MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Wishing for the stork to bring some common sense

Added January 12th, 2018 by Julie Cassidy | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Julie Cassidy

Having recently returned to work following maternity leave, I’ve been reflecting on my experience with pregnancy, childbirth and clumsily learning how to care for my now five-month-old baby. Humans aren’t delivered by storks and we don’t spring from our parents’ heads as fully formed adults capable of caring for ourselves, but the attitudes shaping this country’s policies surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care often seem to be based on ancient mythology and silly stories parents tell their kids to avoid awkward conversations about sex.

Sadly, these misguided notions have been invoked as justification to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the law’s critics have asserted that men can’t get pregnant and pregnancy is not a disease (although before the ACA’s enactment, insurance companies could consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition warranting higher premium charges and deductibles if not outright denial of coverage).

Despite not experiencing any of the scary complications that can occur during the nondisease of pregnancy, I’m befuddled by a prevailing mindset that discourages prenatal coverage as a standard element of health insurance and paid leave time for new mothers and fathers. This attitude certainly isn’t conducive to good health for children, parents or families.

Some have suggested that the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies sold on the healthcare exchange cover obstetric care constitutes special coverage unfairly given to women at men’s expense. However, every single one of us, regardless of sex, exists because someone with a uterus carried us for months and then gave birth through a usually long, painful and sometimes traumatic process (which, in the United States, is shamefully often threatening to health and life). That some of the insurance premiums paid by people who will never become pregnant ultimately cover expenses associated with pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care isn’t an injustice, it’s just paying it forward.

In waiting until age 37 to have a child, I’ve heard countless lectures about how selfish it is to be childless by choice and that we all have a duty to procreate for various reasons (all of them ironically selfish). But when it comes time to pay for it, human reproduction is suddenly viewed as an extraordinary burden to employers, other insurance subscribers and society at large rather than the natural process by which every one of us comes into this world.

Yes, healthcare for pregnant people, fetuses and newborns is expensive (as is healthcare for all other humans in the United States), and accommodating absences for new parents presents challenges to employers and coworkers. But it doesn’t look like nature will be changing the way our species perpetuates itself anytime soon–there’s no reason to single out pregnancy and childbirth from other naturally occurring health conditions, so we might as well learn to deal with them in ways that don’t cause further losses to society.

Family LeaveToday, my daughter is healthy and happy, largely because we have insurance that covered most of the costs, my employer provides paid parental leave and is accommodating of my family’s needs, and we could afford for my husband to take an extended unpaid leave along with me. But many American families aren’t so fortunate.

Families with low incomes, families of color and single parents have the least access to so many of the supports that save lives and strengthen families and are then cruelly stereotyped as inferior, while white, middle-class, married couples who are more likely to have robust insurance coverage, access to high-quality health providers and paid leave benefits are admonished to have more children so as to maintain an adequate population of “people like us”.

Historically, the stork has been revered as a sign of good fortune, even enjoying special protection in some cultures. Why don’t we show such regard for the actual human bearers and nurturers of children? A society that claims to value children’s lives must also value their parents’ lives, especially during the early years when so much crucial development takes place, and reflect this value in its policies related to health and family.

— Julie Cassidy

Our resolution: To deal with a “wait” problem

Added January 10th, 2018 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

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While many of us are stepping off the scale and considering a new weight loss plan to kick off the new year, we’re concerned about a different kind of “weight” at the League: the weight of waiting.

scalesWith your help, we spent much of last fall fighting battles at the federal level. Those months of teaming up with you to defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) against attacks were invigorating and reinforced the importance of our work. But on Dec. 20, we were forced to take a break.

After Congress voted to push through their abysmal tax bill, which has been denounced by economists and experts on both sides of the aisle, they opted to take a break when millions of families weren’t sure whether their kids would have health insurance in the new year. We really weren’t ready to stop fighting. We really weren’t in the mood to start waiting.

That’s where we’ve found ourselves, though. This tax plan, with its wide scope and quick passage, contains so much language that needs to be unpacked. To understand its full impact is going to take some time—for us, for state lawmakers, and especially for the members of Congress who voted for it without understanding it. So we’ve been placed in a holding pattern.

