MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Helping all kids get the right start

Added November 18th, 2016 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

As someone working in this field, I am far too familiar with the importance of maternal health to child development. During my pregnancy, I was constantly stressing myself out trying to make sure that I was eating all of the right things, exercising enough, gaining enough weight—but not too much. I tried my best—with all of my resources and supports—to increase the likelihood of a healthy birth. It’s hard to imagine smoking during my pregnancy—even back in 2008 when my daughter was born. Yet, in Michigan nearly one in five births in 2014 was to a mother who smoked during her pregnancy. That’s actually an increase from 2008.

Why, in 2014, were so many expectant moms smoking and why has it increased? The Right Start: 2016 Annual Report on Maternal and Child Health – Mothers Smoking During Pregnancy Increased Since 2008, Disparities Exist by Race & Place reveals that state efforts targeted to help pregnant women quit smoking are very minimal. Tobacco Settlement dollars continue to be redirected to support unrelated activities and the tobacco industry spends nearly $190 on marketing for every $1 dollar spent by the state on smoking prevention. The American Lung Association grades Michigan an “F” in funding for smoking prevention and cessation and for access to these programs.

michigan-revSo, while over 19% of births in Michigan were to mothers who smoked during their pregnancy, less than 2% of mothers reported receiving classes or support for smoking cessation and only 5% of mothers who smoked during the last three months of pregnancy were referred to a smoking cessation program. And, most adult smokers started smoking before or at age 18. Evidence-based prevention and smoking cessation programs need to be supported, expanded and targeted.

Smoking during pregnancy—or even being exposed to smoke in a household—is extremely harmful for babies. It can cause a number of complications at birth, low birthweight in babies, birth defects and increase the likelihood of a sleep-related infant death. It can also result in babies being born too early.

In Michigan, according to the new report, preterm births are also on the rise. In 2014, over 12% of births were considered preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation), which is more than a 20% rate increase from 2008. Babies who are born too early or too small often face adverse health outcomes both in the short- and long-term. For example, children who are born preterm and whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are at a higher risk of chronic lung disease and asthma.

Maternal and child health outcomes vary by race and ethnicity and geography. While White women have the highest rates of smoking during pregnancy, the rate of smoking increased the most for Latina mothers. The rate of babies born too early has also increased for Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics with African-Americans having the highest rate of preterm births. Higher smoking rates also tend to be found in counties with smaller populations and seem to be concentrated in the lower northern part of the state. Information on maternal and child health is also available online by county and for Michigan’s 69 largest cities and townships at the Kids Count Data Center.

All mothers want the best for their babies. Because of institutional and geographic barriers, efforts to prevent and help expectant mothers quit smoking need to be targeted and evidence-based. Smoking is one of the most preventable behaviors. We need to do more to ensure that moms and babies are healthy.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

After the election, focus on the electeds

Added November 10th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Elections can be rough. Believe me, I know. I spent around thirty years of my life running for office. I have tasted victory and endured defeat. But regardless of the outcome, I survived and forged ahead, continuing to work to make a difference in any way that I can.

It is on all of us to do the same right now. This campaign season was more divisive than ever and there is palpable pain and anger. We can’t let those feelings continue to pull us further apart.

moving-forwardInstead, we have to channel that energy and use it for good. The election is over and regardless of who and what you voted for, the real work starts now. It is time to engage with your elected officials at the local, state and federal level and stand up for the Michigan kids, workers and families we all care about. You have the power to build a better Michigan that is meeting the needs of everyone.

After this week, I firmly believe our work at the League is more important than ever. A respected, data-driven and nonpartisan voice will be needed to cut through the political rancor and stand up for the people of Michigan.

The League has been around for more than 104 years. That means that we’ve survived a lot of elections and always stayed true to our mission and the people of Michigan regardless of who was in office. We are nonpartisan because we believe the well-being of all Michigan kids, families and workers is nonpartisan, and we will work with anyone and everyone to make sure their needs are heard.

