MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Turning understanding into action

Added January 19th, 2017 by Jenny Kinne | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jenny Kinne

My first introduction to the Michigan League for Public Policy came this past summer in the form of a State Budget 101 Training. It had been a long week, and I wasn’t sure if budget talk was going to keep my attention. Gratefully, I was very wrong.

The League’s staff presented data and stories in a way that helped me to understand and criticize the foundational budget policies that throw people into poverty across Michigan. The information was so enlightening and exciting that I kept talking about it, Googling it and crafting new ways of sharing it for weeks afterward.

family care clip art 341 by 400In the light of my newfound passion, a beautifully serendipitous job opening appeared, and it is now my honor to join the staff of the League as their community engagement specialist! I come to this position after spending two and a half years at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan as West Michigan community organizer. I worked to build up groups of educated volunteers and supporters in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Traverse City. Through my work at Planned Parenthood, I honed the craft of community outreach and movement building in sometimes difficult environments.

My priorities as an organizer have always revolved around education. I believe that change comes out of knowledge and an understanding of the tools and power we have to affect the world’s systems. We all know what it is like to stand helpless before injustice, feeling that it is way too big and complex to fight. What moves us from paralysis to action is most often a spark of knowledge and a supportive community.

I hope to do just this—facilitate learning and community building—in my new role with the League.

I know that people all over Michigan are craving answers to their big “why” questions. Why is it hard to find meaningful work that supports my family? Why do I have to take on mountains of debt to get a college degree? Why does my child’s school differ so much from the school down the road? Why are our roads, bridges and sidewalks crumbling?

Many of the answers to these questions lie within our state budget and other foundational policies that can be convoluted and difficult to understand. In my new role at the League, I hope to bring this information to concerned residents, community leaders, organizations and businesses around our state to make public policy and community engagement more accessible. I am confident that an educated community can make significant, long-term political change, and I am excited to be a part of that.

Please reach out to me at if you would like to get involved!

— Jenny Kinne

Lawmakers: First, do no harm

Added January 9th, 2017 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Michigan seems to have caught a case of the “Kansas.” I woke up last week to reports that Michigan is considering eliminating, or at least cutting, its income tax. Let me be clear: this type of Kansas-style tax cut is not a cure for Michigan’s economic ails, and instead will only bring pain to the state. Cutting Michigan’s income tax will not create jobs and will not grow our economy. It will, however, give a big tax break to Michigan’s top earners, while hurting our schools, roads, parks and other services that are so important to our economy and quality of life.

While Michigan’s economy has been recovering from the decade-long recession that hit Michigan harder than any other state in the nation, it hasn’t fully rebounded. However, drastically cutting or eliminating taxes, as Kansas did, is not the way to improve our economic outlook. In fact, in the years following Kansas’ tax cut, the state had little to no job growth, failed to grow economically and entered into a perpetual budget crisis, leaving the state unable to pay its basic bills. Michigan does not want to follow this same prescription.

Cutting Michigan’s income taxes will starve the state budget and harm Michigan residents.

  • Income taxes make up about one-third of total state revenue.
  • Income taxes provide over one-fifth of state funds for schools.
  • About $7 out of every $10 of our state General Fund is from income taxes.
  • A 0.1 percentage point reduction (from 4.25% to 4.15%) in the state income tax would cut state revenues by between $230 million to $250 million.
  • Eliminating the income tax would pull over $9 billion out of our state budget.

lawmakers-graphic-for-blogEliminating the income tax would mean that Michigan couldn’t pay for even the most basic public services Michigan residents rely on, like clean air and water, drivable roads, public safety and good schools. Based on current projections, eliminating the income tax would leave the state without enough to pay for even one of the state’s most vital departments, Health and Human Services, which provides care for children in foster care, assistance to families who have fallen on hard times and mental health care to those who can’t afford it. We are still reeling from the Flint water crisis. Due to years of underfunding our transportation network, our needs are growing (and our roads will not be fully fixed by our recent transportation plan). And statewide, schools are still struggling to provide a high-quality education for our children.

