MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Can you talk effectively about the state budget?

Added April 24th, 2014 by Shannon Nobles | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Shannon Nobles

As many of us know, it is not just about what you say, but how you say it.

We can agree that the state budget is an important issue, but often times eyes glaze over when we talk about it. This can be because people do not understand the budget and find it much more enthralling to talk policy.

However, it is important to realize that most policy decisions are made through the budget process. For example, you cannot create policy on education, without first knowing how much money will be allocated towards the area for each budget year. Creating that budget is the first step.

If we want to advocate for an issue, we need to learn how to plug into the annual budget cycle. Furthermore, we need to make the connection between investing in public goods and the budget itself, and then be able to communicate that connection to folks in our communities and policymakers at the state level.

Luckily, Public Works is coming to Michigan to present on just this as part of the Priorities Michigan project.

Join us Wednesday, April 30 for “Getting Michigan’s Priorities Straight: How to Communicate Effectively About Investing in Public Goods”! The training will be held at two locations:

State Capitol in Lansing, MI- Room 426 from 11:30a-12:30p, for legislators and staff
or
Gethsamane Baptist Church from 4:30-6:30p, located at 29066 Eton Street in Westland, MI. 48186, open to the general public

This event is free. If you have questions or would like to RSVP, please contact: Nathan@prioritiesmichigan.org

–Shannon Nobles

80-mile walk

Added April 23rd, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

On this cool, windy spring morning I joined other advocates to show support for the youth who walked the 80 miles from Detroit to the Capitol steps in Lansing to express their concerns with Michigan’s zero tolerance policies and the impact on their lives.

Michael Reynolds, an organizer of the 80- mile event, said zero tolerance policies are "kicking good kids out of school.''

For the uninitiated, “zero tolerance” in this context refers to those education policies that mandate automatic suspension or expulsion for offenses deemed a threat to the safety of other students or school staff. The big problem in Michigan is that the list of such offenses now includes relatively minor infractions such as not having a school ID badge or wearing clothing that doesn’t adhere to the uniform code, according to the students who spoke this morning.

“I hope that legislators understand that youth around Michigan want to modify zero tolerance, and we’re willing to walk 80 miles to show it,” said Michael Reynolds, co-president of Youth First and an organizer of the march.

In 1995, Michigan enacted a series of laws in response to the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 that required expulsion for at least one year any student who brought a weapon onto school property. Unfortunately Michigan legislators enacted some of the most stringent policies in the country by expanding the list of “expulsion” offenses to include assault whether or not a weapon was involved, verbal “assaults,” vandalism, disobedience and an expansive definition of “weapon” that included toys and plastic knives.

Students today reported being pushed out the school door to find the police waiting outside ready to charge them with truancy, issue tickets and pull them into the court system. Court officials have raised concerns about this practice: Last fall the Michigan Leadership Summit on School-Justice Partnerships enlisted county-based cross-disciplinary teams to focus on “keeping kids in school and out of the justice system.” This effort was spearheaded by Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice and the Department of Human Services. A School Justice Leadership Committee coordinated by the DHS is planning five regional meetings next month to share county plans focused on addressing truancy.

It’s been almost two decades since zero tolerance laws went into effect, and the injustices they have perpetrated have been well-documented in Michigan as well as across the nation. African American and Hispanic youth are two or three times more likely to suffer such penalties. In Michigan almost 2,000 youth get expelled each year, and an undocumented number get suspended for various periods of time. (Michigan has no clear definitions of expulsion or suspension.)

In light of these reports, in June of 2012 the State Board of Education issued a resolution encouraging school districts to “adopt discipline policies without mandated suspension or expulsion for issues that do not involve weapons.” The board recommended schools “implement or expand the use of proven alternative behavior management strategies like restorative practices, positive behavior supports, and peer mediation, which allow educators to address disciplinary matters correctively, rather than punitively, reducing suspensions.”

The youth assembled today gave voice to the terrible impact zero tolerance policies inflict on them and their families. Is anyone listening?

 – Jane Zehnder-Merrell

 

Michigan a ‘comeback state’ — for whom?

Added April 22nd, 2014 by Meghan Muffett | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Meghan Muffett

With much talk about Michigan as a “comeback state,’’ it’s important to delve a little deeper to answer the question – a comeback state, for whom?

It’s certainly not a comeback state for Lori, an older worker with a part-time retail job in the Lansing area. Like many others, she struggles with an income that barely covers the bills.

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted income in Michigan doubled for those at the very top – the top 1% — while falling a bit for the rest of us between 1979 and 2007.

Even with the recovery from the Great Recession, EPI finds that between 2009 and 2011, more than 90% of economic growth was captured by the top 1% in Michigan.

Lori is definitely among the 99%. Although she’s a college graduate, she’s been unsuccessful in finding full-time work.