You can do the same. Whether you supported them or not, you have the power to influence your elected officials as a constituent. Many of them are coming to Lansing for the first time and have a fresh perspective and a clean slate.

Remember that relationship-building is a key to effective advocacy. It’s up to you to be as visible in their offices as lobbyists and special interest groups will be. In fact, the next two months between the election and the new session is a prime time to meet with them.

And we’re here to help. We believe that research, data and sound analysis will always win out over partisanship and political rhetoric. We work hard to ensure that child well-being, economic security, and race and gender equity get the attention they deserve, and that includes providing you and your elected officials with local information to highlight these needs.

Here are some fact sheets to help you get involved with your state and federal elected officials:

Legislative Districts | Kids Count County Profiles | Earned Income Tax Credit | County Data | Select City Data | American Indian Reservation and Trust Lands

Information is vital, but it is only one part of the equation. That’s why the League has also compiled an advocacy guide and a list of advocacy tips to empower you to get engaged.

Democracy and public policy go hand-in-hand. But regardless of the outcome of elections, we must be resolute. I hope you will join me in continuing our fight for an economy that works for all.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

A spotlight on race equity

Added November 2nd, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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No one wants to talk about race. Or so we thought six months ago when we were first discussing making race a focal point of our annual public policy forum.

Luckily, we realized that the challenges and discomfort around race were the very reason for tackling it. We need to talk about it. We need to make the connections to public policy clear. And we need to help policymakers and the public understand that we can fix racial inequity.

Last month, we put these goals into action at our 2016 public policy forum, Race, Poverty and Policy: Creating an Equitable Michigan, which brought together more than four hundred residents and state and national experts from advocacy, business, government and media. Topics included the current national climate on race and the role of race in the policy crises with Flint’s water and Detroit Public Schools.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose discovery of elevated lead levels in Flint’s children made policymakers address the Flint water crisis, was honored with the League’s “Champion for Kids Award” at the forum. For our keynote address, we brought in Rinku Sen, a nationally acclaimed advocate and president and executive director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation.

In her presentation, Rinku laid out three keys to make racial equity a bigger part of policymaking going forward:

  • Be specific and talk plainly about racial issues, establishing clear, universal definitions and eliminating jargon;
  • Focus on racism in policies and the impact of systems, especially hidden motives and implicit bias; and
  • Toughen up on strategy.

Rinku noted that on stronger strategy, one effective tool is using a racial equity impact assessment tool that facilitates a thorough, race-conscious analysis of proposed or existing policies, practices or programs. She also called on policymakers to make the most of the political movement for racial equity that is happening now.

The forum also included five breakout sessions to discuss challenges and possible solutions to racial inequity and poverty in Michigan: Solutions for Cities in Crisis; Government’s Role in Achieving Race Equity; The Next Move: Taking Equitable Action for Change; From Watchdog to Dog-Whistle: Media’s Role in Reporting on Race; and The Business Case for Racial Equity. To see a list of the panelists for each session, you can read the League’s press release on the forum.

We have put a photo album from the policy forum up on our Facebook Page and I encourage you all to check it out. While it’s impossible to replicate the energy and excitement of this event, I hope this column helps convey the actions that were born out of it and inspire you to get involved.

Finally, I want to thank all of our generous forum sponsors. Their support enabled us to make this event free and open to all who wanted to attend. It also showed that we have a unified front between the public and private sectors in tackling race equity. Promoting race equity in public policy is a major undertaking, but we can’t wait any longer to try to fix it. Our forum was an important first step that we will keep building on in the months and years ahead.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

From first-generation college student to social justice warrior

Added October 26th, 2016 by Janice Mendoza | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Janice Mendoza

As a child, my mother always motivated my brother and I to achieve through public education. In her heart, she knew that being educated would be the only route that we would have out of poverty.

As a kid in elementary school, I faced two main challenges: 1) English was not my first language, and 2) my mother’s lack of education prevented her from being able to help me with my academics. Living in a predominantly Mexican American community in San Bernardino, California, my teachers faced extra pressures in aiding my development. I found myself falling behind due to my inability to complete homework assignments. For a while, my brother who is one year ahead of me held the responsibility of trying to teach me various subjects. Finally, I received an invitation to participate in an after-school program to address my needs.

