MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Americans want Congress to invest in kids

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

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

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

Almost eight of every 10 Americans polled favored investing more in programs that support children’s education, healthcare, nutrition and well-being. 

Majorities of all political persuasions want to make children’s programs and services a higher budget priority.

In Michigan, substantial numbers of children rely on federally funded programs for their basic needs: Roughly half of all K-12 students are eligible for free and reduced priced school lunch and a quarter of a million young children live in families that qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. While unemployment is down for Michigan workers so are wages and opportunities for full-time employment.

The Children’s Leadership Council — a coalition of more than 50 of the nation’s leading child and youth advocacy organizations — commissioned Hart Research Associates to conduct the telephone poll of a nationally representative sample of over 800 Americans age 18 and older. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%.

Among the results of the nationwide poll:

  • By a strong margin, Americans say that investing more in children’s health, education and well-being should be a higher priority today than reducing taxes.
  • As we near national mid-term Congressional elections, a majority of registered voters polled would be more likely to support a candidate who favored increasing funding for programs and services to address children’s needs — only 10% would be less likely to favor such a candidate.

Almost two of every three respondents agreed that “the best way to provide a secure retirement [for seniors] is to ensure that we have productive workers contributing to the economy in the future.”

Children and young people have shouldered much of the burden of the sluggish economic recovery: Nearly one in four children in Michigan lives in families with income below poverty level. New Census Bureau data show the vital role federal anti-poverty programs like SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit play in lifting children out of poverty.

Cutting such services and supports is not only unjust, it is short-sighted. The well-being of our youth today affects the health and economic vitality of our state and nation now and in the decades to come.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Discrimination = poverty

Added October 15th, 2014 by Karen Holcomb-Merrill | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to struggle with poverty, according to a new report, Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for being LGBT in America.

And the study points out what we already know: There is a clear connection between economic security and anti-LGBT laws.

Did you know, for example, that in Michigan you can be fired or not hired simply for being gay or lesbian?

The Michigan League for Public Policy recently became a partner to the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a partnership of business leaders representing companies large and small, associations and chambers of commerce who have come together around the goal of updating Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act  to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

These business leaders understand that everyone in Michigan, whatever race, gender, religion, physical characteristics, sexual orientation or gender identity deserves to be treated fairly and equally under the law.

While all LGBT Michiganians are affected by this lack of legal protection, those with children are particularly affected. Single LGBT adults with children are three times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line than their non-LGBT peers.

Married or partnered LGBT adults with children are two times more likely to have incomes near the poverty line than their non-LGBT peers. Living in a family with adults who could be fired at any moment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity makes these children very vulnerable to economic insecurity.

Updating Elliott-Larsen to include sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just about improving economic security for LGBT people and families in our state, although that’s critically important. It’s also about Michigan’s economic recovery.

As noted by business and chamber leaders, Michigan’s continued economic growth relies on keeping and attracting talented, hardworking, determined people in our state, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s a win-win. Including sexual orientation and gender identity in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act will boost economic security for many families and will help grow the economy in Michigan. What’s not to like about that?

– Karen Holcomb-Merrill


Latino students face barriers to opportunity

Added October 13th, 2014 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

As Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations come to an end, we must recognize the ongoing struggles of Latino children—a growing component of Michigan’s next workforce.

A recent report revealed that over the past decade, reading and math scores for Latino students in Michigan have fallen when compared to other Latinos across the country, a direct reflection of the state’s insufficient investments in educational programs that work for all students.

Mexican artist Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts

From 2010 to 2013, the Hispanic population grew by nearly 7% while the non-Hispanic population in Michigan actually declined. And, Latinos in Michigan are young with the vast majority being school-age children and a median age more than a decade younger than the non-Hispanic population. Plus, almost half of all Latinos over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home.

Approximately one of every three Michigan Latino children lives in poverty and with an adult without a high school diploma or higher. These numbers reflect the significant barriers to educational opportunity for Latino students.

Not surprising then is that national assessments show that only 21% of Hispanic fourth-graders are proficient in reading and only 14% of Latino eighth-graders are proficient in math. Ten years ago, Latino students in Michigan ranked near the top half on national reading and math tests. Now these students rank near the bottom. We are failing these children and in turn, dooming our economic future.

While reinvesting in schools is essential for helping all students reach their potential, improving outcomes for Latinos requires concentrated efforts in health and educational programs and expanded learning opportunities for students who are migrants, dual language learners, and/or immigrants. Additionally, to help close the gap we need to ensure that our professional teaching staff reflect the diversity in their classrooms and are trained in cultural competency, informed on current best practices, and connected to available resources.

So, as we wind down to the end of the celebrations for Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s keep in my mind that improving educational outcomes for one of the fastest growing populations in Michigan will be key to a full economic recovery and future in our state.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

‘Heat and eat’ — another squandered opportunity

Added October 9th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Michigan is being penny-wise and pound-foolish, refusing to pay $3 million to bring in $137 million in federal food assistance to 150,000 low-income households.

