MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Why policy matters – even to those seemingly outside of its reach

Added May 16th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Charlotte Jonkman

Charlotte Jonkman

My name is Charlotte Jonkman and I am one of the new interns here at the League. Introductions have never been easy for me – primarily because my path to this point in life has been relatively uneventful. I grew up in Jenison, Michigan with my parents and two older brothers, along with my entire extended family less than a half hour’s drive away. I attended private school from preschool through high school and chose to continue that path, enrolling in Baylor University where I am now one semester away from receiving my bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Though the term “boring” often comes to mind when I reflect on the past 20 years, I have come to appreciate that “privileged” might serve as a more apt descriptor.

Recognition of that privilege served as the catalyst for my interest in public policy. I still remember a 10th grade teacher asking the class how often our lives interacted with the government. Some students cited their trips to the DMV to receive their driver’s licenses or the tax forms they’d filed due to recently-acquired first jobs—encounters that occur annually, at most. The majority of us were surprised when our teacher went on to explain how government impacts our lives at every turn, from the electricity powering the classroom lights to the clean water flowing from nearby drinking fountains to the (unrelentingly pothole-filled) roads we’d driven to school.

students taking testLooking back now, I know that we were lucky to be surprised. Children attending underfunded schools or relying on government assistance to put food on their plates feel the presence of public policy in their lives far more than I ever did. That realization–that the world is a whole lot bigger and more complex than my little corner of West Michigan—drove me to become more engaged in the news and, from there, to desire a better understanding of the policies everyone seemed to have such strong opinion about.

Since then, my initial interest has grown into a passion for utilizing the daily interaction between citizens and government to improve the lives of those who cannot claim the privilege of a mundane childhood. Specifically, I am passionate about providing economic opportunity through the protection of labor rights and the expansion of access to healthcare. In these policy areas and others, I have learned a lot over the past few years. Through my university classes, I have gained knowledge in political history and the workings of government. I continue to expand my understanding of public policy through independent reading and, admittedly, countless hours spent listening to political and historical podcasts. Unfortunately, my ever-growing Netflix queue will have to wait until “Slow Burn” has taught me all there is to know about Watergate and the New York Times’ “The Daily” has updated me on the news of the day.

While, like most people, the mere mention of annual budget negotiations or subcommittee meetings does not necessarily get my blood pumping, the benefit that seemingly miniscule changes in public policies might bring to thousands of lives drives me to continue learning and growing and is what led me to the League. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be part of an organization that shares my focus on the human impact of public policy and works to make that impact a positive one. And I am excited to spend the summer learning from and working with the many committed and passionate individuals here at the League.

— Charlotte Jonkman

A historical field trip

Added May 10th, 2018 by Jenny Kinne | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jenny Kinne

Last week, the Michigan League for Public Policy staff took a “field trip” to the Museum of African American History in Detroit. It was an amazing afternoon filled with knowledge sharing, delicious food and deep conversations about history and culture. Since this was my first time visiting this museum (and many of you probably haven’t been), I would like to bring you along. Here are some of the lessons and experiences I won’t forget.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

— Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. When you step into its lobby, you immediately sense that you are somewhere special. A large, domed ceiling illuminates a beautiful mural in the center of the room, encircled by the names of the trailblazers who made the museum possible. I find Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. alongside dozens of names I don’t recognize. From the very beginning of our tour, I know I have a lot to learn.

The Still We Rise exhibition, named after Maya Angelou’s famous “Still I Rise” poem, explains the history of African colonization, the slave trade, American slavery, the civil rights movement, and more. Our brilliant tour guide, Yolanda, gives us rich and haunting explanations of what it would have been like to be plucked from home, put in chains, and hauled to a new continent to be sold into slavery.

 

League staff toured the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. From left to right, Gilda Z. Jacobs, Mary Logan, Peter Ruark, Renell Weathers, Victoria Crouse, Pat Sorenson, Phyllis Killips, Carol Wreggelsworth, Rachel Richards, Jenny Kinne and tour guide.

 League staff toured the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. From left to right, Gilda Z. Jacobs, Mary Logan, Peter Ruark, Renell Weathers, Victoria Crouse, Pat Sorenson, Phyllis Killips, Carol Wreggelsworth, Rachel Richards, Jenny Kinne and tour guide.

 

At one point in the tour, we descend into the belly of a slave ship, where hundreds of men and women are packed into bunks. They are chained so close to one another that they cannot move without jostling their neighbors. They are starved, and many have grown ill from sea travel and the unsanitary conditions of the ship itself.

