We need more, not less funding for at-risk students

Eric Staats

Eric Staats

Not all students in the state are the same and neither are their educational needs. When a student walks into school, they carry with them all of the problems they could be experiencing at home, like poverty, abuse, malnutrition, or minimal parental support. That can make it much more difficult for them to achieve their academic potential. It is important for lawmakers to be aware of these differences and keep them in mind when allocating funds to districts, as some districts have more students who need additional support. Without sufficient funding for schools, students who need extra help could be in danger of falling behind. That’s why the state needs to fully fund the At-Risk program and expand its eligibility.

Currently under the program, districts are allocated funds based on the number of their students that are eligible for free school meals. These funds can be used to support students who are considered “at risk.” While the primary goal of the program is to make sure these students meet third-grade reading benchmarks and graduate from high school, the dollars can also support other activities proven to benefit at-risk students, like decreasing class sizes to give teachers more individual time with students who need it, providing adult high school completion programs to increase overall graduation rates, hiring support staff to assist students and investing in new curriculum geared towards helping students with additional challenges.

Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 3As of now, the program is underfunded. There are currently several different proposals to increase funding going through the Michigan Legislature, but even the most generous of those would still short the program by $78 million. When it comes to supporting students in need, we need more, not less.

The need for more funding is best illustrated in the differences in graduation rates between students who are economically disadvantaged and those that are not. The 2016 graduation rate for students from families with low incomes was 67% while the rate for all other students was 88%. Additionally, there are disparities by income levels in 2016 tests for third-grade reading proficiency: nearly 69% of students whose families have low incomes are not proficient, but for students not from families with low incomes, there are almost 38% not proficient. At-risk students experience additional difficulties and barriers in attaining the same level of academic success as their peers, and the state is not doing enough to rectify this apparent imbalance.

There are multiple factors that can contribute to this difference and explain the need for additional support. Parents who live below the poverty line are less likely to be able to be involved in their child’s academic career, because many work untraditional hours or more than one job, for example, which can present challenges to being more involved. The additional stress that comes from living in poverty or moving multiple times can deteriorate the physical and mental health of students in the long-term, and their ability to focus and learn at school in the short-term. Schools need to be able to assist all students to counteract these issues; the fact that the At-Risk program can provide funding to specifically target students who need the most support is what makes it so beneficial.

The proposed increases in state budget funding to the At-Risk program are important to help those who need it most. The financial status of a student’s parents should not have such a large effect on that student’s success in school, and increasing funding for the At-Risk program is an effective way to change that.

— Eric Staats


Helping Children Succeed Through Michigan’s At-Risk Program

pdficonApril 2017
Eric Staats, Kids Count Intern

kids count and budget briefTo help improve educational outcomes, school districts must be able to provide additional services and resources to meet the needs of all students. This is the goal of the At-Risk School Aid program; it allocates additional funds to districts in order to assist students who need the most help so that their family’s economic situation does not impact their educational opportunities. Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 1The At-Risk program is fundamental in providing all Michigan students with equitable resources to be successful. Students who are living in poverty face additional challenges in school compared with their peers who come from households with higher incomes. Similarly, students who are experiencing homelessness, are English language learners, or are facing other health or family difficulties often struggle more academically.


Under the At-Risk program, districts receive 11.5% of a district’s foundation allowance multiplied by the number of students who receive free breakfast, lunch or milk. Those dollars can then be used to help students who are considered to be “at risk.” Students are considered to be at risk if one or more of the following criteria are met:

  • Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 2Receive free or reduced-price meals;
  • Do not meet proficiency standards;
  • Are English language learners;
  • Are absent for long periods of time;
  • Have recently immigrated;
  • Are victims of child abuse or neglect;
  • Are homeless;
  • Are migrants;
  • Have a family history of school failure, incarceration and/or substance abuse;
  • Are pregnant or are a teen parent; and/or
  • Did not manage to complete high school in four years but are still continuing their education.