There are two issues in play here. The first is is that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) does not keep up with family food costs. The second is that Michigan has been able to raise SNAP benefits by an average of $76 per household, but now refuses to do so.

Fresh veggiesFood assistance benefits are too low because Congress refuses to update the standard SNAP benefit to reflect the real cost of nutritious food for a family.  Families cannot buy as much food as they used to with their food assistance, and some states (including Michigan until now) are filling the gap by using an option known as “heat and eat.”

Here is how it works: When the government calculates SNAP benefits for a low-income household, it factors in how much the household has to pay for rent and utilities. Because determining whether a household has to pay utilities separate from rent is onerous for administrators, the USDA devised the “heat and eat” option to allow states to give a utility deduction to any SNAP household that receives at least $1 in federal heating assistance, increasing their food assistance benefit.

To help food assistance recipients while Congress dithers on updating SNAP, 16 states (including Michigan) have been giving annual $1 heating assistance payments to SNAP households that normally would not receive them, so they can receive higher SNAP benefits. Michigan households have received an additional $76 per month in SNAP benefits because of this $1 per year investment.

Congress recently raised the amount of heating assistance needed to qualify a household for the utility allowance from $1 to $21. To comply with this, Michigan would need to spend $3.1 million per year (for 150,000 households), but would bring $137 million in federal SNAP dollars back into the state — helping not only the families receiving the benefit, but local grocers and communities in general.

Twelve of the 16 states that use “heat and eat” think paying $21 per household is still a good deal, and have chosen to continue the practice even at the higher cost. Michigan announced that it will leave the money on the table.

Lawmakers and the Department of Human Services justify the decision by stating that giving limited federal heating assistance money to those without heating bills means there will be less money left for those who do have them. Not necessarily so! States often add their own money to the federal heating assistance program. Michigan can afford to pay $3.1 million to bring in additional SNAP benefits without jeopardizing heating assistance for any households.

A big election is coming so make sure to ask your candidates where they stand on heat and eat.

Michigan should join the chorus of states saying that the SNAP benefit needs to be updated, and make use of “heat and eat” to fill that gap until Congress makes the update.

– Peter Ruark

Oh Michigan!

Added October 7th, 2014 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
From the First Tuesday newsletter
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‘O’ stands for October — and it also stands for Opportunity.

With just a few short weeks before the Nov. 4 election, now is your best chance as a concerned Michigan citizen to make a difference.

You can do this by:

1. Informing candidates for public office about policies you support.
2. Asking candidates about those issues so you can vote for the person who best reflects your priorities.

There’s a lot at stake in this election. In state elections, all 110 members of the House of Representatives and 38 Senate members will be elected in addition to the governor.

To help sort through this monumental task, the League has identified 15 public policy areas.

One of the biggest is what to do about our crumbling roads. Solutions offered are increasing the sales tax, creating a wholesale tax on gas, raising vehicle registration fees or diverting sales tax revenue. Creating or increasing taxes, especially the sales tax, will disproportionately affect those earning low wages.

Here’s the question to ask your candidates:

“Do you support increased or new revenue to address Michigan’s crumbling roads and infrastructure? Would you support increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit or other tax credit to help offset the burden on people earning low wages?”

Beware of the candidate who has a simple solution. If the answer is to just make roads a priority for funding, what happens to the other services such as health and education that now must make do with a smaller funding pot? Those who would simply increase the sales tax risk ignoring the realities of our economy — that families with low incomes pay a much bigger share of their income in sales tax than wealthier families.

Another question for candidates focuses on child poverty, which has escalated by 40% over the last 25 years with nearly one in every four Michigan kids now living in poverty. That’s $19,000 a year or less for a family of three and $24,000 for a family of four. The question for candidates:

“Several policy initiatives to alleviate child poverty have been suggested, such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10 — closer to its value in the 1960s and indexing it to inflation, reinstating the state Earned income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC, and raising the child care subsidy and easing eligibility requirements, parents earning low wages can access child care. Would you support any of these initiatives?”

A newer policy area of work for the League looks at clean energy and health-related costs of coal-fired electricity generating units that more deeply affect people of color and those who are economically vulnerable. To explore this, ask your candidate:

“Would you support transitioning from coal to clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power to reduce pollution and improve the health of Michiganians?”

For more help and background, see the League’s full set of questions, candidate fact sheets by district and advocacy basics.

When policies, debates and energy are focused on reducing child poverty, improving tax policy and making our air clean, we will be able to celebrate another ‘O.’

That would be for Outstanding!

– By Gilda Z. Jacobs

The Affordable Care Act: Working as designed

Added October 2nd, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

Jonathan Cohn, in the New Republic, recently published a very interesting article including numerous sets of data that demonstrate the Affordable Care Act is doing exactly what it was designed to do despite its glitches, flaws and shortcomings.

Cohn asserts: “…if you focus on the big picture, the available evidence suggests that the Affordable Care Act is working pretty much as its designers envisioned it would. Everybody knows that covering large numbers of the uninsured was Obamacare’s primary goal. We now have overwhelming evidence that it has.”