Finally, to make things worse, this will primarily help those that least need it. Instead of asking wealthy, powerful interests to carry their share of the load, it will provide the biggest benefit to these people while providing little to no tax benefit to hard-working people who make more modest incomes. So at the same time that we are draining our resources to provide for good schools, colleges, and investments in our roads and communities—the things that are really important for economic growth and security—we are creating a tax system that favors the wealthy even more than it already does.

Lawmakers should take a hint from one of a doctor’s guiding principles: first, do no harm. Michigan needs to protect what we already have: a state income tax that allows us to invest in good roads, high-quality schools, and strong communities. Otherwise, Michigan’s budget and economy will suffer through death by a thousand cuts.

— Rachel Richards

Resolute and resilient for 105 years

Added January 3rd, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Founded in 1912, the Michigan League for Public Policy has seen a lot in our 105 years. We’ve faced many challenges in our state, our country and our world, but we’ve had major triumphs, too.

Through all of the tumult, change and progress over the last century, the League has been a constant in fighting for the people of Michigan. But we don’t just fight—we win.

I hope you still believe that working for policy change can make a difference … because it has. In looking back on the past year, we’ve got a lot of good news to celebrate. We did this all despite Michigan’s tough political climate, and it’s all thanks to you.

Just look at what League supporters helped us accomplish to improve the lives of Michigan children, workers, families and seniors in 2016.

We had to be nimble and react quickly to Michigan’s cities in crises as Flint’s drinking water was contaminated by toxic lead and Detroit Public Schools faced disastrous fiscal and physical conditions. The League’s research and analyses connected the dots between Michigan’s public policy failures and the deteriorating infrastructure in these cities and offered immediate and long-term recommendations to address these problems and help these kids.

Our advocacy efforts helped secure passage of legislation to tackle the issues with Detroit Public Schools and $114 million in budget funding to help children in Flint receive the care and services they need to thrive. This money will go toward replacing lead pipes in high-risk homes, child care services, and nutrition programs and food banks.

Other wins this year required a long view and were the result of months and even years of hard work and persistence by the League and supporters like you.

The League’s advocacy during the budget process finally helped realize the expansion of the state’s Healthy Kids Dental program, ensuring 131,000 children from families with low incomes in Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties will get the dental care they need to have stronger, healthier teeth. The budget also included $15.8 million to ensure more children have high-quality child care, an issue the League will continue to focus on.

Finally, in the waning days of the 2016 lame duck session, we helped secure some major victories for Michigan’s children, workers and seniors. Tabled during the budget passage in June, the Legislature fixed an issue we have been pushing for years that will provide much-needed food assistance to feed 338,000 families.

The Legislature also passed a fix to the state’s automated unemployment system that had been incorrectly rejecting benefits for thousands of workers and some major reforms to school expulsion and suspension policies. The League drew attention to the fact that suspensions and expulsions harm a student’s education, put a strain on working parents, and inordinately affect students of color.

This past year, you enabled us to achieve major policy improvements even in a difficult political climate. As long as we have you by our side, that’s not going to change, regardless of who’s in the White House or the Michigan Capitol. The League is data-driven, nonpartisan and solution-oriented. We are well-respected in the Capitol and your communities alike. And we get things done.

Big changes and big fights are certainly coming, and we are getting ready for them. But as we start off the new year, I wanted to thank you for all that you helped us accomplish in 2016 and reassure you that when we work together, we can handle anything that comes our way.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

The League’s top blogs of 2016

Added December 29th, 2016 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

The League’s staff blog is one of my favorite communications tools. It is always current, as we aim to post at least one new blog a week, sometimes more. It is personal, as many of us share about our personal lives and experiences in connection with what we do at the League. The blog provides a variety of perspectives, as they are written by everyone from our CEO and board members to our interns and even former staff. And our blog strives to make public policy issues interesting and accessible.