During my seventh grade year, my mother made the decision to move to Michigan. While I adjusted well to Hazel Park Junior High, I faced a different set of problems once I reached high school.

High school is supposed to be a time to prepare for college. I admit, I started off in Honors classes, but dropped all of them due to personal issues. Not one counselor was there to guide me. Living in a low-income area, I did not have the resources to be a competitive applicant to colleges and universities. My school only offered a couple of Advanced Placement courses, which I did not qualify for. During my sophomore year, Hazel Park High School started receiving assistance from the Michigan State University (MSU) College Advising Corps. With their help, I was able to get accepted into MSU on a system of academic probation.

As I walked across the stage to receive my high school diploma, I had an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness. I attended an institution that was on Michigan’s priority schools list. I knew I was not academically prepared to attend MSU in the fall. During the summer of 2014, I attended a seven-week summer bridge program, TRiO, which is designed to foster college readiness for first-generation attendees and students whose families are struggling financially. This made a major difference and I am proud to say that I am now thriving in my junior year because of my mother, myself and the help I received.

As my story shows, many people cannot simply “pull themselves up,” and it takes more than willpower to succeed in the United States. After gaining an understanding about the institutional barriers that prevent the advancement of communities of color and people facing poverty in Michigan and beyond, I am now an advocate for the allocation of resources to fix these problems. I have faced my share of hurdles and now want to help others who are in my shoes do the same. I am interning with the League because they understand what is needed to help all Michiganians succeed—such as access to child care, early learning, paid leave and healthy food—as well as the importance of diversity and inclusion.

— Janice Mendoza

SNAP: Fighting the long-term effects of hunger

Added October 18th, 2016 by Rachel Richards | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Rachel Richards

I admit I do not understand what it feels like to be truly hungry. Sure, I’ve forgotten my breakfast or lunch from time to time, but I’ve always been able to count on the fact that there would be food in my cupboards. I cannot imagine the short- and long-term effects of hunger.

Yet, for many Michiganians, and many children, hunger is still a real problem. According to a recent federal report, between 2013 and 2015, almost 15% of Michigan households struggled to put food on their tables. Nationally, this rate is higher among households with children.

snapThe good news is that for many Michigan residents with low incomes, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is able to help. And a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities documents the critical help that this program provides as well as explains the long-lasting benefits that are experienced by children that receive food assistance.

In Michigan, about 1 in 6 residents received SNAP benefits in 2015, with nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants in families with children. About 28% of Michigan children, and 32% of elementary-aged Michigan children, are served by SNAP. Average monthly benefits in 2014 ranged from $138 to $394, with households with children receiving the biggest benefit. However, this still only equates to less than $2 per meal per person.

Despite the modest amount, SNAP provides a huge benefit to households that receive it, especially children. Receipt of food assistance provides both an immediate and short-term benefit and can have long-lasting economic and health outcomes on children.

  • Economic well-being: Nationwide, SNAP helped keep about 10.3 million Americans out of poverty in 2012. In Michigan, 326,000, including 141,000 children, were kept out of poverty due to SNAP. Receipt of SNAP also helped lower food insecurity, and allowed households to put food on the table.
  • Child health: SNAP allows families to spend more on healthy food, which frees up other resources to spend on healthcare and other basic needs, like housing, heating and electricity.
  • Educational outcomes: Research is clear—access to an adequate, healthy diet is vital to educational success. SNAP participation can improve reading and math skills as well as increase the chances of graduating high school.

In Michigan, we could do more to make this program work for our residents. Michigan currently implements an asset test on potential SNAP recipients. While the intent was to eliminate the fraudulent receipt of benefits, all the test does is make it unduly burdensome for Michiganians undergoing economic hardship to claim much-needed benefits and punishes families for saving for emergencies, their children’s future education or their own retirement. This test should be eliminated.

