MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

How do Michigan kids fare compared with kids in other states? Data shows mixed results.

Added June 23rd, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Everyone wants the best for their kids. We want to live in a state that invests in our youngest residents and provides a future for them. I think back to when I was in graduate school in Austin, Texas, and was offered a job to stay there. This was at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 and I decided that it was more important to me to come back home and try to make things better here. I wanted to help make Michigan a place where people would want to live, more college graduates would stay or return home, and people would want to start families and raise their children. I am a parent now of an 8-year-old, sassy, very smart, talented and beautiful girl, and I often find myself saying, and not in a good way, “This isn’t the Michigan I grew up in.”

NationalDataBook2016_MichiganRankWhen the national KIDS COUNT Data Book comes out every year, I anxiously await to see how things have changed. Although, I find myself less and less surprised every year. The 2016 national Data Book came out earlier this week and it shows mixed results for Michigan. We have seen improvements in all four measures of children’s health and our youth are making good decisions and doing better. But we have more children living in poverty and higher rates of concentrated poverty, many parents are still struggling to find stable employment and significant racial and ethnic disparities exist. And, we are now in the bottom 10 in the country when it comes to educational outcomes.

In overall child well-being, Michigan is ranked 31st in the country this year. That’s up from 33rd last year, so we’re getting better, but we’re still in the bottom half of the country. Our state is also last in the Midwest, again: Minnesota (1st); Wisconsin (13th), Illinois (21st), Ohio (26th) and Indiana (30th). The 2016 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book came out in March and has state-level data and county-by-county data and rankings.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation states in the report, “We believe that our nation can, and must, find common ground on policy solutions to address the devastating economic instability experienced by millions of American families.” Those solutions to ensure that all children are prepared for the future should be based on the country’s broadly shared values of opportunity, responsibility and security. We need to continue to increase opportunity by expanding and improving early care and education, like preschool, and making college affordable and accessible for all students. It means rewarding responsibility by restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC and increasing the credit for low-income workers without dependents. And, policies are needed to ensure a measure of security to low-income parents of young children, like earned sick leave time.

We can and must do better for our kids. As cliché as it sounds, they really are our future. How we treat our kids and care for them says a lot about our state and its leaders. We know that without using a two-generation approach to address poverty and economic security, we aren’t going to see the progress we need or want in educational outcomes. Without strong, safe communities and schools, kids will continue to struggle with many issues. And, as long as policy decisions are made without a race equity lens, disparities and inequities will continue to exist leaving behind a growing population of children.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Changing minds by touching hearts

Added June 21st, 2016 by Karen Holcomb-Merrill | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Karen Holcomb-Merrill

At the League we often talk about our “head” work and our “heart” work. My head doesn’t hurt doing this work, but my heart often does. And it recently became personal for me.

In our heads we rely on data to tell the story of children and families who have been disenfranchised, who struggle to make ends meet, who often face challenges because of their income or skin color. Intellectually, we use this data to work for public policy changes that will help our most vulnerable fellow Michiganians. We rely on cold, hard facts.

Sexton Graduation ProgramIn our hearts, we know that there are real people, real faces and real stories affected by the work we do at the League. Generally we don’t meet these people, see their faces or hear their stories. But we are working to improve their lives.

My head and heart collided a couple Sundays ago. I’ve been a Big Sister to an amazing young woman for the last three years. She graduated from high school on that Sunday.

My head knows that she has lived with and been raised by her great grandmother. That there are many things I take for granted that her family cannot afford. That she has had to overcome so many barriers. That she will be the first person in her family to attend college. That many of her peers will not attend college.

I sat at her commencement bursting with pride as she walked across the stage to get her diploma. I held back the tears, but my heart hurt as I thought about all that she had overcome to graduate that day and to be preparing for college.

As I looked around, my heart hurt as I imagined there were families cheering for their graduates, but perhaps wondering how they would support their new grads, wondering what their futures would look like without the ability to attend college.

Perhaps even wondering how they would put the next meal on the table.

