MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Lack of support with child care costs leaves families struggling

Added August 15th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Mallory Boyce

Mallory Boyce

Ever since my junior year of high school, I’ve worked at a child care center in the Grand Rapids area, my hometown. This means that for the past four summers, I’ve spent up to 40 hours a week surrounded by 60 to 75 mostly happy school-age kids. My daily tasks include playing all types of tag games, braiding hair, teaching conflict resolution, and insisting that Band-Aids are of no use unless one is actually bleeding. All of that, plus two free snacks a day? Not a bad gig.

In the noise, fun and controlled chaos of the day-to-day work, it’s easy to forget what my job means for my kids and their families. As a recent report by the League discusses, child care is important as a tool for both educating young children and allowing parents to contribute to economic development.

I am most often reminded of this significance during small talk with people I have only just met, like the woman cutting my hair, a coworker at a second job, or anyone else who might ask what I do for a living. If whoever is doing the asking happens to be the parent of young children, more often than not they wonder about the weekly price for a child of whatever age at the center where I work. I’ll give them a quick estimate, which has always been met with a sigh and a brief lament on the high cost of child care, the stress of trying to balance work with family life and general frustration with the system as a whole.

Kids at play snipTheir frustration is legitimate. While child care is essential for most working families, its cost can often be debilitating. Child Care Aware’s 2016 report on the price of child care in each state found that the price of center-based child care for two children in a family with married parents was 22% of Michigan’s median income for that family type. Lower that family’s income to the poverty line and the same care takes up 91% of their income. Infant care eats up nearly 50% of the median income for single parents, with care for two children coming in at 86%.

The League’s Making Ends Meet in Michigan report shows the cost of child care for every county, and it is a significant expense for families in every corner of the state. Such a large portion of a family’s monthly budget going toward child care leaves little left over for other essentials like housing, food and transportation.

Even with the eligibility threshold for receiving subsidized child care being raised from 125% to 130% of the federal poverty level in Michigan’s 2018 budget, Michigan’s threshold is still among the lowest in the nation. As of 2015, the Child Care Development Fund’s Policies Database Book of Tables showed only three other states with eligibility thresholds below 130% of the federal poverty line, with the majority of states’ thresholds ranging from 150% in South Carolina to 315% in North Dakota. With 22% of the state’s children living in poverty, Michigan can’t afford to be trailing the rest of the nation when it comes to providing affordable child care to families with low incomes.

There is much to strive for when it comes to ensuring that Michigan’s working families have access to affordable, quality care for their children. Further increasing the eligibility thresholds for receiving help with child care expenses and otherwise working to ensure that Michigan’s children are well taken care of will help craft both strong families and a strong workforce, bringing us one step closer to a Michigan where all children thrive.

— Mallory Boyce

1967: Coming of age in Detroit — a Q&A with Community Engagement Director Renell Weathers

Added August 11th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry

Last week, League CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs shared her memories of how living in the Detroit area in the summer of 1967 ultimately gave her a new perspective. This week, Renell Weathers, our community engagement director, revisits that summer and the way it impacted her.

Can you share a few details about your family?
Well, I was the youngest of 11 children. My father brought my older nine siblings to Michigan in the early 1950s—after living through the Jim Crow era in the south, he wanted a better life for his family. He and his brother moved here a year ahead of the family. They saved money, and he bought a house in the northwest part of Detroit. We were the second Black family on that block. It was rare . . . usually when you first moved north, you joined the community that was predominantly Black, but that’s not what they did.

Could you describe the community where you were raised?
We were three streets from what they called “the wall.” The builders weren’t able to get loans or build on that side [because of the Black population], so they put up a wall to segregate. When I grew up in the early ‘60s, I would walk to school mostly with kids from the Jewish community in the area. Most of my older siblings were married or in college, but I had a twin sister.

I don’t have the experience of living with a lot of family, but my older brothers and sisters were always around, coming home for dinners. And six children on my block were born within four months of each other, so there were lots of kids to play with. We rode bikes, played tag, and as long as we got home by dusk, our parents didn’t mind. But I liked to spend time with my older siblings, who taught me so much. I was so interested in what they did, what they said, and how they treated me as equal even though they had jobs with influence.

What sort of things did you talk about at home?
Well, my father was interesting. He was a minister as well as a machinist. In many families, you didn’t talk about religion or politics. We did. And so my dad would throw out a headline from the paper or something from the news or something from the Bible. He allowed us younger kids to have equal time as the older siblings. We were taught to value what everyone said; we could vigorously state our opinion as long as we respected the other person’s opinion. So it was about listening to them and expecting them to listen to us. I remember hearing these large men that I looked up to, and they’d talk about the mayor and policies that impacted our family and our bottom line. My father was a block club president, very involved in the community and believed in the community coming together.

