MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Michigan considering replicating Kansas’ failed tax cut “experiment”

Added February 17th, 2017 by Michael Mazerov | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Michael Mazerov

Michigan lawmakers are seriously considering bills to start phasing out the state’s income tax sooner than scheduled under current law. Both proposals would likely force some combination of deep cuts in critical services like education, health care, and infrastructure and increases in sales and other regressive taxes. And, just as Kansas learned from its disastrous “experiment,” cutting personal income taxes won’t likely boost the state’s economy in any meaningful way.

Under current law, the income tax could begin phasing out in 2023, with small tax cuts taking effect (or “triggering”) any time annual revenue growth exceeds roughly one and a half times the inflation rate. Triggers like this, however, don’t make large tax cuts fiscally responsible, as our recent report explains.

Now, some lawmakers want to scrap even this inadequate trigger and start phasing out the income tax next year. The House bill would cut the flat-rate income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent next year and by 0.1 percentage points every year thereafter until the tax disappears on January 1, 2057. The Senate bill would cut the rate to 4 percent next year and then by 1 percentage point per year until it disappears in 2022.

The House bill would cost $680 million in the nine months of fiscal year 2018 in which it would be in effect and $1.12 billion the following year, official estimates say. There’s no official estimate for the Senate bill.

The income tax will supply an estimated 44 percent of the total tax revenue for Michigan’s General Fund and School Aid Fund combined next year. Eliminating such a large revenue source — no matter when it occurs — could decimate the state’s ability to provide critical services.

Moreover, there’s ample evidence that cutting income taxes won’t boost Michigan’s economy. Six years ago, Michigan cut business taxes by $1.6 billion annually, yet the rate of private sector job growth fell in each of the next four years. And if a state’s income tax rate significantly affected its economic growth, Michigan’s economy would already outperform the vast majority of states, since its top income tax rate is already the fourth-lowest of any state with an income tax.

More evidence comes from Kansas. In one fell swoop in 2012, Kansas cut its top individual income tax rate by 29 percent and eliminated income taxes on small-business income. Governor Sam Brownback predicted the tax cuts would “be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” but Kansas has badly lagged behind the nation as a whole — and most neighboring states — in job creation, economic growth, and small business formation since they took effect (see graph).

After Tax Cuts, Kansas' Economy Underperforming U.S.

The cuts have also caused an ongoing fiscal crisis, forcing large increases in sales and other taxes, substantially draining Kansas’ financial reserves, and resulting in two downgrades to the state’s bond rating.

Michigan ranks 32nd among the states in the share of adult residents with at least a bachelor’s degree. Its K-12 students generally rank well below national averages in National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. And yet the state has cut per-student K-12 spending by 11 percent since 2008, after adjusting for inflation, and per-student aid to higher education by 21 percent. Also, the Flint water crisis shows why investing in infrastructure is critical to residents’ well-being.

If Michigan policymakers want to help revive the state’s lagging economy, they should focus on providing the educated and healthy workforce, and the good roads, bridges, snow removal, and other services, that businesses need — not on cutting the state’s already low taxes.

— Senior Fellow, Michael Mazerov
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

“Reposted with permission. Original post by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities available here: http://www.cbpp.org/blog/michigan-considering-replicating-kansas-failed-tax-cut-experiment.”

Investing in infrastructure … just words until you make the human connection

Added February 8th, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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I want to share with you a highly personal story about the death of my daughter Rachel in May of 2015 when the train she was riding from Philadelphia to New York derailed. It derailed because Amtrak (funded in part by our federal tax dollars) hadn’t yet installed a proven emergency safety braking system.

This widely recognized technology would have stopped the train that was careening uncontrollably at high speed down the track. The technology to stop this accident from happening has been around for years. It just wasn’t installed. As a result, Rachel and seven others lost their lives needlessly. Eight people died who had dreams and families and futures. They didn’t have to die. It didn’t have to happen. My 4-year-old grandson would still have his mommy if someone had “invested in infrastructure.”

So why am I talking about this now so publicly? Because Michigan’s lack of investment in our state’s infrastructure in recent years is putting people’s lives at risk, from a giant sinkhole damaging homes in Fraser to toxic water endangering an entire community in Flint.

