Better Way, is encouraging: it makes us think about how we should support people who are struggling and the most vulnerable among us. But while this focus on poverty is a welcome change, Speaker Ryan’s proposals rely on outdated and debunked assumptions about the nature of poverty.

Snap participationThe big idea in Ryan’s proposal is a doubling-down on the 1996 Welfare Reform. Under these rules, you would now have to work or prepare for work in order to receive benefits for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal program that provides food assistance to millions of Americans, as well as various federal housing programs.

Implicit in Ryan’s understanding of the nature of poverty is the idea that programs like SNAP are a disincentive to work. By his logic, if we take people off public assistance they’ll have to go to work. He’s wrong.

First of all, the average SNAP benefit in March 2016 (most recent data available) was only about $4 a day, not enough to feed an adult. Since people need more money to survive, they are actually encouraged to work. In fact, 43% of SNAP recipients live in a household where someone works and nearly 75% of Michigan SNAP households had a member in the workforce in the past year.

Many of the remaining recipients are children, seniors or residents with disabilities. Only about 13% of SNAP recipients in Michigan are able-bodied, childless adults. SNAP isn’t trapping people in poverty. It’s doing the opposite, lifting 10 million Americans out of poverty.

Snap participationSecond, Ryan is wrong when he warns that more and more people are on public assistance. Ever since the economic recovery began, SNAP participation has been declining. When the economy is improving and wages are rising, people will take those jobs and no longer need to use programs like SNAP.

But when the economy is in rough shape, it isn’t reasonable to demand that people work in order to receive benefits. That’s why we haven’t had SNAP work requirements in Michigan in recent years: it’s still really hard to find a good job right now. The answer is not to penalize people with high barriers to work but to empower them with skills to get a job and to ensure they are paid a living wage.

That’s one reason why we need a higher minimum wage. For a single adult in Michigan in 2016, a full-time minimum wage worker earns less than $20,000 a year, less than the necessary income to meet basic needs. We could raise the minimum wage without large adverse effects. A higher minimum wage will restore the dignity of work and make sure that working is worth it.

To be sure, we’d all like to see people on public assistance become self-sufficient. But we need to understand that the driving forces of poverty, barriers to economic opportunity, will not be solved by pulling the rug out from under Michiganians who are already barely getting by. Ryan’s proposal continues the practice of scapegoating public assistance instead of looking at the real policies perpetuating poverty.

— Mario Gruszczynski

How do Michigan kids fare compared with kids in other states? Data shows mixed results.

Added June 23rd, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Everyone wants the best for their kids. We want to live in a state that invests in our youngest residents and provides a future for them. I think back to when I was in graduate school in Austin, Texas, and was offered a job to stay there. This was at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 and I decided that it was more important to me to come back home and try to make things better here. I wanted to help make Michigan a place where people would want to live, more college graduates would stay or return home, and people would want to start families and raise their children. I am a parent now of an 8-year-old, sassy, very smart, talented and beautiful girl, and I often find myself saying, and not in a good way, “This isn’t the Michigan I grew up in.”

NationalDataBook2016_MichiganRankWhen the national KIDS COUNT Data Book comes out every year, I anxiously await to see how things have changed. Although, I find myself less and less surprised every year. The 2016 national Data Book came out earlier this week and it shows mixed results for Michigan. We have seen improvements in all four measures of children’s health and our youth are making good decisions and doing better. But we have more children living in poverty and higher rates of concentrated poverty, many parents are still struggling to find stable employment and significant racial and ethnic disparities exist. And, we are now in the bottom 10 in the country when it comes to educational outcomes.

In overall child well-being, Michigan is ranked 31st in the country this year. That’s up from 33rd last year, so we’re getting better, but we’re still in the bottom half of the country. Our state is also last in the Midwest, again: Minnesota (1st); Wisconsin (13th), Illinois (21st), Ohio (26th) and Indiana (30th). The 2016 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book came out in March and has state-level data and county-by-county data and rankings.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation states in the report, “We believe that our nation can, and must, find common ground on policy solutions to address the devastating economic instability experienced by millions of American families.” Those solutions to ensure that all children are prepared for the future should be based on the country’s broadly shared values of opportunity, responsibility and security. We need to continue to increase opportunity by expanding and improving early care and education, like preschool, and making college affordable and accessible for all students. It means rewarding responsibility by restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC and increasing the credit for low-income workers without dependents. And, policies are needed to ensure a measure of security to low-income parents of young children, like earned sick leave time.

