Block Granting Food Assistance: An Unnecessary Change That Would Hurt Michigan Families

pdficonApril 2017
Peter Ruark, Senior Policy Analyst

Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP chart 1The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, is an important federal program that helps families and individuals put food on their tables. In place nationwide since 1964, it is available to households that are below 130% of the federal poverty level ($24,842 for a family of three). In February 2017, nearly 737,000 households in Michigan received SNAP benefits.

There are currently efforts to convert SNAP from a federal entitlement program (in which eligibility and benefit levels, work requirements and other rules are set by the federal government and benefits go to all applicants who are eligible) to a block grant (in which states receive federal funding to set up their own food assistance programs with their own eligibility standards and program rules). This is a “solution looking for a problem” that would harm a program that is currently doing what it is intended to do and doing it well.

SNAP IS WORKING WELL IN ITS CURRENT FORM

In Michigan and across the country, SNAP is the federal means-tested program most responsive to poverty and unemployment, expanding to meet need during economic downturns and contracting when the need recedes.1 As shown in Figures 1 and 2, since 1994 (when underemployment data became available), the percentage of the Michigan population receiving food assistance has closely mirrored the percentage of workers who are underemployed.2 Likewise, since 2005 (when poverty data from the American Community Survey became available), the number of people receiving food assistance has generally responded to the number who are in poverty.

In addition to effectively targeting those most in need and responding to economic downturns, SNAP has one of the most rigorous payment accuracy systems of any public benefit program and devotes substantial resources to combatting fraud. The result is that in recent years, less than 4% of SNAP benefits were issued to ineligible households or in improper amounts.3 By ensuring that the money is distributed in the proper amounts only to those who qualify, the current SNAP system preserves the integrity of the program and of the public funds used to support it.

BLOCK GRANTING SNAP WOULD COMPROMISE ITS INTEGRITY AND EFFECTIVENESS

The 1996 federal “welfare reform” legislation converted cash assistance from the federally administered Aid to Families with Dependent Children program to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states. States used their allocated TANF funds and their required state-matching dollars (called “maintenance of effort” or MOE) to set up their own cash assistance programs with their own eligibility standards, benefit amounts, time limits, sanctions, family caps and work requirements (within federal guidelines). In Michigan, the TANF cash assistance program is the Family Independence Program (FIP). In addition to providing cash assistance, states are allowed to use the funds for other programs as long as they fit into four general purposes of TANF.4

Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 1Lessons learned from federal and state TANF policy decisions, and the nature of block granting itself, raise serious concern that block granting SNAP would lead to lower benefits, fewer struggling families receiving assistance and compromised program integrity. Here are several ways in which SNAP could be harmed:

  • Reductions in Overall Funding: Block granting is almost always accompanied by funding erosion if not outright cuts. In 1997, the first year of TANF, Michigan received a block grant of $775 million to provide cash assistance and fund other poverty-reducing programs. The federal government has not increased the basic block grant funding level to Michigan or other states in the 20 years since 1997. As a result, due to inflation, Michigan’s block grant value has eroded to $510.6 million in 1997 dollars, leaving Michigan with much less money with which to help families in need.5 SNAP funds, on the other hand, come to Michigan based on the number of households that qualify rather than on a fixed amount that erodes with time. Block granting SNAP will likely be accompanied by severe cuts and a general erosion of the block grant over time.6 The most recent U.S. House Republican budget resolution assumed a SNAP block grant beginning in 2021 with $125 billion in cuts through 2026.
  • Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 2Prioritization of State Budget Fixes Over Direct Assistance: The ability to use TANF funds for purposes other than direct cash assistance encouraged Michigan (and other states) to fill budget holes by funding existing programs with TANF and MOE dollars instead of the state’s General Fund. While some of these programs target families with low incomes, others tend to help middle-income families and individuals, such as college financial aid. With the flexibility to supplant TANF dollars in this way, providing direct assistance becomes a low priority. This is in contrast to SNAP dollars, which go entirely to the provision of direct food assistance to households. Block granting SNAP may similarly result in state lawmakers diverting food assistance dollars to fill miscellaneous budget holes instead of supporting families who are most in need.
  • Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 3A Perverse Incentive to Cut Families Off Assistance: Enabling states to supplant state budget dollars with TANF dollars creates a perverse incentive to reduce cash assistance to free up money for other uses. Even as Michigan’s poverty and jobless rates during the past 10 years reached record highs, Michigan’s Legislature enacted policies to reduce FIP cases, including keeping the initial eligibility level low (a family’s income must now be at half the federal poverty level to begin receiving FIP) and establishing stricter sanctions and time limits. As a result, in 2015 only 4.5% of Michigan residents in poverty received cash assistance. There are now fewer families receiving cash assistance in Michigan than at any time since the early 1960s, despite the fact that many families continue to struggle. Because all SNAP funds coming into Michigan are currently used for benefits that go directly to recipients, or the administration of those benefits, there is no financial incentive for the state to cut families off assistance—which will change if SNAP funding is block granted.