A blog is only as effective as its reach, and what I love the most about our staff blog is that people actually read it and share it with others. So, as 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at our most popular blogs of the year. Each of these blogs was shared over 100 times, showing that these issues struck a chord with our supporters. If you’ve already read these, I encourage you to take a look at them again. And if these are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a read.

  1. When are we going to really value education?: Michigan Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren talks about Michigan’s disinvestment in education and how the state spends dramatically more on corrections than education.
  2. Why we fight: I wrote about the aftermath of the 2016 election and why policy advocates need to dust ourselves off and keep fighting the good fight.
  3. Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution: Policy analyst Peter Ruark writes about his volunteer work in Flint and the need for people to get involved on the ground and in the Capitol to help residents.
  4. Changing minds by touching hearts: League Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill blogs about the lives and hearts our work touches.
  5. Top ten voting tips: League CEO Gilda Jacobs writes about the importance of voting and dispels some prevalent myths around the process.
  6. Quit spreading misinformation: Michigan is NOT a high tax state: Legislative Director Rachel Richards seeks to set the record straight on Michigan’s tax climate.
  7. Bundle of joy: Gilda Jacobs discusses the birth of her new granddaughter and why we need a better Michigan and a better world for all kids.
  8. Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”: Peter Ruark blogs about the impact still being felt in Michigan today from the federal welfare reform of the 1990s.
  9. 14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance: Peter Ruark writes about a policy change that will take away vital food assistance for struggling workers.

—Alex Rossman

Big wins well worth the wait

Added December 21st, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Michigan’s lame duck session tends to be a time when tensions run high and controversial issues get revived. The Capitol lobby is always filled as interest groups try to push their agendas or fight against other policy changes, deals are made behind closed doors, and unexpected legislation gets voted on as the chamber enters its 12th hour of voting. In this contentious time, sometimes you’re lucky if you fight to a draw.

gold-duckHowever, this year, the League was grateful to see a number of bipartisan measures passed that helped, rather than hurt, some of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents—our seniors, our children and people seeking work. And while we would have liked to see more, and to see more done earlier, the good that bipartisan work can do is well worth it.

While seemingly unconnected, these policies will each help Michigan residents in their greatest time of need.

They will provide an additional $76 or so more per month to put food on the table for 338,000 Michigan families. Following a federal law change to what is known as Heat and Eat, many Michigan residents saw dramatic decreases in their food assistance. For years, the state squandered the opportunity to help them; instead it made many of our families, including seniors and persons with disabilities, make hard decisions about paying rent or heat or putting food on their tables. A small state investment will help ease some of these decisions for families struggling to make ends meet.

They will benefit children who are at risk of suspension or expulsion. Under Michigan’s zero tolerance policies, too many students received harsh punishments for minor or first-time incidents, resulting in students staying home and missing an education and many parents having to take time off of work. Instead, individual evaluation of the student and incident and encouragement of the use of restorative practices will help kids stay in school, keep them learning and help prepare them for their futures.

And they will help ease burdens on people who have been laid off and who are still looking for work. Michigan’s recovery has not helped everyone equally. Many Michigan residents are still unemployed, and unfortunately the system the state has set up to help them has failed them. An automated system was incorrectly denying people their rightfully-earned unemployment benefits. A fix to this system and to the policies that caused the hardship was necessary.

capitolshot-webWhile seeing these policies implemented is well worth the turmoil of the three-week lame duck of 2016, more needs to be done. Justice-involved 17-year-olds are still treated and housed as adults, and other criminal justice reforms were left on the cutting room floor at the end of the year. Hunger, education and employment opportunities are still major issues for Michigan. And Flint still cannot provide clean water to many of its residents. Hopefully we can see this bipartisanship continue in the next legislative session to tackle the pressing issues that still remain.

— Rachel Richards

14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance

Added December 13th, 2016 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Around 14,000 unemployed Michigan workers are about to lose vital food assistance due to Michigan’s so-called economic recovery, even though many of these individual workers are not seeing any relief.

