MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

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


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


Making kids count in the state budget

Added March 5th, 2015 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Conditions for Michigan’s kids are progressing in some areas of child well-being but in others…. well, let’s just say we’ve got some major work ahead of us, particularly when it comes to economic security. That’s the upshot of the newly released Kids Count in Michigan Data Book.

Fortunately, the budget plan spelled out by Gov. Rick Snyder last month does a good job in a tight budget year of addressing inequities by making some investments that will drive improvements for Michigan’s kids.

Most welcome is a $49 million initiative, including $24 million for child care quality improvements, to increase the chances of more children reading proficiently by the end of third grade.


Child poverty in the 21st century

Added February 27th, 2015 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

The number of Michigan children living in families with income below the poverty level drops by half when tax and non-cash benefits are included as income, according to the latest analysis from the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The percentage of the state’s children who would be living in poverty if no government program benefits and tax credits were available, however, stood at 30 percent, as calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure. (more…)

Why kids count

Added February 19th, 2015 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Recent news reports celebrate the decline in the unemployment rate and the quickened tempo of the recovery. But four years into the recovery, Michigan’s child poverty rates remain consistently high.

In 2013, one of every four children in Michigan lived in a family with income below the federal poverty level (roughly $18,800 for a single-parent family of three and $23,600 for a two-parent family of four), according to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, released today. (more…)

More child care oversight needed

Added January 8th, 2015 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Every day in Michigan, parents head out to work with their young children in tow, dropping them off at local child care centers or homes. Child care is a necessity for many working families because they rely on two incomes to make ends meet or because they are raising children as single parents.

Yet oversight of health and safety requirements is stretched far too thin in Michigan, a new policy brief from the League concludes. (more…)

Children thrive when parents succeed

Added November 12th, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Roughly half of Michigan’s young children ages 0-8 live in low-income families where meeting basic needs is a daily challenge.

Living in a financially stressed family during childhood has a long-term impact on education and employment. A child who spends the critical early years in poverty is less likely to graduate from high school and remain employed as an adult. To be more effective in assisting these families, public and private programs need to address the needs of both parents and children.

In the majority of Michigan’s low-income families with young children no parent has a year-round full-time job (56%) nor a credential beyond a high school diploma (79%) severely limiting their opportunities to secure well-paid job, according to the latest policy report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Getting access to higher education as a nontraditional student has become much more difficult at a time the state needs a more educated workforce. Over the past decade Michigan policymakers have eliminated all public university and community college grants for older students. Most (85%) parents of young children in Michigan families with income below 200% of the poverty level (roughly $47,000 for a family of four) are over age 25.

Not only does the state not offer financial support to help with college costs for older adults, the state’s woefully inadequate child care subsidy fails to meet the needs of low-wage workers and students. It offers payments substantially below the market rate and only on an hourly basis — severely limiting child care options for families in need of care. Furthermore, eligibility for the subsidy ends when parental income rises only marginally above the poverty level where absorbing the cost of care, which averages over $500 a month, would not be feasible, thus disrupting the stability of care.

One of every eight parents in the state’s low-income families with young children reported that problems with child care resulted in changing, quitting or not taking a job.

Employer practices impose additional stress on working parents who struggle to meet their responsibilities as parents. Parents in part-time, low-wage employment typically lack benefits, as well as flexible and predictable schedules. The constant juggle of changing work schedules and family responsibilities exacts an emotional as well as a physical toll.

Unfortunately programs targeted to assist low-income families rarely address the needs of both parents and children in the family. For example, job training programs do not focus on the quality or accessibility of child care. This latest Casey report makes several recommendations on strategies to strengthen the whole family, including:

  • Providing parents with multiple pathways to family-supporting jobs and financial stability through access to employment and training programs, and state and federal assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Structuring public systems to respond to the realities of today’s families through interagency collaboration and streamlined application systems.
  • Using existing neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty.

In order for children to thrive, their parents must have access to the tools and supports they need to be successful as parents, as well as workers in an economy that requires postsecondary training or education for a job with a family-supporting wage. We cannot afford to delay addressing these issues. The future of over half a million of the state’s young children is at stake.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

High-quality, affordable child care elusive

Added October 28th, 2014 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Although Michigan has started to address its long-neglected child care system, the state has a long way to go to make high-quality child care affordable and easily accessible, especially for low- and moderate-income working parents.

That is the conclusion of a new report on child care assistance policies. (more…)

Americans want Congress to invest in kids

Added October 22nd, 2014 by Jane Zehnder-Merrell | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jane Zehnder-Merrell

A national public opinion poll just released by the Children’s Leadership Council found strong support for increased funding for effective programs that improve the lives of children and youth across the age spectrum, from birth to adulthood.

“Elected officials have an obligation to support, protect and defend programs that invest in and assist children, youth and their families. Americans are asking for no less,” says Randi Carmen Schmidt, executive director of the Children’s Leadership Council, which commissioned the poll. (more…)

Michigan fails to invest in child care

Added September 22nd, 2014 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Child care is a necessity for many Michigan families, but is becoming increasingly unaffordable for lower-income parents. In addition, insufficient state inspectors to monitor providers’ compliance with child care licensing rules means that parents cannot always count on finding safe and reliable care — even if they have the resources to purchase it.

A new report by the League concludes that current efforts to improve access to high quality child care — partly through a new federal grant — will be insufficient to move the dial significantly without additional state funding.


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