And instead of offering solutions and increasing investment, some lawmakers want to undermine state services and infrastructure even more. There are proposals in Lansing right now to eliminate or reduce the state income tax. I’ve been around Lansing and budgets for long enough to know that when taxes are cut it means cuts to schools, services, public safety and, yes, infrastructure—pipes carrying water to our homes, workplaces and hospitals; roads and bridges that are supposed to carry us safely to school and work and back home at the end of the day; school buildings that house our children for more than seven hours a day and more.

And bad things can and will happen unless we stop this thinking that all taxes are bad. Taxes protect our very lives, our children and our communities. They are the price for living in a democratic society where we must share the responsibility of people looking out for their neighbors, their neighbors’ children and parents.

We know what happened in Flint when a decision to save money by switching the city’s water source, and another appalling decision to save a few thousand dollars by not treating the pipes with a chemical to prevent lead from leaching into the water, exposed thousands, mostly kids and seniors, to toxic lead. The damage of these decisions will be felt for decades to come.

We know what happened in Flint when state health officials failed to test Flint’s water for Legionella or heed warnings of an outbreak as Legionnaires’ disease took the lives of a dozen people and sickened nearly 100, and pneumonia killed 177 Genesee County residents in 2014 and 2015.

And we know that what happened in Flint could happen again anywhere in Michigan and that other failing infrastructure is jeopardizing residents as we speak.

Please join me in letting our Legislature know that we can’t cut our way to prosperity—that our tax decisions can indeed be life-and-death decisions. I implore our elected officials to put a human context to their actions moving forward because there are real people behind all those budget numbers and decisions. Perhaps my daughter’s tragic death will not have been in vain if positive change can come as a result. Whether it’s at the state or federal level, government’s deadly mistakes must be resolved not repeated. Please tell your lawmakers to be responsible and think of the human beings that are behind their decisions. Tell them not to cut taxes or state services and instead use those dollars to invest in the very things that will provide a safer, better life for us all.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Help protect the Affordable Care Act

Added January 31st, 2017 by Emily Schwarzkopf | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Emily Schwarzkopf

I’m here to admit it. I’m a health policy nerd. I danced around my office when Michigan received a very important Medicaid waiver and I’m pretty sure all of my friends are tired of me talking about the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Luckily this passion (and a fantastic opportunity) recently landed me a job with the League as a health policy analyst!

I come to the League after nearly four years working on budget and health issues at the Michigan House of Representatives. To this day, my proudest professional accomplishment is my work on the development of Michigan’s Medicaid expansion program, or Healthy Michigan Plan, under the ACA. Working with a diverse coalition of business groups, healthcare advocates, and Republican and Democratic legislators, we were able to develop a comprehensive and unique system of providing healthcare to working people. To date, 646,745 people have enrolled and enrollees have made 2.8 million primary care visits, which has resulted in uncompensated care costs dropping by nearly half in Michigan hospitals. Medicaid expansion is just one important component of the Affordable Care Act—but it’s not the only thing.

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Now the ACA often gets a bad rap and some people are confused by what benefits it brings to all consumers. For many, the effects of the ACA have been lifesaving. Just in Michigan, 977,000 people saw lifetime coverage limits disappear, women are now charged the same as men, and 70,000 young people have been able to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26.

The ACA has also had a positive effect on our economic health. According to a study from the University of Michigan, Medicaid expansion alone will generate 30,000 new jobs in the state every year and in 2017 the impact of expansion will result in upwards of $400 million dollars in state budget savings. The Healthy Michigan Plan added nearly $554 million to the state budget in 2016, its creation increased personal income an estimated $2.3 billion in the state. The Healthy Michigan Plan ensures that state money can be spent on education, replacing lead-tainted pipes in Flint and other pressing needs. That’s all in addition to keeping workers healthy and productive.

At the League, we’ve heard several stories on the lifesaving and cost-saving benefits of the ACA: individuals with asthma or diabetes who were only able to find coverage that came with astronomical costs; a young Michigan worker who had to battle cancer and would’ve gone broke doing so without being able to stay on his parents’ health insurance; and small business owners who despite an increase in premiums received a tax credit and drastically reduced their costs for their employees’ healthcare. Even I have benefitted from the ACA, as I first entered a tough job market and was able to stay on my parents’ insurance as I searched for a job right here in Michigan.

