MLPP Blog: Factually Speaking

Life at the League: An interview with Phyllis Killips on her four decades of service

Added September 22nd, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Phyllis Killips

Phyllis Killips

In September of 1977, a young high school graduate cranked out 78 words per minute in a typing test. Little did she know, a 40-year career had just been born.

Phyllis Killips, assistant to the president, just celebrated her 40th anniversary of working with the League, and she sat down to answer a few questions about the changes she’s seen since the 1970s.

Q: How did you come to work at the League (then the Michigan League for Human Services)?

A: I had just graduated high school and a friend and I decided we needed jobs. We went to an employment service to take some tests. When the service reported my typing score to the Michigan League for Human Services, they called and said, “Get her over here!” I had several interviews—one with our very serious director at the time, Maury Beck—and they hired me. I couldn’t believe it. It was my very first job offer and I took it.

Q: What are some of your first memories of the League?

A: My second day of work was our big regional meeting. They gave me a nametag marked “staff” and had me sit at the publications table. I was 17 years old and had no idea what the League was all about. I was terrified! People kept asking me questions and I really didn’t know the answers. A few days later, I was asked to take minutes at a board meeting. For whatever reason, they thought I could do these things. And eventually I did!

Q: The League’s board of directors recently presented you with a cake that featured a typewriter. How has technology changed your job over the years?

A: Well, our typewriters weren’t that ancient. We had memory typewriters when I started, so you’d program the typewriter with up to 50 different settings. It was great to be able to save the information, but since you had no visual, you had no idea whether or not you had made a mistake, and you had to keep lists of all the programs. Computers came to the office in ’81 or ’82, and that changed everything. It made our jobs so much easier because we could actually see what we were typing.

Our donor and member database is something I really love. I was nervous about learning it at first, but it has made my work so much more efficient. That’s one thing…I tend to want to stick to what I know, but that taught me that sometimes it’s better to try something new.

League President Gilda Jacobs and Board Chair Charley Ballard present Phyllis Killips with a cake comemorate her 40th anniversary

League President Gilda Jacobs and Board Chair Charley Ballard present Phyllis Killips with a cake to commemorate her 40th anniversary

Q: You’ve invested 40 years here. What made you decide that the League was more than just a temporary job?

A: Oh, the people. Even though a lot of people have come and gone in the time I’ve been here, they’ve all been really wonderful. Everyone is helpful and it’s been a great place. It’s like family*. And the fact that everyone here is working to help families and children in Michigan, well, that’s just something so special.

*In Phyllis’s case, it’s not just “like” family. Mary Logan, who also works in the office, is Phyllis’s sister-in-law. Phyllis’s brother was looking for a date back in 1979, so Phyllis offered to set him up with the “new girl” at work. He needed to see a picture before he’d commit, so Phyllis awkwardly asked Mary to give her one of her senior pictures. A double date was set, and the rest is family history.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in your time here?

A: Well, we’ve changed our name and moved to four different offices! When I first started, we were on Mill Street, where Impression 5 is now. Then we moved downtown to Washington, then the Penn Building. I love our office today in Old Town. It’s great to be near the river trail and be able to take walks.

Q: What fun memories do you have of your time here?

A: Oh, boy! There are too many to say. And some I probably shouldn’t say! I vividly remember a fundraiser we did—it was called the “Corned Beef Fundraiser.” I have no idea why that was the theme, but it was a big deal—an event we did one year in the 80s with the help of the UAW. Lynn Jondahl, who has been on the board since I’ve been here, was the emcee. He’s a really funny guy and had us all laughing so hard. Everyone really enjoyed the night so much, and afterward we all went to the Boom Boom Room in Lansing…a crazy place! So that’s maybe a good place to stop that story!

Obviously the 100th Anniversary Gala was a special event. Lots of former employees came back for that in 2012 and we put a lot of work into making it a good celebration.

And I think the most heartwarming memory is when Sharon Parks, the previous director, retired. It was really sweet. Mary, Tillie, Jackie and I all put on hats and sang a song that Mary wrote. It was a great send-off to Sharon, and a great way to welcome Gilda to the office.

I’m just glad to be here. I had an opportunity to leave once, and I’d probably be retired by now if I’d taken it. But being here, working with such supportive people, it’s good. I’m glad I stayed.