If you know me, you know I’m not much of a waiter. So how do we move forward when leaders in Washington have stalled? Well, we’ve made a resolution to focus on the things that cannot wait.

We’ve developed our new list of priorities for the 2019 state budget, making sure to advocate for policies that will help all Michiganders thrive and find economic opportunity. We’ve begun collecting personal stories from people who’ve been impacted by policies like CHIP and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. We’ve continued to push leaders to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18. We’ve compiled information on the impact of young immigrants in Michigan. We’ve reported on the continued decline of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance. We’ve weighed in on Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to restore the state personal tax exemption, a big fix needed to address a problem caused by the federal tax plan. We’ve spent time analyzing the implications of the tax bill with our national partners. We’ve continued to fight to extend CHIP. And we’ve eaten several trays of baklava.

So maybe we don’t do “waiting” well, but because of your help, we’re going to be ready for what’s next. Thank you for helping us carry the weight of our work, and thank you for helping us build a stronger Michigan.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

2017: A Blog Odyssey

Added January 6th, 2018 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

In an organization like ours, math matters most. The data and reports our policy analysts use are the backbone of the work we do. Without math, without numbers, we would lack the tools to make a difference in Michigan.

But it’s no secret that I’m not a math major. The numbers that are crunched around theNew Year's Top Ten office are certainly the backbone of our work, but the heart of what we do can be found in the words we use. That’s why the League’s blog is so important to me. 

Factually Speaking is designed to expose that heart of our work … to share the stories that personalize and humanize our policy issues. Last year, posts from our staff, board members, interns and national partners explored issues that matter to all Michiganders. Sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heart-wrenching, always moving. And you helped prove the power of these posts by reading and sharing them.

Here are our most shared blogs of 2017:

  1. Investing in infrastructure … just words until you make the human connection: Real people are impacted by the lack of investment in Michigan’s infrastructure. President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs addresses the fact that a state income tax cut would exacerbate those impacts even further, and that roads, water systems, and buildings must be a priority for our state.
  1. Help protect the Affordable Care Act: League analyst Emily Schwarzkopf, a self-proclaimed “health policy nerd,” shares the top reasons the Affordable Care Act is good for Michigan. This was in January 2017 at the onset of a year-long battle to protect the ACA–one that will continue in 2018.
  1. Philosophy, career changes and granola bars: How kids can inspire our choices: Our communications associate Laura Ross made a big leap from teaching high school to working with the League. Here, she explores why it was a leap in the right direction.
  1. Personal tragedies, political failures: Our CEO and President Gilda Z. Jacobs shares how the pain of losing a loved one is compounded when it is caused by bad public policy or inaction by our elected officials.
  1. Why I have zero tolerance for “zero tolerance”: For this post, I celebrated the end of Michigan’s zero tolerance school discipline policy by taking a walk down memory lane and thinking about some of the less-than-angelic (and thankfully “tolerated”) exploits of my youth.
  1. Facing the rhetoric about working families and child care: Senior policy analyst Pat Sorenson knows firsthand the struggle of being a working mom, and in this post she writes about how that struggle has only become more difficult in the last two decades.
  1. 130,000 Michigan workers have had wages stolen by employers: Senior policy analyst Peter Ruark breaks down the many ways in which workers in our state have experienced wage violations. And over 60% of those workers are women.
  1. Stop and listen: As a community engagement specialist, Jenny Kinne has worked one-on-one with Michigan residents who rely on the policies we support. Here, she shares the ways in which she is humbled by their stories … and how she has learned to put listening first.
  1. Michigan considering replicating Kansas’ failed tax cut “experiment” (Guest Blog by Michael Mazerov): A major concern in the early months of 2017 was the Michigan Legislature’s consideration of phasing out the state income tax. Because our national partners have seen the disastrous effects of tax cuts like this in other states, several of them were able to weigh in on the ramifications. Michael Mazerov is a Senior Fellow at the national Center on Budget and Policy priorities and explains just how harmful an income tax cut would be for all
  1. I know it’s cheating in terms of a true “Top Ten” list, but I already said I wasn’t great at math. These blogs were within a few shares of each other, so I decided to include them all:
  • CB…oh no?! by policy analyst Emily Schwarzkopf (insights on one of many damning Congressional Budget Office scores of the many ACA repeals);

In 2017, the League tackled a lot of important issues and did a lot of good work. Our blog is one way we try to capture and communicate that, with backbone and with heart. Thanks for reading and sharing all of these this past year. You are the ones who truly bring these blogs to life.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to subscribe to our blog via email or RSS feed so you can stay up to date on everything we’re working on. And please continue to share them on social media so we can reach a wider audience and generate greater support for the issues we all care so deeply about.