Republicans in Congress promised a repeal bill on President Donald Trump’s desk on his first day in office. And now, because of individuals and advocates telling their stories and pressuring their members of Congress, the date for repeal has been delayed. If you have a personal ACA story or know someone who does, please email League Communications Director Alex Rossman. And keep contacting your members of Congress and telling them why we cannot have repeal without replacement that covers the same amount of people with the same level of quality. You can reach your members of Congress by calling 202-224-3121. Let’s make sure that the nearly 1 million people in Michigan who have directly received healthcare through the ACA don’t lose their coverage and that millions more can continue to benefit from it.

— Emily Schwarzkopf

Happy EITC Awareness Day!

Added January 27th, 2017 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Tax season officially opened on Monday, January 23rd, and Michigan residents should be aware that there are a number of ways the federal and state tax code helps keep more dollars in your pockets and in your local economies. One of the best ways our tax system does this is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is one of the most effective anti-poverty tools we have. This credit rewards working Michigan residents and helps them take steps toward self-sufficiency, and it has long-lasting, positive effects on children.

And EITC Awareness Day today helps ensure that workers with low and moderate incomes who qualify actually know about and receive it.

Resotring MI EITC would benefit 2In 2015, about 788,000 Michigan taxpayers claimed the EITC, receiving $2,488 on average. This helped put about $2 billion back into local economies, as recipients used their credits to pay for things that helped them keep working, such as child care and transportation, as well as groceries, utility bills and paying down debt.

Michigan also provides an added boost to these residents through a state EITC equal to 6% of the federal credit. In 2014, about 775,500 households raising over 1 million children benefitted from the Michigan EITC. The average income of a Michigan EITC recipient was $17,866. The state credit averaged $143 and put $111 million back into Michigan’s economy. The Michigan credit itself helped pull nearly 6,800 households above the poverty line.

As awesome as this credit is, it can do more.

The federal credit should be expanded to workers not raising children in their homes. The credit currently provides little to no help to these hardworking taxpayers, and they are the lone group of taxpayers taxed into—or deeper into—poverty by our tax system. Expanding the credit would help up to 27,000 Michigan veterans and military members and up to 98,000 rural households. It would benefit workers doing a wide range of jobs, help workers with grown children, as well as up to 160,000 young workers just starting out.

To maximize its benefit, the Michigan EITC should be restored to 20% of the federal credit, where it was before being cut to 6% in 2011. In 2011, the credit put $446 on average back into workers’ pockets and into Michigan’s economy. At this higher rate, the state EITC pulled 22,000 households above the poverty line. In 2014, if the credit had equaled 20%, households would have received an average of $477 and would have put more than $370 million back into our local economies.

Finally, currently about 1 in 5 Michigan residents who are eligible for the credit do not claim it. A married couple filing jointly with three kids can make up to $53,505 and still qualify for a credit. A single parent raising one child can earn up to $39,296 and receive a credit. Families with children receive a greater credit than those without.

To see if you’re eligible, and to get some free tax preparation help, go to: http://michiganfreetaxhelp.org/. Due to federal law changes in place this year, tax returns with the EITC or the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit will not receive their refund until mid- to late-February. Do not pay for a rapid-refund product that will cost you more in the long run than if you wait for your tax return to be processed and refund to be paid. And please help spread the word about all the good the EITC does in Michigan and what we can do to expand it.

— Rachel Richards

Turning understanding into action

Added January 19th, 2017 by Jenny Kinne | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jenny Kinne

My first introduction to the Michigan League for Public Policy came this past summer in the form of a State Budget 101 Training. It had been a long week, and I wasn’t sure if budget talk was going to keep my attention. Gratefully, I was very wrong.

The League’s staff presented data and stories in a way that helped me to understand and criticize the foundational budget policies that throw people into poverty across Michigan. The information was so enlightening and exciting that I kept talking about it, Googling it and crafting new ways of sharing it for weeks afterward.

family care clip art 341 by 400In the light of my newfound passion, a beautifully serendipitous job opening appeared, and it is now my honor to join the staff of the League as their community engagement specialist! I come to this position after spending two and a half years at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan as West Michigan community organizer. I worked to build up groups of educated volunteers and supporters in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Traverse City. Through my work at Planned Parenthood, I honed the craft of community outreach and movement building in sometimes difficult environments.

My priorities as an organizer have always revolved around education. I believe that change comes out of knowledge and an understanding of the tools and power we have to affect the world’s systems. We all know what it is like to stand helpless before injustice, feeling that it is way too big and complex to fight. What moves us from paralysis to action is most often a spark of knowledge and a supportive community.