Phyllis Killips

Some good news about poverty, but Michigan still has a long way to go

Added September 21st, 2017 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

Poverty bar chartOn Sept. 14, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual state poverty statistics. We learned that Michigan’s total poverty rate (15%) and child poverty rate (20.2%) are at their lowest in eight years, and that the poverty rate for African-Americans and Native Americans fell significantly since last year.

A poverty rate that is almost back to where it was just before the Great Recession is something to celebrate. It suggests there are fewer people experiencing serious hardship in our state. But, as so often is the case, there are a few caveats to the good news.

Pov pull quoteFirst, the poverty rate simply shows the percentage of the population that is below the federal poverty threshold. This measure was designed in the 1960s based on food costs, and many experts—including the person who created the poverty threshold measure—believe it is outdated as a tool for determining levels of need. While the poverty threshold for a single parent household with two children is $24,339, for example, the League in its Making Ends Meet report calculates that after taking expenses such as rent and full-time child care into account, the household would need $47,321 to meet its needs without government or private assistance—nearly twice as much as the poverty threshold. We must never assume that just because a family is not officially considered poor, it is not experiencing financial difficulty.

Poverty full time year roundSecond, it is possible for a person to work full time and be in poverty. A full-time, year-round minimum wage job will not bring a three-person family above the poverty line. The idea that “the best way to leave poverty is through work” is correct, but only if the job pays an adequate wage.

Third, Michigan does not do a good job at helping its residents leave poverty. Temporary cash assistance (popularly called “welfare”) is only available to households with income below $9,768 per year—approximately half the poverty threshold and considered to be “extreme poverty.” Michigan’s Legislature has not set the minimum wage at a level that will enable workers to leave poverty through work. And, Michigan has cut adult education funding and programs that help low-skilled workers attain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in the job market.

The Census data also shows that Flint has the worst poverty rate in the nation for a city its size, and Detroit, while its rate declined, is still ranked high as well. Michigan needs to figure out how to bring jobs back to the state or grow new jobs, but also invest more in adult education and making college tuition cheaper to make sure that the people who are suffering the most are prepared for those new jobs.

Policymakers in Michigan cannot just sit on their laurels because the poverty rate is improving. Rather, they need to prioritize state funding to help make work pay and to help residents get the skills they need to leave poverty permanently and move toward economic security.

— Peter Ruark

Avocado toast and youth advisory councils: How young people are getting involved in advocacy

Added September 15th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Casey Paskus

Casey Paskus

My name is Casey and I am one of the newest interns at the Michigan League for Public Policy. I am so excited to begin working with this amazing group and experience working with a policy institute dedicated to helping the people of Michigan.

I am a senior at Michigan State University (Go Green!) studying international relations and Muslim studies. In the limited free time I have between late nights writing research papers and my internships with the League and the Michigan House of Representatives, I help run social media for an on-campus club for student activists. Learning more about how citizens interact with their governments in my classes inspired me to become more engaged in the surrounding Lansing community and the state, and to make sure other young people are aware of ways to become engaged!

The Michigan Legislature has a big impact on all of our lives. It may not seem as exciting as the weekly crises that arise in the U.S. House and Senate (not to mention the White House!), but the State Legislature has a lot of say in our statewide education system, our ability to receive medical treatment and even in the treatment of the many refugees and immigrants we welcome into our state. Decisions are being made every day that impact all of us, so it is important for young people to be involved in the process.

Young people may not have the ability to vote until the age of 18, but there are many other ways they help advocate for their communities, from joining local advocacy groups or youth advisory councils to organizing protests, petition drives and social media campaigns to calling or writing policymakers.

 

Casey Protest Pic 488x282

 

Throughout Michigan’s history, coalitions of families, young people and adults have launched many successful advocacy campaigns across the state. For example, in 1976 Michiganians collected signatures for the well-known Bottle Bill, which placed a deposit on bottles and cans to encourage returns and recycling. The bill passed in 1978, and Michigan made history as one of the first states with container deposits. And it was local families and community members that made the Emmet County Dark Sky Park a reality in 2011 with their passion for astronomy and the beauty of the night sky. Because of low levels of light pollution in this area, nighttime visitors can see billions of stars and even the arms of the Milky Way!