How would you explain the relationship your family and community had with government or police?
It’s important to look at the history. In earlier decades—the ‘40s and early ‘50s—the Black community in Detroit had an economic base that was thriving. That was destroyed because of urban development. The city just bulldozed those areas, put in highways, and because of redlining we were only able to live in certain communities. Whatever had been built up was taken away. Well, what happens? There was no just compensation when people lost their homes, their neighborhoods. And if you put pressure in a bottle, it’s eventually going to burst.

Marchers for fair housing in Detroit head down Woodward towards Ford Auditorium Sept. 1963. Detroit News Archives

Marchers for fair housing in Detroit head down Woodward towards Ford Auditorium Sept. 1963. Detroit News Archives

We knew, just from our friends and family and people talking, that police were not kind to the Black community, especially in certain areas. In our neighborhood we didn’t experience that as much, because it was predominantly White. We didn’t have police driving the street looking for things. But a lot of communities did. The police had what was called the “big four”—a cop car with four big police officers in it. They would just cruise the area looking for things. Like, if there was a Black person standing on a corner, they’d say, “N-word, you don’t want to be here when we come back around.” There was a feeling for many of being trapped. Of not being able to breathe. We were always taught to respect police, but we were taught that respect goes both ways.

The police, for example, took on after-hours parties. These parties went on all over the city, of course, but the police targeted the Black community and made arrests. It was easier for them. Just like the war on drugs. They chose to go into communities where arrests were easier, and the people had no resources to seek justice. It was an easy way to build up the coffers of the rich.

The government will invest in prisons vs. people. And sometimes enough is enough.

What were you doing in the summer of 1967?
We lived in the same place, three streets from the wall and two and a half blocks from 8 Mile. I was in elementary school, so we were on summer break. My twin sister and I were home, along with my older brother who was a senior in high school. My other siblings had moved on to college and careers by then. That July, my parents were in California visiting my older sister, so another sister and her husband were staying with us.

What term would you use to describe what happened that summer? Riot? Rebellion? Uprising?
When I kept hearing the word “riot,” even as a child, it didn’t make sense to me—I knew that wasn’t the correct way of looking at the situation, but that was all they said on the news.

Even if you were removed from the unrest logistically, as I was, you really couldn’t escape it as a person of color. Wherever you went, you were seen as a part of it. You were recognized as being part of the community that had supposedly started this.

That was the view: that the “Black community” started it. But no one was looking at the genesis. No person who respected themselves and their community wanted to be treated the way the police were treating African-Americans. Injustice was the genesis.

Uprising is the term.

How did you first hear about the unrest of that summer?
When we started hearing things, we weren’t sure what was happening. I had cousins that were closer to what was going on. So we were hearing things. My parents called a lot from California, making sure my brother, sister and I were staying home. My parents were so concerned because that first 24 hours, everything was word-of-mouth. There was a blackout, you know, so there was no television, no radio . . . all anyone knew was what they heard from people close to it. There was something happening.

After the second day when the news was covering it, you kept hearing from adults, “Stay home, stay home! You don’t want to go over there!” Well, of course as kids, we did not listen. So I’d go up with friends to 8 Mile. And I saw these tanks, these huge trucks full of soldiers. I didn’t know they were National Guard, but I knew what war looked like . . . we’d seen images from Vietnam on TV. Now they’re coming down 8 Mile? What are they doing? Are they coming for people like me? I just remember running home, wondering if we were next, if we had to barricade ourselves in the house.

With my parents out of town, it was scary. For kids to feel safe is so important. And we were feeling unsafe. Unsure. It was so unsettling, and you don’t know where it’s coming from. My neighborhood was becoming more and more Black . . . could I go visit my friends? My cousins? It was emotionally stressful for kids especially. You only heard things here and there.

Something was changing and you don’t feel like it’s ever going to be right again. Now, years later, we know it’s trauma. But that vision of tanks coming to you never goes away. Even if you know your community is one that’s safe, you see this happening and you’re scared.

And when you heard adults talking about it, asking if we’re going to be safe, you really knew something was up. My parents came home, and my father exuded strength. I felt safe as soon as they got back and I felt that I could relax. But my older brother was probably wanting to get out, to be with his friends. I’m not sure how limited he was, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t allowed to go in certain areas.

What was the impact of the uprising on your neighborhood and community?
Of course, after this all happened, the response from the police department was to become harsher. They added a police unit known as “STRESS.” So that meant more war on people.

