MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Promoting Healthy Michigan Plan key to a healthy Michigan

Added February 5th, 2016 by Chelsea Lewis | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Chelsea Lewis

In January, I joined the Michigan League for Public Policy as their communications associate. I’m able to work with the communications department assisting with a variety of tasks and working on issues that I’m truly passionate about. I love writing, both personally and professionally, and am excited to have this avenue to interact with people who are equally passionate about the League’s work.

medicalBefore I arrived at the League, I was working with Michigan Consumers for Healthcare (MCH), a statewide nonprofit organization focusing on obtaining affordable, accessible, quality healthcare for everyone in Michigan. During my time at MCH, I was heavily involved in the passage of Medicaid Expansion, now known as the Healthy Michigan Plan (HMP). Our team spent countless hours advocating for this legislation because we recognized the positive impact on Michiganians and that this could provide a positive economic impact on our state.

More than half a million Michiganians are now able to live fuller, healthier lives because of the Healthy Michigan Plan. Already, HMP has covered more than 1.7 million primary care visits, 59,000 beneficiaries have received mammograms and more than 32,000 have had colon cancer screenings. In short, it’s working.

Yet, despite overwhelming success and lifesaving measures, Senate Bill 542 has been introduced which would take away important funding for promotion of the program. The HMP has been a source of healthcare for 600,000 Michigan residents and could be helping even more but the uninsured population needs to know it’s an option. Through advertising and marketing, citizens are made aware that such a healthcare option even exists. This is not simply another line item on a budget; this is promoting outreach and education about HMP—and in turn, good health for low-income residents—throughout Michigan.

We should be celebrating that this program has been able to help so many individuals that were previously uninsured or underinsured, not restricting its potential.

— Chelsea Lewis

Will the governor’s budget raise up the health of all Michiganians?

Added February 4th, 2016 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

As we head into another budget season, my mind and heart are on the kids and families in Flint and all of those without adequate healthcare. I think the following image well displays what I believe is needed in state policy.

healthcare 2

This image comes from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps and is explained as follows:

“…within each state across the country there are significant differences in health outcomes according to where people live, learn, work and play. It is clear that not all Americans have the means and opportunity to be their healthiest.

“Giving everyone a fair chance to be healthy does not necessarily mean offering everyone the same resources to be healthy, but rather offering people specific resources necessary for their good health. For example, consider three children of different heights. Offering them all the same size bench to stand on would mean that shorter children do not have a fair chance to see over the wall. Offering each child a bench to stand on that is the right size for their height gives all children a fair chance to see over the wall.

“Health gaps can exist in many dimensions—for residents across neighboring county lines, or between various groups within a community according to race, ethnicity, age, income, education or sexual orientation, among others.”

As a state, we need to determine what resources are needed to give everyone a fair chance to be healthy. The Flint water crisis provides a prime example of how additional resources are required to establish a level playing field and help those with greatest need.

The governor’s Executive Budget, being released on February 10th, will provide the governor’s recommendation for the policies and distribution of resources to help Michiganians be healthy. These policy and budget recommendations will provide the basis for the legislative action which will follow.

Policymakers will have tough choices to make in how they invest or disinvest in the health of the people of Michigan. But now more than ever, I hope they can put party and district lines aside and do what is right for all Michiganians, in Flint and statewide.

— Jan Hudson

Top ten ways the Earned Income Tax Credit keeps more money in Michiganians’ pockets

Added January 29th, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Today is Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day, which helps ensure that low- and moderate-income people who are eligible for the EITC actually receive it. As we work to expand our outreach on this important credit, we also need to celebrate all that this credit does for residents, businesses and communities in Michigan and nationwide.

