MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Low-income families and communities of color suffer most from carbon pollution, energy costs

Added April 16th, 2015 by Shannon Nobles | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Shannon Nobles

The Michigan Department of Community Health called Detroit and its downriver neighborhoods the “Epicenter of the Asthma Burden.” It seems to be no coincidence that this area houses one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants, the River Rouge Plant. Not only does the Detroit community have a nationally offending coal plant in its neighborhoods, but the state of Michigan as a whole houses five of the dirtiest coal plants in the country.

Carbon pollutants from coal plants have a disproportionate effect on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. This is because coal plants tend to be located in these neighborhoods, thus having a more severe effect on the residents of the community. For example, Detroit ZIP codes are three to six times more likely to have asthma-related hospital admissions than the state as a whole. In fact, Wayne County, hometo Detroit and the downriver neighborhoods, has the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in the state, coupled with being home to more poor residents than any county in Michigan. Twenty-five percent of Wayne County residents live in poverty, with an average income of just $19,073 for a parent with two kids.

The air we breathe should not be an equity issue; all Michiganians should have access to clean air.

Parents should not have to lose pay to take their children to the emergency room because they cannot safely breathe the air outside of their homes. Children should not have to fall behind in school due to sick days as complications of their asthma are exacerbated.

The Michigan League for Public Policy released “Clean Energy Brings Health, Savings and Jobs to Low-Income Michigan Families” today, highlighting these inequities, as well as connecting energy production through fossil fuels to increased energy costs throughout the state. The report was released in conjunction with a national report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a panel event held to highlight the findings of these reports.

A keynote was presented by Paul Smith, deputy legal counsel from the Office of Governor Snyder, followed by a panel of experts on energy issues, including Alexis Blizman, legislative and policy director of The Ecology Center, Kimberly Hill Knott, director of public policy for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, John Kinch, executive director of Michigan Energy Options, and Kate McCormick, Midwest advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The League’s CEO and President Gilda Z. Jacobs moderated the panel.

To learn more about these issues, check out the report, executive summary and past blog posts:  It’s time for Michigan to clear the air! | League supports Michigan’s move to cleaner air

– Shannon Nobles


It’s Tax Day! Paying taxes is about building strong communities

Added April 15th, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

To build a strong economy and create jobs, we must invest in what we know works. Everyone wants to live in a great community with good schools, safe roads, quality parks—and more. Not only that, but businesses want to locate and expand in areas where there is an educated and trained workforce—and in a place where people want to live. None of this would be possible if we didn’t pay taxes.

The Upside of Taxes

In order to grow the state’s economy, policymakers need to recognize that families need access to high-quality early childhood programs and schools, affordable colleges and universities, and job training to ensure that the state’s workforce can succeed in today’s global economy. Many of the jobs being created in Michigan require education and training beyond a high school diploma. Investing in education and workforce development will help businesses thrive while helping hard-working people climb into the middle class.

Just as important are safe communities with good roads and secure bridges, nice parks and trails, and an overall high quality of life.

These are the things that our tax dollars support. These investments help to grow a strong economy and create jobs.

Cutting income taxes or corporate taxes might save each family or business a few dollars, but costs us all so much more by undermining support for these important services that businesses and families rely on every day. In fact, Michigan residents already pay some of the lowest taxes in the country. According to the latest data available from the Michigan Department of Treasury, the state’s income tax revenue was the eighth lowest in the nation on a per capita basis, and ninth lowest as a percentage of personal income.

Rather than thinking about cutting taxes, we should focus on making sure we have the resources we need to invest in the building blocks of job creation and economic growth. If we don’t, we will limit Michigan’s opportunities and undermine our own prosperity.

So, today, on Tax Day, I am a proud taxpayer, because I support investing in the communities we live in, the schools our children attend, the roads we drive on every day, and the many services we utilize every day. We owe it to our kids to invest in their futures and build strong communities for them to grow and prosper.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

Truancy bill bad for families

Added April 7th, 2015 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

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As a parent of two, I know that I can’t always take credit for their successes or blame for their failures. Most parents try their hardest to teach their children well, instilling strong morals and building good character. But there is a point when all parents learn they can’t control everything.

For instance, you can drive them to school, even walk them to their classroom, but you can’t sit there and make sure they stay all day. Unfortunately that’s a problem for many families whose children, for whatever reason, miss too many days of school. Yes, sometimes the parent isn’t doing enough, but sometimes there’s nothing more they can do.

That’s why it’s so infuriating that the Legislature wants to punish all parents of truant students and their other children, pushing them deeper into crisis rather than helping them navigate a bad situation. The state House recently passed a bill that regardless of the reasons for school absences, strips away cash assistance for an entire family if a child under age 16 is considered truant. If the student is 16 or older, only the student is removed from cash assistance. The bill now is in the Senate for consideration.