Block Granting Food Assistance SNAP fig 4Compromised Accuracy and Oversight: The federal SNAP program has an extremely low rate of error and fraud due to diligent federal investment and effort to build up program integrity and efficiency over the decades. Block granting SNAP could shift much of the error and fraud reduction responsibility to states, which do not have needed infrastructure and financial resources comparable to the federal government, resulting in misdirected funds and compromising the ability to effectively provide benefits to those who are supposed to receive them.

Michigan’s experience with TANF and cash assistance illustrates why block granting TANF has been harmful to families with low incomes and to the cash assistance program itself. As seen in Figure 3, while Michigan’s underemployment rate shot up during the 2000s to as high as 21.5% in 2009, the Family Independence Program remained disengaged from the hardship as caseloads remained flat. Likewise, Figure 4 illustrates how FIP was unresponsive to changes in the poverty rate during the past 10 years.

Rather than enact legislation that would harm a program that is working well and hurt struggling families in the process, Congress should build on SNAP’s success by updating household benefit levels to reflect current food prices and providing more support for food assistance recipients to participate in education and training that would increase their earnings.

ENDNOTES

  1. Rosenbaum, D., Block-Granting SNAP Would Abandon Decades-Long Federal Commitment to Reducing Hunger, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March 2017.
  2. The underemployment rate is the number of workers who are unemployed, who involuntarily work part time for economic reasons, and who are marginally attached to the labor force (not in labor force but have looked for a job in the past 12 months), divided by the total in the labor force and marginally attached to the labor force.
  3. Rosenbaum, op. cit.
  4. The four purposes of the TANF program are to: 1) provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes; 2) reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; 3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and 4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
  5. Calculated using the online Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator on April 4, 2017.
  6. Rosenbaum, op. cit.

Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”

It was 20 years ago, in 1996, that Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that transformed cash assistance from a federal entitlement program (meaning that all who meet the eligibility requirements receive a direct federal benefit) to a block grant through which states fund their own programs. The Family Independence Program (FIP) is Michigan’s cash assistance program that is funded by the block grant—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Unlike Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), TANF gave states wide latitude to set their own eligibility levels and work requirements. It allowed states to use federal funds for other things besides cash assistance as long as the expenditure fit within four general purposes of TANF. (more…)

From Safety Net to Springboard: Using the Family Independence Program to Help More Parents Build Their Skills

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Approximately 25,500 families in Michigan receive cash assistance through the Family Independence Program (FIP), including approximately 15,500 adult parents.1 Most parents receiving cash assistance are required to work in order to receive benefits. Due to the low household income limit for FIP eligibility, many families leave the program because parents earn too much to remain eligible. These parents often then find themselves stuck in low-paying, unskilled jobs that do not provide a secure economic future for their families and which cannot adequately cover costs such as child care.