When faced with the actual, physical conditions of enslavement and slavery, I wonder how anyone survived it. It is miraculous not only that people survived generations of enslavement, but that they found ways to disrupt political, social and economic systems in order to demand equality. The sheer strength of will and heart contained within African American history in this country is staggering.

I believe every person living in the U.S. has a responsibility to learn about African American history, especially considering our society’s enduring struggles with institutional racism. Be sure to visit the museum if you are able, and if not, I hope you will find ways to learn about African American history. Check out a book from your local library, watch a Netflix documentary, talk with your friends and neighbors… We learn little in school, and too many of us choose to live in peaceful ignorance of our history. We can do better.

— Jenny Kinne

To achieve equity, we must build intersectional solidarity

Added May 8th, 2018 by Victoria Crouse | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Victoria Crouse

The sun cast a warm glow over the colorful little stores lining both sides of 26th Street in Little Village—the commercial hub of the historically Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. I sat on a packed bus of advocates touring Chicago’s historic communities of color as part of a workshop at Equity Summit.

Attendees of the tour of Chicago's historical communities of color stopped by the Bronzefille Incubator; and organization that supports local entrepreneurs in the historically black community of Bronzefille.

Attendees of the tour of Chicago’s historical communities of color stopped by the Bronzefille Incubator; an organization that supports local entrepreneurs in the historically black community of Bronzefille.

Home to thousands of immigrants and families of color, Little Village also happens to be home to the largest single-site jail in America, our guide informed us. Flanked by four cement walls, Cook County Jail stood as a constant, ominous warning to residents in the community. A short distance from the jail sits a new community park—the product of years of community advocacy for green spaces in the neighborhood. The glaring contrast of the jail and the park is obvious to anyone who visits the community, but the park serves as an example of the ability to make something beautiful and liberating in a space of oppression.

Despite being on the receiving end of decades of systematic racism and neglect, Little Village and Chicago’s other historic communities of color—like Bronzeville and Chinatown—are resilient thanks to community members who have found innovative ways to revitalize local economies and slow the encroachment of gentrification. That afternoon, the tour of Chicago’s historic communities of color set the tone for my week at Policy Link’s Equity Summit. I walked away from the workshop understanding that in order to build a truly intersectional movement for justice, advocates need to recognize and confront racism in our communities and our policies, and have a willingness to work in solidarity with one another to achieve justice.

As Policy Link’s CEO, Angela Glover Blackwell phrased it in her opening plenary speech, “solidarity is hard.” It is a difficult thing to create and maintain. But in order to succeed in achieving an equitable society, we must transcend our silos and self-interest and show up for one another in movements for justice. That week, 4,000 advocates from across the country came together and tried to do just that. We heard one another, learned from one another and strategized together.

Victoria Crouse go to catch up with friends and fellow attendees working on policy issues in different states at the Summit.

Victoria Crouse go to catch up with friends and fellow attendees working on policy issues in different states at the Summit.

The conference sessions were organized around different areas of equity work in communities. I attended sessions on the topics of inclusive gender justice, intersectional immigration reform, and criminal justice, among others. In each session, I listened to the voices of those closest to the pain: community activists, returning citizens, and undocumented immigrants. I listened to them recount stories about triumphs and losses, as well as lessons learned in the field. Each time, I left energized to do the work in Michigan.

Edna Chavez speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington D. C., on March 24th. Source: Huffington Post

Edna Chavez speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington D. C., on March 24th. Source: Huffington Post

One of the conference highlights for me was getting to hear Edna Chavez share about a recent policy win for students in California. Chavez is a community organizer and high school senior from South Los Angeles, who advocates for gun reform in her state. Last month, a video of Chavez recounting the horrors of gun violence in her community at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., went viral. Her words resonated with thousands of people across the country. During her Q & A session with Angela Glover Blackwell, Chavez shared an example of the power of youth activism. She shared about how students and community activists in South LA had recently succeeded in securing the implementation of the Student Equity Need Index in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The index will ensure that the district allocates approximately $300 million in supplemental funding to the schools who need it the most. Her words reminded all of us in the audience that as we do this work, we must trust young people because they are directly impacted by policymakers’ decisions, and they are already leading the movement.