We can and must do better for our kids. As cliché as it sounds, they really are our future. How we treat our kids and care for them says a lot about our state and its leaders. We know that without using a two-generation approach to address poverty and economic security, we aren’t going to see the progress we need or want in educational outcomes. Without strong, safe communities and schools, kids will continue to struggle with many issues. And, as long as policy decisions are made without a race equity lens, disparities and inequities will continue to exist leaving behind a growing population of children.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Changing minds by touching hearts

Added June 21st, 2016 by Karen Holcomb-Merrill | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Karen Holcomb-Merrill

At the League we often talk about our “head” work and our “heart” work. My head doesn’t hurt doing this work, but my heart often does. And it recently became personal for me.

In our heads we rely on data to tell the story of children and families who have been disenfranchised, who struggle to make ends meet, who often face challenges because of their income or skin color. Intellectually, we use this data to work for public policy changes that will help our most vulnerable fellow Michiganians. We rely on cold, hard facts.

Sexton Graduation ProgramIn our hearts, we know that there are real people, real faces and real stories affected by the work we do at the League. Generally we don’t meet these people, see their faces or hear their stories. But we are working to improve their lives.

My head and heart collided a couple Sundays ago. I’ve been a Big Sister to an amazing young woman for the last three years. She graduated from high school on that Sunday.

My head knows that she has lived with and been raised by her great grandmother. That there are many things I take for granted that her family cannot afford. That she has had to overcome so many barriers. That she will be the first person in her family to attend college. That many of her peers will not attend college.

I sat at her commencement bursting with pride as she walked across the stage to get her diploma. I held back the tears, but my heart hurt as I thought about all that she had overcome to graduate that day and to be preparing for college.

As I looked around, my heart hurt as I imagined there were families cheering for their graduates, but perhaps wondering how they would support their new grads, wondering what their futures would look like without the ability to attend college.

Perhaps even wondering how they would put the next meal on the table.

In the midst of that, my head gave me some hope. Hope in the knowledge that every day here at the League we are working to improve the lives of all of the Little Sisters and their families and their classmates. My heart is hanging onto that hope.

— Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Keeping kids healthy over the summer break

Added June 15th, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Summer is finally here. We’ve all made arrangements for child care, summer camps and vacations, but have probably not given much thought about how—or if—we’ll be able to provide enough food for our families during the break from school. In Michigan, though, there were 364,000 children in families who experienced food insecurity over the past year. And, summer time, when kids are not in school and do not have access to free- or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, can really put low-income children at risk for hunger and lack of nutritional foods, which impacts learning and development.

Summer Nutrition Programs can help fill the gap to reduce the risk of hunger for children living in families who are still struggling to make ends meet in this uneven economic recovery. But a new report from the national Food Research & Action Center, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, shows that Michigan lost ground last summer.

kids eating flippedWhile the number of sites offering summer meals increased over July 2014 and July 2015, fewer Michigan children received meals. There was a 7% drop in participation and only 12.7 of every 100 children in need received a summer meal. That means that in 2015, almost half a million Michigan kids who were eligible for the free or reduced-price meal program during the school year did not access the summer meals program. Michigan ranked 35th nationally this year in our reach compared to 31st last year in FRAC’s annual summer nutrition status report.

Serving fewer children in need also means that the state is missing out on federal dollars. If Michigan increased its ratio from 12.7 for every 100 children enrolled in the school meal program during the school year to 40, over 151,000 more children would get fed. This would result in an additional $11.97 million in federal reimbursement.

As Congress considers Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, there are opportunities to include provisions that would help states expand their reach to children at risk of going hungry during the summer. For example, one proposal would allow sponsors of Summer Nutrition Programs to provide meals all year long through one federal program rather than two separate programs for the school year and summer.

Summer Nutrition Program MapAnother way to increase participation, especially in rural areas, is by providing Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase food during the summer. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstration project—which included Michigan—showed significant reductions in food insecurity and positive nutritional outcomes through the use of Summer EBT cards. Michigan has received additional funding to expand the use of Summer EBT cards in Flint and Detroit.