Now, some responses were more thoughtful. New Detroit was being developed, things like that. Good intentions, but you really can’t have change unless you address things from a systems level. And there was no one looking at that . . . except the Kerner Commission. It took a while, and then no one did anything with that report. We had proof of the problem, but no one addressed it and no one looked at solutions.

And those are solutions that we still need today. Everyone says, “Why, why, why?” Well, we had a report that told us why, and we didn’t listen. We all should have known that these issues were going to come back. I used to operate a day care, and I’d always tell parents, “if your child doesn’t experience the stages of development naturally, they will hit those stages later and it’s going to be harder on parents and harder on the child.” So if they aren’t allowed to put their hands in their food and explore textures when they’re toddlers, they’re just going to experience that at a later age, which is going to be far more challenging for the child. The problems in Detroit weren’t dealt with at the appropriate stage, either.

So when Detroit—and America—first had these experiences, and we did not come out of it thinking about how to develop the whole community instead of isolating the groups. We should have known the issues would just come back. Another time of rebellion would emerge.

When we have decisions made on fear, we’re not considering how the decisions impact the community or the people. When we protect ourselves and what’s “ours,” we lose sight of protecting an entire community. We have to think more about the community as a whole and how we grow closer instead of isolating ourselves.

Why are you doing the work you do today?
My grandfather always said, “If you can’t find an example, be one.” And so the legacy my parents left me is that of being an example. Part of the work that my father started, always asking questions about what’s happening in the world, in our community, that was his way of introducing us to community engagement. We went to community centers, nursing homes, and there was a major emphasis on thinking about more than ourselves.

One of the quotes that inspires me is from Alice Walker: “The most common way that people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” My work is about helping people see that they have power and that they need to use it.

For more information on the Michigan League for Public Policy’s work on racial equity, please visit the following links.

— Renell Weathers

Reflections on growing up in Detroit in the Sixties and the ongoing fight for race equity

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

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I grew up on Wisconsin Street in northwest Detroit. I have vivid memories of my walks to Bagley Elementary School, Post Junior High and Mumford High. I never worried about my safety walking to school, my future or whether college would be an option. But things were changing—and racial disparities were growing—right before my eyes.

Mine was the last class from my neighborhood elementary school to go to Post and I became acutely aware of changes in the racial makeup of northwest Detroit and the neighborhood shifts that were happening. As the Black student population of Post increased, White parents didn’t want their kids to go there anymore. I felt very badly that the Black and White kids didn’t interact much.

Fast forward to Mumford High School in 1962. My friends and I were on the college prep track, but most Black kids were in the vocational education track. Classes weren’t very integrated except for gym and swimming and there was little socializing among the Black and White kids unless you were involved in sports (never my strong suit!).

Blockbusting was rampant. My parents decided to move to the suburbs in Oakland County after I graduated high school. I felt such guilt. The first time I came home for a weekend from college was to a new home without trees, without sidewalks, without diversity.

And back at college were war protests, sit-ins and frat parties. As I learned more about the world around me, I wrestled with my place in it. I thought a lot about the luck of the draw. Why was I able to grow up with few struggles even though I was a first-generation American while people of color faced so much adversity?

During the summer of 1967, I had a job as a teller at a credit union. I drove to work on the Southfield Freeway and saw dozens of tanks filled with the National Guard. I thought I was in a war zone. I couldn’t believe what was happening to the city I loved and the residents and business owners who loved the city. The experience was even more alarming on the streets and in the neighborhoods.

Detroit had come unpinned amidst racial tensions, civil unrest and an uprising of disenfranchised residents. We were glued to our TVs. A friend of mine lived in the Green Acres subdivision near Livernois and 8 Mile Road in northwest Detroit, and we spoke on the phone about the fires and looting happening all around.

The news saddened and frightened me. But eventually, it opened my eyes.

In many ways living in Detroit and experiencing the unrest, albeit from afar, helped set the foundation for me to work on social justice issues as an elected official and now as head of the Michigan League for Public Policy, but I confess I was a bit of a late starter. I wish that I had spoken up more then, paid more attention to the signs I saw about the inequities around me. I tutored kids at the Jeffries Project (actually snuck out of the house to do it) and thought I was making a difference, but in retrospect, there was so much more I could have and should have done.

But I am trying to make up for lost time and missed opportunities today. That’s why I am so invested in the racial equity work we are doing here at the League.

race-place-policy-matter-in-ed-graphic-1Last fall, we focused on racial equity in our annual public policy forum, bringing people of all races together to have those difficult but necessary conversations. We strive to look at every element of our work through a racial equity lens. And we continue to draw attention to the rampant racial disparities that exist in 2017 that stem from many of the actions and decisions of the 1960s and previous decades by people in power—primarily White men. In the past year, we have examined racial disparities in our education system, the alarming inequities in child well-being for kids of color, and the lopsided racial incarceration rates that are devastating our families. Our community engagement staff continue to work on the ground with communities of color in Flint, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and more.