At-Risk funds can be used to reduce classroom sizes, which boosts educational achievement for students in general, but the positive results are comparatively much larger for students from households with low incomes since they’re more likely to be in larger classrooms. Funds also support programs for adult high school completion to ensure that students who don’t graduate high school within four years, of which students from households with low incomes are at a greater risk of, don’t get left behind. Additionally, the funds can be used for purchasing educational materials and equipment, hiring staff to support students who are at risk and developing new curriculum, all of which help to create a better educational experience for all students.

Helping children succeed through michigans at risk program chart 3The At-Risk program is important because districts across the state have vastly different proportions of students at risk. For example, in Lake County, 93.4% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch and 45.2% of children are experiencing poverty. Without the At-Risk program, if schools in that county tried to provide additional programs to assist their at-risk students, the other programs in the school would suffer as a result. Compare Lake County to Livingston County, where the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch is 21.1% and 8.1% of children are experiencing poverty. Lake County has proportionally more students with greater needs; therefore, more funding is required to provide necessary services and programs for their students and to create equity with communities such as Livingston County.

Michigan districts with a larger proportion of students at risk struggle to reach various benchmarks of student achievement compared with those with a smaller proportion of students from families with low incomes or who are at risk, and the At-Risk funding helps mitigate that difference. In the Michigan Education Finance Study, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) used a number of standards for evaluating the quality of districts and compared the districts that had above-average test scores to those that didn’t. The study found that the districts that met or exceeded the average had a significantly lower percentage of at-risk students in their district than those that fell below. One of the best ways to help these districts and students to succeed is to provide adequate and targeted resources and support.


Fully fund the At-Risk program: The program exists to ensure that districts with a larger proportion of students at risk can provide enhanced services to ameliorate the effects of poverty and related family stress. Increasing current funding would help to mitigate the burden placed on higher-risk districts. The fact is, it costs districts more to provide the necessary supports for students who are at risk. The recent Michigan Education Finance Study done by APA concluded that districts should be spending at least 30% more money on at-risk students. The At-Risk program is one of the best mechanisms to allow districts to reach that goal.

Expand the program to all school districts: Not all school districts are eligible for the At-Risk program. If a school is out-of-formula or a district is hold-harmless, it will not receive money from the At-Risk program. These are districts that have combined state and local per-pupil foundation allowances that are higher than the basic amount, even though they may have a high number of children living in or near poverty. This is particularly damaging in places like the Baldwin Community School District where 85% of its students qualify for free lunch, but it receives no At-Risk funding.

Protecting food assistance to preserve our future

While in Washington, D.C. last month for the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference (AHPC), I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. I was particularly fascinated by the exhibit on the Inka, who developed an expansive system to store surplus food for redistribution during hard times to ensure the empire’s survival. It was a timely experience since the AHPC was bringing together more than 1,300 anti-hunger advocates from all over the country just as the federal food assistance programs that so many American families rely on to survive—programs that have traditionally had bipartisan support—have come under attack by the president and congressional Republicans.

Conference presenters outlined threats to the mainstays of federal food assistance, most notably a proposal to convert funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from an entitlement structure to a block grant. Recognizing the interconnection of hunger, health and the economy, speakers also touched on feared cuts and structural changes to Medicaid and several tax credits that encourage work and empower families with low income to achieve economic independenceThemes that came up over and over again were the disproportionate impact of poverty and hunger on children, people with disabilities and people of color, and the disturbing effect that recent hateful, dishonest rhetoric and changes in immigration enforcement policy have had on access to public benefits by eligible immigrants and their children.

Under such gloomy circumstances, what can anti-hunger advocates to do to protect the programs that have lifted so many, enabling them to contribute to the American economy and society? How can we be effective when we’re on the defensive? Conference speakers and attendees alike spoke of the power of storytelling and shared values in framing statistics in a way that humanizes the frequently maligned recipients of food assistance and connects federal policy changes to the lives of real people in our communities and neighborhoods. (Note: If you receive food assistance and would like to share your story, please email our Communications Director Alex Rossman.)