Without in-demand occupational skills signified by a postsecondary credential such as a degree, certificate or license, it is difficult for FIP recipients to become economically self-sufficient. The Partnership, Accountability, Training, Hope (PATH) program, established in January 2013, encourages training as a strategy for achieving economic security, but federal restrictions prohibit the state from making full use of training opportunities for some FIP recipients. Because of Michigan’s high level of work participation, however, the state can implement several changes despite these limitations that would increase participants’ likelihood of success in training programs.2

Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor as adults than those not raised in poverty, and the educational level of parents is an indicator of how far their children will go in education and skill building.3 For this reason, increasing the skills of FIP recipients is a sound, long-term two-generation strategy: by helping parents in the present, Michigan will help their children to become skilled adults, reducing their likelihood of being in poverty and needing public assistance in the future.

Background: Brief History and Structure of TANF

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (informally called welfare reform) that changed the structure of federally-funded cash assistance in the United States. This act replaced the federal cash assistance program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, through which each state would set up its own program within broad guidelines. While federal AFDC money to states was based on the number of cases the state had, going up or down with respective caseload increases and decreases, TANF set each state’s annual block grant according to the state’s 1994 AFDC spending levels. Nineteen years later, Congress has still not raised the amount of the block grant to each state. Michigan continues to receive $775 million per year, the same amount it received in 1997.

The two central features of TANF that marked a major change from AFDC are the establishment of a 60-month lifetime limit and stricter federal work requirements. States may not use TANF funds for families that include an adult who has received federal cash assistance for 60 months (consecutive or nonconsecutive) since the implementation of TANF. States are free to use their own funds to continue benefits to such families and to set their own time limits for those benefits. States are allowed to set time limits on federal benefits that are shorter than the 60-month limit, and many do. Michigan’s lifetime limit for receiving FIP assistance, established in 2006 and made stricter in 2011, is 48 months, a full year less than the federal amount. The federal limit does provide some flexibility to states through the hardship exemption, which allows a state to exempt up to 20% of its cases from the 60-month limit for reasons of hardship as defined by the state.

The other major change with TANF is the federal work requirement. A single parent with at least one child under 6 years old must participate in approved work activities for 20 hours per week; if the single parent’s children are between the ages of 6 and 17, the parent must participate in 30 hours per week of work activities. For two-parent families, the combined work hours must total at least 35 hours per week (55 hours per week if a family receives a federally-funded child care subsidy).

The 1996 law set forth 12 categories of work activities that can count toward the work requirement (some of the categories were further defined when TANF was reauthorized in 2005). Nine of these 12 categories are core activities that can count toward any number of hours of participation, and many recipients fulfill their entire work requirement through one core activity, usually unsubsi-dized employment. Participation in the three secondary activities can count only if the individual also participates in core activities for at least 20 hours per week (single parents) or 30 hours per week (two-parent families).

The allowable core and secondary activities are shown in Figure 1.

The percent of a state’s cash assistance caseload that is meeting the work requirements is known as the work participation rate (WPR). Each state has a WPR target of 50%, but that target can be adjusted by applying a caseload reduction credit—subtracting a percentage point from the work participation target for each percentage point that the state reduced its caseload since the baseline year of 2005 (Figure 2). Prior to 2006, the baseline year was 1995, and due to the large reduction following welfare reform, many states had an adjusted target of 0%. TANF imposes penalties on states whose WPR falls short of their adjusted target.

TANF policy states that no more than 30% of the families that a state counts toward its federal work rates may do so through vocational educational training or, for parents under age 20, school attendance or education directly related to employment. Most years, only 1-3% of Michigan’s caseload meeting the requirements consists of parents under 20 finishing high school, so this is not a concern when trying to bring up the number and percentage of recipients participating in vocational educational training.

The Importance of Postsecondary Credentials for FIP Recipients

Nearly all FIP recipients have no education beyond high school. About 25% do not have a high school diploma compared with 10% of Michigan’s general population, while about 75% have only a high school diploma (no postsecondary education) compared to less than 30% of Michigan’s general population. A very small percentage (1-3% most years) has some level of education beyond high school, though likely many or most of those did not finish a postsecondary program or attain a credential (Figure 3).