PolicyLinkI returned to Lansing with a renewed spirit to continue doing justice work. As advocates, it can be difficult to keep ourselves from getting discouraged in the face of ongoing crises in our communities. Flint has now gone four years without clean tap water. Detroit has been dealing with a water crisis of its own, and its residents are still fighting to be heard. Immigrants are being targeted in their communities every day. We haven’t achieved equitable funding in our state budget. There is much work to be done, but in order to succeed we must do the work together.

— Victoria Crouse

Finding purpose in policy

Added May 4th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

Have you ever read a bill in its entirety? If you have, congratulations, that can be quite a task. If not, let me explain a bit what it’s like. Bills can be complex. They can be long. They can have all sorts of details and clauses included, but have all the meat confined to one small section that makes all the difference. In a nutshell, there are times when a bill can appear to be written in a foreign language, traversed only by lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians.

But understanding bills, and thereby understanding the policies they aim to enact, is essential. While you may never see a hard copy of a bill, or hear much about what’s going on in the State House or Senate, what they pass or don’t pass ultimately impacts each one of us. It could be changes to Medicaid, the state income tax, or teacher pensions; regardless of what the topic is, in some way, somehow, the effects of various policy decisions will sift down to every individual. It is because of this inevitability, and the stake that each individual has in their society, that comprehension of policy is so important.

domeNow, most people are busy. Jobs, friends, kids, school … there are a million and one things going on in our lives that keep us moving, keep us working, keep us focused or even distracted. For the majority of us, policy is not one of those things. Luckily for society, there are a select few who have managed to make the interpretation of policy, and then the relaying of information to others in a direct and familiar fashion, their livelihoods. Such people can be found working at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

My own understanding of policy at the beginning of this year was limited. While I had kept up to date on the major legislative debates in Congress, I hadn’t ever done real research into the depths of any piece of policy. From day one with the League though, I was surrounded by professionals. Working here are the types of people who one would consider “policy wonks”. Here are the number crunchers, the data collectors, and the graph creators. The work that happens in this office day in and day out is painstaking, long, at times extremely frustrating, but done entirely with real passion and purpose. Through all that they do, the people at the League are dedicated advocates, policy experts motivated to promote equity and fairness, especially for those who have received the short end of the stick more often than not.

You can imagine that working with individuals of this caliber, I picked up on a few things. And while it is true that I now am more confident in discussing, researching, debating and writing about healthcare and taxes, perhaps more valuable was that through this process I have started to define why good policy is important to me. Policy is a reflection of society. The values of a people are exposed via the policies which they favor. Effective and equitable policy must then be a constantly sought, which requires that policies be backed up by facts and logic, and shaped with a vision towards a more just society. While I still have much to learn about both policy and my own value-based judgements, my experience with the League has put me on the right path.

I leave here having gained a great deal. The people I have met, and lessons I have learned will propel me towards future goals and help me with future endeavors. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, from the endless rounds of edits Rachel had me working on, to witnessing Tillie magically transform my excel graphs into something worth looking at, and smack talking this dreary Michigan winter with anyone and everyone who strolled by my desk. To all the staff here, and my fellow intern Alexa, it has been a pleasure. I wish the best to you all, and again, thanks to you all for making this an experience by which I have learned a truly substantial amount.

— Spike Dearing

Is the Legislature even listening?

Added May 2nd, 2018 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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As a legislator I took seriously my duty to serve the people I represented. I made it a priority to stay informed, to read the latest data and reports on each issue, and to ask experts for their opinions. But one of the most important aspects of my work was to listen. My constituents were not just data points. They were people. It was my job to hear their voices, and I’ve carried that priority with me to the League.

Unfortunately, listening to constituents and making informed decisions appears to be a lost art in the Legislature. Two weeks ago, the Michigan Senate passed Senate Bill 897, a proposal to take away Medicaid and the Healthy Michigan Plan from folks who don’t work a stringent number of hours. On May 2, I testified in opposition to this bill in the House Appropriations Committee, but they may take it up for a vote any day now. Please help stop it.

 

(Wes Stafford, Wednesday, May 28, 2008) The waiting room fills long before patients are seen Wednesdays at the Helen M. Nickless Health Clinic, 1458 W. Center Road, Hampton Township.

(Wes Stafford, Wednesday, May 28, 2008) The waiting room fills long before patients are seen Wednesdays at the Helen M. Nickless Health Clinic, 1458 W. Center Road, Hampton Township.