This legislation has multiple problems, but above all is that it does nothing to help anyone. Even school officials have spoken out against the bill, saying it won’t help improve school attendance.

“While certainly attendance is important, I don’t think this type of hammer is needed,” Godfrey-Lee Superintendent David Britten told MLive for a story on March 27. He went on to describe efforts there to remove barriers to learning and increase school attendance by helping parents find solutions that work.

The bill is intended to motivate parents to get their kids to school. The sponsor calls it the “parental responsibility act,” and while we can all agree that kids should be in school, the sponsor assumes the parent is always the reason a child isn’t going to school. Again, parents can do their best but we cannot control our children. Another representative made that point to his colleagues before voting against the bill. He told them of a parent who brings his daughter to school every day, watches her walk through the doors and yet is told she continues to skip class.

Yes, truancy is a problem, but there are myriad reasons they aren’t and this bill does nothing to address those reasons. Further complicating the issue is that Michigan doesn’t have a set definition of truancy. What constitutes truancy in one district is different in another. But they all face the same, overly harsh penalty.

Another problem with the bill is that in codifying a policy adopted by DHS in 2012, it removes caseworkers’ discretion to do what’s in the best interest of individual families and work with them to get the student in school.

Families would be allowed to reapply for benefits after 21 days. That’s 21 days without cash assistance, an average of $386 a month, plus up to 45 days more as the application is reviewed and processed again. This creates even more administrative paperwork for already stressed caseworkers while leaving families struggling for two months without the resource that often is the only thing keeping them off the streets.

These are the poorest of poor families with incomes just above extreme poverty (income under half of the poverty level, or $9,385 for a family of three). Families receiving it have very few resources or support systems and already face a number of challenges, including inconsistent work schedules; lack of access to quality, affordable child care; and reliable transportation. Eliminating their cash assistance will do nothing to address these challenges and will make life more difficult for their children.

We already have one in four Michigan kids living in poverty. If a family loses all of its assistance because of one child what will happen to the other children?

It’s a question that begs to be answered.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs


Healthy Michigan plan surpasses all expectations by first anniversary

Added April 1st, 2015 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

The Healthy Michigan Plan, Michigan’s Medicaid expansion program, celebrates its first anniversary today. What an amazing year it has been for the program – with enrollment currently just over 600,000! The governor’s budget for 2015 estimated enrollment at 400,000 and 450,000 for budget year 2016. The budget released in February 2015 revised those estimates upward to 540,000 for 2015 and 580,000 for 2016. Those forecasts already have been surpassed – and it’s only April.

It is hard to imagine the peace of mind and improved quality of life this program has brought to hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals and their families. As of March 30, nearly five of six individuals enrolled in the program have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, about $11,800 per year for one person or $24,300 for a family of four. They can see a doctor for annual check-ups, obtain the medications they need to manage chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer, or seek treatment when they are ill or injured.
Current enrollment is just over half female at 51%. The largest enrollment by age category is 164,000 enrollees between the ages of 25 and 34, the age group that was most likely to be uninsured prior to implementation of the Affordable Care Act. What peace of mind for the parents of these enrollees knowing that their young adults have healthcare coverage and won’t start their careers or adulthood in financial ruin from medical debt.

Those enrolled in the program are taking advantage of the opportunity to take control of their health and are receiving the services available to them. According to the Department of Community Health, more than 380,000 primary care and preventive care visits occurred in the first 10 months of the program. Enrollees are clearly engaged in improving their health and managing their chronic diseases with nearly half choosing to follow-up on their chronic diseases by themselves or in combination with other healthy behaviors, such as weight loss.

Under the program, enrollees also can receive incentives for tackling health issues or maintaining healthy behaviors. In addition, those with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression, will be better able to manage their conditions with no copays that create obstacles to care.

While the enrollment system and implementation have not been without bumps in the road, the fact that more than 600,000 Michigan residents have gained high- quality healthcare coverage is simply amazing!

The Department of Community Health deserves a great deal of credit for the success of this program to date, but the governor and lawmakers deserve the credit for approving the legislation that created the program. Happy anniversary!

– Jan Hudson

Now it’s in, now it’s not: the adult education funding zigzag

Added March 30th, 2015 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

There were some mixed messages coming out of the Legislature last week: the Senate School Aid Appropriations Subcommittee strengthened funding for adult education, while its counterpart subcommittee in the House eliminated it entirely.

After the Michigan League for Public Policy testified before the Senate subcommittee urging more money for adult education, the subcommittee passed a budget adding $7 million for that purpose.

Just one day before, however, the House subcommittee surprised many people by completely eliminating funding for adult education, along with funding for some other good programs such as the governor’s third-grade reading initiative.