In addition to the limitations from the asset test, many Michigan residents also lost vital food support when the state failed to find the funds necessary to continue the Heat and Eat program. Under this program, many Michigan residents were provided a small amount of heating assistance that maximized their food benefits. When the federal government changed its rules, Michigan stopped providing this benefit, and recipients lost an average of $76 in food assistance per month. An opportunity to fund this program was squandered by state lawmakers this year. But there could be another opportunity during the legislative lame duck session following the election.

It’s clear that SNAP has an immediate and long-lasting positive effect on the many Michigan residents that receive it. But the need to improve the program still exists. We can, and should, do more to help protect our most vulnerable Michigan children.

— Rachel Richards

It’s time to end racial inequity in education

Added October 13th, 2016 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

My father, a man of Norwegian descent who grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota, was one of many beneficiaries of the GI bill. As part of the first generation in his family to attend college, with public financial support he excelled and launched a career as a professor of economics. The opportunity given to my father changed the trajectory of my parents’ lives and mine.

While ostensibly race-neutral, the G.I. Bill did not have the same effect on educational attainment for Black and White veterans after the war, in part because of admission policies that limited access to colleges and universities. As a result, a public policy that appeared to increase equality and opportunity actually did little to overcome consistent institutional barriers and inequities in access to education and housing for veterans of color.

The need for greater equity in educational opportunity is highlighted in the League’s recent publication—Race, Place & Policy Matter in Educationwhich was released in conjunction with the League’s October 10th forum that brought more than 400 concerned residents together in Lansing to discuss solutions to poverty and racial inequity in Michigan.

One lesson learned at the forum was that state and community leaders must openly and intentionally address the impact of public policies on racial inequities. While often used interchangeably, the terms racial equity and racial equality are not synonymous. To create equity in education in Michigan, we must move beyond policies that treat all students equally—despite their vastly differing circumstances—and provide the additional resources needed to overcome broader institutional barriers to educational achievement such as poverty, the lack of economic and educational opportunities for parents, and gross disparities in the application of discipline practices that have resulted in disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates for African-American and American Indian students.

race-place-policy-matter-in-ed-graphic-1The consequences of failing to proactively address educational inequities are serious and will affect all Michigan residents. Michigan’s economy, and its ability to provide services to an aging population, depends on a strong, well-educated workforce—one that will be increasingly diverse. The facts are startling: children of color are 2 to 4 times more likely to live with parents who don’t have a high school diploma, and are much less likely to read proficiently by third grade or graduate from high school on time. And, African-American and Latino young adults are less likely to be college-ready or complete college.

The League supports and will work for policies that can create greater equity, including full funding of the state’s At-Risk School Aid program that provides needed funds to high-poverty schools, a two-generational education agenda that addresses literacy levels and educational achievement for parents and their children, more investments in high quality child care and early learning programs, and restorative justice practices that reduce the need for school suspensions and expulsions.

— Pat Sorenson

A student’s take on college debt

Added October 12th, 2016 by Carlos Rios-Santiago | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Carlos Rios-Santiago

Classes are underway again and it is an exciting time for students like me. We get to see old friends, take new and interesting classes, and experience the unique culture our campuses have to offer. However, there is a question that pesters us every waking moment, gnawing at us as we listen to lectures…“How the heck am I going to pay for this?”

At 17, with my only work experience being Burger King, I had to know EXACTLY what I wanted to do for my entire life and how I was going to pay for it. Both are equally daunting at that age. Naturally, when choosing what school to go to, cost was a huge factor. How students pay varies. Some of us might have some money saved up from minimum wage jobs, parents who are able to contribute, or scholarships that help ease the burden. Even so, many of us will struggle to graduate without taking out student loans that will saddle us with debt for the next decade or more of our lives.

gradcapsI went with Michigan State University (MSU), and am majoring in Economics and Public Policy. Let me tell you, it is NOT cheap. Every semester I face a cost of anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 depending on the amount of credits I take, and it keeps rising every year. I am also starting my master’s in Public Policy at MSU, which costs even more. Keep in mind this is for an in-state student, living off campus. Out-of-state students living on campus face essentially double the tuition cost, and have to live on campus for the first year adding another 10 grand in room and board.