Armed with lots of new information and propelled by the energy of my fellow conference attendees, I was proud to join a well-organized group of Michigan anti-hunger advocates in visiting nearly all of the members of the Michigan congressional delegation to educate them about the impact of federal nutrition programs on their constituents’ lives and the critical need to protect the funding and structure that make these programs so effective.

As the Inka wisely recognized, a robust nutrition assistance program isn’t merely charity to people having a tough time, it’s an essential investment in the nation’s future. At this critical time in our history, it’s vital that stakeholders from all sectors, ranging from anti-hunger advocates and human service providers to the healthcare and agriculture industries, band together to defend the food programs that help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s parents, workers and leaders. To get the latest news and find out how you can get involved in the federal fight against hunger, check out the Food Research and Action Center.

— Julie Cassidy

Block Granting Food Assistance: An Unnecessary Change That Would Hurt Michigan Families

pdficonApril 2017
Peter Ruark, Senior Policy Analyst

Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP chart 1The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, is an important federal program that helps families and individuals put food on their tables. In place nationwide since 1964, it is available to households that are below 130% of the federal poverty level ($24,842 for a family of three). In February 2017, nearly 737,000 households in Michigan received SNAP benefits.

There are currently efforts to convert SNAP from a federal entitlement program (in which eligibility and benefit levels, work requirements and other rules are set by the federal government and benefits go to all applicants who are eligible) to a block grant (in which states receive federal funding to set up their own food assistance programs with their own eligibility standards and program rules). This is a “solution looking for a problem” that would harm a program that is currently doing what it is intended to do and doing it well.


In Michigan and across the country, SNAP is the federal means-tested program most responsive to poverty and unemployment, expanding to meet need during economic downturns and contracting when the need recedes.1 As shown in Figures 1 and 2, since 1994 (when underemployment data became available), the percentage of the Michigan population receiving food assistance has closely mirrored the percentage of workers who are underemployed.2 Likewise, since 2005 (when poverty data from the American Community Survey became available), the number of people receiving food assistance has generally responded to the number who are in poverty.

In addition to effectively targeting those most in need and responding to economic downturns, SNAP has one of the most rigorous payment accuracy systems of any public benefit program and devotes substantial resources to combatting fraud. The result is that in recent years, less than 4% of SNAP benefits were issued to ineligible households or in improper amounts.3 By ensuring that the money is distributed in the proper amounts only to those who qualify, the current SNAP system preserves the integrity of the program and of the public funds used to support it.


The 1996 federal “welfare reform” legislation converted cash assistance from the federally administered Aid to Families with Dependent Children program to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states. States used their allocated TANF funds and their required state-matching dollars (called “maintenance of effort” or MOE) to set up their own cash assistance programs with their own eligibility standards, benefit amounts, time limits, sanctions, family caps and work requirements (within federal guidelines). In Michigan, the TANF cash assistance program is the Family Independence Program (FIP). In addition to providing cash assistance, states are allowed to use the funds for other programs as long as they fit into four general purposes of TANF.4

Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 1Lessons learned from federal and state TANF policy decisions, and the nature of block granting itself, raise serious concern that block granting SNAP would lead to lower benefits, fewer struggling families receiving assistance and compromised program integrity. Here are several ways in which SNAP could be harmed:

