MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Back to college — but what if you’re older?

Added August 20th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Before the month is over, more than 755,000 Michigan residents will begin classes at a public university or community college and many will get financial aid.

Many of these students will be over 30 years old, but as a new paper from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows, those older students at public campuses will not be eligible for any of the three financial aid grants offered by the state.

If they qualify, they will be eligible for federal Pell Grants. Pell Grants themselves are often not enough to cover tuition and expenses, however, leaving older students to take out expensive student loans or jeopardize their academic success by working more hours.

Michigan used to have two financial aid programs specifically geared toward older workers and those going less than part time. Those programs were discontinued in 2010.

Michigan’s two remaining financial aid grants for students at public institutions are not available to older students, or to those who attend school less than part-time in order to work and raise a family.

Michigan should either restore one or both of the grant programs for older and less than part time students, or modify its existing grant programs so that older students are eligible.

Getting a postsecondary credential and marketable skills are essential for many older workers, and a lack of financial aid should not be the barrier that prevents that.

– Peter Ruark


Erratic work schedules create erratic family life

Added August 15th, 2014 by Peter Ruark | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

A new bill in Congress reflects growing awareness that work scheduling can make or break a family’s well-being.

It is easy for those of us who enjoy regular work hours to take for granted that we can plan our days and paychecks with stability. We know when we need to drop off or pick up our children at school activities or child care, and we can plan other important aspects of our lives—college classes, social or civic activities or even second jobs—around a predictable work schedule. We also know that we will be compensated for the same number of work hours every week.

Employees who have to check their schedule every week, or even every day, do not have that predictability. Their children suffer in the process.

Take the story of Jannette, who must endure frequent and sometimes last-minute schedule changes that result in disrupted sleep, difficulty finding child care, an argument with her relatives or even a breakup with a significant other.

Jannette’s life is dictated by the whims of impersonal scheduling software that takes into account customer traffic, truck deliveries and shortstaffing, but not the needs of the employees. Many businesses that still use human schedulers also subject their employees to erratic or frequently changing work hours.

Fortunately, members of Congress, including Reps. John Conyers and Gary Peters from Michigan, have proposed legislation that addresses this problem. The Schedules That Work Act would give all workers the right to request a flexible, predictable or stable schedule. Certain categories of workers would also have the right to receive such a schedule unless an employer has bona fide business reasons to refuse the request. (More on the legislation can be found here.)

The Michigan League for Public Policy supports this legislation.  It is currently in committee in both the U.S. House and Senate, and when and whether the bills receive hearings is unclear.

To help get things moving along, please let your member of Congress and Michigan’s two U.S. Senators  know that you want workers to be able to have predictable, stable and flexible work hours. Urge them to co-sponsor the Schedules that Work Act.

(Starbucks has responded to the New York Times article, saying that it will change its scheduling practices. The Center for Law and Social Policy responds that while the Starbuck changes are a start, it is not just about Starbucks, and we need public policies that protect workers.)

– Peter Ruark

State process to estimate revenues is key to solid budget

Added August 7th, 2014 by Pat Sorenson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Michigan’s process for estimating state revenues earns 4 out of a possible 5 points according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report evaluated states to determine if they employ best practices that are known to create reliable revenue estimates to guide state spending, ensure financial discipline, and create a more robust and public debate about how the state raises and spends its resources.

Michigan received high scores for a revenue estimating process that: (1) requires consensus between the executive and legislative branches; (2) makes the process transparent to the public and media by publishing estimates that are easily accessible on the Internet; (3) holds meetings that are open to the public; and (4) adjusts estimates as the economy changes, with revenue estimating conferences held in January before the governor releases his proposed budget, and in May before final legislative action.

Michigan lost a point because, although a meaningful amount of input is solicited from outside authorities including experts from academia, business and other sectors, the state statute establishing Michigan’s consensus process identifies three principals within state government as decision-makers. The best practice, according to the report, is to include outside experts in the deliberations leading to the final revenue forecast.

The importance of a good process for predicting how much money the state will have to spend was underscored earlier this year as lawmakers worked on the budget for 2014-15. In January, the consensus was that Michigan’s fiscal picture was improving and would result in a budget “surplus” or revenues higher than expected to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

Even though the use of the term “surplus” was misleading given the years of budget cuts resulting from economic downturns, along with tax policies that reduced states revenues and shifted responsibility from businesses to low- and moderate-income workers, the January revenue projections set off a flurry of legislative tax cut proposals, including a proposed rollback of the state’s personal income tax.

Before legislative action was taken to reduce taxes, the “surplus” largely vanished, with the May revenue estimating conference showing slower than expected economic and revenue growth.