“I’ve been looking for full-time for forever,” she says. “It’s awful. No one wants to give you more than 30 hours.”

Lori worked both full-time and part-time jobs while raising her children. She’s now single and, since 2007, she has worked part time as a sales associate in retail.

Like most other retail work, the wages are nearly impossible to live off. In fact, retail sales is one of the 10 occupations in Michigan with the largest number of workers, yet the median wage does not lift a family of four out of poverty.

As if being unable to save for retirement or emergencies isn’t stressful enough, the threat of foreclosure also hangs over Lori’s head. If it was not for her income tax refund, she said she would probably lose her house altogether.

When asked about what kind of position she would like to have if given the choice, she replied: “It is so beyond caring whether I enjoy it or not. All I care about is making enough money to survive.”

Lori’s story is not unlike many others in this state. A lack of stable employment and secure wages keeps so many teetering on the brink of survival, while a small number of others experience the positive side of the growing income inequality gap.

When it comes to natural beauty, we certainly are a land of plenty. Hopefully one day we can say that about the economy too. Until this lopsided Michigan economy is not so lopsided, “comeback” is the wrong word to use in representing 10 million people.

– Meghan Muffett, communications intern

Healthy Michigan Plan gets healthy start!

Added April 16th, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

The Healthy Michigan Plan, Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, opened for enrollment on April 1, and within the first 72 hours, 36,329 applications were submitted through the MIBridges website and 20,995 were approved for coverage. By Tuesday, the number of enrolled shot up to 59,280 — an amazing number for a two-week period.  That means that more than 109,000 people are now covered, including those who were transferred over to the plan from the Adult Benefits Waiver program.

The program is off to a great start — great news for Michigan’s low-income uninsured. The online enrollment system is working well with the majority of applications being processed in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

The Department is urging applicants to use the website, if possible, due to the quick response time. However, applications can also be made in person at a local Department of Human Services offices or by phone.

Unlike the Health Insurance Marketplace (Healthcare.gov) there is no defined enrollment period for the Healthy Michigan Plan. It is open all year.

The Healthy Michigan Plan provides comprehensive coverage to low-income uninsured Michiganians with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.

Most Healthy Michigan Plan participants will select a managed care plan to receive their care. Participants will have access to a broad range of services including preventive services as well as the services needed to keep chronic conditions, such as diabetes, under control.

My colleague, Judy Putnam, recently had the opportunity to chat with a low-income worker who had just gained coverage under the Healthy Michigan Plan.

A caterer by trade, Connie Rush, 50, of Ann Arbor, said he has not been able to afford health insurance for many years — even working multiple jobs. Rush said he is healthy but at an age where he needs to check on such things as cholesterol and blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The Healthy Michigan Plan will allow him preventive care he didn’t have before.

“Instead of not going to a doctor, I will go to a doctor,” Rush said. “At least I know if I do go to a doctor, I’m covered. It’s less stress, definitely.”

He added: “At last I have a safety net. I am very happy that this opened up.”

– Jan Hudson

Could you buy your groceries on just $42 per week?

Added April 14th, 2014 by Shannon Nobles | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Shannon Nobles

Last week was 2014’s National Week of Action, or Economic Security Week, organized by the Progressive States Network.

During this week, legislators across the nation participated in events and activities that lift up a shared progressive vision for economic security in America. In our state, Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, representing Wayne County, were two of the legislators who stepped up to take the minimum wage grocery challenge, purchasing their groceries on just $42.

While this may have been a project for our state legislators, it is a way of life for many Michiganders. With the state’s minimum wage set at $7.40, many people are unable to make ends meet and provide the very most basic of needs for their families, such as food and housing. In fact, according to the Making Ends Meet report released last month, in Wayne county, a single adult must make $11.64 per hour in order to meet their most basic needs, and that is without any dependents to care for.

The Michigan League for Public Policy participated in an event held to raise awareness of the economic insecurity throughout our state on Tuesday, April 8 – Equal Pay Day. I was able to join with state Sens. Virgil Smith and Hoon-Yung Hopgood, as well as Mothering Justice and minimum wage mothers, to call attention to the fact that regardless of what county in Michigan you reside in, there is not a single county where a family of any type can support themselves on minimum wage alone.

This is especially significant as a female earner, who on average earns $0.74 for every dollar a man earns ($0.67 for African American women and $0.54 for Hispanic women), as highlighted in a new fact sheet on Pay Equity.

It has become clear that our current minimum wage is not enough and we must act to do more to raise our families out of poverty.

To learn more about efforts to raise the minimum wage in Michigan, visit Raise Michigan.

Shannon Nobles 

 

Ramp up pressure on Unemployment Insurance

Added April 8th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

“I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”  ~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders after his election in 1932.