  1. The EITC is a proven effective anti-poverty tool that rewards work and helps workers take steps toward self-sufficiency. It helps workers in every area of the state, rural and urban, and in a wide variety of industries.
  2. Research shows that the EITC has a long-lasting, positive effect on children, immediately improving their well-being but also helping them do better and go farther in school and to have higher earnings in adulthood. It is a true two-generation approach.
  3. The EITC only goes to families and individuals who work and pay taxes. To qualify, a worker must have earned income from a job and meet certain income requirements. For tax year 2015, the most a married couple with three or more kids can make to still be eligible is $53,267.
  4. The maximum credit depends on income and the number of qualifying children. For tax year 2015, a married couple with two children may be eligible for up to $5,548.
  5. The EITC is refundable—meaning that if the eligible credit amount is greater than a worker’s tax liability, he or she will get the balanced refunded. In that way, the EITC is always beneficial regardless of a worker’s tax situation.
  6. In tax year 2014, about 807,000 Michigan taxpayers raising over 1 million children received the federal EITC.
  7. The federal EITC averaged $2,448 in 2014, which was higher than the national average of $2,400. In fact, Michigan had the 14th highest credit average in the nation.
  8. The federal EITC helped pull 6.2 million Americans above the poverty line, including 3.2 million children, based on the most recent data. The Michigan Department of Treasury estimates that the federal EITC pulled 88,080 Michigan workers above the poverty line in 2013.
  9. The federal EITC returned about $2.0 billion back to Michigan’s economy. Workers use their credits to pay for things that help them keep working, such as child care and transportation, as well as groceries, utility bills and paying down debt
  10. EITC creditMichigan supplements the federal EITC with a state tax credit equal to 6% of the federal credit. In 2013, according to the Department of Treasury, about 780,500 taxpayers raising over 1 million children claimed a tax credit averaging $140. The Michigan credit alone helped pull over 6,700 Michigan residents above the poverty line.

The Earned Income Tax Credit and its impact on workers, communities and the state is amazing. However, more needs to be done. Based on 2012 data, only about 82% of eligible workers actually claimed the EITC. While this is better than the national average at 80%, nearly 1 in 5 eligible Michigan workers leaves much-needed money on the table at tax time.

To see if you’re eligible, and to get some free tax preparation help, go to: http://michiganfreetaxhelp.org/.

— Rachel Richards

Michigan revenues still not enough to fix ongoing problems

Added January 15th, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

There’s good news, but there’s also bad news. Michigan’s January Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference (CREC)—the first step in crafting a budget for the next fiscal year—was held in Lansing this week, and it looks like Michigan will have some unexpected one-time money left over from last year. On the other hand, we can’t count on continued robust growth of this nature; in fact, the state is looking at less revenue than was projected last May for this budget year and the next.

Conference adjusts_revenueThe conference is required by state law to establish various forecasts, including economic outlook and General Fund (GF) and School Aid Fund (SAF) revenues. It’s held twice a year, and the January consensus becomes the revenue basis for the executive budget proposal released in February, and those reached during the May conference become the revenue basis for the budget that is ultimately enacted.

While Michigan’s total budget has grown in recent years, it still lacks key investments in areas that matter most to our children and families. The Flint water crisis and the financially struggling Detroit Public Schools are symbols of our lack of investment in our children, education, infrastructure and communities. These problems are not unique to Flint or Detroit, although they rightfully get the publicity, and a statewide problem deserves a statewide solution. Unfortunately, I don’t believe a small one-time surplus is going to be enough, and Michigan needs to figure out a long-term solution to reverse the disinvestments that got us here.

Revenue shows room for growthAt the same time as our past budget failures catch up to us, mounting budget pressures will continue to drain resources. Michigan still has to pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year for legacy Michigan Business Tax credits and for the Personal Property Tax repeal. In future years, we grow more reliant on our General Fund to pay for our crumbling roads, but even that fix didn’t solve the whole problem and will likely need much more. Michigan is currently $9 to $10 billion below its constitutional revenue limit, so while there is room for growth, the political will to grow revenues is not there. There simply aren’t enough dollars to go around.

So the good news is that we have some one-time money to work with, and at a time when additional revenue is desperately needed. The bad news is that it will take long term, strategic investments to ultimately fix these problems that are going to continue plaguing the state. Michigan needs to take a long, hard look at its budget and its revenue structure to make sure that we can provide for our children, families, communities and residents now and in the future.

— Rachel Richards

Reforming welfare in Michigan the RIGHT way

Added January 12th, 2016 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

There are ways to better utilize the Family Independence Program to help welfare recipients build skills and become career ready according to a new paper from the Michigan League for Public Policy, From Safety Net to Springboard: Using the Family Independence Program to Help More Parents Build Their Skills.