Michigan is only serving meals to one in eight children in need over the summer; roughly 87% of lower-income kids are missing out and going hungry. There are ways to expand our reach—show your support by contacting your Congressional member. The role that hunger and nutrition have in ensuring that kids stay healthy over the summer and return to school ready to learn is critical in so many ways, and we all have to do our part to improve it.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Detroit Public Schools plan doesn’t serve kids, hurts teachers

Added June 9th, 2016 by David Hecker | Email This Entry Email This Entry
David Hecker

By David Hecker, Michigan League for Public Policy Board Member and President of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan

For the past year, the future of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) has been in doubt. With a massive debt run up under state control, the education of 47,000 children has been hanging in the balance.

Last night, with only Republican votes, the Senate passed the House plan for Detroit Public Schools—which falls far short of what DPS students deserve. However, under this legislation, which now goes to the Governor’s office for his signature, the state is paying the debt and providing some additional capital, DPS employees keep their jobs and their union representation, DPS returns to an elected school board in January, which, while not fully empowered, will have decision making powers on many important issues, and EAA schools will eventually return to the District. Detroit Public Schools, now to be known as the Detroit Community School District, will be open in September.

The House plan that will be law is an improvement over the original House plan that provided a lower investment in DPS, forced DPS employees to reapply for their jobs, and eliminated union representation.

child in school flippedHaving said this, the House and now Senate plan that will soon be law is extremely flawed. It provides inadequate funding, raises the stakes of standardized testing with its proposed school accountability system and requirement that new hires (in the Detroit Community School District only) be paid based primarily on merit—not allowing the use of experience and education level—and allows noncertified people to teach, without any requirements for education, experience or preparation—again, only in Detroit schools.

These bills allow the privatization of teachers in schools that were in the EAA (which are supposed to return to the Detroit Community School District), and make it easier to punish educators who speak out in a manner that is determined to be a strike.

And under this soon to be law, charter schools will continue to be allowed to open up wherever and whenever they want with no increase in accountability.

Unfortunately, the Senate abandoned its own Detroit education bill, which was crafted with bipartisan support and backed by labor, parents, civic, religious and business leaders, education organizations and the Mayor of Detroit. Instead, the Senate voted for the House plan.

Governor Rick Snyder, who had originally supported the Senate plan—one that is a fair reflection of the recommendations of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren—also succumbed to the wishes of Speaker Kevin Cotter and his benefactors, Dick and Betsy DeVos. This is people playing political games while showing an utter disregard for children’s futures.

The bills passed both Houses with only Republican votes, meaning all Detroit legislators voted against the bills. Therefore, these bills are a statement by non-Detroit Republicans that they know what is best for Detroit, a city whose population is overwhelmingly people of color. It is a continuation of the attitude that has resulted in Detroit Public Schools’ massive debt, low academic performance, and “wild west” system of school openings throughout the city.

While some Republicans voted with us (and advocated for us), this legislation happened because the Republicans control the Senate 27-10 and the House 63-46. We must retake the House in this November’s election.

Fortunately, for the children of Detroit, no piece of legislation—no matter how bad, no matter how inadequate—will stop Detroit educators from giving their all for the city’s students. Regardless of the challenges, we’ll move forward with this upcoming school year with a renewed vigor to make sure students receive the best education possible. Educators will continue to go the extra mile to make up for the Legislature’s failure.

Thank you to so, so many members, parents, students, unions, clergy, community leaders, statewide school management associations, many business leaders and Mayor Duggan who fought for the schools Detroit’s children deserve. Our members meeting with and calling legislators, writing letters, phone banking every night to build support, and telling your stories made a difference. Just consider the changes from the first to the second House plan.

At the national, state and local levels our union and our teachers never gave up. And we never will.

— David Hecker

State budget turns back on vital federal dollars

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

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Here at the League, the state budget is always one of our top priorities. State funding for important programs has one of the biggest impacts on Michiganians in need. We talk a lot about how the budget is a statement of our values as a state. But much like your family budget and mine, dealing with money issues is also about “value” in the traditional sense—how can we best stretch our dollars and get the most bang for our buck. This includes leveraging federal funds as much as possible.

This is more important now than ever. In January, it looked like state revenues were in a good position. But things changed in the next five months, and May revenue estimates were significantly down, meaning the budget was going to have to be adjusted—or cut—accordingly.

Michigan clearly has a revenue problem, and it needs to be addressed in a broader sense. It is due in large part to our tax structure, both how much the state gives away each year in tax credits, deductions and exemptions and how much the state has cut in business taxes in recent years. Michigan’s tax system and revenue stream need to be reevaluated, but there are more immediate fixes that can help with the 2017 state budget right now.