–Alex Rossman, Communications Director

The art of quiet leadership

Added January 3rd, 2018 by Jenny Kinne | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Jenny Kinne

For a long time, I did not think I was an activist. I could not match my perceptions of activism with my own reality. I thought activists were energetic, megaphone-wielding extroverts with larger-than-life personalities. I pictured speeches rousing masses and marchers chanting in the faces of oncoming police.

I am a quiet and introspective person. I came to life as a political being in Washington, DC, where I did my best to become a revolutionary rabble-rouser, only to find that I could not fit myself into that mold. When I moved back home to Grand Rapids, Michigan, I found space for my quiet activism. Here I am learning the art of introverted leadership, and my journey has shown me that stories and long-term relationship-building comprise the foundation of any successful grassroots movement. Luckily, Grand Rapids is a great place for listening and developing friendships.

A Big, Small Town

I think of Grand Rapids as a big, small town. Our city is growing rapidly. There is no shortage of new things to see and people to meet, but when you walk into a coffee shop, you will most likely run into someone you know. As our city grows, it is becoming more progressive. It is hard to miss the ever-increasing presence of rainbow flags and “Black Lives Matter” yard signs. Unfortunately, these shining symbols often cover up deep issues of discrimination and gentrification in our community. Still, we are a shifting people and I have hope for continued progress.

"Jenny's quiet leadership style does not exclude public speaking. Here she presents to a group at a NOW event in Grand Rapids

Jenny’s quiet leadership style does not exclude public speaking. Here she presents at a NOW event in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids is a Midwestern city. I posit that an average Midwesterner is friendly but a bit standoffish. I certainly see myself in this description. We get stuck in our own social bubbles because we fear exposure to difference, but since we are also nice, we are totally okay talking to one another.

Having lived in Washington, DC, for a few years, I am grateful for the home I have found in Grand Rapids culture. Relationships in DC often feel transactional – find out what people do and build your bubble accordingly. In Grand Rapids, my conversations usually start with something like – “How is your day?” “Are you enjoying the sunshine?” “I love your garden. Did you do it yourself?” My heart has opened up to a wide variety of people in this big, small town. I am a liberal, atheist, hater of athletics who has become close friends with ministers, Republicans and yoga instructors. Grand Rapids provides ample opportunity to step outside of my bubble.

Joys & Hardships of Hanging Out

Several memories stick out as examples of how Grand Rapids has taught me to become a whole person and a political activist.

In 2010, something big happened that changed the way local organizations worked together in Grand Rapids. The Affordable Care Act passed, transforming the world of healthcare, and organizations had to partner with one another to understand the law and get the community enrolled. As a volunteer enrollment counselor with Planned Parenthood at the time, I set my sights on working with Bethany Christian Services Refugee Program. This was particularly important given the fact that these two organizations had never worked together. It is common in Grand Rapids, a city with a large, faith-based nonprofit sector, to have tensions between faith-based and non-faith-based organizations. Building new bridges in this arena was a focus of my work at Planned Parenthood. We came together, at first nervous and skeptical, to discuss the pressing healthcare needs of immigrants and refugees in Grand Rapids.

Out of this conversation came an unlikely partnership. It became clear that we needed one another. We found a shared goal that bridged a deep divide, and we strengthened our relationship as joint education and enrollment began. We met in Bethany’s space. They recruited their clients who needed health insurance and we provided our expertise in the form of trained certified application counselors. It was a wonderful example of sharing space but dividing labor and leadership roles based on expertise.