Michigan gets $775 million per year from the federal government to run the Family Independence Program and other poverty-fighting programs, while matching that with state funds. Yet, despite the fact that skill building helps diminish the need for public assistance in the future, very little of the money spent is used for either cash benefits or skill building.

Educational level of FIP recipients 2009-2013While 10% of Michigan’s adult population below 65 years of age has not finished high school, 25% of the heads of households receiving FIP have not finished high school. Twenty eight percent of adults have a high school diploma or equivalent but no postsecondary education. That number is almost triple (72%) for FIP recipients. Due to the growing demand for workers with occupational skills, neither group is likely to get a job with wages that can support a family.

The League makes several recommendations on how Michigan can use its FIP program and federal dollars to maximize opportunities for skills training leading to an in-demand postsecondary credential. These recommendations focus on using the money saved from the state’s low welfare caseload and high workforce participation rate (the percentage of households on FIP who are meeting federal work requirements) to strengthen high school completion and vocational postsecondary education opportunities for recipients.

Such changes include providing access to programs to recipients who normally would not be able to participate due to FIP requirements, reducing work requirements for more people in vocational education in order to facilitate successful completion, and allowing individuals to count English as a Second Language training toward their work requirements.

Wisely using Michigan’s resources to help low-income adults build their skills will benefit Michigan workers and the Michigan economy.

— Peter Ruark

Minimum wage gets step-up but tipped workers still underpaid

Added January 7th, 2016 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

MI minimum wageMinimum wage workers earned more this past week than they did in 2015, due to Michigan’s minimum wage increasing from $8.15 to $8.50 on January 1 of this year.

The increase is the third step in a legislated five-step increase that began in 2014. In 2018, minimum wage will increase to its final step, to $9.25. For years beyond 2018, the legislation requires that the minimum wage have an annual increase that is indexed to inflation.

Tipped minimum wage in MITipped workers also got a small minimum wage increase, from $3.10 to $3.23. This is also part of the five-step increase mandated by the legislation. However, the legislation also states that the tipped minimum wage will always be 38% of the regular minimum wage.

As the Michigan League for Public Policy has written before, having such a low wage floor for wait staff and other tipped employees passes the risk of slow business or stingy customers onto the workers, many of whom cannot afford to lose the money.

Midwest tipped minimum wage_blogAs shown in the accompanying map, five other Midwestern states have tipped minimum wages higher than Michigan’s. Minnesota has a tipped minimum wage of $8, more than twice the amount of that in Michigan. (It is also worth pointing out that Minnesota’s unemployment rate is consistently much lower than Michigan’s unemployment rate.)

So while we can celebrate the fact that the minimum wage for both regular and tipped employees has just increased, let’s also continue to advocate for a fairer minimum wage for tipped workers. There are bills in Michigan’s Legislature that would eliminate the tipped wage altogether (House Bill 4720 and Senate Bill 373).

We can urge our legislators to support and pass these bills, which will pay a more fair wage to the workers who serve our food and provide other services for which we pay. At your state legislator’s town halls and coffee hours, will you bring this up and tell them to support ALL workers in your community?

— Peter Ruark

A banner year for better policy

Added January 5th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

It is 2016. A new year with new hopes, and a new set of challenges.

But before we look ahead, I want to take a moment to reflect on 2015 and what you have helped us accomplish. (From here on out, when I say “we” or “our,” know that I am including you, because the League’s work is all thanks to you.) When fighting the good fight, the victories can sometimes be few and far between, so it’s important to celebrate the ones we get, big or small.

brushing teeth 2We helped secure several key investments in the 2016 state budget for important programs, including more than $100 million to improve third-grade reading and help low-income children who are struggling in school, $20 million for mental health services for those not eligible for Medicaid/Healthy Michigan Plan, and a 13% increase in funding for adult education. We also encouraged the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental, which provides accessible dental care for Medicaid-eligible children, to include 290,000 more children, ages 0-12 in Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties.

