Sunshine needed on unemployment cuts

Last week lawmakers voted to put Michigan on the map by being the only state to cut the traditional period of unemployment from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.
 
This was done without hearings on the issue or any public notice. It was slipped into another bill and passed both chambers in a single day. There was no chance for the public to testify, analyze or debate the issue, though opponents in the Legislature protested vociferously. Perhaps the grandest of all ironies was that this action was taken just after Sunshine Week — a week set aside to emphasize the importance of open government and the need for sunshine on our governmental processes. Gov. Snyder signed the legislation on Monday.
 
The Detroit Free Press editorialized on the stealthy nature of the passage, noting that such a significant change was not even mentioned in press releases from the Legislature and governor’s office. Instead, the releases touted the technical fix that allows 35,000 jobless workers to get the final 20 weeks of unemployement that Congress approved in December.

The issue is now drawing national attention. Demos, a New York-based public policy organization, gave our governor a Social Darwin Award for signing the legislation. It also made the front page of the New York Times Monday and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a segment on it Wednesday. Tom Parks of Lansing told NPR that unemployment benefits were a lifesaver when he was unexpectedly laid off shortly after his marriage. Without strong unemployment benefits, Tom said he and his wife would have had to file for bankrupty, walk away from their mortgage and move to another state. Tom’s employed now — the unemployment benefits did what they were supposed to do in getting his family through a tough time.
 
Today, the Detroit News takes a look at the backlash, quoting League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“We’ve had, until recently, the highest unemployment in the country,” Jacobs said. “Why we would want to further put people into an even more precarious position is what I don’t understand. We ought to be investing in the people of Michigan and helping them find a way to pay their mortgages and put food on the table.”

Thankfully, Rep. Jim Ananich of Flint and Sen. Tupac Hunter of Detroit are introducing legislation to restore the 26 weeks.

If Michigan is to be a place where thoughtful public policy is enacted in a proper, open way, our state leaders need to go back to the start line and conduct a do-over. Legislators and Gov. Snyder owe workers, their families and the public an open debate on such a major policy shift. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville offered this amendment to cut a family’s benefits by six weeks without regard to the public’s right to know. He has the power to make amends by calling for public hearings and a proper vote on this matter.

— Judy Putnam

League joins national effort on budget cuts

Contact: Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436
March 28, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

As Congress works to meet the April 8 deadline for a final budget deal for the fiscal year 2011, the Michigan League for Human Services will join direct service providers and advocates from around the country in Washington, D.C. to warn Congress about the impact of cuts that threaten economic security for families and elders.  (more…)

Support for EITC grows

Support for the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit continues to grow. On Wednesday, organizations ranging from the League, to the Catholic Conference, to the Food Bank Council of Michigan testified before the House Tax Policy Committee opposing the elimination of the EITC. Individuals, including a business executive, a pastor and a professor, also made their voices heard.

And just last week, thousands of Michigan residents crowded the Capitol to rally against the governor’s tax proposals. Threats to low- and moderate-income families, unions, kids, students, and seniors brought more than 5,000 to the front lawn of the Capitol.

The League was there to provide an opportunity for people wanting to speak out against the proposed elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit. We left five hours later with 600 letters signed and ready for delivery to lawmakers. The letters were one way for people to tell their lawmakers that the budget should not be balanced on the backs of Michigan’s poorest and most vulnerable residents — kids.

Many workers eligible for the EITC stepped up to our table, telling me how important the credit is for them and their families. This tax credit helps Michigan families put food on the table, pay utility bills, and get caught up on rent payments. The League was able to capture a few of these similar personal stories through the voices of three workers and a business owner on our new EITC video.

Of the hundreds of people who stepped up to send a letter to their lawmakers opposing the elimination of the EITC, almost everyone knew  someone who has claimed the credit, and they were more than willing to take an action step toward saving this vital credit for working families in Michigan. Our message is being heard across the state and people are taking a stand against tax increases on the poor.