Looking back at what happened in Detroit in 1967, my hope is that people and times are different now, but I know that hatred, fear, frustration and economic insecurity still challenge us today. I, for one, am working hard to do now what I couldn’t do then—truly have an impact on achieving racial equity in Detroit and Michigan.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Despite recovery from recession hunger threatens Michigan’s health and economy

Added August 1st, 2017 by Julie Cassidy | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Julie Cassidy

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, headlines have trumpeted the state’s recovery and inspired hope for a bright future filled with abundant jobs, comfortable incomes and a high quality of life for Michiganians. As the League’s new policy brief, Still Hungry: Economic Recovery Leaves Many Michiganians Without Enough To Eat, explains, what these headlines don’t capture is that the recovery hasn’t touched everyone in our state equally, and people at the lower end of the economic scale still struggle disproportionately with unemployment, underemployment and low wages. For many, income and employment gains have been insufficient to overcome rising food prices and other barriers to healthy food access. As a result, roughly 1.5 million Michiganians still don’t have enough to eat. This is not the time to downsize our anti-hunger efforts. Instead, we should preserve and expand existing programs that have proven effective and implement other reforms to ensure that all Michiganians have the fuel they need to lead healthy, productive lives and keep our state on an upward trajectory.

Still hungry blog graphic 1Certain people experience food insecurity and hunger more than others or are particularly vulnerable to the associated negative impacts. These residents and families who are struggling would be harmed disproportionately by proposals to restructure government nutrition programs and slash funding for other services that provide a basic standard of living for millions of Americans.

Households with children are less food secure than those without children. This is troubling because it’s difficult for hungry parents to support their families and raise healthy children, and nutrition is so important to children’s health and development, academic success and prospects for the future.

Seniors and people with disabilities often have increased nutritional and healthcare needs while also facing limited income opportunities and mobility challenges. This combination presents barriers to healthy food affordability and access.

In rural areas, poverty is often higher than average, full-service grocery stores may be rare and dental care providers may be scarce. Further hindered by a lack of public transit, rural residents may struggle with food availability, affordability and accessibility more than those living in urban and suburban areas.

A long history of public policy shaped by racism has left Black and Latino households at a broad disadvantage which leaves them particularly susceptible to the devastation that comes with a national economic crisis. As a result, food insecurity among households of color remains significantly higher than the peak level of food insecurity experienced by White households during the Great Recession.

Although some people are more affected by hunger than others, ultimately we all pay the price of food insecurity as the negative health impacts trigger a domino effect that burdens families, strains the healthcare system, harms the viability of our workforce and increases poverty.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and a number of other federal services provide much of the funding that our state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations rely on to fight hunger in our communities. Other state and local initiatives involving government, nonprofit entities and the business community further fight hunger and boost the state’s agriculture and grocery industries.

These services help families achieve food security, keep people out of poverty, promote health and stimulate our economy. For these reasons, the League is pleased that Michigan’s 2018 budget includes funding for several healthy food access initiatives, such as $500,000 for the purchase of wireless equipment that will enable more farmers markets to accept Bridge Cards, support for Double Up Food Bucks to combat the effects of lead poisoning in Flint, and expansion of the 10 Cents a Meal program.

Still hungry blog graphic 7 reportThese resources, however, aren’t sufficient to serve everyone in need and address root causes of hunger, so society continues to incur billions of dollars in avoidable costs through poor health and a less dynamic workforce. Ensuring access to adequate healthy food presents one of the most cost-effective opportunities to strengthen our state’s greatest resource—its people—and promote our state and national prosperity.

— Julie Cassidy

Why I have zero tolerance for “zero tolerance”

Added July 28th, 2017 by Alex Rossman | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alex Rossman

A few blocks from our office is the building formerly known as Walnut Elementary School, where I attended kindergarten through third grade. Depending on where I’m going or coming from, I occasionally chance past it and a memory or two always comes to mind.

The playground area is especially noteworthy (and not just because of the AMAZING Another Bad Creation song). I lost my first real fight there, cutting open my eyebrow on a corner of the brick building and requiring stitches. And I won my first fight there, in a “Christmas Story”-esque vanquishing of a longstanding bully that has infamously and affectionately become known as “The Time You Hit Larry With the Boot” to my siblings (I turned the 80s-tastic moon boot that came off my foot in the melee as a weapon of opportunity).

principals_office2It was a simpler time then and I don’t remember getting suspended for either of these incidents. To my recollection, writing “sentences” was the most frequent punishment meted out. And I assure you that in my early years, I wrote almost as many sentences as Bart Simpson.