We became friends, and since this was a difficult program, we shared joyful ups and heartbreaking downs. We faced technological challenges when the healthcare website broke down and computers wouldn’t work. We faced language barriers, having to arrange for translation for refugees who spoke rare languages and facing the task of explaining complicated processes in multiple languages. Most devastating, though, were the cases where the system itself was not built to cope with the unique challenges faced by these people and we had to turn them away or delay getting them help that they needed. Despite all of these challenges, each time one of our certified application counselors successfully enrolled a family in the health insurance program, we celebrated the accomplishment of a shared mission and felt deeply the impact that we were having on the lives of the people we were working with. We got to know over 100 people during enrollment, and their stories and friendships kept us going, challenging us to keep breaking down barriers.

Taking the time to listen and share stories builds political power. On a night shortly after the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado, I invited a group of Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter volunteers to my home. This was a difficult and personal conversation that did not need to happen in public. We came to my living room already knowing and trusting one another, but we also came very explicitly as community leaders who wanted to create change in local work and conversation. We sat in my little living room and talked for a couple of hours, delving into our dreams and nightmares as controversial activists. For a blip of time, my living room felt like a sanctuary floating above the world’s daily violence.

"Kinne promotes listening and bonding as powerful tools in making political change. Here, she bonds with fellow activists."

Kinne promotes listening and bonding as powerful tools in making political change. Here, she bonds with fellow activists.

Of course, the world keeps spinning. Racism persists. Attacks on reproductive healthcare persist. I am humbled to be a part of these conversations, but they certainly are not enough. Conversations must eventually move toward action, but we have to start by slowing down and talking to one another. We need to hang out more.

Hanging out isn’t always a love-filled dreamscape. Sometimes, hanging out means you are going to be called out. As a board member of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, I invited a renowned racial justice advocate, Chaka Holley, to be a part of our annual fundraiser. Chaka blew us all away with her intelligence, kindness and sense of humor. What I admire most about Chaka is her ability to speak hard truth in a way that opens up paths to friendship and hope. She called out the feminist community of Grand Rapids for failing to prioritize racial equity and inclusion within our organizations. This hurt for a lot of people in my feminist community, and we had many conversations about how to listen. Chaka gave us information that was necessary but hard to hear, so we needed to train our hearts to pay attention and objectively look at solutions posed, rather than getting defensive. These conversations made us better people and activists. Listening and hanging out isn’t always easy, but I think it pays off every time.

Sit down, Shut up, and Listen

With all that said, hanging out is not enough. We have to hang out and listen to one another. We miss too much when we are busy talking. We miss thoughts, values and experiences that have shaped our friends and neighbors. We will neither understand fault lines nor build bridges without deep listening.

We certainly need eloquent and extroverted leaders in our movements for social change, but we also need quiet movers and shakers. We need to value our listeners and storytellers in the same way we do our tireless figureheads. Activists who take the time to rest and form relationships through asking questions are pivotal to sustainable grassroots movements.

Forming relationships and sharing stories builds bridges and cultivates political power. I feel lucky to have learned this at a young age, and I look forward to a lifetime of introverted activism. After a long time of trying to fit myself into an activism mold that didn’t fit, I am proud to finally embrace my personality. I am quiet. I am a listener. I am a leader.

Editor’s Note: A longer version of this piece was included in the book Grand Rapids Grassroots: An Anthology, which is available here: http://beltmag.com/grand-rapids-grassroots-anthology-now-available/.

— Jenny Kinne

It’s not a goodbye, it’s a ‘see ya later’

Added December 26th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Casey Paskus

Casey Paskus

I had the incredible opportunity to intern with the Michigan League for Public Policy this fall, and I have enjoyed every minute of my experience. I have been able to write blogs that have been published on the League’s website, I have authored reports on topics that I am passionate about and I even had the chance to attend a (very fancy) dinner hosted by the Citizens Research Council.