As we always do with the budget, League staff put together a series of budget briefs analyzing the different departmental budgets and making our recommendations. Based on our values at the League, we believe that these programs are vital and should be funded even in the midst of reduced revenues. But we are also realistic and knew that the Legislature was not likely to agree, with many of our suggestions for increased funding being left out of the budget bills that have already passed.

But there’s one area that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle should be able to come together on, and that is making sure Michigan gets every federal dollar it is entitled to, especially when the return on investment is nearly 50 times the state commitment in some cases. Unfortunately, these opportunities have also been overlooked in the 2017 budget.

The Department of Health and Human Services budget conference report was passed today and missed a major opportunity to bring in federal dollars to support state needs. The House-passed budget included an investment of $3.2 million in state funds to fix the Heat and Eat policy that reduced food assistance for approximately 150,000 households, including seniors and persons with disabilities. But this funding did not survive joint negotiations with the Senate. This remedy would have brought in $138 million in federal dollars to help these residents. Since 2014, Michigan has been one of only a handful of states that did not provide the additional funds needed to comply with federal changes to the Heat and Eat program and maintain food benefits. The League has been working to fix this issue for years, and will keep up our commitment to tackle it in next year’s budget.

The School Aid and Department of Education budget conference reports have been finalized, and legislators missed a chance to secure an estimated $20 million in federal Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) dollars because they further reduced state match spending based on the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. We’ve already lost federal child care funding in the past and are at risk of losing more because of our stringent state child care policies that hurt parents’ ability to work and get out of poverty. We can’t afford to continue this trend.

This child care funding issue may still be resolved with a budget supplemental this year, and the League will keep working with the governor’s administration and legislators on this so we don’t miss this chance to leverage federal dollars.

There was some good news in the final budget bills, including the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental, much-needed funding for Flint to address the ongoing water crisis and an expansion of the state’s child care eligibility from 121% of the federal poverty level to 125% of the federal poverty level. But the Heat and Eat fix and state child care spending were two major opportunities for lawmakers to bring in federal funding when our state needed it the most, and for programs that particularly help families in need. We will fight for these and other issues now and in next year’s budget negotiations.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Compassion is our compass

Added June 3rd, 2016 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

Earlier today, I joined several of our staff in getting out of the office to enjoy the sunshine, some camaraderie and a large amount of dirt. We volunteered with the Allen Neighborhood Center here in Lansing, working at the Hunter Park GardenHouse to do some gardening, weeding, planting and cleaning.

This probably sounds fun to most of you, and it definitely was, especially when the alternative is spending a beautiful sunny Friday sitting at a desk in front of a soul-sucking computer (like I am now).

But it still strikes me as special that even when we at the League are doing something fun and casual, we are looking to have an impact and help others, something we are doing day in and day out. Coming up on my one-year anniversary at the League, that’s one of the things I love about “us.”

Staff Volunteering_Me2

Author’s Note: I’m supposed to be doing this.

I discovered my desire to make the world—and specifically, my beloved Michigan—a better place largely by accident. My first grown-up job was at a nonprofit conservation organization. I was drawn to the work because I like catching bugs and snakes, climbing trees and scraping knees. But it was working for the greater good—protecting Michigan for all to enjoy—that I found the most appealing.

In my next job, I went to work for the Michigan Senate to try to change things from the inside. I spent almost a decade there, and while this work was a lot of fun, my political leanings were such that I didn’t get to celebrate a lot of policy “wins.” But I felt like every day—ok, most days—I was fighting the good fight.

That’s what drew me to the League last summer. I wanted my work, even if it is writing pithy quotes and hounding media, to be fulfilling, to make a difference, to help people. And it has. We’ve even managed to secure some important policy victories for my fellow Michiganians, and are striving every day for more.

But my favorite part about working at the League is the culture of kindness and conscience. Compassion is our compass—it guides us and drives us. It is there professionally, from top to bottom. But it’s also there personally.

Our CEO has dedicated her life to public service, even braving the Legislature to do it. Several of our staff members have been volunteering in Flint to help with the water crisis, blogging about it along the way. Many others are active and involved with a variety of great causes in their communities. We also do an annual staff donation drive for Haven House here in the Lansing area.

And even for a fun day today, we volunteered our time to help others. This is how we roll, and I love it.

Staff Volunteering2

— Alex Rossman

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