The Legislature is leaving on a two-week break, but there are still many ways to help preserve the EITC. To find out about how you can help, visit www.saveoureitc.org.

 
— Anika Fassia

Either way, the unemployed lose

The Legislature has just passed a needed technical fix to the state’s Unemployment Insurance  system that lets long-term unemployed workers continue to receive federally funded Extended Benefits beyond 79 weeks as they look for work.

That is a good thing. If the Legislature did not act this week to make the fix, the total weeks of available Extended Benefits for today’s unemployed workers would be reduced from 99 to 79.

The same bill, however, reduces the length of basic state-funded unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks for workers who apply for benefits on or after Jan. 15, 2012. At that time, there will likely be fewer or no federally funded benefit weeks available. Without federal benefits, this bill effectively limits to 20 weeks the length of time that unemployed workers can receive Unemployment Insurance.

Additional weeks of benefits that are fully or partially paid by the federal government are available only during periods of high unemployment. Michigan may or may not meet the requirements for the federally funded benefits next year.

Up until now, Michigan and all other states have provided a maximum of 26 or more weeks of basic UI benefits. It is ironic that the state with the highest unemployment rate for most of the past four years is the first to pass a bill lowering the number of maximum weeks.

There was a public outcry when the Legislature balked at making the technical fix keeping the benefits beyond 79 weeks in place. The Legislature heeded the public and made the fix, but took away benefits for future unemployed workers.

As of this writing, the governor has not yet signed the bill. If he signs it, future unemployed workers will lose benefits. If he vetoes it, today’s long-term unemployed workers will lose benefits. Either way, the unemployed lose.

Gov. Snyder needs to veto this bill and demand that the Legislature send him a “clean” technical fix to continue Extended Benefits for long-term unemployed workers. Click here to communicate to the governor that this is the best course of action.

— Peter Ruark

Earned Income Tax Credit actually helps state economy

Viewpoint by Gilda Z. Jacobs. Those who would eliminate Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit struggle to make the case because the credit is proven to encourage work and reduce poverty.  March 24, 2011  —  The Oakland Press

Detroit mission may see more working poor

At the Detroit Rescue Mission, the volunteers, the staff, and the clients aren’t too concerned about the possibility of the state taxing the pensions they mostly don’t have.  March 18, 2011  —  toledoBlade.com

Special Report: The line item debate — transparency vs efficiency in the public’s pocketbook

Gov. Rick Snyder plans to close a prison next year because there will be fewer inmates. Which prison is anyone’s guess, and that might not be a big deal to you unless it affects your job or your community’s economy. The governor says it hasn’t been determined, and it wasn’t included in his 2011-12 budget proposal.  March 10, 2011  —  The Center for Michigan

Supporters rally around EITC

March 23, 2011
Contact: Dave Waymire at 485-6600

The Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit received strong support from a variety of interests today during testimony at the House Tax Policy Committee today – not surprising given that 76 percent of Michigan voters say they support the Michigan EITC and oppose its elimination.

One of the speakers was Gilda Z. Jacobs of the Michigan League for Human Services:

 “Veterans, workers in food banks, people who are struggling to keep their children at home and out of more costly state institutions, and small business owners are all benefiting from the EITC. If we eliminate the EITC, 14,000 children will be tossed into poverty, thousands of small businesses in the state will go under or be in trouble, and we will end up with a tax system in which the poor – who already pay a higher share of their income to state and local taxes than do the wealthy – will be even more upside down.”

In addition to Jacobs, people who spoke on behalf of EITC today include:

• Tom Hickson, Vice President for Public Policy at the Michigan Catholic Conference
• Jack Kresnak, President and CEO of Michigan’s Children
• The Rev. Nicolette Siragusa from First Congregational United Church of Christ in Grand Ledge
• Joel Jacobs, founder and President of The Bottle Crew, a major Oakland County business.
• Luke Shaefer, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan
• Frank Houston, Campaign Director for A Better Michigan Future
• Justin Fast, Outreach and Advocacy Manager, Food Bank Council of Michigan

Last week AARP President Eric Schneidewind and MSU economics professor Charley Ballard testified in favor of the Michigan EITC.