The League’s advocacy and budget recommendations begin in February with the announcement of the Governor’s budget and continue throughout the legislative process in the House and Senate until a final budget is signed in the summer. It requires patience, diligence and a steady drumbeat from organizations and individuals alike to make things happen.

rough roadsSome achievements in the advocacy world, especially when fighting for low-income families, are simply dodging defeat. Over the course of road funding negotiations last year, elimination of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that helps 780,500 low-income working families raising 1 million children make ends meet was proposed to help pay for roads. We successfully kept the Michigan EITC off the chopping block, and while the final roads plan leaves much to be desired, this was both a significant win and a battle that will continue in the months and years ahead.

But while the League has been working hard all year for the people of Michigan, and for 103 years before that, our two biggest accomplishments came in the last two weeks of the year.

After months of uncertainty, the federal government approved the second waiver for the Healthy Michigan Plan on December 17th. This decision will allow the program to continue, upholding affordable healthcare for more than 600,000 people in Michigan who would otherwise lose coverage in April 2016. While this waiver includes changes to the Healthy Michigan Plan, it will still protect healthcare options and keep costs down for low-income residents. The League was instrumental in the passage of the Healthy Michigan Plan and worked hard to make sure the waiver passed and the program continued.EITC groceries

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment for 2015, both in its impact and its longevity, is Congress’ permanent—yes, permanent—extension of important provisions of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). Without this bill’s passage, 16 million Americans would have been pushed into, or deeper into, poverty, including 357,000 in Michigan—nearly half of them children. While the League had been working on this for the last year, it was considered a longshot the whole way, making this achievement all the more significant. Because of the impact poverty has on children and their own future success, this historic public policy improvement will benefit generations to come.

It’s been quite a year. And you helped make all of this possible. There will always be more work ahead, but with it comes more opportunities for change, and we are confident that we can continue to accomplish great things together. On behalf of the people of Michigan, thank you for continuing to support our work, and here’s to another great year.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

A gift that truly keeps on giving

Added December 23rd, 2015 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Happy holidays! It’s in this giving season that I truly appreciate people who think about and provide for those who are less fortunate than others. One of my main policy wish list items to do just that was delivered last week. Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed legislation that permanently extended key tax provisions that help millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet while working at low wages.

In 2008 and 2009, important expansions of the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) were enacted: a larger EITC for families raising three or more children; a reduction in the EITC “marriage penalty” that some two-earner families face; and a lower CTC earnings exclusion that expands the credit to very low-income working families. These provisions were set to expire at the end of 2017 if no further action was taken, and the League has spent a good part of the last year working to make sure this did not happen.

giftThese provisions are crucial to many Michigan residents and to Americans nationwide. If these provisions had expired 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, would have lost all or part of their credits. Right here in Michigan, that meant 727,000 children in 415,000 families would have lost all or part of their EITC or CTC. Without this bill’s passage, 16 million Americans would have been pushed into, or deeper into, poverty, including 357,000 in Michigan—nearly half of them children.

A single parent with two children working at Michigan’s minimum wage—$18,500 per year—would have lost $1,415 of his or her $2,000 Child Tax Credit. And a married couple with three children earning $35,000 would have seen their EITC shrink by $1,190. The EITC and CTC do not discriminate. They are claimed by young workers just starting out, single parents, veterans, urban and rural households, and workers in nearly all industries and occupations.

This permanent extension has long-lasting benefits on our communities. These tax credits encourage work, help lift families out of poverty, and improve the lives of children. Additionally, research shows children in families that benefit from the EITC and CTC are healthier, do better in school, are more likely to go to college, and earn more as adults. And local economies will continue to benefit from these strengthened credits, as working families often take their credits and spend them in their communities on basic necessities, such as household items, transportation to and from work, child care and clothing.

The bill could have done more for workers without children, and we will keep working on this. Childless workers are the sole group of people that are still taxed into, or deeper into, poverty by our federal tax code. President Obama and Speaker Paul Ryan have had similar proposals that would have plugged the gap in the EITC for these workers, and addressing this should be a top priority in the year ahead.

As I think about ways we can help our fellow man and woman this time of year, I am very thankful that these provisions were permanently extended. A special thanks goes to Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow for their leadership on this very important issue. As 2015 comes to a close, I look forward to spending time with my family and resting up to take on whatever policy fights 2016 brings our way.