And I am not alone. The League’s recent report on higher education funding and student debt found that 62 percent of Michigan college students graduate with debt, averaging $29,450. It’s even worse for students and families of color.

In an ideal world all of us would be able to find a career-related paid internship or job that allows us to cover the full cost of tuition. However, those are elusive and highly competitive. So most of us pay through one of two ways—either work sporadic hours at jobs that can accommodate our schedules (typically a minimum wage position) or take out student loans. This is in conjunction with classes that last multiple hours every day and give multiple hours’ worth of homework, and a career-related unpaid internship (such as my current role as Kids Count Intern at the League) to improve our chances of employment upon graduation. At the end of the week, no matter which we choose, we are physically and mentally exhausted.

There is an alternate path worth mentioning, technical or vocational schools. It is an excellent alternative that is cheaper, often involving an apprenticeship with on-the-job training, and pays a good living wage once training is complete. This also provides you with a means to support yourself and go to university if you so choose. However, many of us do not even realize this is an option until we have already committed to a university and signed off on loans.

We face an increasingly competitive job market that demands high-skilled workers. Without a strong educational foundation, our opportunities are limited and the economy stagnates. It is essential that state government increase higher education funding to ensure all people have the opportunity to attain a post-secondary education without worrying about putting food on the table.

— Carlos Rios-Santiago

Top ten voting tips

Added October 6th, 2016 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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The election is a little more than a month away, and I hope you are all planning to vote on Tuesday, November 8th. Voting is one of the most important and effective things you can do to shape public policy.

Unfortunately, voting can still be challenging and intimidating for some. But it is your right, and I urge you to exercise it. Here are some tips that can make voting a little easier.

  1. Make sure you’re registered to vote. If you aren’t registered, you have until October 11, 2016, to register to vote.
  2. Find out where you vote and make sure your polling place hasn’t changed.
  3. Make a plan to vote. Thinking about what time of day you’ll go and how you’ll get there ahead of time makes you much more likely to vote.
  4. Don’t be late, be there by 8. The polls close at 8:00 p.m., but if you are in line at 8:00 p.m., you will be allowed to vote.
  5. You can view your ballot now.
  6. You can bring your kids to the polls. Don’t let a lack of child care prevent you from voting.
  7. Although still a little complicated, college students can choose where they vote—back home or at school.
  8. Bring photo ID…but you still have the right to vote without one. If you forget to bring a photo ID to the polls or do not have one, you are still allowed to vote by asking to sign an affidavit of identity.
  9. You may be eligible to vote absentee. If you will be out of town on Election Day or will not be able to make it to the polls because of illness, disability, or religious beliefs, you can vote absentee. You can also vote by absentee for any reason if you are age 60 years old or older.
  10. Individuals with a criminal record can still vote, including convicted felons who have served their time or those who are on probation or parole.

This election is extremely important. We are voting for our next president, our federal, state and local elected officials, and for southeast Michigan residents like myself, we’ll be voting on a new regional transit proposal to connect Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties (the League is urging a “yes” vote).

In addition to using these tips to prepare for Election Day, I also encourage you to use the League’s candidate questions to engage with your candidates and inform your vote this last month. Democracy is the bedrock of our country and voting is a right that women and people of color fought hard for. Do not take voting for granted or let anyone convince you that your vote doesn’t matter, because I assure you it does.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Going to college and hoping not to get into debt

Added September 28th, 2016 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

This time of year is when a rite of passage for many parents takes place: dropping off a child at a college or university dormitory for the first time and saying goodbye. My wife and I took part in that ritual a few weeks ago with our daughter, Sophia.


Sophia Leaving for College

For most students, it is an exciting milestone. But many likely also feel a twinge of anxiety: will my degree enable me to pay off my student loans on time?