Jacobs also showed a video eaturing working families and business owners telling their own stories of how they benefit from the EITC.

You can view that video – as well as video from today’s testimony – at http://www.saveoureitc.com

Organizations supporting the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit include:  Accounting Aid Society, Alternatives for Girls, AARP-Michigan, ACCESS, Center for Civil Justice, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, Early Childhood Investment Corporation, Food Bank Council of Michigan, Jewish Community Relations Council, Michigan Association of United Ways, Michigan Catholic Conference, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Chapter, National Association of Social Workers, Michigan Community Action Agency Association, Michigan’s Children, Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, Michigan Counseling Association, Michigan County Social Services Association, Michigan League for Human Services, Michigan Nonprofit Association, PHI Michigan, United Way of Southeastern Michigan and many more.

Michigan EITC supporters unveil videos, postcards

Contact: David Waymire 517-485-6600
March 21, 2011
                                         
 

LANSING — Videos and postcards now posted at www.saveoureitc.com let working families tell their stories about how important the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit is to their fight to provide for their children, and how the Michigan EITC helps small business in the state. (more…)

Celebrating the Affordable Care Act’s first birthday

This week marks the first anniversary of the signing of the landmark legislation known as the Affordable Care Act. This law was nearly a century in the making and, when fully implemented, will provide millions of Americans access to health care coverage that was not previously available to them.

In its first year, the Affordable Care Act has made a difference in the lives of thousands of Michiganians. To celebrate, the Michigan Consumers for Healthcare Advancement Coalition is hosting celebrations around the state to highlight the benefits gained by residents during the first year. The “birthday celebrations”  began in Grand Rapids on Monday, move to Kalamazoo on Tuesday, the State Capitol on Wednesday, Saginaw on Thursday, and culminate in Dearborn on Friday, with the attendance of U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a long-time advocate for health care for all Americans.  

Here’s what we’re celebrating during this week:

• Children cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, such as asthma.
• Adults with pre-existing conditions who have been uninsured for six months can purchase federally subsidized, comprehensive coverage for conditions such as cancer or diabetes. Individuals with cancer diagnoses have been able to access life-saving treatments.  Information is available at http://www.HIPMichigan.org
• Young adults, up to age 26, can remain on or re-enroll in their parents’ employer-sponsored insurance without being a student or an IRS-defined dependent. This provision allows comprehensive coverage for young adults who might otherwise be uninsured as they work to establish themselves in their careers, or begin working in jobs that do not offer health care coverage.
• Senior citizens are enjoying several new provisions under the law. In 2010, those who entered the Medicare Part D “donut hole” received a cash payment of $250 to help with their drug costs. In 2011, seniors who enter the “donut hole,” will receive a 50 percent discount on their brand name drugs. In addition, all seniors on Medicare can now receive recommended preventive service screenings at no cost.
• Health insurance companies for the first time have required percentages (80 percent to 85 percent) of the premiums they collect that must be spent on medical care and quality improvements. If the requirement is not met, companies must provide rebates to their customers.
• Lifetime limits on benefits cannot be imposed, and coverage cannot be cancelled just because a person gets sick.

These are just of few of the benefits available now because of the Affordable Care Act.  There are many others with more to be implemented over the next three years. One of the key future benefits of the law is the expansion of Medicaid to individuals with incomes up to 133 percent of poverty ($14,500 per year for an individual). This future benefit will provide new coverage to an estimated 400,000 – 500,000 individuals.

Another future benefit is the creation of a health insurance exchange, sometimes called an “Expedia of health insurance,” in which individuals will be able to compare and purchase affordable coverage with possible subsidies (depending on family income), limits on out-of-pocket costs, as well as guaranteed coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions for adults. There is much to look forward to.

Please join us in celebrating this historic law.

— Jan Hudson

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