Young people can also find inspiration in 9-year-old Amariyanna Copeny, also known as “Little Miss Flint,” whose letter to former President Barack Obama about what her community experienced due to lead poisoning spurred his visit to the area and brought national attention to the ongoing water crisis. No matter your age, if you or a young person you know has an issue to discuss with state or national policymakers, make sure to check out these advocacy tips from the League!

If advocacy seems overwhelming, there are many organizations around Michigan that facilitate exchanges between young people and their elected officials. Michigan’s Children has created many programs that connect policymakers with the young people they serve, including their KidSpeak and Youth in Public Policy events.

The Youth Advisory Committee at the Council of Michigan Foundations is another great way for young people to get involved in state policy. This committee is made up of Michigan residents ages 12-21 and is responsible for allocating grant money to nonprofit youth programs around the state.

If you don’t have much free time to spare between classes and after-school activities to commit to a youth committee or similar organization, you can also write a quick email to your elected officials about an issue you are passionate about!

It may seem that young people can’t do much within their communities because they cannot vote—however, nothing is further from the truth. There are many ways for young people around the state to get involved, from writing letters to joining advocacy groups. South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it best when he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Stay educated, stay alert and stay active!

— Casey Paskus

Discovering my abilities from preschool to “Spartan”

Added September 14th, 2017 by MLPP | Email This Entry Email This Entry
MLPP
Lorenzo Santavicca

Lorenzo Santavicca

Transitions are a natural part of life, no doubt. While the transition from diapers to underwear was still seemingly too big for me to fathom, my parents had another one in store: enrolling in and going to preschool.

In short, I was adamantly against this new experience.

Granted, it may seem odd to be able to recall the emotional feeling at this stage of my life; however, as a young child I felt nothing more at that time than uncertainty of the world outside the home. I was first described by my preschool teacher, Mrs. Robin Kowalski, as shy, quiet and undetermined to achieve anything except for getting through the school day.

It was finally halfway through the year that I spoke for the first time in class. Needless to say, my teacher had tears in her eyes when I decided to show my true colors. My success in self-confidence was a celebratory affair for my family and faculty alike.

Fast-forward to 2017. I am now a senior at James Madison College of Michigan State University, closing in on graduation with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations. As I near the end of my undergraduate college career as a two-year Student Body President and an intern for the Michigan League for Public Policy, I can’t help but reflect on the dramatic difference my educational pathway has made in helping me evolve these past 21 years.

Surely, my pathway to success wouldn’t have been the same without my early childhood education experience. Comprehensively, early education programs improve cognitive development, emotional development, self-regulation and academic achievement. Longer-term benefits also reflect that of the community, such as reduction in teen birth rates and crime rates. So, how can today’s Michigan toddlers expect the same success in childhood development that I can directly attribute coming from my earliest experience in preschool?

The Great Start Readiness Program, or the state-funded preschool program for 4-year-old children with factors which may place them at risk of educational failure, is just one way for the state to advance its goal to be a “Top 10 State within 10 Years” under the Every Student Succeeds Act. While the initiative is designed for 4-year-olds, the curriculum may be modified and adjusted for 3-year-olds. The opportunity to attend preschool will only improve the success of a young learner in today’s changing society.

children-raising-handsBut what is Michigan’s report card currently showing in preschool enrollment? In 2015, only 47.4% of our state’s 3- and 4-year-olds were found to be enrolled in preschool, up slightly by 1.2% comparatively to rates measured by the League in 2009. Rural communities are falling behind in early childhood education enrollment compared to urban communities. Families of marginalized communities face additional burdens when it comes to early childhood education enrollment. Specifically, children of Latino or Hispanic background are underrepresented in early childhood education with 53% of children reported not to be attending preschool.

For our state to continue on a path of success in education, parents should be able to rely on our education systems to lead our youth into a path of childhood development before reaching for the pencil in kindergarten.

Now interning for the League, I can only hope to be a change-agent for our youth across the state of Michigan by connecting and sharing my story with legislators, meeting with our partners, developing policy work to prove the necessity of early education programs, and promoting the success of our state’s economy specifically through early childhood education. In the end, I hope to be an advocate of closing the gaps across communities in early childhood education enrollment so every kid is able to benefit from that experience.