“I don’t think there is a great sense of pressure on our members.”  ~ Deputy Whip Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., responding to a question about renewing long-term Unemployment Insurance benefits, 2014.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation Monday evening with bipartisan support and with benefits retroactive to Dec. 28 when the program expired. Yet U.S. House leaders show little interest in bringing it up for a vote.

The complaints from House leadership are that the bill is not paid for and the retroactivity would create too great of a challenge to state Unemployment Insurance offices. However, the Senate bill is paid for and the chief of unemployment insurance operations in Nevada (which led the country in unemployment for more than four years) has said his office is up to the challenge.

Since 2007, Michigan’s unemployment rate has exceeded 7%. In February, the rate was 7.7% with 363,000 Michigan workers still jobless, a significant number having looked for work for more than six months.

Michigan‘s continuing need is one reason that several members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation have taken the lead in demanding renewal of the program. The House version of the Senate bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee Monday.

It is important that Michigan’s Republican delegation put pressure on their leadership to take up the bill in the House. Many of them represent districts in which there are a large number of workers who are out of work. Those workers and their families will depend on the long-term benefits if they still have not found work after six months.

If you live in the district of any of the Michigan congressional districts below, please call your members of Congress and ask them to tell Speaker of the House John Boehner that Michigan workers are still in hardship and to bring Rep. Kildee’s bill up for a vote. There needs to be that great sense of pressure that Rep. Cole says is missing.

  • Benishek, Dan: 202-225-4735
  • Huizenga, Bill: 202-225-4401
  • Amash, Justin: 202-225-3831
  • Camp, Dave: 202-225-3561
  • Upton, Fred: 202-225-3761
  • Walberg, Tim: 202-225-6276
  • Rogers, Mike: 202-225-4872
  • Miller, Candice: 202-225-2106
  • Bentivolio, Kerry: 202-225-8171

– Peter Ruark

Attorney general needs to move on

Added April 7th, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

Attorney General Bill Schuette continues his fight to harm Michiganians by pursuing frivolous lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act.

First he fought to have the law declared unconstitutional and lost — the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the ACA does not violate the Constitution. Now he is fighting to end the premium tax credits for more than 144,000 Michiganians who have so far qualified for them.

Nearly 87% of those who have enrolled in a health plan in Michigan are eligible for premium tax credits to help them pay their insurance premiums. Why would he want to harm more than 144,000 people in his state — his neighbors, his friends, his constituents?

Attorney General Schuette joined a lawsuit that would eliminate premium tax credits for low- to moderate-income Michiganians. He argues because Michigan deferred to the federal government to operate its health insurance Marketplace rather than establishing its own, Michigan residents do not qualify for premium tax credits. According to the attorney general, the tax credits are not authorized in the law for those states that do not establish their own Marketplaces.

Yet both the debate surrounding the ACA and the law itself assumed premium tax credits would be available in all states. Congressional intent is very clear. All of the Congressional Budget Office estimates assume premium tax credits would be available in every state regardless of whether the state or federal government operates the Marketplace.

If premium tax credits are eliminated, many will be forced to forgo their newly acquired healthcare coverage and be forced to return to being uninsured. A central purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to make affordable healthcare coverage available to nearly every American. Without tax credits, coverage is simply unaffordable.

It is time for Mr. Schuette to uphold the Affordable Care Act, the law of the land, and to act on behalf of his constituents and their well-being.

– Jan Hudson

Race for Results: action needed

Added April 2nd, 2014 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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In my long career as a policymaker and leader of a nonprofit, few reports have hit me as hard as the KIDS COUNT report out Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children for the first time shines a light on child well-being based on more than age and geography. This report uses an index that looks at the conditions and outcomes — the opportunities for children — based on race/ethnicity.

It’s very clear that African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian children have far fewer opportunities in our country and more barriers to become successful adults than white or Asian children. In Michigan as well, there is a strong race-based pattern, and it’s not pretty.

Opportunities for both Michigan’s white children and African American children fall behind their national peers. Yet the biggest gap by far is the index for the state’s African American children. Michigan’s index is among the lowest in the country.

Of course, as the Kids Count organization and as caring individuals, we are concerned with each and every child. But these findings should also chill us to the bone as we look to our future. Why? Because children of color will be the majority in the United States by 2018. One of every three children in Michigan is a child of color. This is our future workforce, and we are not preparing all of them adequately to be competitive in the national and world economies. Our future prosperity depends on turning this around.

So, what should be done? This is a huge issue, one that is hard to wrap your arms completely around. Yet, we have too much at stake to become overwhelmed.

Delving into the data, Michigan’s African American children are far less likely to live in a low-poverty neighborhood than African American children nationally, and test scores in reading and math are lower than their national peers. Those are good places to start addressing the problems.