I was suspended once, later in elementary school, again for fighting (though mostly for really pushing a substitute teacher’s buttons). In middle school and high school, I did occasionally find myself in detention or kicked out of class. And I wore several t-shirts and did several things in high school that probably wouldn’t fly today in terms of good taste or a safe environment.

Kids today haven’t had it so easy and don’t get the same chances to be KIDS, do dumb things and learn from them. The dramatic increase in school shootings and heightened fear of terror attacks led to Michigan lawmakers passing “zero tolerance” laws. But as is often the case, legislators overcorrected.

Beginning with state legislation that took effect in 1995, these zero tolerance school policies were hamstringing school officials and forcing them to treat every incident the same, regardless of the context or intent. There have been countless instances of a kid making an honest mistake, but getting suspended or expelled nonetheless because zero tolerance left no discretion. In the 2014-2015 school year, 1,347 students were expelled, with a median of 157 days expelled. These policies also were having an adverse effect on students of color in particular, with significant racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions that also contribute to lower graduation rates and higher rates of incarceration.

Luckily, parents, teachers, organizations and elected officials began to take notice of the flaws of zero tolerance school policies. We at the League have been speaking out against these policies since 2003, when they were addressed in our Kids Count Data Book. And we, along with the ACLU and other concerned organizations, have been working for more than a decade to fix these policieswork that will finally pay off next week when the elimination of Michigan’s zero tolerance school discipline problems takes effect.

The League was proud to support the passage of these bills, as they will better serve students, parents and schools. It was encouraging that these bills received bipartisan support and were heralded by Governor Rick Snyder. We all want safe schools, and truly malicious or dangerous behavior will still be punished accordingly. But the huge majority of kids that, like me, had a lapse in judgment or are just a little unruly, will now be able to be treated more reasonably and fairly. And that’s good news for us all.

— Alex Rossman

An interview with analyst Julie Cassidy on health equity

Added July 20th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry

Earlier in July, League policy analyst Julie Cassidy attended the Michigan Public Health Institute’s Health Equity and Social Justice Workshop. Here, she weighs in on some questions relating to the workshop and to inequity in the healthcare industry.

Q: What are the root causes of health inequity?
A. We look a lot at “upstream factors” related to a person’s health, such as access to transportation, housing conditions, access to healthy food, that sort of thing. But there are actually factors even further upstream than that, and the three main ones are institutional racism, class oppression, and gender discrimination. Those things have a major influence on the social determinants of health.

Q: Can you give an example of this kind of inequity?
A: We learned that African-American patients on Medicare are three times more likely to have a limb amputated as White patients on Medicare. Both groups had similar health backgrounds. So we talked about why that might be. One reason might be geographic. Hospitals or healthcare facilities in areas with larger-than-average African-American populations might have different practices and policies that ultimately result in more amputations. Additionally, African-Americans might face more barriers than people of other races to measures that can prevent amputation.

2017_Health-and-Safety_WebBut there could also be implicit bias on the part of the healthcare provider, which is a frightening issue. Providers might be making unconscious judgments about a person’s ability to manage their own health, or they might be making judgments about the value of people’s bodies based on race. The doctor might assume “This person is not going to do what I tell them to do to manage this problem, so I might as well just amputate to avoid further problems.” It’s really disturbing to think about. But we need to think about it if we want to effect change.

Q: Can you explain the social justice movement taking place in public health?
A: We learned that public health arose in the first place as a response to industrialization, which is really interesting. Through the public health field, we made all these historic advances in health status through things like the abolition of child labor, food safety, adequate housing and the establishment of the minimum wage. Over time, though, the role of public health began to serve more of a technical and managerial role, while many inequities in society were exposed, and of course many have worsened. We’re now going back to those social justice roots. We’re examining how power imbalances and issues of privilege affect public health.

Q: What was the biggest takeaway from the workshop for someone in your position?
A: I saw that there was still a lot of value in applying the concepts to our policy work. The workshop presented a particular framework that resonated with me: The Four Levels of Oppression and Change. This was helpful to me in thinking about where we can be most effective in promoting a policy change. The levels are: Personal, Interpersonal, Institutional, and Cultural. Cultural refers to those broader ideas about what is normal or right or true. A permanent change requires intervention on all four levels, and one person or even one group can’t make those big changes. Working in the policy area, we focus mostly on the institutional level, but this framework helped me to be more conscious of the right ways to make decisions about the kind of advocacy we’re engaged in.