In the midst of that, my head gave me some hope. Hope in the knowledge that every day here at the League we are working to improve the lives of all of the Little Sisters and their families and their classmates. My heart is hanging onto that hope.

— Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Keeping kids healthy over the summer break

Added June 15th, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Summer is finally here. We’ve all made arrangements for child care, summer camps and vacations, but have probably not given much thought about how—or if—we’ll be able to provide enough food for our families during the break from school. In Michigan, though, there were 364,000 children in families who experienced food insecurity over the past year. And, summer time, when kids are not in school and do not have access to free- or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, can really put low-income children at risk for hunger and lack of nutritional foods, which impacts learning and development.

Summer Nutrition Programs can help fill the gap to reduce the risk of hunger for children living in families who are still struggling to make ends meet in this uneven economic recovery. But a new report from the national Food Research & Action Center, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, shows that Michigan lost ground last summer.

kids eating flippedWhile the number of sites offering summer meals increased over July 2014 and July 2015, fewer Michigan children received meals. There was a 7% drop in participation and only 12.7 of every 100 children in need received a summer meal. That means that in 2015, almost half a million Michigan kids who were eligible for the free or reduced-price meal program during the school year did not access the summer meals program. Michigan ranked 35th nationally this year in our reach compared to 31st last year in FRAC’s annual summer nutrition status report.

Serving fewer children in need also means that the state is missing out on federal dollars. If Michigan increased its ratio from 12.7 for every 100 children enrolled in the school meal program during the school year to 40, over 151,000 more children would get fed. This would result in an additional $11.97 million in federal reimbursement.

As Congress considers Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, there are opportunities to include provisions that would help states expand their reach to children at risk of going hungry during the summer. For example, one proposal would allow sponsors of Summer Nutrition Programs to provide meals all year long through one federal program rather than two separate programs for the school year and summer.

Summer Nutrition Program MapAnother way to increase participation, especially in rural areas, is by providing Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase food during the summer. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstration project—which included Michigan—showed significant reductions in food insecurity and positive nutritional outcomes through the use of Summer EBT cards. Michigan has received additional funding to expand the use of Summer EBT cards in Flint and Detroit.

Michigan is only serving meals to one in eight children in need over the summer; roughly 87% of lower-income kids are missing out and going hungry. There are ways to expand our reach—show your support by contacting your Congressional member. The role that hunger and nutrition have in ensuring that kids stay healthy over the summer and return to school ready to learn is critical in so many ways, and we all have to do our part to improve it.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Detroit Public Schools plan doesn’t serve kids, hurts teachers

Added June 9th, 2016 by David Hecker | Email This Entry Email This Entry
David Hecker

By David Hecker, Michigan League for Public Policy Board Member and President of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan

For the past year, the future of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) has been in doubt. With a massive debt run up under state control, the education of 47,000 children has been hanging in the balance.

Last night, with only Republican votes, the Senate passed the House plan for Detroit Public Schools—which falls far short of what DPS students deserve. However, under this legislation, which now goes to the Governor’s office for his signature, the state is paying the debt and providing some additional capital, DPS employees keep their jobs and their union representation, DPS returns to an elected school board in January, which, while not fully empowered, will have decision making powers on many important issues, and EAA schools will eventually return to the District. Detroit Public Schools, now to be known as the Detroit Community School District, will be open in September.

The House plan that will be law is an improvement over the original House plan that provided a lower investment in DPS, forced DPS employees to reapply for their jobs, and eliminated union representation.

child in school flippedHaving said this, the House and now Senate plan that will soon be law is extremely flawed. It provides inadequate funding, raises the stakes of standardized testing with its proposed school accountability system and requirement that new hires (in the Detroit Community School District only) be paid based primarily on merit—not allowing the use of experience and education level—and allows noncertified people to teach, without any requirements for education, experience or preparation—again, only in Detroit schools.

These bills allow the privatization of teachers in schools that were in the EAA (which are supposed to return to the Detroit Community School District), and make it easier to punish educators who speak out in a manner that is determined to be a strike.