Michigan has made historic gains in reducing the number of uninsured and providing comprehensive coverage to hundreds of thousands of residents. Michigan’s higher than anticipated enrollment in Marketplace plans  – 272,539 enrollees – placed the state 8th in the nation in enrollments. The Healthy Michigan Plan reached 400,000 enrollees on Sept. 25, 2014, less than six months after implementation. And there is more good news – 94,000 young adults under age 26 have gained or retained coverage through their parents’ employer coverage.

That means nearly 767,000 Michiganians have:

  • gained new coverage through the Healthy Michigan Plan, or
  • gained new or more comprehensive coverage through the Marketplace, with the vast majority, 87%, receiving federal subsidies to help make premiums affordable, or
  • not aged out of coverage – young adults under age 26.

This is truly impressive!

These numbers do not count the children who, since 2010, were able to obtain coverage and not be denied due to pre-existing conditions or the individuals who were able to keep their coverage because insurers were not able to drop them when they became ill, or to impose lifetime limits (and annual limits were phased out). Individuals with costly chronic illnesses no longer have to worry about reaching a dollar limit that their insurer will pay and then losing their coverage.

In addition to increased coverage, Cohn reports that while premiums were projected by some to skyrocket, that is not the reality. So far only very modest change has been reported. The preliminary increase (final rates have not yet been published) in the second lowest Silver plan in the Detroit area is 2.5% for the 2015 Open Enrollment Period, far below the normal year to year increases. In addition, more insurers are participating in the Marketplace. Michigan will have five new companies participating in 2015.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act also predicted employers would drop coverage due to skyrocketing premiums. This too has not come to pass. The annual Kaiser Survey of Employer Coverage found that employer premiums for family coverage rose 3% in 2014, while individual coverage rose only 2%.

Cohen’s report includes several other statistics, charts and graphs that demonstrate the ACA is working as designed, not wreaking the havoc opponents predicted.

– Jan Hudson

Do the candidates share your values?

Added September 29th, 2014 by Renell Weathers | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Renell Weathers

Just as leaves are sure to fall in the near future, so will voters go to the polls for the fall election. We have less than two months before critical decisions are made about the direction of our state. We need to ask ourselves: Do the candidates share my values? If you are not certain of the answer, now is the time to lean in and find out.

Some of you are experienced in communicating with elected officials but may not have a handle on the issues, and others may be concerned about how state policies have affected your lives and the lives of those around you but have never engaged in the political process and wouldn’t know where to start. Regardless of which category you fit or if you are somewhere in between, it is our duty as voters to hold accountable before and after the election those vying to serve us.

I was leading a workshop on advocacy and one of the attendees stated: “Why do I need to call anyone? He’s from my neighborhood he knows what’s going on.” We should never assume any candidate or elected official knows what we think. Each Michigan House district represents about 90,000 citizens (triple for a Senate district) and of that maybe 4,000 will ever contact their legislator. Even though that is a low percentage, it behooves us to make sure our values are being communicated.

I’ve worked in a state Senate office and those who have a financial stake in state policy are consistently informing legislators on what’s important to their interests. What’s missing? The views of regular citizens, those that work every day to improve the lives of their family and community. It is critical that your values are voiced to those running for office.

The League has several tools to help you – a list of questions with policy background to use as you encounter candidates and an advocacy guide for how to communicate with elected officials. You can also find information on your House and Senate districts here — including a way to find your districts. Then click on your district to find information on poverty, income, unemployment, the Earned Income Tax Credit and other district facts.

Now is the time to act. What happens in Lansing doesn’t stay in Lansing!

 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

– Renell Weathers


Small problems get big with misplaced priorities

Added September 23rd, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

In kindergarten classrooms in one Michigan school district, work tables are now cleaned only weekly instead of daily due to severe budget cuts that have reduced cleaning staff and supplies. Teachers must buy their own cleaners and wash the tables to maintain sanitary conditions for the youngest students

The dirty tables was one of the anecdotes offered about Michigan’s misguided spending priorities during a news conference held at the Capitol this morning by Priorities Michigan. (more…)

Michigan fails to invest in child care

Added September 22nd, 2014 by Pat Sorenson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Child care is a necessity for many Michigan families, but is becoming increasingly unaffordable for lower-income parents. In addition, insufficient state inspectors to monitor providers’ compliance with child care licensing rules means that parents cannot always count on finding safe and reliable care — even if they have the resources to purchase it.

A new report by the League concludes that current efforts to improve access to high quality child care — partly through a new federal grant — will be insufficient to move the dial significantly without additional state funding.


Census numbers tell of stagnancy and slow recovery

Added September 18th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Today is the big day that comes each year: the release of American Community Survey figures on income and poverty.

Ready for some numbers?

Michigan’s household median income in 2013 ($48,273) was a bit higher than in 2012, but is nearly $1,000 lower than in 2009. The income bracket that grew the largest from 2009 to 2013 was the share of Michigan households who make under $10,000 a year. The only other income bracket with a significant share increase was households making more than $200,000 a year. These numbers taken together suggest that the slow economic recovery in Michigan is primarily benefiting those at higher incomes. (more…)

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