Q: What are some stories from the event that impacted you?
A: We shared a lot of personal stories about experiences with poverty or injustice, and discussed the trauma that a lot of people with low incomes can face, from infancy to adulthood. We watched a film called “The Raising of America” that detailed the community trauma that occurs. It followed an urban neighborhood made up mainly of people of color. What really stood out to me was that children growing up in this community were experiencing the same kind of stress that causes PTSD, basically from the day they’re born. It’s the same kind of stress that you hear about people experiencing in combat. But in this case it’s constant, not just one isolated event. It’s a lifelong trauma in many cases, and we talked a lot about the community bonds that are necessary to keep people healthy and safe.

Q: What is it that community leaders and groups should be doing to help?
A: Well, there’s a history of disinvestment in low-income communities and communities where there are a lot of people of color. And that comes out in the form of a lack of parks and greenspace, programs for kids—in some of these areas it’s not safe to go for a walk. So there has to be a focus on making these investments in communities where they’re most needed, not just in communities where residents have the money and can decide to pay higher taxes.

In the film, one community put in a neighborhood fitness center. Some people would look at that and say, “That’s a luxury. Why is this low-income community wasting its tax dollars on a gym?” But if your neighborhood is not safe for jogging, if you can’t send your kids outside to play in their own yard, and if we accept the premise that exercise is important to maintaining good health and that people have a responsibility to exercise, then a gym is essential. Those are the kind of things that we should be investing in.

Q: What about the healthcare industry? Other than education, what are some steps that can be taken to combat inequity?
A: As the healthcare field moves more and more toward a team-based model and community- and home-based care, we might need to rethink the traditional credentials used to determine whether someone is qualified to be a healthcare provider. People from families with low incomes, people of color, and people with disabilities face a lot of barriers to getting the education required to provide healthcare under the traditional model. However, we need people from these communities and demographic groups to play a role in public health. They have a perspective that is often lacking, and they can be more effective in connecting with the service population, building trust, and helping doctors and policymakers to better serve these populations.

Q: What can Michigan residents do to help stop this inequity?
A: If you don’t work in the public health or policy field, it can be tough to make a direct impact. But honestly, a lot of it comes back to the importance of listening to people when they talk about their experiences, and just having empathy. These things start close to us, so we have to have uncomfortable conversation with our friends and co-workers and families. We need to have the tools to address these conversations as they come up—to learn to address bias and racism and assumptions, to be deliberate and intentional with the language that we use. We can get at the cultural level of oppression when we begin to examine our personal relationships.

Q: Where could someone go to learn more about health equity and social justice?
A: Some good educational resources could be found at Center for Global Policy Solutions, Demos, the Center for Social Inclusion and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. People in Michigan looking to do advocacy work could contact Action of Greater Lansing, Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance , their local Black Lives Matter groups, or their local health departments. The Ingham County Health Department has some great resources, for example.



Weaving a wider safety net is good for all kids

Added July 14th, 2017 by Laura Millard Ross | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Laura Millard Ross

This morning, a neighbor dropped my son off at a babysitter’s. The sitter will shuttle him to a sports class later today, where a coach will keep an eye on him and remind him to use the bathroom when necessary. He’ll go back to another friend’s house after that and play Uno with her until I pick him up. In just a few hours, my son will have been supported by four adults who are not his family members. This day is pretty typical for him. Working parents need all the help they can get, and I firmly believe in the idea of children being raised with community support.

In my classroom, it’s not much different. When students feel supported by everyone—teachers, parents, counselors, lunchroom attendants, secretaries, coaches—they are more successful. We all play a role in our kids’ well-being; they need to know we care.

In Michigan, though, we are ranked 41st in the area of education by the 2017 national KIDS COUNT Data Book. In the 2015-2016 school year, 27.4% of our students were considered “chronically absent”, which means they missed at least 10% of the school year. Over 9% have dropped out of high school. These kids need our support most of all.

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

I’m fortunate enough to teach in a school district with excellent resources and a kind, caring staff. But sometimes there are pieces to the puzzle that we can’t find. A student will miss several days of school. We’ll send an email that bounces back. We’ll call home and often there’s no answer. We’ll track down siblings and other family members.

But as teachers, we’re limited in what we can do to help kids who are at risk. We need a bigger community. In my experience, despite many 80s movies that would have us believe otherwise, truancy is not typically due to kids skipping school to hit the local arcade. There’s usually a reason more valid than that.

When a student returns from a mysterious absence, we might learn that she had to work for a few days to help the family out. Or maybe he had to babysit his nieces and nephews so his sister could go to her job. Sometimes it’s the flu. Sometimes the explanation is more worrisome than that. And sometimes we don’t hear an explanation at all, which is the scariest piece. Kids who are struggling need all the help that they can get, and we as teachers can only do so much.