Personally, I know that I would never have been able to feel confident to raise my hand and ask for my pencil to be sharpened if it wasn’t for my own preschool experience. I can only assume that there are more students in our state that could truly benefit from the experiences of early childhood education.

— Lorenzo Santavicca

Unemployment rate masks the real story of lost workers

Added September 7th, 2017 by Peter Ruark | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Peter Ruark

In July, Michigan’s unemployment rate dipped to 3.7%, the state’s lowest unemployment rate since 2000. Given the economic hardship our state endured for more than 10 years, let’s acknowledge and celebrate that.

Now for the bad news: while the unemployment rate tells us that a higher percent of people who are looking for work are finding it, the labor force participation rate tells us that a lower percent of the population are working or looking for work.

More bad news: Michigan’s 2016 workforce was still 326,000 workers short of what it was in 2000. The state has not gotten back even half of the nearly half-million workers that Michigan lost between 2000 and 2012.

As this year’s Labor Day Report shows, Michigan’s workforce is graying: the share of the labor force that is age 55 or older has nearly doubled, from 11.6% of the total workforce in 2000 to 22.2% in 2016. Yet retirements don’t explain the loss of workers, because a higher percentage of Michigan residents in that age group are working than in 2000.

LDR Labor force 55+

On the contrary, it is the population age 16-24 that is less likely to work than before. The labor force participation rate of 16-24-year-olds was at 72% in 2000 (consistent with the previous two decades), dipped alarmingly to 55% by 2011 and 2012, and had risen to only 63.4% by 2016. The nonparticipation of younger Michigan residents in the workforce is a major factor in both the state’s lower labor participation rate and in the inability to replace the workers lost since 2000.

LDR Labor force by age group 450x407Much of this reflects national trends. Teenagers and young adults are not entering the labor force in the proportions that they used to, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as possible reasons stagnant wages and competition for low-wage jobs by older unskilled workers due to the loss of higher paying jobs. The lower participation rate is true for both the population that is in school (secondary or postsecondary) and the population that is not in school.

As a state, we must address this situation. Immigration is one way for some of the lost workers to be replaced, and Governor Snyder has made it clear that Michigan is a welcoming state for immigrants. Immigrants arriving with higher skills can fill some job vacancies immediately, while those with lower skills often raise their children to become educated and skilled at a higher level than they themselves are.

For the young people already in our state who come from households with low incomes, Michigan should seek out ways to provide more access to training that leads to career-path employment—not just four-year college degrees, but “middle skills credentials” such as licenses, certificates and associate degrees. Michigan should also seek out ways to help participants in such training succeed by addressing barriers such as child care, transportation and the need for basic skills remediation.
Michigan may be rebounding, but it is obvious we still have a ways to go.

— Peter Ruark

When hate comes to town: Where do we go from Charlottesville?

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

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When I was elected to the Michigan Legislature in 1999, I remember wondering how my ancestors would have reacted. My parents moved here with their families in the early 1920s, fleeing the pogroms in Europe. Thousands were slaughtered in anti-Jewish violence as these publicly sanctioned attacks intensified.

But my family escaped.

I’m humbled to think of what my parents endured as young children—that they were able to evade certain death and be given a chance in this country. My parents had the opportunity to work, to create a living and provide for their family, and to have their children do something that was meaningful. And then I was given a chance to make a mark by helping people living in this state. I know my ancestors would never have thought it possible for their great-granddaughter to hold a seat in government.

voices for racial justiceThat’s why watching events unfold in Charlottesville sparked such a visceral response from me. The vile behavior, the racism, the anti-Semitism and the vitriol on display made me realize what the League as an organization—and what we as human beings—are confronted with. To hear in the days following the violence that the displays were “fine” was deeply concerning. I am a proponent of free speech. But I am also the product of a people who have been decimated by violence and hate. I am sickened when I see these patterns begin to emerge again.

This is not to say that hate has been absent in our nation. Unfortunately, I think we’re getting a glimpse at what’s been out there all along. People feel emboldened by the rhetoric that has become acceptable in our country by elected officials. But I feel emboldened to fight it. Our organization has far more work to do if we’re going to tackle racial justice, social justice and economic justice issues. We have a moral imperative to continue to do the right thing on our end.