I hope to do just this—facilitate learning and community building—in my new role with the League.

I know that people all over Michigan are craving answers to their big “why” questions. Why is it hard to find meaningful work that supports my family? Why do I have to take on mountains of debt to get a college degree? Why does my child’s school differ so much from the school down the road? Why are our roads, bridges and sidewalks crumbling?

Many of the answers to these questions lie within our state budget and other foundational policies that can be convoluted and difficult to understand. In my new role at the League, I hope to bring this information to concerned residents, community leaders, organizations and businesses around our state to make public policy and community engagement more accessible. I am confident that an educated community can make significant, long-term political change, and I am excited to be a part of that.

Please reach out to me at jkinne@mlpp.org if you would like to get involved!

— Jenny Kinne

Lawmakers: First, do no harm

Added January 9th, 2017 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Michigan seems to have caught a case of the “Kansas.” I woke up last week to reports that Michigan is considering eliminating, or at least cutting, its income tax. Let me be clear: this type of Kansas-style tax cut is not a cure for Michigan’s economic ails, and instead will only bring pain to the state. Cutting Michigan’s income tax will not create jobs and will not grow our economy. It will, however, give a big tax break to Michigan’s top earners, while hurting our schools, roads, parks and other services that are so important to our economy and quality of life.

While Michigan’s economy has been recovering from the decade-long recession that hit Michigan harder than any other state in the nation, it hasn’t fully rebounded. However, drastically cutting or eliminating taxes, as Kansas did, is not the way to improve our economic outlook. In fact, in the years following Kansas’ tax cut, the state had little to no job growth, failed to grow economically and entered into a perpetual budget crisis, leaving the state unable to pay its basic bills. Michigan does not want to follow this same prescription.

Cutting Michigan’s income taxes will starve the state budget and harm Michigan residents.

  • Income taxes make up about one-third of total state revenue.
  • Income taxes provide over one-fifth of state funds for schools.
  • About $7 out of every $10 of our state General Fund is from income taxes.
  • A 0.1 percentage point reduction (from 4.25% to 4.15%) in the state income tax would cut state revenues by between $230 million to $250 million.
  • Eliminating the income tax would pull over $9 billion out of our state budget.

lawmakers-graphic-for-blogEliminating the income tax would mean that Michigan couldn’t pay for even the most basic public services Michigan residents rely on, like clean air and water, drivable roads, public safety and good schools. Based on current projections, eliminating the income tax would leave the state without enough to pay for even one of the state’s most vital departments, Health and Human Services, which provides care for children in foster care, assistance to families who have fallen on hard times and mental health care to those who can’t afford it. We are still reeling from the Flint water crisis. Due to years of underfunding our transportation network, our needs are growing (and our roads will not be fully fixed by our recent transportation plan). And statewide, schools are still struggling to provide a high-quality education for our children.

Finally, to make things worse, this will primarily help those that least need it. Instead of asking wealthy, powerful interests to carry their share of the load, it will provide the biggest benefit to these people while providing little to no tax benefit to hard-working people who make more modest incomes. So at the same time that we are draining our resources to provide for good schools, colleges, and investments in our roads and communities—the things that are really important for economic growth and security—we are creating a tax system that favors the wealthy even more than it already does.

Lawmakers should take a hint from one of a doctor’s guiding principles: first, do no harm. Michigan needs to protect what we already have: a state income tax that allows us to invest in good roads, high-quality schools, and strong communities. Otherwise, Michigan’s budget and economy will suffer through death by a thousand cuts.

— Rachel Richards

Resolute and resilient for 105 years

Added January 3rd, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Founded in 1912, the Michigan League for Public Policy has seen a lot in our 105 years. We’ve faced many challenges in our state, our country and our world, but we’ve had major triumphs, too.

Through all of the tumult, change and progress over the last century, the League has been a constant in fighting for the people of Michigan. But we don’t just fight—we win.

I hope you still believe that working for policy change can make a difference … because it has. In looking back on the past year, we’ve got a lot of good news to celebrate. We did this all despite Michigan’s tough political climate, and it’s all thanks to you.

Just look at what League supporters helped us accomplish to improve the lives of Michigan children, workers, families and seniors in 2016.