That’s why I was so pleased to see that the 2018 Michigan budget signed by Governor Rick Snyder today included an expansion for the Pathways to Potential program. Part of the Department of Health & Human Services, Pathways works to build partnerships between schools and families. The program places “success coaches” in schools to help break down barriers and connect kids and their families with the services and supports they need to thrive.

Whether it’s helping kids get winter gear, bringing in therapy dogs, giving free haircuts, or simply sharing smiles and laughter, these coaches are making a difference. They’re one more adult in the building who cares about kids. And they care about parents, too, offering advice on counseling, health benefits, crime prevention, and other resources that are available to families.

In the program’s first year, truancy rates dropped by 9% in the 21 schools that piloted it. Today, over 200 schools benefit from Pathways to Potential. My school is not on the list, but I’m so glad to see that the program will continue to grow next year. Community is key, and putting support directly in schools just makes good sense.

As I remember to thank the members of my little community for what they do for my kiddo each day, I’ll also do my part to help the Pathways to Potential program reach all Michigan kiddos who would benefit.

— Laura Millard Ross

Is Michigan a welcoming state?

Added July 11th, 2017 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

When I was in college, I helped mentor a young high school student who had recently moved to the area with his parents from Oaxaca in Mexico. While in school, we spent time working on school work and learning English. But we also talked about missing his family back home and about why his family chose southwest Michigan, of all places, as a place to land.

While this young man and I haven’t kept in touch over the years, he has stuck with me. Our conversations come to me more today as we face a pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment throughout our state and nation.

Within a week of taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that essentially restricted travel to the United States from several Muslim-majority nations. Many people, including legal residents, refugees fleeing war-torn countries and students, got caught by this ban and were forced into limbo, to remain at airports or to return to the country they traveled from. This ban has since been halted, and a subsequent one will soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

Since then, it seems some people, lawmakers and government agencies think they’ve been given license to discriminate.

More than once in the past six months, I’ve seen newspaper stories about immigration raids in cities near where I live, and in other cities, I’ve heard stories of immigration officials waiting outside of schools. In Michigan, legislation is pending on the House floor that takes aim at any local government that might have a “sanctuary policy,” and there was recently discussion on a bill that would make English the state’s official language. These bills are unnecessary—solutions in search of a problem—and are simply meant to divide “us” from “them.” The League and many of our partners opposed these bills, but the Legislature may move forward anyway.

ITEP Undoc Immigrant State 400x225Furthermore, the Trump tax plan and budget call for requiring a Social Security number to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, which just stokes the anti-immigrant sentiment. The IRS already requires a taxpayer to have a Social Security number to receive the EITC. So this really isn’t a policy change. Furthermore, by targeting assistance intended to benefit children, and which studies have shown have long-lasting positive impacts on the lives and well-being of children, this only hurts many U.S. children who have no control over their parents’ immigration status.

Did you know immigrants pay taxes? In fact, in Michigan, undocumented immigrants pay roughly $86.7 million in state and local taxes (and would pay more if they were granted full legal status). Their effective tax rate is already higher than the top 1% in Michigan. And regardless of legal status, they are not stealing our jobs or our benefits.

Too often immigrants are treated as culprits for whatever ails us, when really they make this nation a richer place to live. The young man I mentored over a decade ago saw the United States—and the great state of Michigan—as an opportunity for a better life. And while I hope I helped him, I know he improved my life greatly.

I do have hope though. I have hope when I look at my son with one of his best friends, whose family comes from a country in northern Africa. While I know my son sees their differences, all he really wants to do is play with his friend. And in the future, I hope that he doesn’t see those differences as something that divides them but rather as something that unites them.

— Rachel Richards

A better budget for all Michiganians

Added July 7th, 2017 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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In our world, “winning” isn’t clear-cut. There’s no finish line, no time limit, no line judges, and certainly no landslides. Our victories are determined not by a final score, but by a day-to-day analysis of how Michiganians are impacted by policies and programs. And when the state budget bills were passed by the Michigan Legislature in late June, they included several victories for us and the people we’re fighting for.

diversity 428x200Though we still have concerns about certain elements of the final budget, we are pleased that this budget was largely created with the well-being of Michigan residents in mind.

Food Security

One of our most important policy priorities is that of food security, and the new budget certainly earns solid marks in that area. A major goal of the League this year has been to support “heat and eat” to secure additional food assistance for hundreds of thousands of Michigan families, seniors and people with disabilities. Seeing this program funded is reassuring. The budget contains support for other valuable food programs, including “double-up food bucks” in Flint, which helps residents who receive food assistance make their dollars go further when purchasing fruits and vegetables that help combat the effects of lead exposure.