The fact that Michigan law requires a second look at revenues before the state budget is finalized—and 15 states do not regularly review their estimates during the course of the budget year—helped to avert tax cuts that would have increased already rising income inequality and further drained resources from the schools, universities, community colleges and other services needed to fuel economic growth.

With this piece of the budgeting process in shape, Michigan should turn its attention to reforms that are needed to ensure that there are adequate and stable state revenues to build a world class workforce and protect the state’s natural and human resources. The League has outlined options for modernizing Michigan’s revenue system, including the enforcement of taxation on Internet sales, expanding the sales tax to selected services, the annual review of tax breaks, and a restoration of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

–Pat Sorenson

Poverty and third grade reading proficiency: A problem for Michigan’s children

Added August 5th, 2014 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

The new 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book brings attention to national and state-level data on the well-being of children and the results are sobering for Michigan, with more children living in poverty and trailing behind in education.

Despite an uptick in Michigan’s economy, a quarter of Michigan’s children live in poverty with much higher rates for children of color, and the state ranks 38th in the education domain in this year’s report, with 69 percent of fourth graders below reading proficiency.

The world economy is demanding an educated workforce and reading proficiency is at the center. Without investing in these children long before they reach the end of third grade, we are choosing to jeopardize the long-term growth and economic development of our state. (more…)

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Added July 28th, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

Michigan and the seven other states that cut unemployment benefits in the wake of the Great Recession caused financial hardship for unemployed workers and failed to boost the overall economic outlooks of the states, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute concludes.

Problems with the unemployment system actually stemmed from underfunding the state trust funds in good times, rather than paying out benefits too generously, the report concludes. And cutting benefits not only shortchanged jobless workers and their families, it undermined the countercyclical role of the unemployment system that is designed to kick in when times are tough.

In the eight states cutting benefits, African American workers made up a more disproportionate share of the long-term unemployed than African American workers in the other 42 states.

The Michigan Legislature cut the basic period of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks beginning in January 2012 — even as unemployment remained high and long-term unemployment took its toll on families across the state.

In State Cuts to Jobless Benefits Did Not Help Workers or Taxpayers, EPI Research and Policy Director Josh Bivens, economist Valerie Wilson, and economic analyst Joshua Smith provide an overview of the U.S. unemployment insurance system, explain the interaction between federal and state financing of unemployment insurance, and examine the economic conditions of states that cut the duration and dollar amount of jobless benefits.

“There’s no evidence of any benefit to reducing the length or dollar amount of unemployment insurance when the economy is so weak,” said Bivens. “It’s hard to understand why states would shoot themselves in the foot like this.” (more…)


Added July 22nd, 2014 by Judy Putnam | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

Life for Michigan kids improved in important ways since 1990 with fewer children dying and fewer births to teens, the 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today, finds.

These are heartening trends because they prove that good public policy does make a positive difference. For example, the state’s graduated driver’s license helped reduced the number of teens dying on the highway and sustained public health and education campaigns resulted in fewer teen pregnancies. (more…)

‘Double up food bucks’ help families stay healthy, stretch budget

Added July 17th, 2014 by Yannet Lathrop | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Yannet Lathrop

Eating healthy is difficult when budgets are tight. Even more so when the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) is what that keep families from going hungry. But thanks to Double Up Food Bucks, a program of the Fair Food Network, families receiving food assistance can double their food budgets to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating vendors. (more…)

100,000 kids get reason to smile, 400,000 left out

Added July 9th, 2014 by Jan Hudson | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jan Hudson

With the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties, 100,000 kids (and their parents) will have reason to smile as they gain access to this highly successful program starting Oct. 1.

Healthy Kids Dental  is a public-private partnership between the Department of Community Health and Delta Dental of Michigan. The program is available to Medicaid-eligible children under age 21 in 78 counties in which the Department is funded to contract with Delta Dental. (more…)

Need Facts About Your County?

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

How much does a parent need to earn to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in your county? What percentage of children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school? What percent of the population in your county is Native American?

Answers to questions such as these can be found in the new, updated county fact sheets called Mapping the Facts, by the Michigan League for Public Policy. We developed these fact sheets for advocates, policymakers and concerned citizens. The sheets have been updated with the latest data available, including 2012 poverty statistics. (more…)

F for no effort: Michigan fails working families

Added July 7th, 2014 by Yannet Lathrop | Print This Entry Print This Entry | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Yannet Lathrop

Workplace policies have been on the minds of many over the past two years, with minimum wage and right-to-work rising to the top of debate in Michigan.

Yet, two important labor issues have not received nearly as much thought, despite their relevance to a wide number of Michiganians: paid sick days, and family and medical leave.

A new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, could bring this issue the attention it requires. According to the report, Michigan is one of 17 states to score an F in family-friendly workplace laws for new parents, and it is the only Great Lakes state to receive this grade. Other states in the failing grade category include Alabama and Mississippi. (more…)

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