Working with the League has enabled me to complete projects I never thought I would be working on as a college student. I loved working here so much, I decided to spell it out for everyone:

L – Literally the nicest people to work with. Thank you to everyone at the League for instantly welcoming me into the office and stopping by my cubicle just to say ‘hey’. The League’s staff are really what made my time here special!
E – Extraordinarily interesting projects that I had the chance to work on, including reports on Race for Results data and the importance of third-grade reading benchmarks. I had so much freedom to choose what I was interested in and how I would write each report. Thank you to the League for the faith and trust you had in me!
Children-in-a-Circle 350x233A – Author—me! I was able to write blog posts on youth advocacy and the needs of African-American kids and the reports mentioned above that are now published on the League’s website. I can’t thank everyone enough for allowing me to become published as a college student and giving me the chance to finally apply everything I’ve learned in my college courses to the real world.
G – Great, really important research and advocacy that happens every day at the League, thanks to the wonderful, passionate and smart staff! These people are doing work that will help all residents of Michigan, from hungry children to unemployed adults. With the League, I knew I was really making a difference through the reports and research I completed.
U – Unceasing snacks and coffee! Shoutout to the coffee machine that kept me alive, even on days when I had been up studying for my classes at Michigan State till 4 a.m. the night before. You’re the real MVP.
E – Everything! This experience has been amazing. I’ve learned so much about myself and about issues that are important to Michigan families. I can’t put into words how much this opportunity has meant to me; thank you to everyone who made my time at the League so wonderful!

I want to give a special shoutout to Gilda Jacobs, Rachel Richards and my incredible, amazing boss Alicia Guevara Warren. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to intern with the League this fall semester. I will never forget all of the things I have been able to accomplish with their help and guidance!

— Casey Paskus, Kids Count Intern

Holding on to the dream

Added December 22nd, 2017 by Victoria Crouse | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Victoria Crouse

As families come together to celebrate the holidays, on the minds of many immigrant families is the worry that this may be their last holiday season with their loved ones. This is because the recent termination of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program threatens the ability for thousands of young immigrants—often called “Dreamers”—to remain in the country. In Michigan, 5,400 undocumented immigrants currently enrolled in DACA stand to lose their ability to work and go to school without fear of deportation.

A new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy focuses on the positive impact that DACA has had on the lives of thousands of Michigan’s immigrants, and the many ways these young Dreamers contribute to our state.

Advocates are calling on Congress to address this crisis before the end of the year by passing the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants whose futures hang in the balance. Every day that Congress stalls the passage of the DREAM Act, 122 individuals across the country lose their DACA status and become at risk of deportation.

DACA was established in 2012 by President Barack Obama in an effort to address the needs of young undocumented immigrants who arrived to the country as minors. DACA provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization (applicants must apply for renewal after two years). On Sept. 5, 2017, the U.S. Attorney General announced the end of the program via a six-month phasing out period. With the end of the program, Dreamers now have numbered days with their DACA status, and thousands have already seen their status expire since the announcement.

DACA graph 1Since its inception, more than 790,000 immigrant youth across the country have been able to achieve better opportunities through the DACA program. In Michigan, DACA beneficiaries work hard, go to school and give back to their communities and local economies. Here are some important characteristics of DACA participants:

  • The majority (53%) of DACA beneficiaries across the country are women, and two-thirds of them are 25 years of age or younger.
  • Across the country, DACA program participants are largely concentrated in densely populated urban areas. Detroit, for example, is one of 20 metro areas across the country where three-quarters of all DACA beneficiaries reside.
  • Collectively, DACA participants make up 382,400 workers in our country’s labor force. Meanwhile, a large majority (62%, 154,108) of those not in the labor force were enrolled in school.

Despite the many different ways Dreamers contribute to our culture and our economy, lawmakers continue to drag their feet when it comes to passing a permanent solution. The consequences of ending DACA and the dreams of thousands of young immigrants will be immediately felt. Among other losses, researchers estimate that Michigan will lose $13 million in state and local tax revenue and $418 million in annual economic activity if all DACA beneficiaries are deported. The loss in tax revenue is equivalent to the cost of 220 teacher salaries in Michigan.1 This loss would prevent our state leaders from being financially able to make important investments in our schools, our hospitals and our communities.

The introduction of the DACA program was a good first step in modernizing our immigration system. Its loss means countless lost opportunities for immigrant youth and for our communities. For these reasons, investing in this generation of immigrant youth should be a key priority for our state and federal governments. Dreamers and their families have waited long enough. Lawmakers should act now to pass the DREAM Act.