  • Reductions in Overall Funding: Block granting is almost always accompanied by funding erosion if not outright cuts. In 1997, the first year of TANF, Michigan received a block grant of $775 million to provide cash assistance and fund other poverty-reducing programs. The federal government has not increased the basic block grant funding level to Michigan or other states in the 20 years since 1997. As a result, due to inflation, Michigan’s block grant value has eroded to $510.6 million in 1997 dollars, leaving Michigan with much less money with which to help families in need.5 SNAP funds, on the other hand, come to Michigan based on the number of households that qualify rather than on a fixed amount that erodes with time. Block granting SNAP will likely be accompanied by severe cuts and a general erosion of the block grant over time.6 The most recent U.S. House Republican budget resolution assumed a SNAP block grant beginning in 2021 with $125 billion in cuts through 2026.
  • Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 2Prioritization of State Budget Fixes Over Direct Assistance: The ability to use TANF funds for purposes other than direct cash assistance encouraged Michigan (and other states) to fill budget holes by funding existing programs with TANF and MOE dollars instead of the state’s General Fund. While some of these programs target families with low incomes, others tend to help middle-income families and individuals, such as college financial aid. With the flexibility to supplant TANF dollars in this way, providing direct assistance becomes a low priority. This is in contrast to SNAP dollars, which go entirely to the provision of direct food assistance to households. Block granting SNAP may similarly result in state lawmakers diverting food assistance dollars to fill miscellaneous budget holes instead of supporting families who are most in need.
  • Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 3A Perverse Incentive to Cut Families Off Assistance: Enabling states to supplant state budget dollars with TANF dollars creates a perverse incentive to reduce cash assistance to free up money for other uses. Even as Michigan’s poverty and jobless rates during the past 10 years reached record highs, Michigan’s Legislature enacted policies to reduce FIP cases, including keeping the initial eligibility level low (a family’s income must now be at half the federal poverty level to begin receiving FIP) and establishing stricter sanctions and time limits. As a result, in 2015 only 4.5% of Michigan residents in poverty received cash assistance. There are now fewer families receiving cash assistance in Michigan than at any time since the early 1960s, despite the fact that many families continue to struggle. Because all SNAP funds coming into Michigan are currently used for benefits that go directly to recipients, or the administration of those benefits, there is no financial incentive for the state to cut families off assistance—which will change if SNAP funding is block granted.

Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 4Compromised Accuracy and Oversight: The federal SNAP program has an extremely low rate of error and fraud due to diligent federal investment and effort to build up program integrity and efficiency over the decades. Block granting SNAP could shift much of the error and fraud reduction responsibility to states, which do not have needed infrastructure and financial resources comparable to the federal government, resulting in misdirected funds and compromising the ability to effectively provide benefits to those who are supposed to receive them.

Michigan’s experience with TANF and cash assistance illustrates why block granting TANF has been harmful to families with low incomes and to the cash assistance program itself. As seen in Figure 3, while Michigan’s underemployment rate shot up during the 2000s to as high as 21.5% in 2009, the Family Independence Program remained disengaged from the hardship as caseloads remained flat. Likewise, Figure 4 illustrates how FIP was unresponsive to changes in the poverty rate during the past 10 years.

Rather than enact legislation that would harm a program that is working well and hurt struggling families in the process, Congress should build on SNAP’s success by updating household benefit levels to reflect current food prices and providing more support for food assistance recipients to participate in education and training that would increase their earnings.


  1. Rosenbaum, D., Block-Granting SNAP Would Abandon Decades-Long Federal Commitment to Reducing Hunger, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March 2017.
  2. The underemployment rate is the number of workers who are unemployed, who involuntarily work part time for economic reasons, and who are marginally attached to the labor force (not in labor force but have looked for a job in the past 12 months), divided by the total in the labor force and marginally attached to the labor force.
  3. Rosenbaum, op. cit.
  4. The four purposes of the TANF program are to: 1) provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes; 2) reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; 3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and 4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
  5. Calculated using the online Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator on April 4, 2017.
  6. Rosenbaum, op. cit.

A Michigan where all kids thrive

I am a self-described data and policy wonk, which suits me well as the Kids Count in Michigan Director. But my work is equally informed by growing up as a kid in Michigan and now being a mom of a young child myself. And as both a parent and a child advocate, I can’t help but wonder about the type of place we are creating for our kids and our future.

My daughter’s childhood experience and that of her friends seems to be so different from the one I had. In addition to the anecdotal evidence and stories we hear, we also have data, charts and numbers that show us how kids are doing in our home state.

The 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, an annual report reviewing several measures of child well-being in the state and its communities, was released this week. It shows that while there have been some improvements since 2008 and recent policy wins for kids and families, there are still a lot of areas that should be concerning to everyone. Many kids in Michigan are struggling, and the numbers show that some kids face significant challenges based on where they live, their race or ethnicity and how much money their families make.