Federal law stipulates that able-bodied adults without dependents who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits must work or participate in a training program for a minimum of 20 hours per week. If they have more than three months of benefits in which they do not meet those requirements within a 36-month period, they lose their benefits.

Since 2002, due to its high unemployment rate, Michigan has received a statewide waiver from the three-month limit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Due to declining unemployment, that waiver will begin to expire this month beginning with four counties (Oakland, Washtenaw, Kent and Ottawa). The state expects the waiver to be eliminated for all counties by October 2017.

snap-blog-imageThe loss of the four county waivers this month will strip benefits from approximately 14,000 adults not raising children who are having a hard time finding work. These workers receive approximately $150 to $200 per person per month. When the entire state waiver is phased out next year, upward of 40,000 adults could be affected.

While it is certainly good news that unemployment has been declining in Michigan and these counties, many people are still having a difficult time finding work. The county unemployment rate only tells one part of the economic story, as there are still high-unemployment pockets in many low-unemployment counties. Oakland County has an unemployment rate of 4.2%, for example, while that of its largest city, Pontiac, is 9.9%. While Wayne County workers have not yet been affected by this change, there are similar employment discrepancies. Detroit’s unemployment rate is 11.1%, nearly double the 6.6% rate for Wayne County.

And in rural areas with no public transportation, a single factory closing could cause a community to have much higher unemployment than other areas of its county. In addition to scarce jobs, lack of access to adequate child care and transportation also hinder people’s ability to work, get training or volunteer.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is concerned that people in struggling communities will get left behind if they have not found work after three months of food assistance. We urge the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to do what it can to continue providing food assistance to struggling workers without dependents as they look for jobs, including eliminating the asset test for food assistance. Another way to help these workers is through the hardship exemption allowed by the USDA, which provides Michigan with a current total of 483,000 “assistance months” for recipients not yet meeting the work requirement. In addition, these workers should be encouraged to participate in market-driven occupational training programs or finish their GED.

Let’s celebrate the fact that Michigan’s unemployment rate this past year has been at its lowest level since 2001. But let’s not use this good news to pull the rug out from under workers who have not yet experienced the benefits of the improving economy.

— Peter Ruark

Bundle of joy

Added December 7th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Two days ago, my granddaughter was born, and she has already brought so much happiness to our family (well, the jury may still be out for her older brother).

When I hold her in my arms, I can’t help but think of what the future holds for her. What kind of world awaits her? What will college cost in 18 years? What jobs will be available?

Due to the nature of my work at the League, the joy of this occasion is also marked with an appreciation of the challenges that lie ahead—for my grandchildren and others. I think of the countless little babies across Michigan who are being brought into the same world, but are going to live markedly different and much more difficult lives.

baby handsSo much of a child’s life is determined by the circumstances they are born into and raised in. Many pregnant women don’t have access to the prenatal care they need, affecting their babies’ development. A child’s health is determined by a variety of factors, including where they live, the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat. Too often, these circumstances are affected by income and race.

From there, it is easy to connect the dots to children’s development and their education. And a child’s opportunity, as well as their ability to learn, influences whether or not they will go to college, what jobs they will pursue, and how much money they make as adults. They then become parents, hoping their kids will be better off than they were.

And this is what drives me. This is why, as “Mimi” to three grandchildren, I am still making the trek to Lansing every day to create a better life for all kids and all families in Michigan.

Our work is focused on a two-generation approach that helps kids by improving the conditions that their parents are dealing with. The cost of child care has gotten outrageous, rivaling college costs. Too many workers are still without reasonable family leave or earned paid sick leave, forcing parents to choose between work and vital wages and taking care of their kids. Adults without adequate training or a college degree have a hard time finding a good-paying job, but can’t afford to go back to school.

From our Kids Count work to the state budget, we are working to help kids directly as well. We will keep fighting to prevent child abuse and neglect, ensure all kids have access to healthcare and dental care, and invest in quality education from child care to college.