A recent League report shows that adult education is important for bringing the lowest-skilled workers fully into the job market by preparing them for postsecondary education. Workers with a postsecondary credential such as a certificate, license or degree have significantly higher earnings and lower unemployment and poverty rates than those with only a high school diploma or GED. Those without a high school diploma or GED fare even worse in comparison.

With only 7% of Michigan’s prime working-age adults enrolled in adult education, and with 60% of community college students having at least one remedial education requirement, it is clear that more adult education is needed in the state. The primary barrier to increasing adult education is the lack of adequate state funding.

The House subcommittee’s rationale for eliminating adult education funding is that school districts should get more overall funding and then choose how much to devote to adult education. That idea might look good on paper, but in reality, school children generate more sympathy than low-skilled adults. Because of parent and community pressure, many school districts likely would cut adult education in favor of adding high-profile or high-demand K-12 programs.

The Senate subcommittee is on the right track and the House subcommittee is not. Legislators need to find a way to give increases to both K-12 and adult education rather than pitting them against each other for funding.

Now would be a good time to contact your state representative and state senator or members of the House Appropriations Committee to tell them that while funding K-12 is important, so is funding basic skills education that brings our lowest-skilled adults into the economic mainstream. Urge him or her to support the Senate subcommittee proposal to add $7 million for adult education for the coming year.

 –Peter Ruark

Children’s Health Insurance Program in jeopardy

Added March 25th, 2015 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

More than 40,000 Michigan children could be at risk of losing their healthcare coverage if Congress doesn’t act and approve funding to continue the Children’s Health Insurance Program. A compromise was reached last Friday between House Democratic and Republican leaders to extend funding for two years with the current policies. While this is not perfect (a four-year funding extension under current policies would have been preferable), it is better than the proposal developed by the House and Senate chairs of the committees responsible for CHIP. The House committee chair is Michigan’s Representative Fred Upton who now will have the opportunity to support the compromise and be a champion for 40,000 Michigan children. If the compromise passes the House, efforts are expected in the Senate to strengthen the funding extension to four years under current policies.

The CHIP program in Michigan is called MIChild. This program provides peace of mind to parents by enabling them to take their children to the doctor for their well-child visits and immunizations or obtain needed medications when their children are sick or seek other needed medical attention.

The program was established in 1997 to provide healthcare coverage for children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid and too low to afford private coverage. The program has enjoyed great success and the MIChild program, in addition to Medicaid, are credited with the high level of coverage for children in Michigan, about 96% as reported in the recent Kids Count report.

Federal funding is provided only through September 30, 2015. If Congress does not act, Michigan stands to lose more than $100 million in federal funds, while families stand to lose coverage for their children. Many families served by the MIChild program have fluctuating incomes as demonstrated by the number of children who become Medicaid-eligible due to reductions in family income. The other key reason for ending MIChild coverage is non-payment of the family premium of $10 month, an indication that low-income families struggle with meeting a modest premium. Those two reasons account for about 90% of the reasons for case closures over a recent three month period.

If MIChild ends and families are forced to seek coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace, where premiums will be higher and copays and deductibles will be required, children could simply end up uninsured if parents cannot afford the increased costs.

Voting on a bill that includes the funding compromise could come as soon as Thursday in the House. Senate action is expected in early April. To support children in keeping their healthcare coverage, contact your U.S. Representative as well as Representative Upton and your U.S. Senator and urge them to support a fully- funded CHIP extension, with no cuts and no program restrictions.

More than 40,000 children and their families need your help.

– Jan Hudson


Bill to boost school attendance will instead increase truancy and child poverty

Added March 25th, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Everyone can probably agree that all kids should be in school and ready to learn. We also know that some families struggle more than others to make this happen, because of inconsistent work schedules, access to affordable, quality child care, and access to reliable transportation. So, if the goal is to increase school attendance, it would be logical to ease—or better yet remove—these barriers. However, that is not the route currently being considered by the state Legislature.

Last week, the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors approved House Bill 4041 that would eliminate a family’s cash assistance if a child in the family between the ages of six and 15 was considered to be truant by their local school district. The bill would remove only the truant child from the case if he or she is 16 or older. The bill now will be considered by the full House, where the same bill passed with bipartisan support last session.

In a new brief from the League, we outline the various issues with this shortsighted logic. The biggest issue is that child poverty increases and school attendance drops if a family already living in extreme poverty loses their assistance. Additionally:

  • Every district in the state has its own attendance policy and process for defining and addressing truancy, which will lead to inequitable impact on children and families depending on where they live.
  • Even though the bill aims to reduce truancy, it does not address any of the barriers to attending school.
  • Codifying a current DHS policy will tie the hands of caseworkers by forcing them to follow the letter of the law and terminate assistance once a child is considered to be truant by their school.
  • Punishing an entire family—and driving them further into poverty—for the actions of one child is too severe and leads to problems for other children in the family.
  • The proposed law does not include a clear appeals process or way to get back on assistance after it’s been terminated.