We condemn the behavior in Charlottesville, but we must go beyond printed words. We at the League will redouble our efforts to use our platform and work with our allies. As an organization and as individuals, we must be the role models so that our children see the adults around them speak out against prejudice and social injustice.

People now feel they have a license to be public about their hatred. And we have a responsibility to speak out when we see injustice. We can’t continue to say, “This is a fringe element.” We have learned in recent days and weeks that these vocal groups seek to expand and spread their hateful message. There are moments when I can’t believe what I am seeing and hearing, but in those moments I reflect on the statement that Martin Niemöller wrote in response to the rise of Nazi power in Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Fighting the kind of injustice we saw in Charlottesville is what led me to public service. And it’s what led my family to the United States. I refuse to remain silent.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

My favorite kind of bagels are “Keep Fighting” bagels

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

I’m no newbie to late nights (that often turned into early mornings) watching legislation be written, debated and voted on. During my four years working in the Michigan Legislature, I saw countless hastily written amendments being put up for votes, short fuses getting the best of everyone, and even chants of “Shame! Shame!” being shouted at the majority party reminiscent of an episode of Game of Thrones after they refused to let members speak.

So when I heard that the U.S. Senate was expecting a long night trying to pass their latest version of the Affordable Care Act, I settled in.

I’ll admit when the evening started, I figured it was a done deal. As the Senate began debate, the months we had spent fighting against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the healthcare millions of Michiganians depend on were definitely hanging in the balance.

At around 1 a.m., the Twitterverse was going crazy. Things had stalled—votes weren’t being taken, reporters were analyzing body language and many people started predicting that things were not going well for the Majority Leader. Then in dramatic fashion, Sen. John McCain joined Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski (who had been publicly outspoken about the repeal attempts) in opposition to what was considered the Senate’s last ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. At 2:30 a.m., I emailed my co-workers in celebration and headed to bed.

The next morning, I thought we needed to celebrate. I stopped at my favorite downtown Lansing bagel shop for bagels. It was there I ran into a friend and told him about my “celebration bagels,” but he reminded me that they should actually just be “relief bagels.” And he was right because the fight to protect all the gains made through enactment of the Affordable Care Act was and is not over.image2

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and to stifle efforts to enroll people in the ACA exchanges during open enrollment. The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report on the impact of terminating cost-sharing reductions. Cost-sharing reductions are paid to insurers to cover costs of a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that requires them to offer plans with reduced deductibles, co-payments, and other forms of cost-sharing to individuals purchasing plans on the healthcare exchanges. The report found that by not continuing these payments the federal deficit would increase by $194 billion by 2026, would drive insurers to exit the marketplaces, and would cause premiums to increase by 20% in 2018 and 25% in 2020.

We are happy to report that President Trump has decided to fund these payments for the month of August. We encourage Congress to make a permanent, mandatory appropriation to ensure full funding of CSR payments in order to stabilize the marketplace and erase much uncertainty in the insurance market.

There is also word out of Washington that Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are working with the White House to push their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Cassidy-Graham plan continues many of the same flaws in the previous Senate and House Republican repeal and replace bills—and would have the same damaging consequences.

As an advocate, I get it—it’s been a long eight months and we are all exhausted. We are fighting battles on every corner. But it is important for us to remember why we do this work. Incredible work has already been done and it’s okay that we celebrate the little victories, but the next bagel you buy better be a “keep fighting” bagel, because as Congress returns to work next week, so will we.

Emily Schwarzkopf

 

Facing the realities of child care and work

Added August 25th, 2017 by Pat Sorenson | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Pat Sorenson

Twenty-plus years ago when I was the mother of three young children, I worried—like most parents do—about finding child care that I trusted on my budget, as well as how to juggle my job with the inevitable childhood colds, ear infections and bouts of pink eye.

Both seemed like mountains to climb. My first two children were born 14 months apart, so for a period I needed to find infant care for two. High-quality infant care was not only in short supply, but it came at a higher cost. My third child suffered from asthma, so he was frequently sick, changing my work availability without notice.