 

In pushing this legislation, Republican lawmakers are ignoring state and federal data and analysis, the large group of advocates opposing this bill, and the hundreds of concerned residents that have reached out to their offices. And they are disregarding the real Michiganders who would be impacted—real Michiganders who have been sharing their stories and fears with us.

Ralph H. is self-employed and works from home because he needs to care for his wife, who is disabled. For 10 years, Ralph went without health insurance, as many self-employed people do. When he was approved for the Healthy Michigan Plan, Ralph was finally able to get surgery for a blood clot. Since being on the plan, he still lacks stable income, but at least he hasn’t been worried about his basic healthcare needs. “Some months, we’re lucky if we have $100 left over, once we pay all our bills, so we’re hardly running away with the state’s money.”

He’s nervous because due to the lack of information and clarity on the bill, he’s not sure he can continue to receive healthcare. “Without the coverage, I would essentially be thrown back into the situation that I confronted before I finally got it. That’s one more worry that I certainly do without.”

Kristen H. (no relation) shared a cautionary story with us. She lost her job—and insurance coverage—when her daughter was diagnosed with a genetic syndrome and required more care than Kristen could manage while working. It’s every parent’s nightmare. Kristen, a single mom, found herself suddenly unemployed, with no insurance, and caring for three kids, including a child facing major health issues. “The next several years were very difficult financially as I wasn’t able to work, but we managed to get by. I ended up having a minor surgery during that time that could have seriously impacted my health. Without Medicaid, I may have put off getting care, resulting in serious harm. I may not have been here to provide care not only for my disabled daughter, but my other two children as well. It not only could have impacted my health, but I could have ended up in a financial hole I couldn’t get out of as well.”

Because of Medicaid, Kristen was able to care for her daughter and eventually she was able to work again. But she’s terrified for other parents who might find themselves in her situation: “I would have been one of the individuals who may not be here today if these requirements were in place when my family so desperately needed the safety net that Medicaid provided.”

Therese O. is a 54-year-old widow who receives Medicaid. She couldn’t afford insurance payments after her husband died, and she now works from home. Her work, though, doesn’t offer healthcare and she doesn’t earn enough to purchase it on her own. “This proposal to make Medicaid recipients work 29 hours per week will cause me to lose my Medicaid. If I could work that much, I wouldn’t need Medicaid. I am housebound and I have no family to help me.”

Mitch and Julie B. are married and both self-employed. While Mitch is a veteran and has health insurance through Veterans Affairs, he wrote that “the only way we can afford healthcare for my wife is with Medicaid.” They are worried about how self-employed people will prove their work hours. But they have another concern—homeschooling their daughter. As Julie shared, “Between the two of us we work 60+ hours a week so that one of us can be with our child. Why should one of us have to get a low-paying job so that we can put her in school, pay for childcare and afterschool care?”

These are just some of the stories we’ve heard. Other potential concerns include people who work seasonal jobs or people in the service industry with unpredictable work hours, and those with mental health challenges. People like Ralph, Kristen, Therese, Mitch and Julie, and others need to know they can continue receiving healthcare. They are already living in perilous situations, uncertain from week to week whether they’ll be able to afford the basics. We’re terribly concerned that some in the Legislature seem to be ignoring stories like these and are instead insisting on cutting people off.

Stable healthcare allows people to work. Taking away healthcare just creates yet another barrier to holding down a job to support one’s family. These requirements would be a great burden to patients, hospitals, employers and state offices. The question I’m wondering is, “Other than the perceived health of some candidates’ campaigns, who is this poorly conceived policy really helping?”

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

The art of advocacy: Finding meaning in policy

Added April 25th, 2018 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP

I have had the incredible experience of interning with the Michigan League for Public Policy during this never-ending winter. The people I have met, and the knowledge and heartbreak (from researching student homelessness) I have experienced, provided me with immense opportunity to reflect on my personal life and be grateful for what I have. Working at the League has enabled me to research topics I had never really thought of before,  providing me the opportunity to find my passion—advocating for those less fortunate than I am.

Education has always been something extremely important to me and I will forever be grateful to my parents for supporting me and granting me with the opportunity to receive the education that I have. Last summer I had an internship with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focused on providing support to youth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) to help them find employment. Upon starting at the League I had the opportunity to pick what I wanted to focus on, so naturally, I picked something closely related to education—student homelessness. These two internships have allowed me to gain a better appreciation for what I have and drove me to further shape my future goals to help students that have not had the same opportunities I have had.