2017_Health-and-Safety_WebWhile most families with low incomes are not more likely to abuse or neglect their children, living in poverty causes many hardships that can impact a caregiver’s ability to provide basic needs. According to the 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, there was over a 51 percent increase in the rate of children confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect from 2009 to 2015 with over 80 percent of incidences due to neglect. This means that there was a failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care or that the child’s health or welfare was at risk.

For example, a single-parent working two jobs has difficulty affording safe and quality child care, so is forced to leave an eight-year-old child at home while he or she works to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Another example is a family who doesn’t have access to affordable housing and may be living in substandard conditions, or even a car, if a family shelter space is unavailable.

Some other key data findings from the report include:

  • Working a full-time, minimum wage job leaves a parent with a family of three $1,657 below poverty each year;
  • Nearly 20 percent of mothers report smoking during pregnancy, with higher rates in rural communities;
  • 31 percent of mothers did not receive adequate prenatal care throughout their pregnancy;
  • About 10 percent of children in Michigan are impacted by parental incarceration;
  • On average, monthly child care consumed 38 percent of 2016 minimum wage earnings; and
  • Nearly 17 percent of Michigan children live in high-poverty neighborhoods—but the rate is 55 percent for African-American kids and 29 percent for Latino children.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress, such as poverty and abuse or neglect, have profound impacts on short- and long-term well-being. The data show that some kids face significant challenges based on where they live, their race or ethnicity and how much money their families make. This is not right. If we are to truly improve outcomes for all kids, then policies must be crafted with the goal of achieving equity and targeted to help those who need it the most. Systematic reforms should include elimination of barriers that often result in inequitable outcomes.

From improving prenatal care, making quality child care more accessible and investing in education at all levels to changing how kids are treated in our justice system, our new report outlines solutions that can move us towards this goal to help all kids in Michigan thrive. Now it’s up for Michigan lawmakers to act on them to improve child well-being in their communities and around the state.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

Protect healthcare for 650,000 Michiganians

pdficonApril 2017
Emily Schwarzkopf, Policy Analyst

Continuation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Healthy Michigan Plan are critical for Michigan residents and the state’s economy. In recognition of the program’s success, the governor recommended, and the League supports, sufficient funding for the Healthy Michigan Plan in the 2018 budget year.


Sixty percent of Healthy Michigan enrollees report that their ability to access primary care was better than prior to being enrolled, and 70% stated that they were more likely to contact a primary care provider before going to the emergency room. Eighty-six percent of enrollees have reported that their ability to pay their medical bills has improved since being enrolled in the program.

The program has also made a significant impact on Michigan’s economy. The Healthy Michigan Plan has resulted in 30,000 jobs annually, $2.3 billion in additional personal spending power, and $150 million in state tax revenue as a result of added economic activity. Further, 90% of hospitals report reductions in uncompensated care, with overall uncompensated care dropping by nearly 50% across the state.


When it was first passed, the ACA included a requirement that states expand Medicaid to those with family incomes at or below 133% of the federal poverty level. The existing Medicaid program generally had only covered the aged, blind and disabled up to 100% of poverty, with higher income levels for certain populations (children and pregnant women) and lower for others (childless adults).

However, the June 2012 United States Supreme Court decision questioning the constitutionality of the ACA (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius) found the provision to require states to expand Medicaid unconstitutional. As a result, states were given the option to expand their Medicaid programs without penalty. State programs would be covered 100% by federal funding through calendar year 2016. The federal match rate will phase down to 90% over the next five calendar years: to 95% in 2017, 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019 and 90% in 2020 and all subsequent years.

BB Protect healtcare for 650,000 Michiganians chart 1The Healthy Michigan program has been shown to be incredibly successful for those receiving coverage through the plan. The benefits for Healthy Michigan enrollees must be based on federal benchmark coverage and include the 10 essential healthcare services. The plan also covers dental and vision services, hearing aids and nonemergency medical transportation.


The legislation that created the Healthy Michigan program required Michigan to get two waivers from the federal government. The first waiver allowed the state to include cost-sharing requirements (including copays) and the use of health savings accounts into which newly-eligible enrollees would contribute. The contributions of enrollees could be reduced if certain healthy behaviors are addressed.