We all want a good life for our kids and grandkids. And if you work in public policy, all kids are “our” kids. That goes for lawmakers as well, especially those coming to Lansing for the first time. In the coming year, I urge legislators to treat all kids in Michigan like they would their own, regardless of their geography, skin color or income. By creating a better life for babies and families today, we can create a stronger community and economy tomorrow.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Why we fight

Added December 2nd, 2016 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

Sometimes it hurts to care so much. There’s a downside to being passionate and emotionally invested in your work. You take setbacks personally. They’re painful and taxing. You question your path and your purpose.

Following the election, I’m sure a lot of you can relate. There’s a lot of worry about the fate of our future, especially for the kids, families and workers who are struggling the most in our state and our nation.

And that’s who I think about when things get tough. I remember that there are thousands upon thousands of people who are depending on the work of the League and our partners. This is their life. They can’t give up. And that’s why I won’t give up.

boxing-glovesI’m admittedly tearing up a little as I write this, because I believe wholeheartedly in the work that I do and the people I do it for. The political climate may have changed, but the need for good, inclusive and equitable public policy is stronger than ever.

For more than a century, the League has been doing this work. And now I’m one of the torch-bearers. I take that responsibility very seriously.

Our organization has endured and never stopped fighting. Imagine the political tumult and policy ploys that have come and gone in the last 100-plus years while the League has remained constant.

Sometimes progress is just carrying on. Continuing to move forward, even when you get pushed back or knocked down, even when you’re walking in to a headwind, even if it’s an inch at a time.

I’m writing this from a public policy conference in Washington, D.C. That’s probably why it’s so lofty and sentimental. But I assure you that that’s not how I was feeling when I arrived a few days ago.

When I got here, I was beat down and hanging my head. I was scared of what threats to our work—and the people we serve—were coming. To be brutally honest, they’re still coming. I’m just not scared any more. I’m fired up.

That’s because I have spent the last few days with hundreds of men and women from around the country who are infinitely all-in on this work. And who are more committed than ever to the fight, knowing that immigrants, people of color, families and kids struggling with poverty, workers and seniors are depending on us.

I wanted to share some of this inspiration with all of you. I want you to remember and appreciate your importance in this fight—that your advocacy and support is invaluable and the League and the people of Michigan need you. Now more than ever.

I will leave you with two anecdotes from this conference. Yesterday, four people from across the country shared their personal journeys. They talked about growing up in poverty and the challenges of being a person of color. And they shared how they went from being someone who needed our work to someone who was doing it for others.

I also hung out with a guy who works for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth who celebrated a birthday yesterday. He told me that when anyone wishes him a happy birthday, he asks them to donate to his organization. (Following suit, if you’re looking to make a charitable contribution this holiday season, please keep the League in mind.)

This is why we fight—because we care. We do this work because we know how important public policy is to our families and yours.

Progressive work is not for the faint of heart. And our big, strong hearts drive our efforts. That’s not going to change. We’re not going anywhere, and the League will keep working every angle and avenue we can to make change happen. I hope you’ll be by our side every step of the way.

— Alex Rossman

Helping all kids get the right start

Added November 18th, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

As someone working in this field, I am far too familiar with the importance of maternal health to child development. During my pregnancy, I was constantly stressing myself out trying to make sure that I was eating all of the right things, exercising enough, gaining enough weight—but not too much. I tried my best—with all of my resources and supports—to increase the likelihood of a healthy birth. It’s hard to imagine smoking during my pregnancy—even back in 2008 when my daughter was born. Yet, in Michigan nearly one in five births in 2014 was to a mother who smoked during her pregnancy. That’s actually an increase from 2008.

Why, in 2014, were so many expectant moms smoking and why has it increased? The Right Start: 2016 Annual Report on Maternal and Child Health – Mothers Smoking During Pregnancy Increased Since 2008, Disparities Exist by Race & Place reveals that state efforts targeted to help pregnant women quit smoking are very minimal. Tobacco Settlement dollars continue to be redirected to support unrelated activities and the tobacco industry spends nearly $190 on marketing for every $1 dollar spent by the state on smoking prevention. The American Lung Association grades Michigan an “F” in funding for smoking prevention and cessation and for access to these programs.

michigan-revSo, while over 19% of births in Michigan were to mothers who smoked during their pregnancy, less than 2% of mothers reported receiving classes or support for smoking cessation and only 5% of mothers who smoked during the last three months of pregnancy were referred to a smoking cessation program. And, most adult smokers started smoking before or at age 18. Evidence-based prevention and smoking cessation programs need to be supported, expanded and targeted.