And under this soon to be law, charter schools will continue to be allowed to open up wherever and whenever they want with no increase in accountability.

Unfortunately, the Senate abandoned its own Detroit education bill, which was crafted with bipartisan support and backed by labor, parents, civic, religious and business leaders, education organizations and the Mayor of Detroit. Instead, the Senate voted for the House plan.

Governor Rick Snyder, who had originally supported the Senate plan—one that is a fair reflection of the recommendations of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren—also succumbed to the wishes of Speaker Kevin Cotter and his benefactors, Dick and Betsy DeVos. This is people playing political games while showing an utter disregard for children’s futures.

The bills passed both Houses with only Republican votes, meaning all Detroit legislators voted against the bills. Therefore, these bills are a statement by non-Detroit Republicans that they know what is best for Detroit, a city whose population is overwhelmingly people of color. It is a continuation of the attitude that has resulted in Detroit Public Schools’ massive debt, low academic performance, and “wild west” system of school openings throughout the city.

While some Republicans voted with us (and advocated for us), this legislation happened because the Republicans control the Senate 27-10 and the House 63-46. We must retake the House in this November’s election.

Fortunately, for the children of Detroit, no piece of legislation—no matter how bad, no matter how inadequate—will stop Detroit educators from giving their all for the city’s students. Regardless of the challenges, we’ll move forward with this upcoming school year with a renewed vigor to make sure students receive the best education possible. Educators will continue to go the extra mile to make up for the Legislature’s failure.

Thank you to so, so many members, parents, students, unions, clergy, community leaders, statewide school management associations, many business leaders and Mayor Duggan who fought for the schools Detroit’s children deserve. Our members meeting with and calling legislators, writing letters, phone banking every night to build support, and telling your stories made a difference. Just consider the changes from the first to the second House plan.

At the national, state and local levels our union and our teachers never gave up. And we never will.

— David Hecker

State budget turns back on vital federal dollars

Added June 8th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

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Here at the League, the state budget is always one of our top priorities. State funding for important programs has one of the biggest impacts on Michiganians in need. We talk a lot about how the budget is a statement of our values as a state. But much like your family budget and mine, dealing with money issues is also about “value” in the traditional sense—how can we best stretch our dollars and get the most bang for our buck. This includes leveraging federal funds as much as possible.

This is more important now than ever. In January, it looked like state revenues were in a good position. But things changed in the next five months, and May revenue estimates were significantly down, meaning the budget was going to have to be adjusted—or cut—accordingly.

Michigan clearly has a revenue problem, and it needs to be addressed in a broader sense. It is due in large part to our tax structure, both how much the state gives away each year in tax credits, deductions and exemptions and how much the state has cut in business taxes in recent years. Michigan’s tax system and revenue stream need to be reevaluated, but there are more immediate fixes that can help with the 2017 state budget right now.

As we always do with the budget, League staff put together a series of budget briefs analyzing the different departmental budgets and making our recommendations. Based on our values at the League, we believe that these programs are vital and should be funded even in the midst of reduced revenues. But we are also realistic and knew that the Legislature was not likely to agree, with many of our suggestions for increased funding being left out of the budget bills that have already passed.

But there’s one area that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle should be able to come together on, and that is making sure Michigan gets every federal dollar it is entitled to, especially when the return on investment is nearly 50 times the state commitment in some cases. Unfortunately, these opportunities have also been overlooked in the 2017 budget.

The Department of Health and Human Services budget conference report was passed today and missed a major opportunity to bring in federal dollars to support state needs. The House-passed budget included an investment of $3.2 million in state funds to fix the Heat and Eat policy that reduced food assistance for approximately 150,000 households, including seniors and persons with disabilities. But this funding did not survive joint negotiations with the Senate. This remedy would have brought in $138 million in federal dollars to help these residents. Since 2014, Michigan has been one of only a handful of states that did not provide the additional funds needed to comply with federal changes to the Heat and Eat program and maintain food benefits. The League has been working to fix this issue for years, and will keep up our commitment to tackle it in next year’s budget.