The League supports early childhood intervention, including the move by Gov. Snyder and business leaders to expand preschool for 4-year-olds. This is a positive action, yet the state has also cut programs in recent years that address the very, very critical period in a child’s life from zero to age 3. Let’s expand our preschool strategy to offer interventions for children and help for parents in that crucial time after birth.

The League also supports increasing the minimum wage, restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20%, and raising child care subsidies for low-income working parents. These are strategies that will help families and grow stronger neighborhoods that nourish children.

On May 5, at a convening of the Prosperity Coalition, these findings will be discussed and solutions explored. We hope you can join us.

Let’s be clear. The kids aren’t failing. Rather, we are failing these children and dimming our hope of a bright future. Let this be a call to action.

– By Gilda Z. Jacobs

Rebuilding the Homestead Property Tax Credit

Added March 31st, 2014 by Jason Escareno | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jason Escareno

Gov. Rick Snyder wants to use some of the state’s budget “surplus” (higher-than-anticipated revenues) to restore a portion of the Homestead Property Tax Credit that was cut in 2011.

The governor reduced the HPTC starting in Tax Year 2012, eliminating the credit for 362,000 Michigan families. He now wants to restore the credit to about 100,000 of those families.

This will help struggling families and seniors make ends meet and boost local businesses. The governor’s plan is a far better alternative to income tax reduction proposals that would disproportionately benefit high-income households.

A new fact sheet from the League looks at the impact from the reduction in the homestead credit and explains the proposed changes. The credit fell from an average of $529 to 1.5 million taxpayers in 2011 to an average of $481 to 1.1 million taxpayers in 2012.

The HPTC is the state’s largest refundable income tax credit and is available to those who pay high property taxes or rent in relation to their income. Even when compared with the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, the HPTC is more than twice as large in terms of total refunded dollars.

The cuts in 2011 have prepared many low-income families for the worst.

But the state’s $1 billion dollars in unexpected revenues over three years had many hoping for the best.

And so did the governor’s State of the State address: “I believe there is going to be some opportunity for tax relief [for those] who wake up every day and pack their lunch to go to work.”

And while some in the Legislature would like to see that tax relief take the form of an income tax rollback, such a move would be negligible to the state’s economic recovery.

Here’s why: If you own a business and have an unexpected surplus, you reinvest that money into your business in order to improve your outcomes.

And that’s just what the HPTC expansion would do for the state’s economy by reinvesting in Michigan’s workers and their families.

– Jason Escareno

EVIP madness

Added March 26th, 2014 by Jason Escareno | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jason Escareno

As I was filling out my NCAA bracket last week I had an epiphany—maybe this is how statutory revenue sharing is going to be decided in the future, thanks to a complicated Snyder administration program known as EVIP. For example, municipalities could get ranked and placed into a bracket with one another, advance by submitting more meaningless documentation to the state, and maybe receive enough to provide some of the public safety services they have had to stop delivering.

The odds of how much, if any, statutory revenue sharing a municipality will receive are surely similar to the largest of March Madness office pools.

The governor’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program, or EVIP, was created in 2011 with the goal of increasing accountability and transparency by attaching certain requirements to receive statutory revenue sharing funds.

The real problem with revenue sharing, however, is that the Legislature has fallen short of its promise to provide revenue for such local services as public safety — $6.2 billion short, in fact, over the last decade.

And after attending the Michigan Municipal League annual conference last week I can tell you that a lot of municipalities have had enough. Essential services are not being delivered in many cities, villages, and townships precisely because of the gargantuan revenue sharing cuts over the last decade. Statewide, more than 2,300 police officers and 1,800 firefighters have been lost since 2001.

Municipalities that have been declared to be in a financial emergency by the governor are the same ones that have suffered most from these draconian revenue sharing cuts. There must be some kind of relationship there.

While it is certainly true that municipalities cannot blame the governor for cuts made to revenue sharing before he was elected, they can blame him for EVIP which has only added insult to injury.

EVIP is much maligned by municipal managers as “busy work.” To be fair, EVIP had some altruistic intentions like transparency and government collaboration, but the entire program has forced managers to jump through hoops to get much-needed funds for their municipalities.

All this was bad enough–and then the governor released his 2015 budget that proposed putting even more complicated requirements into EVIP.

The proposal dangles more carrots in front of those municipalities who have received EVIP dollars in the past. It still doesn’t restore revenue sharing near where it should be, and more than a 1,000 cities, villages, and townships would still see nothing.

A change to the EVIP formula was approved by the House General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday that would distribute the shared revenue more widely based on a population formula, though still not restoring full funding. The change would  restrict how some larger communities will be able to spend their EVIP dollars.

The change has some merit but still puts municipalities at odds with one another because the 496 municipalities already receiving EVIP dollars would see most of the governor’s proposed increase to them go to their neighboring municipalities instead.

Let the EVIP madness begin.

– Jason Escareno

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