The second waiver limited the amount of time an enrollee could be enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan to 48 months. Once the 48-month cap is reached, an individual would have the opportunity to remain on Medicaid with higher cost-sharing requirements or purchase private insurance through the healthcare exchange and be considered eligible for premium tax credits. Both of these waivers were approved by the federal government.

Another important component of Michigan’s legislation is that should annual state savings and other nonfederal savings associated with the implementation of the program not be sufficient to cover the reduced federal match, the Healthy Michigan program would end. The state realizes savings from programs that were previously funded either partially or entirely by the state General Fund that are now covered in Healthy Michigan, including non-Medicaid mental health funding, Adult Benefits Waiver program, prisoner healthcare costs and Plan First! Waiver program costs. Savings can also be seen as a result of revenue from the Health Insurance Claims Assessment, the use tax on Medicaid managed care organizations, provider assessments and an established hospital quality assurance assessment program retainer on special hospital payments.


Despite the recent defeat of the federal American Health Care Act, there is still the possibility that Congress will fundamentally change the way Medicaid funding is allocated and limit how long Medicaid expansion will continue. As Congress moves forward on other priorities, including tax reform, there is the possibility that Congress, in order pay for tax breaks, could shift the costs of the Medicaid program to the states through block grants or per capita caps. There also is a chance that Congress could make changes in Medicaid financing in the forthcoming federal budget or when the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) funding is reauthorized in late summer or early fall. While the League encourages the Michigan Legislature to continue funding for the Healthy Michigan Plan in 2018 and beyond, it is also important to stay vigilant in protecting Medicaid funding and the Affordable Care Act.


The governor’s executive budget proposal includes continued funding for this critical program. Since the state is required to pay a share of the costs, the governor has recommended total funding of $4.1 billion, including a $200.4 million investment of state General Funds to cover the costs of the state’s match contribution. This amount does not take into account additional savings from revenue impacts or other budgetary savings created as result of the implementation of the Healthy Michigan Plan.

Support for “Heat and Eat” in House DHHS budget shows promise, but other unnecessary cuts disconcerting

For Immediate Release
April 19, 2017

Alex Rossman

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Department of Health and Human Services budget (DHHS) passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee today. Unlike the Senate DHHS budget passed yesterday, the House budget included funding for the “Heat and Eat” program that will secure vital federal dollars while maintaining food assistance for 338,000 families in Michigan. However, the House DHHS budget includes unnecessary cuts from the governor’s budget—at the expense of children and families with low incomes—to pay for a reduction to the state income tax. The statement may be attributed to League Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill.

“Yesterday, we asserted that funding for the ‘Heat and Eat’ program should be a bipartisan issue, and today lawmakers in the House proved that it still is. We appreciate the efforts of House Republicans to leverage millions of federal dollars and extend food assistance to 338,000 kids, families, seniors and persons with disabilities, and hope their commitment can influence the Senate as budget negotiations continue.

“But aside from funding for ‘Heat and Eat’ and a modest increase in the clothing allowance, the House DHHS budget primarily does more harm than good. It includes significant reductions from the governor’s recommendations to pay for a state income tax cut that already failed once and a majority of the people of Michigan don’t want. Michigan residents understand the importance of quality state services, reliable public safety, safe roads and quality schools.  House leaders are jeopardizing these services in their current budget, but they will threaten them in perpetuity if they revisit an income tax cut.”

The League’s budget briefs have emphasized the impact cuts to state services have on our kids, our families and our quality of life—particularly in the DHHS budget. The League has worked closely on the “Heat and Eat” issue since it arose in 2014, and has been supportive of recent efforts to fix it.

The League has been vocal in opposition to any cut to the state income tax, and recent polling shows that a majority of Michiganians oppose a tax cut that will harm state services.