In past decades, helping a parent go from welfare to family-supporting work with only a high school diploma would not be a problem. As recently as the 1980s, a Michigan individual could find gainful employment (often in the manufacturing sector) immediately after high school graduation and begin a lifelong career. Since then, many jobs have been moved out of the country or automated, and many of the remaining entry-level jobs that lead to a career track require a higher skill level than before. As a result, workers with only a high school diploma are likely to remain stuck in low-paying work with little chance of promotion; real wages for Michigan workers with only a high school diploma have fallen from $36,234 in 1979 to $28,288 in 2014 (Figure 4).4

Of Michigan’s 969,565 working families, 12% have incomes below the poverty threshold (considered poor) and 32% have incomes below two times the poverty threshold (considered low income).5 Of the working families that are below the poverty threshold, 44% do not have a parent with any education beyond high school, and it is safe to assume that there are also many working poor families in which a parent enrolled in at least one postsecondary class but did not finish the program or receive a credential.6 Even some working families above the “low income” level experience difficulty meeting basic needs.7

For most people, becoming employed in jobs with a career track and livable wages requires some level of postsecondary training leading to a credential—a two- or four-year college degree, a certificate or a license. Such training pays off; from 2005 to 2012, Michigan workers with an associate degree earned an average of $8,139 per year more than those with only a high school diploma.8

Many cash assistance recipients are in a very economically precarious position. The FIP monthly grant will bring a family with no other income to less than one-third of the federal poverty threshold, though the grant is supplemented by Food Assistance Program benefits, which bring the percentage a little bit higher. When a parent begins to earn enough to bring his or her family to 75% of the poverty level, their family is no longer eligible for cash assistance and is likely to remain poor despite the parent working full time. If a recipient can become skilled and earn a credential before losing assistance, the chances of needing public assistance in the future will be greatly reduced and the family’s economic well-being more likely to improve.

As Figure 5 shows, each year through Fiscal Year 2012, Michigan has consistently had far below 30% of its FIP recipients who fulfill the federal work requirements do so through vocational education. If this pattern has continued since the launch of PATH in January 2013 (data is not yet available for fiscal years after 2012), then Michigan is not making full use of its ability to use FIP as a springboard to economic security.

In addition to underutilizing its ability to have up to 30% of its FIP population in education and training, Michigan also currently does not track the academic and work success of those who leave cash assistance. It is developing a P-20 educational data system, however, that tracks the educational progress of all students in all public (and some private) K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions, in adult education and in the workforce development organizations.9 If this data system would aggregate welfare recipients and those who have left assistance and track their progress through these systems, Michigan would be able to compile data to show what strategies work to help those on public assistance become more economically self-sufficient.

Recommendations

Because Michigan’s work participation rate (WPR) is so far above its target, the state can afford to have more of its recipients not meeting the federal work requirements and not counted toward the rate. There are a number of ways that Michigan can take advantage of this flexibility in order to help recipients attain postsecondary credentials and move into employment that pays a livable wage.10

Actively promote the vocational educational training option to recipients who are likely to succeed. Many FIP recipients are not ready for vocational educational training due to complicated family situations, learning disabilities or other barriers, or a lack of desire. However, for the many who would benefit and are considered likely to persist and complete a program, local Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) offices should actively promote this option and facilitate its participants’ success. If in a future year higher percentages of FIP recipients successfully participate in vocational training, Michigan can make use of the flexibility provided by its high WPR to lift the 30% cap on counting this activity rather than turn away recipients who wish to participate.

Allow FIP recipients who successfully complete one year of a two-year vocational educational training program to complete their second year without additional work requirements. Because of the importance of attaining a postsecondary credential to increase success in the labor market, FIP policies should be improved to ensure that recipients who have made significant progress in their training programs can continue to study and receive cash assistance seamlessly, without new work requirements added on. These recipients will not be able to be counted as fulfilling work requirements in Michigan’s WPR for those 12 months.