600,000 happier holidays and healthier new years

Added December 22nd, 2015 by Jan Hudson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

Recent federal approval of the required second waiver to continue the Healthy Michigan Plan (HMP) will provide Happier Holidays and Healthier New Years for about 600,000 Michiganians who will be able to continue their healthcare coverage after April 30, 2016.

The law that created the Healthy Michigan Plan required that, to continue the program after April 30, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (then the Department of Community Health) had to submit and receive federal approval for a second waiver no later than December 31, 2015, even though the policies in the second waiver would not become effective until April 1, 2018.

Federal approval, received on December 17, 2015, for the second waiver provides the first step to continue the program for all enrollees. It includes specific requirements to protect beneficiaries and meet the requirements of federal law while guaranteeing comprehensive benefits regardless of the coverage option (Healthy Michigan Plan or Marketplace) selected by the beneficiary.

The provisions of the approved second waiver apply to nearly all enrollees with incomes between 100% and 133% of the federal poverty level (between $11,770 and $15,521 for an individual or between $24,250 and $31,721 for a family of four) and are effective on April 1, 2018, which is 48 months after implementation of the program. HMP enrollees with incomes below 100% FPL will experience no change in the program.

The second waiver includes a stronger focus and emphasis on healthy behaviors which will not only improve the health of beneficiaries, but also reduce their cost-sharing. To participate in the Healthy Michigan Plan, enrollees will be required to select and engage in a healthy behavior. The requirement to expand healthy behaviors and rewrite the protocols and procedures will provide a good opportunity to review what has been working well, and what needs to be modified to ensure that the new requirements meet the needs of the low-income population the program serves and enables them to be successful. It will be important for advocates and beneficiaries to engage in this process to ensure a consumer-friendly outcome.

Those who do not engage in the required healthy behavior will be required to obtain their coverage through the Marketplace. While they are guaranteed comprehensive coverage, they will not have the opportunities, as with HMP, to reduce their cost-sharing.

While there is much work to be done to implement the second waiver, the federal approval is a good start and great news for ALL Healthy Michigan Plan enrollees.

This calls for a toast to continuing the Healthy Michigan Plan and healthier residents in the New Year!

— Jan Hudson

 

How NOT to interpret the 5-year Census data

Added December 18th, 2015 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

There are two popular narratives about poverty, jobs and income in Michigan, and they’re both wrong.

The first says that Michigan is much better off than several years ago—making a “rebound” or “comeback.” That is true if one looks only at the unemployment rate. In 2009, we had an unemployment rate of 13.9%, the worst in decades. By 2014, the rate was down to 7.2%, and has continued to decline since. So that is the good news.

If we look at the poverty rate and median household income, however, we see that in 2014, both of those measures of economic well-being were right back where they were in 2009, the state’s peak unemployment year. Poverty had a slight rise and median income took a slight dip in the years between, but overall those two indicators remained flat. That hardly indicates a comeback.

Another narrative that followed the release of the five-year data two weeks ago was that poverty “soared” and median household income “plunged.” That interpretation is based on the fact that the five-year average for 2010-2014 on both measures was substantially worse than the five-year average for 2005-2009, with median income dropping from $53,865 to $48,983 (inflation-adjusted dollars) and the poverty rate rising from 14.5% to 16.9%.

While those numbers are correct on face value, what they hide is that within the five-year period 2005-2009, the median household income plunged from $55,807 to $49,938 and then remained roughly at the 2009 level from 2010 to 2014. Likewise, during 2005-2009, the poverty rate soared from 13.2% to 16.2% and then remained roughly at the 2009 level from 2010 to 2014. In both cases, the largest year-to-year change was from 2008 to 2009, so the “soaring” of poverty and the “plunging” of median income is actually old news!

So in summary, the unemployment rate has improved since 2009, but in terms of poverty and median income, we have not yet made a comeback from 2009 levels and many Michigan people are still experiencing financial hardship. There are fewer people in the labor force, and many of the new jobs reflected in the lower unemployment rate pay far less than the jobs that were lost five to ten years ago.

That is a less dramatic narrative than the two that are currently in fashion, but it is a more accurate one.

— Peter Ruark

 

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