I was lucky. I had a job that provided me flexibility to deal with child care changes and sick days. My work was largely during standard working hours when there was a greater supply of care options, and I didn’t have children with special needs. I also had the resources to pay for higher-quality child care, which cost more than my mortgage at the time.

But, the reality is that I didn’t know what high-quality child care was at the time. I tried to rely on my uninformed instincts and word of mouth, but I didn’t feel confident that I was doing what was best for my children.

Today, thanks to the work of the Office of Great Start and the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, parents have some tools to evaluate quality in child care settings, including a five-star rating system for child care providers.

MI child care challenges opportunities graph 1Unfortunately, many parents still can’t afford higher-quality child care, and have to rely on informal relationships with neighbors and relatives—many of whom are juggling work, health, financial and other struggles of their own. The cost of child care for two children in a Michigan center exceeds $18,000 per year, consuming over 60% of the wages of a family with income at 150% of poverty ($36,900 annually for a family of four).

The Michigan Legislature recently approved some long-needed increases in child care spending, including funds to boost payments to child care providers—many of whom have such low incomes that they are themselves eligible for some forms of public assistance. Also approved was a small bump in the income eligibility cut-off for child care subsidies (from 125% of poverty to 130%).

This is good news for Michigan families but we have a long way to go. The number of families receiving child care assistance has fallen dramatically, in part because of the state’s stringent income eligibility guidelines and disincentives for providers.

The need for affordable child care remains high. Unemployment has dropped in Michigan and nationwide since the Great Recession, but many of the new jobs come with very low wages. Between June of 2016 and 2017, Michigan was one of only 10 states with declining average weekly wages—adjusted for inflation—for workers in private sector jobs.

In a new Budget Brief, the League outlines needed child care reforms including a further expansion of eligibility and child care practices that provide incentives for providers to care for children who receive a state subsidy.

We can and must invest in child care as a two-generational strategy to ensure that parents can work to support their children, and children have the benefit of a high-quality early learning experiences. Both are critical investments in the state’s future economy and workforce.

— Pat Sorenson

The RAISE Act raises no one

Added August 23rd, 2017 by Victoria Crouse | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Victoria Crouse

For the past year, my 87-year-old grandmother has been studying American civics from her living room in preparation for her naturalization test. With determination and focus, she studied the story of how our nation came to be, pausing every so often to practice her pronunciation of names and events—“Abraham Lincoln,” “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” “The Vietnam War,” and so on. Last week, her efforts finally paid off when she passed her naturalization interview and became a U.S. citizen.

My grandmother’s story in this country began more than 30 years ago when she came to America from Mexico and became a permanent resident through a family-based visa category that enables U.S. citizens to petition for visas for immediate family members. Her daughter, my aunt, petitioned for my grandmother’s visa immediately after becoming a citizen herself and the two were reunited in Chicago, Illinois.

New League Policy Fellow Vikki Crouse celebrates her graduate school graduation in May 2017 with her grandmother, husband, parents, sister and aunt

New League Policy Fellow Victoria Crouse celebrates her graduate school graduation in May 2017 with her grandmother, husband, parents, sister and aunt

My grandmother’s journey is similar to that of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who apply to obtain legal residency in the United States each year and often endure long waiting periods before they are issued a visa. Unfortunately, the family-based visa categories that created a path to citizenship for my grandmother and her children are being threatened today. In the coming weeks, Congress will consider the RAISE Act, a bill that would drastically change our country’s approach to immigration and refugee resettlement. If passed, the bill would:

  • Eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program which issues 50,000 immigrant visas to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. through a lottery system annually.
  • End some family-based visa categories, and in doing so, close the door on tens of thousands of immigrants hoping to reunite with their families in the United States.
  • Cap the number of refugees who are able to resettle in the United States at 50,000 annually. The previous administration had lifted the admission ceiling to 110,000 for fiscal year 2017. This cap would drastically lower the number of refugees admitted into the country and prevent the sitting U.S. president from lifting the ceiling in response to humanitarian crises.
  • Shift away from a demand-driven model for employment-based immigration that allows employers to petition for foreign workers.
  • Introduce a points-based system that would score who is eligible to enter the country. This system would cap the number of visas issued each year at 140,000 and disproportionately exclude women, older adults, those without a formal education and those from less-developed countries.

