If one fails, we all fail

I recently had the chance to engage in a discussion on philanthropy’s role in closing opportunity gaps in Michigan. So what is an opportunity gap?

Opportunity gaps mean a lack of equal opportunity for access to basic needs, services and resources, leading to multiple consequences for certain communities. Opportunity gaps occur more in communities of color, among the elderly and rural areas, to name a few.

For example, during this discussion, I was surprised to learn that women in 17 Michigan counties do not have access to a doctor who specifically works with pregnant mothers and delivers babies. When it is time to deliver their baby, these women must resort to emergency medical care in their communities.

Not only is this an issue at the time of birth, but the limited access to prenatal and early childhood services can lead to a myriad of detrimental effects for infant and maternal health both in the short and long-term. (See the Right Start report’s discussion of disparities in maternal and infant health.)

So how can philanthropy intervene? On the one hand, policies in our state need to address inequities leading to opportunity gaps. However, policy reform can be a drawn out process, and may not help those in need now. While still investing dollars to influence policy reform for long-term and permanent solutions, philanthropy in Michigan has the opportunity to collaborate around these issues, combining their influence for the greater good. 

We need to clearly identify what opportunity gaps exist in our state, address the public’s perception of the problem, promote collective action, recruit stakeholders, begin a discussion and lay out our priorities for potential solutions. Opportunity gaps lead to adverse pathways, and these pathways have a negative impact on the well-being of our communities and the stabilization of our economy.

We are in a unique time where unfortunate events can be the catalyst for future opportunities. It is time Michigan realizes that opportunity gaps in our communities affect everyone. When we all have equal access to success and health, we all prosper and grow. It’s not about luck, or hard work —  it’s about providing opportunity.

Unemployment benefits at risk — again

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  kept hundreds of thousands of Michigan unemployed workers on life support by providing many more weeks of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits than what they would have normally received as they looked for work.

This was an economic stimulus because that money was spent in local economies and helped other employers stay in business. It was life support because it helped workers avoid losing their homes and having to forgo essentials such as health care and nutritious meals. Nationally, these extra weeks of benefits have kept 3.3 million workers and their families out of poverty.

But before November 30 of this year, 142,733 long-term unemployed Michigan workers who have reached the maximum 99 weeks of UI are going to see their benefits stop. More 99ers will exhaust their benefits in December. And from December through April 2011, if Congress does not pass an extension of the additional benefits, more than 136,500 other workers will lose their UI benefits even if they do not come anywhere near the 99-week maximum. All in all, 324,000 workers are on track to lose their benefits by the end of April.

The League’s report By November 30, More Than 142,000 Unemployed Michigan Workers Will Lose Their Benefits lists, by county,  the number of workers expected to lose benefits.

We hope that many of those unemployed workers will be able to find jobs before their benefits run out. But we also know that for many of Michigan’s unemployed, that isn’t likely.

Congress can do two things to help these workers stay afloat in this rough economy: pass a fifth tier of unemployment benefits to help the 99ers, and pass an extension of the additional benefits that were provided as part of the Recovery Act to help the rest of the workers who will otherwise see their weekly benefits stop.

Your Congressional representative is just a phone call away, and a petition to send to Congress about this issue is just a click away.

Unemployment running out for many families

Contact: Sharon Parks or Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436
October 21, 2010

Many jobless workers in Michigan are nearing the end of their unemployment benefits, putting new pressure on the public and private safety nets as winter approaches, a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services concludes. 

According to data from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, 142,733 Michigan workers will lose benefits between September and the end of November because they have reached the end of their 99 weeks, the maximum allowed under law.   

By the end of April, the number of 99ers and others losing benefits as extensions expire is expected to grow to 324,264, unless Congress approves additional weeks of unemployment.  Congress could act to add additional benefits beyond 99 weeks under legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and could add weeks for other workers by extending current Unemployment Insurance provisions. 

“Unemployment has been edging down, but it still remains in the double digits. These additional workers losing support for their families at a time when jobs remain scarce is frightening,’’ said Sharon Parks, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services. 

In Wayne County, 38,000 workers are expected to lose benefits, followed by Oakland with 20,000; Macomb, 18,000; Kent, 11,000 and in Genesee, 10,000. The report lists all 83 counties.