We had to be nimble and react quickly to Michigan’s cities in crises as Flint’s drinking water was contaminated by toxic lead and Detroit Public Schools faced disastrous fiscal and physical conditions. The League’s research and analyses connected the dots between Michigan’s public policy failures and the deteriorating infrastructure in these cities and offered immediate and long-term recommendations to address these problems and help these kids.

Our advocacy efforts helped secure passage of legislation to tackle the issues with Detroit Public Schools and $114 million in budget funding to help children in Flint receive the care and services they need to thrive. This money will go toward replacing lead pipes in high-risk homes, child care services, and nutrition programs and food banks.

Other wins this year required a long view and were the result of months and even years of hard work and persistence by the League and supporters like you.

The League’s advocacy during the budget process finally helped realize the expansion of the state’s Healthy Kids Dental program, ensuring 131,000 children from families with low incomes in Kent, Oakland and Wayne counties will get the dental care they need to have stronger, healthier teeth. The budget also included $15.8 million to ensure more children have high-quality child care, an issue the League will continue to focus on.

Finally, in the waning days of the 2016 lame duck session, we helped secure some major victories for Michigan’s children, workers and seniors. Tabled during the budget passage in June, the Legislature fixed an issue we have been pushing for years that will provide much-needed food assistance to feed 338,000 families.

The Legislature also passed a fix to the state’s automated unemployment system that had been incorrectly rejecting benefits for thousands of workers and some major reforms to school expulsion and suspension policies. The League drew attention to the fact that suspensions and expulsions harm a student’s education, put a strain on working parents, and inordinately affect students of color.

This past year, you enabled us to achieve major policy improvements even in a difficult political climate. As long as we have you by our side, that’s not going to change, regardless of who’s in the White House or the Michigan Capitol. The League is data-driven, nonpartisan and solution-oriented. We are well-respected in the Capitol and your communities alike. And we get things done.

Big changes and big fights are certainly coming, and we are getting ready for them. But as we start off the new year, I wanted to thank you for all that you helped us accomplish in 2016 and reassure you that when we work together, we can handle anything that comes our way.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

The League’s top blogs of 2016

Added December 29th, 2016 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

The League’s staff blog is one of my favorite communications tools. It is always current, as we aim to post at least one new blog a week, sometimes more. It is personal, as many of us share about our personal lives and experiences in connection with what we do at the League. The blog provides a variety of perspectives, as they are written by everyone from our CEO and board members to our interns and even former staff. And our blog strives to make public policy issues interesting and accessible.

A blog is only as effective as its reach, and what I love the most about our staff blog is that people actually read it and share it with others. So, as 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at our most popular blogs of the year. Each of these blogs was shared over 100 times, showing that these issues struck a chord with our supporters. If you’ve already read these, I encourage you to take a look at them again. And if these are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a read.

  1. When are we going to really value education?: Michigan Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren talks about Michigan’s disinvestment in education and how the state spends dramatically more on corrections than education.
  2. Why we fight: I wrote about the aftermath of the 2016 election and why policy advocates need to dust ourselves off and keep fighting the good fight.
  3. Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution: Policy analyst Peter Ruark writes about his volunteer work in Flint and the need for people to get involved on the ground and in the Capitol to help residents.
  4. Changing minds by touching hearts: League Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill blogs about the lives and hearts our work touches.
  5. Top ten voting tips: League CEO Gilda Jacobs writes about the importance of voting and dispels some prevalent myths around the process.
  6. Quit spreading misinformation: Michigan is NOT a high tax state: Legislative Director Rachel Richards seeks to set the record straight on Michigan’s tax climate.
  7. Bundle of joy: Gilda Jacobs discusses the birth of her new granddaughter and why we need a better Michigan and a better world for all kids.
  8. Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”: Peter Ruark blogs about the impact still being felt in Michigan today from the federal welfare reform of the 1990s.
  9. 14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance: Peter Ruark writes about a policy change that will take away vital food assistance for struggling workers.

—Alex Rossman

Big wins well worth the wait

Added December 21st, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Michigan’s lame duck session tends to be a time when tensions run high and controversial issues get revived. The Capitol lobby is always filled as interest groups try to push their agendas or fight against other policy changes, deals are made behind closed doors, and unexpected legislation gets voted on as the chamber enters its 12th hour of voting. In this contentious time, sometimes you’re lucky if you fight to a draw.

gold-duckHowever, this year, the League was grateful to see a number of bipartisan measures passed that helped, rather than hurt, some of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents—our seniors, our children and people seeking work. And while we would have liked to see more, and to see more done earlier, the good that bipartisan work can do is well worth it.