The net effect of this legislation would be a drastic reduction of legal immigrants coming to the United States, and a long term loss for our economy and our state’s labor market. If the RAISE Act is passed, the United States would stand to lose approximately 1.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. Immigrants of all skill sets keep Michigan’s economy solvent and help to revitalize and enrich our communities. We need a system that treats people as people, values the contributions of our immigrant population and helps us maintain a strong modern economy.

My grandmother’s naturalization ceremony is just around the corner. On that day, she will wave the American flag and recite an oath of allegiance to this country. I will always remain thankful for her sacrifices. It is because of her courage and resilience that I am a first-generation college graduate. Her triumphs and struggles are part of the reason why I developed a passion for immigration policy, and why I decided to join the League as a policy fellow this year so that I could continue to advocate for the rights of all immigrants. It’s time that our members of Congress and state legislators join me and other advocates in standing up to harmful anti-immigrant proposals, and push for positive immigration reform that can deliver promise and prosperity to everyone.

— Victoria Crouse

All babies deserve to thrive

Added August 17th, 2017 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

How we treat and care for mothers and babies is a good measure of our priorities. Thinking about my own experience as a mother, the amount of support that I received from family and friends, especially when my daughter was little, is amazing. Every mother deserves to be supported and have access to the things that she needs to ensure her good health and the health of her baby: having someone to ask questions during pregnancy, connecting with caring healthcare providers, having access to affordable, quality child care when returning to work—and paid maternity leave. These are some of the ways we know help ensure that all babies thrive and do well.

Unfortunately, not all moms and babies in Michigan receive the support and care that they need. The most recent Kids Count in Michigan Right Start maternal and infant health report, Infant death rates decline in Michigan, other trends raise concerns, shows us that while some overall trends are improving, there are still disparities by race, place and income. This year’s report focuses on the infant mortality rate, which is improving in our state. However, the rates of babies who die before their first birthdays are particularly disturbing among African-Americans and Latinos. Comparing 2010 to 2015, infant death rates are rising in smaller, rural counties and income level continues to be highly related to the risk of infant deaths.

All of us can probably remember a time that we cared for or held an infant—or even helped a loved one welcome a new baby to their family. We can all also recall how delicate and fragile newborn babies are! As a new parent, I did not feel as prepared as I thought I would even after reading all of the books and reports that I could get my hands on. I could hardly figure out the car seat to get my baby home from the hospital—a first of many challenges!

im-home-visitBut, thankfully I had access to support and care. All families with little ones should too. This is why home visitation programs are extremely important in our strategy to reduce disparities in infant mortality and improve overall maternal and child health outcomes for everyone. Not only have home visiting programs demonstrated remarkable results, but they are geared toward helping those who need the most support.

Home visiting programs equip families with the tools they need to overcome any barriers or challenges they are facing during pregnancy or the first years of their child’s life. Trained professionals, sometimes nurses or social workers, make home visits with families who have voluntarily enrolled to have one-on-one conversations about any concerns that expectant or new parents might have. For example, if an expectant mom is having difficulty getting to her doctor for prenatal care, the home visitor will work with community partners to help her get to the appointments. Participants in these evidence-based programs experience improved access to prenatal care, reduced preterm births and more, which are critical to reducing infant mortality rates. Just listen to some of the experiences Michigan families have had.

While over 35,000 families are served in state-funded programs, there are many more families in need of services than are currently served. Home visiting programs have been rigorously evaluated and do improve health, increase financial security and reduce child maltreatment. State policymakers should consider expanding the reach of these programs with additional funding. Plus, the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program will expire at the end of September. Congress must reauthorize the program, but also increase its funding to reach more families.

If we are to ensure that all babies thrive well beyond their first birthdays, policies should be targeted to serve those most in need. With rising rates of infant deaths for Latinos and African-American babies being more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday as White babies, reducing racial disparities is a critical component in reducing infant mortalities. Home visiting is a part of this solution.

When I look at my daughter today as she darts all over the soccer field, I think about all the support I had and how she’s the strong kid she is today because of it. All Michigan kids deserve to have a foundation like hers.

— Alicia Guevara Warren

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