— Victoria Crouse

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.

 

 

Personal tragedies, political failures

Added December 20th, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Yesterday, my heart stopped as I heard on the news that yet another Amtrak derailment in Washington State took the lives of up to six people and injured scores of others. It brought back floods of horrific memories when I heard on May 12, 2015, that my beloved daughter, Rachel, was one of the victims on the Amtrak derailment of a train from Philadelphia to New York City. Both accidents and all the lives of the dead and injured could have been avoided if PTC, Positive Train Control, had been installed and activated.

How many more children need to lose their parents? My 5-year-old grandson, Jacob, does not remember his mom, her hopes and dreams for his future, and the once intact family that shared so much. How many men and women need to lose their spouses or loved ones before we demand of our elected officials in Washington, D.C. that this technology be installed yesterday? The deadline for the railroads to do this work has been pushed further into the future, despite the fact that their charge to install this equipment was made years ago.

I was outraged and saddened to learn that this is still an issue. And now more families have holes in their hearts. Train officials have known for decades that PTC works, yet I fear the railroad lobbyists have been far too influential in delaying spending the needed dollars to make these changes.

And I can’t help but connect these dots to the short-sightedness of the tax reform bills that were passed by the U.S. House and Senate yesterday. We are increasing our federal deficit which will directly affect not only health and human services, but the resources we have available to maintain our infrastructure, like trains supported by our tax dollars.

So this is really personal. I want our congressional delegation to make more stringent timelines for safety changes. Because, next time, it could be their daughter, son, mom or dad who loses their life.

And I want folks to understand that tax policy and change matters. That decisions made at both the federal and state levels really do have life-altering effects. That people’s lives truly are at stake.

And mostly importantly, lives didn’t have to be lost if government did the right thing. Amtrak clearly didn’t learn a thing after the 2015 derailment since they still have not reached 100% compliance. And Congress should be putting forth the same effort to push for this change to save lives as they have to pass their tax plan. But unfortunately, the revenue lost through the tax plan will make PTC and other important investments even less likely, putting even more lives at risk.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Raise the Age: We must stop treating kids as criminals

Added December 19th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP

 

The views in this story reveal the storyteller’s experience and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of the Michigan League for Public Policy. If you have a story, please share it here.  

By Briana M.

I was 17. I was a 17-year-old child who was convicted of a misdemeanor assault and battery for a mall fight. The impact this had on me from that point forward cannot be conceptualized. I feel in order to tell my story I have to include a little background history.

At the age of 14, I moved to Michigan from Colorado with my parents due to my father’s job. I was an isolated outsider and was bullied nonstop, which drove me into alcohol consumption at the age of 16. Halfway into my sophomore year I was sent back to Colorado to live with my grandparents in my hometown. I did well at the beginning, but struggled to find myself and lacked appropriate coping mechanisms. The only coping that worked at the time was substance abuse. I was set to graduate a year early, as a junior, but halfway through my junior year, I was using methamphetamines and decided to drop out of high school all together.

I came back to Michigan to live with my parents and to figure out where to go from there. The events following are a symbol of my lack of decision-making skills and reflect a mind not capable of thinking through consequences of actions. On Feb. 11, 2004, I was at the Oakland Mall with two other girls who were two years older than me. We came upon another girl who we had a history of conflict with. The girls I was with kept telling me to do something, and as I stood there, all I wanted to do was leave, but the more they pressured me the angrier I became. I eventually provoked a fight. Afterwards, I ran out of the mall and was not arrested at time of the fight.

I took my GED test two days later and passed. I later received a notice to turn myself in, and I remember being dumbstruck because I was 17 being charged as an adult! 17-year-olds in Colorado are seen as juveniles. I felt doomed and boxed in. This mall fight and the charge I was facing shaped my mind and labeled me as a criminal, not a young delinquent.

Shortly after this happened, I moved back to Colorado to live with friends, often living in my car. I was running from a mind that I was unable to escape. On May 20, 2004, I jumped off a bridge into three feet of water and broke my femur. Since I had no stable place to recover, I ended up coming back to Michigan, so I had to face the charges before me.