Collaborating with the big-hearted individuals at the League and the incredibly passionate people I have met throughout the past four months has contributed to the development of my long-term goal to start a nonprofit to advocate for students in Michigan to receive the best education they can, while having a stable environment to thrive in. Life is not all about academic education, but also about what is learned outside of the classroom, through work, sports, clubs or whatever else students may be involved in. Learning should not just be confined to a classroom, although the classroom plays a big part in the overall structure, there is so much opportunity out there to learn and grow as individuals. Often times people look at the bigger picture of how we can help, and focus their resources abroad or nationally, but it is extremely important to understand that so much can be done much closer to home.

During my time at the League, I have worked on the 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book to help determine that the economic, health, education, and family and community sectors in the state of Michigan still have a long way to grow. To better the national standards, we must first start by bettering the standards in Michigan.

Thank you to everyone at the League for the huge hearts you have for advocating for the people of Michigan and for accepting me into your family. Special thanks to Alicia Guevara Warren, my incredible boss, for providing me with this amazing opportunity to grow and learn so much about the disparities in Michigan. There was never a day that I didn’t look forward to coming to the office to see what problem was being tackled that day. Thank you to Rachel, Gilda, my fellow intern Spike, and everyone else at the League for providing such a fun, hardworking environment to advocate for change. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to intern with the League this semester. I will never forget all of the things I have been able to accomplish with the help, advice and guidance of the advocates at the League!

— Alexa Krout

Tax day 2018: Celebrating the contributions of all Michiganders

Added April 20th, 2018 by Victoria Crouse | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Victoria Crouse

We at the League make no secret of the fact that we celebrate what tax dollars can do for our state. Schools, parks, bridges, safety services, roads and other important community resources are funded by taxes, so we certainly had plenty of reasons to cheer for taxpayers on April 17 (and April 18) and every day of the year. Among these taxpayers are thousands of undocumented Michiganders who filed their tax returns just as they do every year. As we celebrate all the good things taxes provide, we also honor our immigrant neighbors and community members whose invaluable contributions to Michigan’s culture and economy have helped revive our state in more ways than one.

tax day 2018 325x736Current rhetoric on immigration often overlooks the important contributions undocumented immigrants make to our communities as neighbors, workers and taxpayers. Research from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy highlights the significant contributions that undocumented immigrants make to our state and local economies by paying taxes. According to the report, undocumented immigrants across the United States collectively contribute $11.74 billion in state and local taxes. In the Great Lakes state, which is home to more than half a million foreign-born residents, about 130,000 undocumented immigrant residents contributed an estimated $86.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available).

What are some of the ways undocumented Michiganders contribute to the tax base, you ask? Just like their fellow residents, undocumented Michiganders pay sales and excise taxes on things such as utilities, clothing and gasoline. They also pay property taxes, either directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants also pay state income taxes that help grow state investments in schools, infrastructure, healthcare and other important services.

Among residents who help strengthen our state are Dreamers—young undocumented immigrants whose futures continue to hang in the balance as Congress stalls action on the Dream Act. Dreamers contribute to our communities every single day, and they also contribute to our local and state economies as working professionals, consumers and entrepreneurs. As taxpayers, they contributed an estimated $13 million in Michigan in 2014. Yet, if Dreamers lose their DACA status, they will also lose their temporary work permits that enable them to work in good-paying jobs with benefits. The loss in tax revenue from this shift is equivalent to the cost of 220 teacher salaries in Michigan.1

Looking at the contributions of our immigrant neighbors in Michigan brings up an important question about fairness. Michigan’s tax system is upside down—it’s regressive. This means that Michiganders who have low and middle incomes pay a larger portion of their income in taxes than the top 20% of taxpayers. Unfortunately, undocumented taxpayers aren’t left out of this unbalanced system. When it comes to state and local taxes, the average effective tax rate (a measure of the share of total income paid in taxes) for undocumented immigrants is 8%, and 8.9% for Dreamers (young undocumented immigrants). This is striking when compared to the average nationwide effective tax rate among the richest taxpayers: 5.4%.

Policymakers can and must make wise choices that strengthen our communities and recognize the substantial contributions made by our immigrant neighbors. When it comes to immigration, state and national leaders have an opportunity to explore and enact sound public policies that promote economic growth and immigrant integration based on facts and reality rather than playing out the politics of fear and division.