The League’s report explains the tiers of unemployment:

  • Basic Unemployment is 26 weeks and workers who have collected less than 26 weeks by Nov. 30 will be eligible for those weeks (but may have some Extended Benefits in December).
  • Those in the four tiers of Emergency Unemployment (week 27 to week 78 of Unemployment Insurance benefits) will only be able to finish the current tier (but could possibly receive Extended Benefits in December).
  • Those in Extended Benefits (week 79 to week 99, or beginning at week 27 if Basic UI runs out in December) will see benefits end Jan. 1.

Workers with questions about benefits can call the state’s Claim Inquiry Hotline at 1-866-500-0017. Additionally, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Project (www.miui.org) offers advice and assistance for those in Southeast Michigan, Saginaw, Genesee and Jackson counties. Call 734.274.4331 to set up an appointment.

For more information on unemployment, go to www.unemployedworkers.org or http://www.michigan.gov/uia.

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The Michigan League for Human Services is a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide policy and advocacy group for low-income citizens. It has a network of 1,500 individuals and organizations from business, labor, human service professions, faith-based organizations as well as concerned citizens.

More in Michigan without a roof

Audrey Dowell

Audrey Dowell

Homelessness in Michigan is a crisis that continues to escalate.

Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness recently released its 2009 Annual Summary on Michigan homelessness trends. The group estimated that 100,000 people experienced homelessness in 2009. This is a  nearly 11 percent increase from the estimated 90,300 homeless in 2008 and more than 28 percent higher than 2006 estimates.

According to the report, more than half of the homeless in Michigan were adults and children in families. Single women headed 65 percent of these homeless families, and the average homeless child was only 7 years old.

About 22,700 at-risk and homeless children were served in Michigan public schools in the 2009-2010 school year. These children are four times more likely than nonhomeless children to show delayed development and twice as likely to have learning disabilities. They are also four times as likely to have health-related problems such as asthma and respiratory infections.

The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP), funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, has provided $23 million in financial grant assistance to those experiencing homelessness or to individuals and families who are trying to prevent homelessness from occurring. Within its first year, HPRP has helped 14,892 people avoid homelessness. Of those, 86 percent did not have an extensive history of homelessness, and 49 percent exited the program within the first year.

HPRP has accomplished much in its first year. What is frightening is that 100 percent of HPRP grants must be spent within two years of their initiation by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). If Michigan’s economy continues to recover at a slow pace, one can only imagine what the homelessness trends will look like in future years without the help from HPRP. Grants that are similar to the HPRP need to be continued in future budgets if we want to see positive gains in the fight against homelessness in Michigan.

Education about this growing problem and who it is affecting is critical. According to a poll conducted by EPIC-MRA in June, 85 percent of Michiganders believe that homelessness is a serious problem. However, only 40 percent believe that more needs to be done to combat it.

There are 100,000 people in Michigan who would disagree.

For more information, please click on the 2009 Annual Summary box at the top of the page on the campaign’s website.

Audrey Dowell is a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and an intern at the Michigan League for Human Services.

Genesee County sees fewer teen births, according to 2010 Right Start Data

Genesee County appears to have had fewer teens giving birth in between 2006 and 2008 than in previous years, according to recent data released by the Michigan League for Human Services and Michigan’s Children.  Oct. 17, 2010 —  Flint Journal

Saginaw infants at high risk of being born early, low in weight

A new report shows city of Saginaw infants are at higher risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight than in most other areas of the state.  Oct. 15, 2010 — Saginaw News

Stats underscore infant health risk in B.C.

Battle Creek remains at a comparatively high risk for maternal and infant health, according to an analysis released today.  Oct. 12, 2010  —  Battle Creek Enquirer

Report calls city ‘high risk’ for health of moms, infants

The number of babies born pre-term and to unwed mothers and black teens in Jackson jumped during the past decade, according to a statewide report released today.  Oct. 12, 2010  —  Jackson Citizen Patriot

Report: Mich. Infants’ Well-Being Affected By Race

Many kids in Michigan are not starting off on the right foot and that could impact their future well being. That’s according to new data released by the Michigan League of Human Services.  Oct. 12, 2010 — WLNS-TV

Right Start For Your Child’s Life

A new study shows and reaffirms that poverty and lack of resources to be factors that could affect the outlook of your child’s life.  Oct. 12, 2010 — WILX-COM

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