I entered the courtroom on crutches on June 22, 2004. It was four days before my 18th birthday. I was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery, taken for fingerprinting, and ordered to one year of district court probation. The only help I received was one session of the Learning Experience in Addictions Program (LEAP) and some counseling sessions.

After I finished healing from my injury, I moved back to Colorado in August 2004 while on probation, and I had to send in written reports and drug tests every month. I attempted to comply with those orders for about four months, eventually checking myself into rehab for the first time on Dec. 6, 2004, out of fear of violation of probation. I was unsuccessful in rehabilitating myself, and gave up on reporting and dove back into my addiction stronger than ever.

girl croppedIn my eyes, I was already a criminal, and so who was I to think I could be anything but that? After my six-month lease was up on my apartment, I became homeless for three months and on June 16, 2005, I was sent to jail and charged with a Class 4 felony charge of drug possession. I spent 20 days in jail and 30 days in drug rehab. I moved back to Michigan to straighten up my act and faced my violation of probation on the assault and battery.

The judge told me he was not going to send me to jail because he knew that I would screw up my current felony probation and that they would punish me more than he could. He essentially had no faith in my rehabilitation and was betting I would go to prison.

Well, I did comply and was discharged from probation without incident. As of now, I am a licensed and working Cosmetologist and a full-time student at Oakland University in my senior year holding a 3.92 GPA. I am interning at the Waterford Senior Center and giving back to the community. I am also in the middle of applying for graduate school at Wayne State University for a master’s in Social Work. I should add that on March 8, 2011, I entered Narcotics Anonymous and have been clean and sober ever since. I even volunteered at the Macomb County Jail for two years offering N.A. meetings to female inmates.

I wish that I could say I have recovered from my criminal history, but the fact is I have not. It follows me at every turn. When applying for my cosmetology license, college, an internship … It will follow me in all my future career applications. Will I always be paying for the mistakes I have made so many years ago? Will people be able to see past my mistakes and take me seriously?

In an attempt to correct and overcome barriers, I appeared in court on May 23, 2017, before Judge Maureen McGinnis at 52-4 District Court, who allowed my conviction to be set aside. Unfortunately, I am still required to say I pled guilty if asked, and my record will show up in any background check done by the Michigan State Police. Most social work jobs require this type of background check.

So, did my appearance in court actually help? I do not know. As I look at my future, it is easy to go back to the label of “criminal” and think that I am out of my league in trying to better my life. It is very easy to think about giving up when I believe that I will not be given a fair chance due to my criminal history. I take accountability for the mistakes I have made, and I don’t blame anyone for them.

I must remind myself that I am fighting for a better future for that little girl who was sick and needed help. I am standing up for her and not allowing a court judgment to decide her future. Therefore, I am telling her story. I will no longer be boxed in and told what I am and am not capable of doing.

However, I do think about what would have happened if I had received juvenile intervention rather than being treated as an adult. Would my outcomes be the same, or would I have been open to receiving help and guidance to prevent further offenses? I will never know these answers because I was not given that opportunity. I will speak out in hopes of preventing another child from asking those same questions. I believe that Raise the Age is the right path, and I hope that in sharing my story I can be of some help.

— Briana M.

Spending money on women is good for America

Added December 13th, 2017 by Julie Cassidy | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Julie Cassidy

Iowa senator Chuck Grassley recently asserted that congressional Republicans’ proposal to eliminate the estate taxrecognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Senator Grassley, have you seen The Wolf of Wall Street?

It seems like he’s confusing the spending habits of some of the millionaires the Republican tax bill and estate tax help with what most everyday Americans do with their money. As a middle-class person, I don’t spend every penny I have but I certainly don’t have savings anywhere near the $10.98 million threshold that triggers the estate tax for a married couple. I enjoy the occasional adult beverage and a movie here and there, but these things don’t make up a significant portion of my spending.

The senator is right, however, in that I do spend quite a lot on women.