The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

On same day as Kids Count release, Senate passes DHHS budget that will harm kids and families

For Immediate Release
April 18, 2017

Alex Rossman

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Department of Health and Human Services budget (DHHS) passed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee today. The budget included more than $100 million in cuts from the governor’s proposed budget, including eliminating funding for the “Heat and Eat” program that will reduce food assistance for 338,000 families in Michigan and jeopardize federal funding, and removing the proposed funding increase for the clothing allowance for kids in need. The statement may be attributed to League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“As passed today, this budget will potentially turn away millions of dollars in federal food assistance for children, families, seniors and persons with disabilities. We were gratified to see bipartisan support in the current budget year for reversing the cuts to food assistance for 338,000 families across the state, and we hope that renewed bipartisan support can help save it.

“Overall, the continued cuts to the state’s health and human services are worrisome. Today, we put out our annual Kids Count report on child well-being which found that too many Michigan kids and their parents are still struggling. These parents are working full-time or even multiple jobs, but are still barely getting by and rely on state services to survive. These programs help make sure a child has something to eat, clothing to keep them warm and dry, and access to a doctor when they’re sick. These are real needs that require real services and real funding, and today’s budget bill undermines these needs when it should be fixing them.”

The 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book was released by the Michigan League for Public Policy today outlining the ongoing struggles of many Michigan kids and their families, and the League’s budget briefs have also emphasized the impact cuts to state services have on our kids—particularly in the DHHS budget. The League has worked closely on the “Heat and Eat” issue since it arose in 2014, and has been supportive of recent efforts to fix it.


The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

On Tax Day, don’t mess with taxes

Over spring break, my son needed to use books by a specific author for homework. Not having any of these books, my family jumped in the car, drove on our newly-paved street, passed the local fire department and stopped at the public library to see if any of these books were available. Without even thinking, we used or saw services provided by our taxes in the less than 10 minute drive.

I think about all of the amazing services taxes provide us. They provide us good public schools, vibrant communities, safe and drivable streets, public safety, parks, libraries, a trained workforce and so much more.

However, there are lawmakers who are trying to cut or eliminate our state income tax. And while paying less in taxes sounds like a good idea, what any income tax cut does is provide a big break to Michigan’s wealthiest taxpayers while providing little to our residents who need it most. Additionally, an income tax cut won’t change what residents do with their money, as the impact would be felt in small amounts throughout the year as workers receive their paychecks instead of in lump-sum payments. A $260 payment is more noticeable than $10 more in each of your paychecks.

The Upside of Taxes

The Upside of Taxes

While most Michigan taxpayers would not see a significant impact on their pocketbook, even a small cut will significantly impact our ability to provide the things that Michigan residents rely on and need. Eliminating the state income tax without a replacement could cost the state nearly $10 billion, and even a small 0.1 percentage point reduction (from 4.25% to 4.15%) could cost the state more than $250 million on a full-year basis. And the income tax helps fund our schools, our colleges and universities, clean water, roads, and all of the good things that government provides us.

It’s been said that Michigan needs a game-changer. Cutting taxes won’t do this. We know this because we’ve done it before.

  • In the 2011 tax shift, Michigan cut business taxes by about $1.6 billion, and now net business taxes only provide about 2% of our total state-sourced revenues.
  • The state has started phasing out personal property taxes, which were paid by businesses to local governments, schools and libraries, and required the state to reimburse them for their lost revenues.
  • The state is also implementing a sales tax exemption for the value of a trade-in when buying a vehicle.

And many bills are introduced and enacted that cut or eliminate taxes on specific items or for specific entities, so much so that our state and local tax revenue as a percent of personal income has dropped 12% between 2004 (10.48%) and 2014 (9.22%).

So instead of more tax cuts, Michigan should look at investing in the things that Michigan residents, communities and businesses rely on. Perhaps this will truly change the game.

So as we mark Tax Day today, don’t despair! Remember that paying taxes is what helps make Michigan great. (And if you haven’t yet done your taxes and need help, you might qualify for some free tax help. Go to http://michiganfreetaxhelp.org/ to find out.)