While seemingly unconnected, these policies will each help Michigan residents in their greatest time of need.

They will provide an additional $76 or so more per month to put food on the table for 338,000 Michigan families. Following a federal law change to what is known as Heat and Eat, many Michigan residents saw dramatic decreases in their food assistance. For years, the state squandered the opportunity to help them; instead it made many of our families, including seniors and persons with disabilities, make hard decisions about paying rent or heat or putting food on their tables. A small state investment will help ease some of these decisions for families struggling to make ends meet.

They will benefit children who are at risk of suspension or expulsion. Under Michigan’s zero tolerance policies, too many students received harsh punishments for minor or first-time incidents, resulting in students staying home and missing an education and many parents having to take time off of work. Instead, individual evaluation of the student and incident and encouragement of the use of restorative practices will help kids stay in school, keep them learning and help prepare them for their futures.

And they will help ease burdens on people who have been laid off and who are still looking for work. Michigan’s recovery has not helped everyone equally. Many Michigan residents are still unemployed, and unfortunately the system the state has set up to help them has failed them. An automated system was incorrectly denying people their rightfully-earned unemployment benefits. A fix to this system and to the policies that caused the hardship was necessary.

capitolshot-webWhile seeing these policies implemented is well worth the turmoil of the three-week lame duck of 2016, more needs to be done. Justice-involved 17-year-olds are still treated and housed as adults, and other criminal justice reforms were left on the cutting room floor at the end of the year. Hunger, education and employment opportunities are still major issues for Michigan. And Flint still cannot provide clean water to many of its residents. Hopefully we can see this bipartisanship continue in the next legislative session to tackle the pressing issues that still remain.

— Rachel Richards

14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance

Added December 13th, 2016 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Around 14,000 unemployed Michigan workers are about to lose vital food assistance due to Michigan’s so-called economic recovery, even though many of these individual workers are not seeing any relief.

Federal law stipulates that able-bodied adults without dependents who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits must work or participate in a training program for a minimum of 20 hours per week. If they have more than three months of benefits in which they do not meet those requirements within a 36-month period, they lose their benefits.

Since 2002, due to its high unemployment rate, Michigan has received a statewide waiver from the three-month limit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Due to declining unemployment, that waiver will begin to expire this month beginning with four counties (Oakland, Washtenaw, Kent and Ottawa). The state expects the waiver to be eliminated for all counties by October 2017.

snap-blog-imageThe loss of the four county waivers this month will strip benefits from approximately 14,000 adults not raising children who are having a hard time finding work. These workers receive approximately $150 to $200 per person per month. When the entire state waiver is phased out next year, upward of 40,000 adults could be affected.

While it is certainly good news that unemployment has been declining in Michigan and these counties, many people are still having a difficult time finding work. The county unemployment rate only tells one part of the economic story, as there are still high-unemployment pockets in many low-unemployment counties. Oakland County has an unemployment rate of 4.2%, for example, while that of its largest city, Pontiac, is 9.9%. While Wayne County workers have not yet been affected by this change, there are similar employment discrepancies. Detroit’s unemployment rate is 11.1%, nearly double the 6.6% rate for Wayne County.

And in rural areas with no public transportation, a single factory closing could cause a community to have much higher unemployment than other areas of its county. In addition to scarce jobs, lack of access to adequate child care and transportation also hinder people’s ability to work, get training or volunteer.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is concerned that people in struggling communities will get left behind if they have not found work after three months of food assistance. We urge the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to do what it can to continue providing food assistance to struggling workers without dependents as they look for jobs, including eliminating the asset test for food assistance. Another way to help these workers is through the hardship exemption allowed by the USDA, which provides Michigan with a current total of 483,000 “assistance months” for recipients not yet meeting the work requirement. In addition, these workers should be encouraged to participate in market-driven occupational training programs or finish their GED.

Let’s celebrate the fact that Michigan’s unemployment rate this past year has been at its lowest level since 2001. But let’s not use this good news to pull the rug out from under workers who have not yet experienced the benefits of the improving economy.

— Peter Ruark

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