The League recently took a look at university tuition, student debt and financial aid in Michigan in our Back to School Report. We found that tuition more than doubled at nearly all Michigan universities since 2003, and that Michigan’s average university tuition is sixth highest in the nation. (Michigan Community college tuition, however, is in the bottom half of states.)

We know this is due in part to the fact that state funding for public universities has declined by 30% since 2003 after adjusting for inflation—a slow privatization of our public university system. Tuition now makes up the majority of funding (69%) for university operating expenses, whereas up through 2003 state support provided most of the universities’ funding.

Compounding that problem is that financial aid in Michigan seems stuck in the 20th Century. Michigan ranks 30th among states in awarded need-based aid dollars per full-time equivalent undergraduate student, failing to keep up with rising tuition. Michigan also no longer gives financial aid to students over age 30 to attend community college or public university, despite the fact that older students make up an increasing share of the overall student body.

Not surprisingly, rising tuition and weak financial aid have resulted in 62% of 2014 Michigan college graduates having debt, with their debt averaging $29,450, the ninth highest in the country. Student debt tends to be even higher for students of color.

The League would like to see Michigan policymakers be proactive in reversing these trends. Let’s start by:

Restoring the state funding that has been cut from public universities, coupling significantly increased funding with stronger tuition restraint or tuition reduction requirements.

Making need-based financial aid grants available to older students again by bringing back the Part- Time Independent Student Grant that was cut in 2009.

Implementing a state Work-Study program that subsidizes academically relevant work for low-income adult students while paying a livable wage.

Supporting policies that can help alleviate hardship for low-income students by permitting them to receive cash or food assistance or subsidized child care.

For further information and more policy recommendations, please see our newly released paper Back to School Report: Rising Tuition and Weak State Funding and Financial Aid Create More Student Debt.

— Peter Ruark

Want to keep and attract young talent? Vote yes for regional transit in Southeast Michigan

Added September 23rd, 2016 by Mario Gruszczynski | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Mario Gruszczynski

Every day when I came to work at the League this summer, I had to take two buses. I would walk just a few blocks from my house to Grand River Ave. in downtown East Lansing. I took a bus at 7:20 a.m. to the Capitol in Lansing, and then I would get off just in time to hop on a bus going to our offices in Old Town. I timed my commute pretty well and door-to-door it took me about 40 minutes to get to work. My commute home was slightly more difficult, mainly because there’s more traffic and more people using the bus system. I planned for about an hour to get home.

vote-yes-chart-1While my commute time was well above state averages, I’m extremely lucky to have a public transit system at all. Without these buses, I, a college student without a car, would have no viable commuting option.

But it could be a lot better. Sure, it may only take me about 40 minutes to get to work, but if I drove, it would take 10 minutes. And this is in Lansing, a city with one of the better public transit systems in our state. In Detroit, where buses are unreliable and limited in range, you end up with people like James Robertson, who walked 21 miles to commute to and from his job in Royal Oak.

I grew up in metro Detroit and remain committed to working in the communities that I call home. But we’ve really shorted ourselves by not investing in public transportation the way that other states with large metropolitan areas have. Policymakers have not kept up with economic and cultural shifts that require regional economies to be connected and accessible. While most other comparable metropolitan areas spend at least $175 per capita on public transit, we spend less than half of that in metro Detroit.

detroit-streetThe good news? Southeast Michigan voters now have the power to change that. On Tuesday, November 8th, voters in Wayne, Washtenaw, Macomb and Oakland counties will vote on a proposal that would bring regional transit to Southeast Michigan. The plan would bolster existing transit systems while adding new bus and rail that further connect our communities.

A robust and efficient public transportation system helps young people like me who rely on trains and buses to get to school and work. It helps seniors who are no longer able to drive. It helps families who can spend less time commuting and more time with each other. It helps businesses by bringing communities together, increasing the pool of qualified employees with reliable transportation. And while individuals will benefit from public transit, the real dividends will be paid to the region as a whole. That deserves a yes vote from everyone.

— Mario Gruszczynski

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