Apply months of vocational educational training against a recipient’s 12-month limit only when the recipient completes enough hours in that category to satisfy the entire month’s federal work requirements. There is a 12-month limit on a recipient fulfilling all monthly work requirement hours through vocational educational training. Participation in this activity that exceeds the 12-month limitation may not be counted in the state’s work participation rate. According to federal TANF policy, if a recipient participates in vocational educational training even just one day in a given month and the state counts that activity in its WPR for the month, that month must count against the recipient’s 12-month limit for vocational education.

Recipients in vocational training programs may have some months in which they do not have enough vocational training hours to fulfill federal work requirements. In these months, Michigan should not count those hours as vocational educational training. If the recipient has enough combined hours in vocational educational training AND other countable activities to fulfill the work requirement in a given month, then the vocational program should be counted as “job skills training,” which does not have a time limit. If the recipient does not have enough countable work hours in any activity to fulfill work requirements, then that recipient cannot be counted in the state’s WPR for that month anyway and the hours spent in vocational educational training should not be documented as such against the recipient’s 12-month time limit.

Allow FIP recipients over 20 years old who have not completed high school to do so by taking adult education classes without additional work requirements, provided they take a minimum number of classes concurrently and maintain satisfactory academic performance. Michigan would not be able to count these cases toward its WPR. However, adult education is a crucial link to postsecondary education for low-skilled parents, and the longer the time needed to complete adult education classes and pass the General Educational Development (GED) exam, the more likely such parents will drop out. Allowing the parent to “speed up” the process by taking more than one class at a time with no other requirements makes it more likely that the parent will continue education into the postsecondary level. This is especially important for parents who need to take Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes before GED classes, as the longer time required in adult education increases the likelihood that they will drop out before completion.11

Allow FIP recipients who are participating in adult education or vocational training programs and are close to exhausting their 48-month lifetime limit to receive an additional year of FIP. Although the state has imposed a 48-month/four-year lifetime limit on families receiving FIP, the federal lifetime limit for supporting families with cash assistance through TANF is five years. This enables Michigan to continue giving assistance to parents who have not yet finished their education and training. Adult education students who are meeting their work requirements could continue to count toward the WPR, as would vocational educational training participants who have not exceeded the 12-month limit. (Extending FIP for these families beyond 48 months can only be done if the Legislature modifies Public Act 131 of 2011.)

Allow English as a Second Language (ESL) to count as a core or secondary activity. Although TANF allows other forms of adult education (ABE and GED classes) to count toward work requirements, it does not allow states to count time that recipients spend in ESL. Such recipients must learn English in addition to participating in their required weekly work hours. As the flexibility provided by Michigan’s high WPR allows, the state should permit recipients who are making satisfactory progress in ESL classes to count class and study time toward their weekly work requirements.

Use the statewide P-20 education system to measure the workforce success of those who leave cash assistance, with and without training. It is very difficult to track and measure the economic well-being of those who leave cash assistance in Michigan. In the past, the responsible state agency would send out voluntary surveys to former recipients that would have a very low response rate. Today, however, the state has a P-20 data system in place that measures education and workforce success and the system is being expanded. While preserving recipient privacy, Michigan should link this system with the DHHS data system in order to track parents when they leave FIP, measuring the success of those who have participated in education and training while receiving FIP compared to those who have not. This will help the state know what kind of programs and policies have been successful at facilitating the transition from cash assistance to family-supporting wages and job security.12

Conclusion

Cash assistance is a necessary safety net for parents who have barriers to finding or maintaining a job that enables them to meet their family’s needs, and the PATH program provides a three-week screening process to pinpoint such barriers. For many recipients, the barriers include a low level of marketable occupational skills, and a subset of these recipients lack basic skills in at least one academic area that are needed to attain occupational skills through postsecondary training. Without such skills, parents often remain either unemployed or stuck in low-paying jobs that do not pull them out of poverty or help them meet their children’s needs.