The School Aid and Department of Education budget conference reports have been finalized, and legislators missed a chance to secure an estimated $20 million in federal Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) dollars because they further reduced state match spending based on the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. We’ve already lost federal child care funding in the past and are at risk of losing more because of our stringent state child care policies that hurt parents’ ability to work and get out of poverty. We can’t afford to continue this trend.

This child care funding issue may still be resolved with a budget supplemental this year, and the League will keep working with the governor’s administration and legislators on this so we don’t miss this chance to leverage federal dollars.

There was some good news in the final budget bills, including the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental, much-needed funding for Flint to address the ongoing water crisis and an expansion of the state’s child care eligibility from 121% of the federal poverty level to 125% of the federal poverty level. But the Heat and Eat fix and state child care spending were two major opportunities for lawmakers to bring in federal funding when our state needed it the most, and for programs that particularly help families in need. We will fight for these and other issues now and in next year’s budget negotiations.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Compassion is our compass

Added June 3rd, 2016 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

Earlier today, I joined several of our staff in getting out of the office to enjoy the sunshine, some camaraderie and a large amount of dirt. We volunteered with the Allen Neighborhood Center here in Lansing, working at the Hunter Park GardenHouse to do some gardening, weeding, planting and cleaning.

This probably sounds fun to most of you, and it definitely was, especially when the alternative is spending a beautiful sunny Friday sitting at a desk in front of a soul-sucking computer (like I am now).

But it still strikes me as special that even when we at the League are doing something fun and casual, we are looking to have an impact and help others, something we are doing day in and day out. Coming up on my one-year anniversary at the League, that’s one of the things I love about “us.”

Staff Volunteering_Me2

Author’s Note: I’m supposed to be doing this.

I discovered my desire to make the world—and specifically, my beloved Michigan—a better place largely by accident. My first grown-up job was at a nonprofit conservation organization. I was drawn to the work because I like catching bugs and snakes, climbing trees and scraping knees. But it was working for the greater good—protecting Michigan for all to enjoy—that I found the most appealing.

In my next job, I went to work for the Michigan Senate to try to change things from the inside. I spent almost a decade there, and while this work was a lot of fun, my political leanings were such that I didn’t get to celebrate a lot of policy “wins.” But I felt like every day—ok, most days—I was fighting the good fight.

That’s what drew me to the League last summer. I wanted my work, even if it is writing pithy quotes and hounding media, to be fulfilling, to make a difference, to help people. And it has. We’ve even managed to secure some important policy victories for my fellow Michiganians, and are striving every day for more.

But my favorite part about working at the League is the culture of kindness and conscience. Compassion is our compass—it guides us and drives us. It is there professionally, from top to bottom. But it’s also there personally.

Our CEO has dedicated her life to public service, even braving the Legislature to do it. Several of our staff members have been volunteering in Flint to help with the water crisis, blogging about it along the way. Many others are active and involved with a variety of great causes in their communities. We also do an annual staff donation drive for Haven House here in the Lansing area.

And even for a fun day today, we volunteered our time to help others. This is how we roll, and I love it.

Staff Volunteering2

— Alex Rossman

My experience in Flint, MI: A small part of the solution

Added May 27th, 2016 by Chelsea Lewis | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Chelsea Lewis

Ever since I was young, my parents stressed upon me the importance of volunteering and becoming a part of my community. I was told never be quick to judge someone but instead to listen to his or her story and be supportive, for someday I might appreciate the same kindness.

These conversations with my parents immediately came to my mind when I was reading the countless news stories coming out of Flint. The water crisis had taken over local, state and national headlines and the results were heartbreaking. The images of poisoned water and people demanding action stayed with me. I was upset and disappointed that something like this could happen in my state.

flint water towerAs I normally do, after reading so many headlines, I checked to see what the conversation was like on social media. I noticed after the news started to gain national attention, many people took to social media to express their outrage over how this could happen and who is responsible or to add in their two cents about the ongoing crisis.