  1. Fiscal Policy Institute (FIP) analysis of Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) tax revenue data and National Education Association (NEA) data on teacher salaries.

— Victoria Crouse

Tax day 2018: Why does no one listen to me?

Added April 17th, 2018 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

Happy tax day! I know this may not be everyone’s favorite holiday, but it definitely ranks up there for me! I love my trash and recycling being picked up every week, the cute park in our neighborhood where my son and his friends play, my public schools, my local library, and, yes, even those pothole-ridden roads that we drive on, and all of this is paid for by taxes. (And you can read more here and here!)

Unfortunately lawmakers in Lansing and Washington don’t seem to be listening to me.

In December, Congress pushed through deep tax cuts that disproportionately help the wealthy and increase the deficit by more than $1 trillion over 10 years, putting at risk services that we all rely on. A new analysis shows that in 2018, Michiganders making less than $22,000 a year will see an average tax cut of $100; taxpayers in the middle class—making between $40,500 and $65,400—will see $780; and Michiganders making more than $470,400 will see an average tax cut of $49,900. What’s more is that the top 20% of taxpayers will receive 71% of the tax benefit. Talk about upside down.

As currently enacted, tax cuts that primarily benefit individuals will go away in order to pay for permanent tax cuts for profitable corporations. While Congress seems certain that this won’t happen—that they will extend the tax cuts as they expire—this wouldn’t help the middle-class any more than the original bill helps the middle class in its first year. The richest 20% of Michigan taxpayers would see 65% of the benefits of an extension of the temporary provisions in 2026 and would receive 70% of the benefits of the proposed extensions and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) as enacted.

Share of tax changes in 2018 and 2026

Furthermore, immediately following the enactment of these deficit-increasing tax cuts, Congress decided that now is the time to consider a federal balanced budget. This poses very serious risks to our federal and state budget and economy. Requiring a federal balanced budget would not only result in cuts to programs that help our most vulnerable residents but also tip a weakened economy into a longer-lasting and harder recession quicker. While a forced vote failed to advance the measure (requiring bipartisan support and a two-thirds majority), we will continue to monitor the situation because of the impact it could have on our state budget and our Michigan residents.

At the same time, lawmakers in Michigan took advantage of an unintended consequence of the federal tax law to satisfy their tax cut fever. Instead of simply restoring the personal exemption that the TCJA arguably took away from Michigan taxpayers, the Michigan Legislature decided to cut taxes more. Once the plan is fully phased in, the $100 tax cut for a family of four will cost our state $180 million a year. The League was vocal in our opposition to the cut, citing needed public investments, budget constraints and concern over the federal budget.

So listen up!

Taxes do a world of good! They allow us to provide healthcare to millions of Michigan residents with low-incomes. They pay for the police and fire departments that help keep our communities safe. They give us parks and libraries and neighborhood aquatic centers. And they help repair and maintain the roads we use every day.

On Tax Day, remember all the good you’re doing! (Oh and if you haven’t yet, make sure you check your withholding for 2018; you don’t want any surprises when my favorite holiday rolls around next year!)

Rachel Richards

The five-year fight: Protecting SNAP in the Farm Bill

Added April 6th, 2018 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) plays a critical role in addressing hunger and food insecurity in Michigan and is the first line of defense against hunger for the majority of Michigan households with low incomes. When Michigan led the country in unemployment for four years during the 2000s, SNAP enabled jobless workers who had not earned enough to qualify for Unemployment Insurance to put food on their families’ tables.

bridge cardSNAP is reauthorized by Congress every five years as part of the overall reauthorization of the federal Farm Bill. Reauthorization provides an opportunity for members of Congress to make helpful—and unfortunately also harmful—changes to the food assistance program. This year, the threats are stronger than the potential positive changes.

One population particularly under fire are able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), who are required to work at least 20 hours per week in order to receive SNAP. If they fall short of this threshold for more than three months in a three-year rolling period, they lose their food assistance. From 2002 through 2016, Michigan received a statewide waiver from this work requirement due to the high level of unemployment the state experienced during many of those years. There has been talk from U.S. House members as well as the Trump administration of taking away states’ ability to receive waivers from the work requirements during times of high unemployment.