— Rachel Richards

Historical and current public policies are causing wide disparities for kids by race, place and income

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Contact: Alex Rossman – arossman@mlpp.org  or
Alicia Guevara Warren – aliciagw@mlpp.org  517.487.5436


In its 25th year, 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book shows kids of color, families with low incomes face many barriers, kids’ challenges vary by community

LANSING—Historical and current public policies are adversely affecting Michigan kids’ ability to thrive and widening disparities in child well-being based on where a child lives, their race and ethnicity, and their family’s income, according to the 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book released today by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

According to the report, more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) Michigan children lived in poverty in 2015, a 15 percent rate increase since 2008, the last full year of the Great Recession. But the rates are significantly worse for kids of color, with 47 percent of African-American kids and 30 percent of Latino kids living in poverty compared to 15 percent for White kids in 2015. Nearly 28 percent of children in rural counties live in poverty, 24 percent in midsize counties and 22 percent in urban counties, although poverty increased at the highest rate for urban areas.

“No Michigan child should be experiencing poverty, hunger, abuse or neglect, regardless of where they are born and grow up, their race or ethnicity, or their family’s economic standing,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Just as past policies and practices have created these disparities, using a racial equity lens and a two-generation approach to develop policy solutions can help resolve them. In order to have a vibrant state for us all, lawmakers need to make sure all kids in Michigan thrive.”

Key data findings:

  • Working a full-time, minimum wage job leaves a parent with a family of three $1,657 below poverty each year;
  • Nearly 20 percent of mothers report smoking during pregnancy, with higher rates in rural communities;
  • 31 percent of mothers did not receive adequate prenatal care throughout their pregnancy;
  • Rate of confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect rose by 30 percent from 2008; over 80 percent of incidents were due to neglect;
  • About 10 percent of children in Michigan are impacted by parental incarceration;
  • On average, monthly child care consumed 38 percent of 2016 minimum wage earnings; and
  • Nearly 17 percent of Michigan children live in high-poverty neighborhoods—but the rate is 55 percent for African-American kids and 29 percent for Latino children.

Key policy recommendations:

  • Promote comprehensive strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect, including the expansion of home visitation programs.
  • Ensure access to affordable, quality child care by raising eligibility levels for state child care subsidies and reforming the current system.
  • Increase funding for maternal smoking prevention and cessation programs and services.
  • Provide sufficient funding for early interventions to improve third-grade reading using a birth-to-eight framework.
  • “Raise the Age” of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old.

“The Michigan League for Public Policy has been fighting to protect Michigan kids since 1912, but child poverty is just as pressing now as it was then,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Too many Michigan families are working but barely making ends meet and are one financial emergency away from disaster. Simply having a job is not enough anymore, and we need stronger policies to support workers with low wages and their families.”

Since 1992, the Michigan League for Public Policy has been compiling and releasing the annual Kids Count in Michigan Data Book to analyze and evaluate the well-being of children in the state. The 2017 book primarily compares data from 2008 to 2015 and analyzes 15 key indicators across four domains. The report also ranks 82 of the 83 counties for overall child well-being (Keweenaw County lacks sufficient data). The top three counties for child well-being are Ottawa (1st), Clinton (2nd) and Oakland (3rd) counties, with each of these counties moving up one rank from last year. The bottom three counties in 2017 are Oceana (80th), Iosco (81st) and Lake (82nd).

“As a doctor, I see firsthand how every element of a child’s family life and environment affects their health, and furthermore racial and economic inequities compound these challenges,” said Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, former Michigan surgeon general and senior vice president of community health & equity and chief wellness and diversity officer at Henry Ford Health System. “This book presents child data in a compelling way and uses it to help policymakers, advocates and service providers understand the policy and programmatic needs to support happy, healthy lives for all kids.”

For additional information on the 2017 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, including the full report, state, county and regional rankings, charts and images, resources for advocates, frequently asked questions and county-specific press releases for 82 counties, go to http://www.mlpp.org/kids-count/michigan-2/2017-kids-count-in-michigan-data-book.


The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, DTE Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund, Battle Creek Community Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute. More state and local data are available at the Kids Count Data Center, www.datacenter.kidscount.org.

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