After seeing so many articles and posts about the disaster in Flint and the needs of its residents, I realized I wanted to be a part of the solution instead of continuing to feel discouraged. I wanted to meet the people impacted by this situation and try to be supportive in any way possible.

Earlier this spring, I spent an entire day down in Flint doing just that. I worked with the American Red Cross and was able to help with dispensing lead reports and information and helping Flint residents when they arrived to turn in water samples. The process of collecting water isn’t an easy one, but everyone I worked with was understanding and grateful that I came “all the way from Lansing” to help.

Everyone was kind, welcoming and thankful that people were coming down to spend their time helping out their city. To these residents, Flint is not just another area on the map or in the headlines—it’s their hometown.

My experience in Flint was humbling, impactful and emotional. In the end, I was thankful to be a very small part of the solution. Both personally and with my work at the League, I will continue to do what I can to help Flint and its wonderful, resilient residents.

To get involved, visit the city of Flint’s How Can I Help page.

For more information on the League’s work on Flint, go to our Cities in Crisis page.

Also check out the other blogs by League staff on their work in Flint:

Immigrants particularly hurt by Flint water crisis (April 15, 2016)
A Flint resident’s perspective (March 31, 2016)
Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution (March 25, 2016)

— Chelsea Lewis

I’m done riding the revenue roller coaster

Added May 18th, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

I hate roller coasters—they make my head hurt and I can never get my feet back under me after riding one. But twice a year, I ride one as I wait to see whether state revenues will come in above projections, below targets or on track. Yesterday’s revenue estimating conference made it clear that we will have some tough budget decisions to make for next year, but the truth is that it shouldn’t be like this.

The good news is that revenues, year after year, are projected to grow. However, Michigan’s growth isn’t as robust as we originally predicted only five months ago. This means that there will be less to work with when deciding funding priorities in next year’s budget, potentially leaving many Michigan residents, communities and schools further behind. Thankfully, Michigan is able to get federal funds for various programs, and lawmakers should review the budget and fund those areas, such as child care and the Heat and Eat program, for maximum impact.

Revenue tax expenditures chart 4Thankfully budgets can be balanced in a single year, but we still need to look at our revenue structure to continue long-term economic growth. While we scrutinize and stress over every dollar spent in each budget annually, Michigan lawmakers neglect to regularly review silent spending. Tax expenditures, like budget expenses, spend state dollars on public purposes but do so through the tax code rather than during the annual budget process. Michigan is currently anticipated to forego $35 billion in state funds through state and local tax breaks, but this spending is rarely reviewed by legislators. In fact, once these provisions get written into our state tax laws, they tend to live on in perpetuity regardless of whether they continue to serve a good public purpose.

A recent report released by the League calls on Michigan’s legislators to review our tax expenditures to help Michigan’s strained revenue structure. The report makes the following recommendations to policymakers:

  • Understand the costs of each tax policy change, including the expansion and creation of restricted funds, to ensure that there is enough funding left to deal with the state’s growing budgetary pressures.
  • Review Michigan’s existing tax expenditures to ensure that their benefits still outweigh the costs to the state, and eliminate those that are no longer meeting their intended purposes or are no longer necessary.
  • Make tax relief strategic and measurable by including measures to allow lawmakers to determine their usefulness, including sunsets, accountability measures or repayments if provisions are violated.

Providing more stability in Michigan’s revenue structure is good policy. It would help us to provide important funds to the things Michigan residents and businesses care most about: high-quality schools, safe communities, good roads and affordable postsecondary education. Unfortunately, unstable fiscal policy will only lead to the inability to address our state’s current crises—like the Flint water crisis and financial crisis in Detroit Public Schools—while creating more in other communities.

Many economists and tax policy experts argue that the best tax policy is one that has a broad base and a low rate. Thanks to unchecked credits, deductions and exemptions, our tax base is riddled with holes that need to be filled in order to ensure a more stable revenue structure. While some fluctuation and risk is involved with every revenue projection, Michigan’s rollercoaster needs to stop.