While a Farm Bill has not yet been introduced in the U.S. House, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee has also signaled an interest in cutting overall funding, making work requirements more stringent for ABAWDs and perhaps other recipients, and requiring states to undertake comprehensive work programs that would in many cases duplicate or pull funding from existing programs that work. While the Michigan League for Public Policy believes work is the best way for able-bodied individuals and households to achieve economic security, we are concerned that such changes will reduce SNAP’s ability to assist recipients’ success in the workforce. The “stick” approach apparently favored by many in the U.S. House and the administration assumes that SNAP recipients do not want to work, when in fact most are working.

The League has recently sent all members of Michigan’s congressional delegation a letter outlining our concerns with some of the proposals and asking members to protect SNAP in the following ways:

  • Oppose More Stringent Work Requirements
  • Oppose Eliminating a State’s Ability to Waive Work Requirements During Times of High Unemployment
  • Maintain State Flexibility for Devising Work and Training Programs Under SNAP
  • Protect SNAP from Deep Funding Cuts
  • Protect the Double Up Food Bucks Program
  • Reject Any Attempt to Eliminate Categorical Eligibility

This is a heads-up on what MIGHT be in the 2018 Farm Bill, which could be introduced as soon as April 9. After it is introduced, the League will keep you informed on what is in it and how you can communicate with Michigan’s congressional delegation that you want them to build on SNAP’s strengths rather than making it less accessible to those who need it.

— Peter Ruark

Medicaid work requirements: A prescription for problems

Added April 4th, 2018 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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“We’ll call you with the results on Monday.”

If you’ve ever left your doctor’s office after hearing those words, then you’re familiar with the dread. Minutes become hours, hours become days, and the worst fears tend to enter your mind no matter how hard you try to suppress them.

Waiting for that call is excruciating. But a law being proposed in Lansing would make it a lot worse for many in our state.

Michigan’s Senate Bill 897 is ethically, logically and morally wrong; it threatens the healthcare of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. And it’s going to cost us a boatload.

The bill comes on the heels of a change at the federal level that allows states to request waivers to enforce work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

First, let’s look at what Medicaid is. Medicaid is healthcare. It was designed to help sick people get well and to help healthy people stay that way. And it does a pretty great job. Michiganders with low incomes are able to sleep at night knowing that they can receive healthcare through Medicaid and Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program, the Healthy Michigan Plan. Since its creation in 1965, that’s what Medicaid has been: A healthcare plan.

Now, let’s look at what Medicaid is not. Medicaid is not a jobs program. Jobs programs help train workers, eliminate barriers like transportation and childcare issues, and work with local governments, community members and businesses to find solutions to problems in workforce development. By all means, let’s invest in solid jobs programs!

But some in the Michigan Legislature think we need to complicate the health plan by adding layers of bureaucracy and obstacles with work requirements. Here are a few logical truths to counter the myths being used to push work requirements:

 

  1. Most Medicaid recipients who can work are already working. Those who don’t work are students, caregivers, retired or in poor health.Work Requirements (2) 302x550
  2. Michiganders enrolled in Healthy Michigan are doing better at work and are able to find work because they have healthcare. It’s not a big stretch: Being healthy makes it easier to thrive in the workplace. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Being at work doesn’t suddenly cure health problems.
  3. Medicaid recipients, employers, doctors and state employees will be burdened with paperwork, red tape and additional hurdles. These complications will strain the state and cause many struggling Michiganders to lose coverage.
  4. It’s going to cost us. Kentucky, which recently implemented work requirements, reports that just setting up the infrastructure to track work requirements will cost nearly $187 million in the first six months alone.
  5. Work requirements are potentially illegal. Under the act that created the Medicaid program, certain parts of the Medicaid Act can be waived, but new eligibility criteria cannot be imposed—in this case, the criteria of work in order to qualify for Medicaid. Legal challenges have already begun in Kentucky that could have repercussions on any states pursuing work requirements. Michigan lawmakers should wait and see how that case unfolds.

I’m obviously urging you to take action on this issue. But I’m also asking you to start talking about it. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your family. Help them to understand what Medicaid is and what it is not.

I also hope you’ll listen. Over the years Medicaid has helped millions of Michiganders, from those going through a rough patch to those struggling with chronic health problems or terminal illness. It is likely that someone you love or know has benefited from Medicaid. Take the time to listen to how it helped them temporarily or on a long-term basis. And encourage them to share their story to make a difference.

Healthy people are better able to work, but working people do not automatically become healthy. Let’s stop discussing unnecessary plans like this and instead focus on the real things Michigan residents need to work and provide for their families, including Medicaid and other assistance programs, job training, adult education, high-quality child care, reliable public transportation, and more.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

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