We had hopes that the Legislature would fund the Corner Store initiative, which provides grants to small food retailers, allowing them to make fresh, nutritious foods available in low- and moderate-income areas. However, we are grateful for the acknowledgment that this is an important program and hope that funding becomes available for it in the future. Another positive point in the healthy foods column is funding for farmers markets to purchase wireless equipment, allowing them to accept Bridge Cards.

Child Care and Education

Child care is another big focus of the League’s, not just due to the learning environment it provides for kids but because of the significant expense and concern it means for most parents. The final budget includes $8.4 million in state general funds and $19.4 million total to increase child care provider reimbursements—paving the way for more access to higher-quality care for families with low incomes. In addition, $5.5 million in federal funding from the Child Care Development Fund is appropriated to increase the entry eligibility level from 125% to 130%of poverty.

The expansion of At-Risk funding for students in struggling families is encouraging, as is the increase in per-pupil funding, particularly at the high school level. While the increase is not yet on par with inflation, it is certainly a move in the right direction. Another gain is the Legislature’s decision to increase funding for the Pathways to Potential program, which places ‘success coaches’ in schools to identify barriers faced by students and their families. This important program—left out of an earlier budget draft—will help students access important services, and the League commends Gov. Rick Snyder for recommending its expansion.


The decision to continue funding the Healthy Michigan Plan is a positive for all Michiganians—especially the 670,000 residents who rely on the plan for healthcare.

Department of Corrections

We are pleased that the Residential Alternative to Prison program was expanded. It provides low-risk probation violators an opportunity to avoid going to prison and instead enter a residential program in which they receive occupational training and cognitive behavioral programming. The budget not only continues this program in Wayne County, but adds $1.5 million to replicate it in 13 counties on the west side of the state.

Federal Cuts Loom

Unfortunately, the gains made in this budget could be undone by the senseless and insensitive policies being considered in Washington. If the Trump budget or the U.S. Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) are passed, the people of our state will lose many valuable resources and benefits. These federal cuts and program eliminations would dramatically shift costs to our state budget and force the Michigan Legislature to make cuts of their own.

While we celebrate the victories in the 2018 state budget, we urge you to take action against these proposals that would undo the good progress we’ve made. Please keep up the pressure in the fight against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the elimination of the highly successful Healthy Michigan Plan. And if you haven’t already, please contact your members of Congress and tell them you strongly oppose the Trump budget and its historically harmful cuts to the services our residents depend on.

Our success in the state budget process shows the power of persistence and advocacy. We will continue to put that same energy into policy work at the federal level, and we hope you will, too.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Helping women helps children

Added June 30th, 2017 by Harriet McTigue | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Harriet McTigue

I’ve always been interested in how our society treats women. Women are impacted negatively in almost every sphere of their lives: social, personal, economic, professional. Women are less likely than men to be in the labor force, and more likely to live in poverty. And it’s even worse for women of color who face a number of institutional barriers.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about how women are affected in policy: maternity leave and child care policies in the Trump budget that benefits the rich, the American Health Care Act’s negative affect on women, access to equal pay … and the list goes on. All of these policies that impact women usually have consequences—positive and negative—for our children. If women can’t afford healthcare, housing and basic necessities, it’s often children who suffer. We can only work to help our children through the equal support of their mothers.

Kids mom brushing teethData shows that a family’s struggles are a child’s struggles. In Michigan, 22% of our children are in poverty, 54% of third graders aren’t reading proficient, 9.1% have dropped out of high school and 15% live in households that were food insecure in the past year. The average median income for Michigan families with children is $61,600, and for Black/African-American households that number is less than half: $27,200. Ten percent of children live in extreme poverty, and 24% of Black/African-American children experience extreme poverty. All of these factors of children’s well-being are directly influenced by parents’ economic standing.

Parents often face significant obstacles in their daily lives. And when families can’t afford to provide food or buy school lunches, don’t have reliable forms of transportation, or have to work multiple jobs during teacher office hours, students experience challenges outside their control.

If you want to help children, you have to help the people in charge of them: parents. And often in cases of poverty, their mothers. Fifty-two percent of Michigan children living in one-parent (mother) households are in poverty.

Women and families need to be fully supported if they’re going to be successful and if we’re going to have a successful society. Our government needs to accept responsibility for better supporting our families and our children.

My experience as a woman, and as a child in a household with income instability, pushed me towards policy and political science, because disadvantaged and vulnerable people need to be heard in our world and our culture. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work. The League works tirelessly to improve the economic security of those living in Michigan, and to improve the lives of children.

To take care of children we must take care of their families.

As a new member of the League, this is why I do the work that I do. As a data lover, I hope to help inform work that improves the lives of kids, mothers and all families in Michigan.

— Harriet McTigue

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