Smoking during pregnancy—or even being exposed to smoke in a household—is extremely harmful for babies. It can cause a number of complications at birth, low birthweight in babies, birth defects and increase the likelihood of a sleep-related infant death. It can also result in babies being born too early.

In Michigan, according to the new report, preterm births are also on the rise. In 2014, over 12% of births were considered preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation), which is more than a 20% rate increase from 2008. Babies who are born too early or too small often face adverse health outcomes both in the short- and long-term. For example, children who are born preterm and whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are at a higher risk of chronic lung disease and asthma.

Maternal and child health outcomes vary by race and ethnicity and geography. While White women have the highest rates of smoking during pregnancy, the rate of smoking increased the most for Latina mothers. The rate of babies born too early has also increased for Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics with African-Americans having the highest rate of preterm births. Higher smoking rates also tend to be found in counties with smaller populations and seem to be concentrated in the lower northern part of the state. Information on maternal and child health is also available online by county and for Michigan’s 69 largest cities and townships at the Kids Count Data Center.

All mothers want the best for their babies. Because of institutional and geographic barriers, efforts to prevent and help expectant mothers quit smoking need to be targeted and evidence-based. Smoking is one of the most preventable behaviors. We need to do more to ensure that moms and babies are healthy.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

After the election, focus on the electeds

Added November 10th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Elections can be rough. Believe me, I know. I spent around thirty years of my life running for office. I have tasted victory and endured defeat. But regardless of the outcome, I survived and forged ahead, continuing to work to make a difference in any way that I can.

It is on all of us to do the same right now. This campaign season was more divisive than ever and there is palpable pain and anger. We can’t let those feelings continue to pull us further apart.

moving-forwardInstead, we have to channel that energy and use it for good. The election is over and regardless of who and what you voted for, the real work starts now. It is time to engage with your elected officials at the local, state and federal level and stand up for the Michigan kids, workers and families we all care about. You have the power to build a better Michigan that is meeting the needs of everyone.

After this week, I firmly believe our work at the League is more important than ever. A respected, data-driven and nonpartisan voice will be needed to cut through the political rancor and stand up for the people of Michigan.

The League has been around for more than 104 years. That means that we’ve survived a lot of elections and always stayed true to our mission and the people of Michigan regardless of who was in office. We are nonpartisan because we believe the well-being of all Michigan kids, families and workers is nonpartisan, and we will work with anyone and everyone to make sure their needs are heard.

You can do the same. Whether you supported them or not, you have the power to influence your elected officials as a constituent. Many of them are coming to Lansing for the first time and have a fresh perspective and a clean slate.

Remember that relationship-building is a key to effective advocacy. It’s up to you to be as visible in their offices as lobbyists and special interest groups will be. In fact, the next two months between the election and the new session is a prime time to meet with them.

And we’re here to help. We believe that research, data and sound analysis will always win out over partisanship and political rhetoric. We work hard to ensure that child well-being, economic security, and race and gender equity get the attention they deserve, and that includes providing you and your elected officials with local information to highlight these needs.

Here are some fact sheets to help you get involved with your state and federal elected officials:

Legislative Districts | Kids Count County Profiles | Earned Income Tax Credit | County Data | Select City Data | American Indian Reservation and Trust Lands

Information is vital, but it is only one part of the equation. That’s why the League has also compiled an advocacy guide and a list of advocacy tips to empower you to get engaged.

Democracy and public policy go hand-in-hand. But regardless of the outcome of elections, we must be resolute. I hope you will join me in continuing our fight for an economy that works for all.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

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