A woman multiplies the impact of an investment 450x450No, I’m not visiting sex workers or keeping a mistress in a luxury apartment in the city. I’m talking about the teachers and other staff at my daughter’s daycare center who do the important work of helping my husband and me raise our child. I’m talking about the women who work in the retail shops where I buy my clothes and the dry cleaner where I get them cleaned. The women who clean my house, allowing my evenings and weekends to be family time. The women who cut my hair. The women who clean the hotel rooms in which I’ve stayed. The receptionists, medical assistants, dental hygienists and nurses at every doctor’s and dentist’s office and hospital I’ve ever visited. The generations of lunch ladies who have served food to America’s schoolchildren. And someday, quite possibly, the home aides and nursing home staff who will help me eat, bathe and go to the bathroom.

Despite all the money I pay for work done primarily by women, only a small portion ultimately goes into their pockets. Generally, overwhelmingly female professions are some of the least glamorous and the least lucrative in terms of wages and health insurance and retirement benefits. Often, the pay for these jobs is so low that it’s impossible to make ends meet without taxpayer-funded services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. There’s a gender wage gap in every single county in Michigan.

Not to mention all of the women who are eligible for these services because they’ve had to leave the paid workforce to provide thousands of hours of unpaid labor caring for children or relatives who are aging or have disabilities. Additionally, women are disproportionately exploited by their employers through wage theft, making it even less likely that they will have a sizable fortune to leave to their heirs.

So, Senator Grassley, please stop talking about women and talk to us. Recognize that even though most of us won’t amass a multimillion-dollar legacy, we are investors, too—investors in the other women without whom our families and the American economy could not function. And if you want America to be great, Congress and state legislatures should invest in women, too, by raising the minimum wage, maintaining the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, preserving the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing child care subsidies and expanding paid family and sick leave.

Women are not a vice. They’re hardworking Americans whose labor is already undervalued and often invisible. Tell Congress not to reward the children of the wealthiest 0.2% of the nation with a tax cut that will help decimate the safety net so many women must rely on because society doesn’t recognize the true worth of their work.

— Julie Cassidy

The gift that keeps on fighting

Added December 6th, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Last Friday night, though we were scattered around the state, our staff was busy refreshing web pages, updating Twitter feeds and following the U.S. Senate’s live video. In the wee hours of the morning, our hearts dropped as the nation’s political leaders voted in favor of a highly flawed tax plan.

Final tax graphic 300x750We’d held out hope through much of the day that reason and good sense would prevail over partisanship and spite. But in an all too familiar cloak-and-dagger move, through hastily written marginalia and hidden deals, the Senate Republicans chose to line the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of kids, families and seniors.

Saturday morning, as I planned our next steps to defeat this disastrous “tax” plan … and potentially deal with the aftermath of its passage, a friend asked me, “Don’t you just feel like giving up?”

I paused.

Certainly the question was a legitimate one. Over the past year America’s most vulnerable residents have suffered blow after blow. My friend truly wanted to know why I wanted to keep up the fight, how I could continue to wake up in the morning as lawmakers continue to push through legislation that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

Yes. On Saturday morning I felt defeated, deflated and—quite literally—defrauded by the late-night antics on the Senate floor. But I poured myself a cup of coffee and tried to figure out a plan to keep going. That’s why I was able to look my friend in the eye and say, “No. I never feel like giving up.”

I will keep up our fight because I refuse to give in to this shortsighted manipulation of the democracy we hold dear. I refuse to allow these acts to knock us down, because the tide will change, and those of us in the world of policy must be prepared when it happens.

Friday night was painful. Any time someone in power lets down the people depending on them it’s painful. But this is not a fight we can quit.

Avg tax cut top 1 percentWe have work to do, and we hope you’re ready to join us. Whether you follow us on social media, donate to our cause, or share your stories with us, you’ll be making a difference in the lives of Michiganders. We cannot give up.

We must also remember that this tax bill is not yet set in stone. As the conference committee convenes, we have a chance to continue to make our voices heard. You can act today by contacting your U.S. Representative to express your concerns.

You, our allies, motivate us in so many ways and we’re grateful for each of you. Between our supporters and the abundant supply of chocolate in the office, I’m confident we’re going to have the strength to take on whatever 2018 brings.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

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