— Rachel Richards

Children of Michigan immigrants are waiting for an answer

Added May 10th, 2016 by Seema Singh | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Seema Singh

Approximately 43,000 immigrant children in Michigan are currently living in fear of their parents being deported and their families being torn apart. President Barack Obama’s executive orders Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were positive steps taken to address the large number of immigrants stuck in limbo in Michigan and around the country.

blog MI children affected by Supreme Court actionUnfortunately, in response to these policies, Texas and other states sued the federal government, and a federal district court has halted their enactment. The case has now reached the United States Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Monday, April 18th. The Supreme Court will determine whether President Obama’s DAPA and DACA executive actions were lawfully enacted. A decision overruling the Texas injunction and upholding these executive actions would ultimately determine whether millions of immigrants will continue to live in fear and possibly be separated from their families, or be given an opportunity to participate in the economy, boosting revenue to states, and keeping families intact.

The president’s immigration efforts are intended to address the millions of immigrants who have been waiting for immigration reform to no avail. Undocumented children are constantly afraid and under duress, and often have poor educational outcomes because of this stress. Even if undocumented students manage to reach college, they face immense hurdles with limited options for student aid and employment. Studies also show that children with undocumented parents face similar mental, economic, and emotional challenges. Immigration reform would ultimately help thousands of children and spur growth in Michigan.

Deporting nonviolent residents who pay taxes diverts money and resources from other law enforcement efforts that actually keep communities safer and provide other economic benefits. Almost three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and if DAPA and DACA were allowed to move forward, they would contribute approximately $1.86 billion in revenue. If the Supreme Court’s decision determines the enactment to be lawful, DAPA and DACA would bring our state one step closer towards making Michigan an inclusive and welcoming state and upholding our values that include taking care of our children and families. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected by the end of June.

— Seema Singh

Quit spreading misinformation: Michigan is NOT a high tax state

Added May 6th, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Around the state, a drum is constantly beating for tax cuts. We hear that tax cuts will make Michigan more competitive, that we will entice people to live here and businesses to move here. However, the idea that Michigan is a high tax state simply is not true.

A recent memorandum by the Citizens Research Council shows that Michigan’s tax incidence, or the general amount taxpayers pay, for 2013 is not really that high. The report used Census data and compared states in terms of tax revenue as a percent of personal income and tax revenue per capita. Using both of these methodologies, in terms of overall tax collections, Michigan ranked below the national average and at the bottom of all Great Lakes states. In fact, in terms of overall tax collections, Michigan’s per capita collection of $3,750 is 18% below the U.S. average, and where Michigan’s tax collections grew by $537 in three decades, the U.S. average grew by $1,715 in the same time period.

taxes rankedMany have pointed to Michigan’s “lost decade” of recession as a reason why the state is not feeling the recovery, but not all of the revenue impacts can be blamed on diminished personal income and the burst of the housing bubble. Tax policy changes have compounded the effects of the state and national economy. Following Michigan’s switch from the Michigan Business Tax to the Corporate Income Tax, effective January 1, 2012, the state became a bottom ten state in corporate tax revenues, joining, according to the CRC, “states that tend not to host the same types of industry for which Michigan has typically competed.”

Worse yet, there are more tax policy changes coming including changes made that will ultimately repeal the Personal Property Tax, increase taxes on motor fuels and reduce and potentially eliminate the income tax, and impose sales tax on online sales. At a time in which Michigan is dealing with crisis after crisis, Michigan can least afford reductions in revenue.

We need to quit spreading the myth that taxes are too high. And if low taxes mean less in services, more crumbling roads and low-performing schools, count me out. Taxes help pay for important services, such as police and fire, state parks, libraries, high-quality schools, roads and bridges, and so much more, which help make states more vibrant and help entice businesses and people to relocate. Michigan’s taxes are not too high, and if we want to help save our state and our communities’ struggles, we need to look at ways to bring in more revenue, not less.

— Rachel Richards

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