At a time when child poverty remains high and the needs of many families remain unmet, the state should be trying to help people rather than drive them into further economic crisis. More than 70% of cash assistance recipients are children, who will undoubtedly be impacted the most by policies that blindly terminate assistance. House Bill 4041 will not increase school attendance as supporters claim, but it will push more families and kids into extreme poverty.

– Alicia Guevara Warren


Michigan needs a comprehensive approach to third grade reading

Added March 24th, 2015 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical benchmark for future academic success, so Michigan policymakers have been seriously considering strategies to improve the chances that more children will reach this goal. After third grade, children read to learn, and half the curriculum materials in fourth-grade require grade-level reading skills. Three of four third-graders who struggle to master reading will continue to struggle as high school students. A comprehensive approach is needed to improve early literacy for children in Michigan.

The current situation in Michigan is troubling. In 2013, two of every five third-graders in the state did not demonstrate proficiency on the MEAP reading test. Outcomes are even worse on the national test where 69% of Michigan fourth-graders performed below proficiency—ranking the state 34th among the 50 states (number 1 is the best).

One reason for the development of the learning standards known as the Common Core was to address the wide variability across states in defining proficiency; in 2007 no state reading standard met that of the National Assessment of Educational Progress; in fact, Michigan had the fourth lowest standard, according to analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics.  A similar analysis of the state’s 2013 reading test standards earned the state a C grade (with A for tests matching the national standard).

The most reliable predictor of academic success is family income. Children in families with income below or only marginally above poverty level ($24,000 for a two-parent family of four in 2013) are more likely to experience barriers such as illness, transportation problems, hunger, lead poisoning, housing mobility and homelessness than their more affluent peers.

Michigan school districts with the largest percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches consistently have the largest percentages of students scoring below proficiency levels. Four of five fourth-graders in Michigan’s low-income families did not demonstrate proficiency on the NAEP reading test compared with just over half of their more affluent peers. Unfortunately, family supports for the economically fragile have substantially weakened in the past two decades. Benefits and eligibility for government programs such as unemployment insurance, cash assistance and child care, designed to blunt the impact of economic downturns, particularly for children, have been drastically reduced. Schools and parents are blamed for circumstances often beyond their control.

School readiness begins with a healthy birth bolstered by early access to prenatal care, nurturing stable relationships with parents and other caregivers, healthy homes and safe neighborhoods. Home visiting programs can play a valuable role in strengthening parental skills, providing access to services and extending social support, but community resources are too often limited.

Meanwhile, the state level of mass incarceration has had a devastating impact on children and communities of color by shackling opportunities for education and employment for large numbers of young men of color. The failure to invest in childhood lead poisoning prevention and access to quality child care compromises optimal development during the critical early years when the brain is developing most rapidly. The state has not devoted adequate funds to Michigan’s Early On program to ensure early identification and services to address developmental delays or disabilities among children ages 0-2 and their families.

To their credit, the governor and Legislature supported a dramatic expansion in the Great Start Readiness Program, the state-funded preschool program for four-year-olds. For the coming budget year the governor maintains that commitment and proposes another $48.6 million as a third-grade reading initiative that recognizes the importance of a comprehensive approach. The initiative includes an expansion of home visits to at-risk families, parent education pilot programs, professional development on reading instruction for teachers, additional instruction time for students who need extra assistance and literacy coaches for K-3 teachers.

Children struggle with literacy for a number of reasons. By taking a broad approach and investing early in the lives of children and their families, the governor has made another step in the “great start” that is needed by so many of our children. While these initiatives should be supported, the pervasive blight of poverty among children and their families must be addressed in state policy as well.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell


Lawmakers: Support Snyder’s request to improve child care safety

Added March 18th, 2015 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

The Michigan Legislature – through a supplemental budget bill – recently put a stamp of approval on several child care quality improvements recommended by the governor as part of his 2016 budget initiative to improve reading by third grade. Still to be decided is the governor’s request to spend $5.7 million in 100% federal funds to ensure that there are enough child care inspectors to guarantee that all children are in care that meets minimum health and safety standards.

Included in the supplemental budget bill were changes in eligibility that allow low-wage parents to accept or keep jobs at slightly higher wages without losing help with child care that they simply cannot afford on their own, as well as small increases for providers who are working to increase the quality of care they provide. (more…)

Michigan’s one-two punch against the unemployed

Added March 13th, 2015 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Eight of the nine states that cut the number of weeks that unemployed workers could receive Unemployment Insurance benefits, including Michigan, saw larger-than-average drops in the number of people collecting benefits after the cuts, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. Despite high unemployment at the time, Michigan was the first state to legislate such a cut, from 26 weeks to 20. (more…)

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