In keeping with its name, the Family Independence Program ought to use every available means to enable cash assistance recipients to acquire credentials leading to gainful employment and economic security. While not all recipients are able to do this, for the ones who are, FIP can be not only a temporary safety net but a springboard to skills, career and economic security—for the parents now and their children when they become adults.

skilling up michigan

 

Endnotes

  1. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Trend Report of Key Program Statistics, September 2015.
  2. The PATH program ended the prior program for work participation known as JET (Jobs, Education and Training). One of the main features of PATH is that it requires a 21-day application eligibility period in which recipients are screened for work readiness and barriers.
  3. Bassett, Meegan D., Considering Two Generation Strategies in the States, Working Poor Families Project, Summer 2014.
  4. Economic Policy Institute analysis of Current Population Survey data.
  5. Working Poor Families Project data generated by Population Reference Bureau from the American Community Survey, 2013.
  6. Working Poor Families Project, ibid.
  7. For more on the level of income that Michigan families must have in order to meet their basic needs without public or charitable assistance, see the Michigan League for Public Policy’s Making Ends Meet in Michigan: A Basic Needs Income Level for Family Well-Being, March 2014.
  8. Economic Policy Institute, ibid.
  9. P-20 is shorthand for an integrated educational system that extends from preschool to higher education and the workforce. For more on Michigan’s P-20 data collection system, go to: http://www.michigan.gov/cepi/0,4546,7-113-56472—,00.html.
  10. For further discussion on many of these recommendations, see Lower-Basch, Elizabeth, Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield and Lavanya Mohan, Ensuring Full Credit Under TANF’s Work Participation Rate, Center for Law and Social Policy, March 2014.
  11. Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes are those that bring the student to a ninth grade level in a given academic area, while General Educational Development (GED) classes bring students to a high school graduation level. For the very low-skilled, ABE classes are often a necessary prerequisite to GED classes and the necessity of completing them before GED classes prolongs their time in adult education, increasing the likelihood of dropping out.
  12. For more information on this subject, see Michigan League for Public Policy, The Key Ingredient: Data is Crucial to Building Michigan’s Workforce System, July 2011.

 

 

 

 

Many kids stuck in poverty without solutions

Contact: Judy Putnam or Jane Zehnder-Merrell, 517.487.5436

Kids Count in Mich. ranks 82 counties on child well-being

LANSING, Mich. – Too many kids in Michigan remain mired in poverty at a time when policymakers have reduced help for struggling families, according to the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015 released today.

Three measures of economic conditions worsened over the trend period with nearly one in every four children living in an impoverished household, a 35 percent increase in child poverty over six years. The trend period measured from 2006 to 2012 or 2013, depending on the availability of data.

(more…)

Walking the walk with infant mortality

Factors that may drive Michigan’s tragically high infant mortality rate include stress, unemployment, poverty and neighborhood safety in addition to what might be thought of as the more traditional reasons, such as lack of healthcare or poor safe sleep practices, according to a new report from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The report takes a broad look at why Michigan’s rate is so high and in particular why an African American infant in Michigan is 2.6 more times likely to die before reaching the child’s first birthday than a white infant. (more…)

Ten steps to boost Michigan’s economy

new report by the League outlines 10 steps Michigan must take to improve its economy, refuting the myth that tax cuts are a shortcut to economic prosperity. Included in the report are strategies for investing in the services and infrastructure needed to create jobs and fuel economic growth, as well as tax changes that modernize and strengthen the state’s revenue system.

It is an agenda for long-term economic prosperity that includes investments in education from early childhood through higher education, access to the health and mental health services needed for a healthy workforce, basic income security for those who cannot work or find jobs, and support for the community services businesses and consumers rely on. (more…)

Minimum wage — not just your summer job

Long gone are the days when minimum-wage jobs, such as those in food service, were the province of suburban teenagers starting their working lives. A great majority (85%) of low-wage workers in Michigan are at least 20 years old, and 82% have a high school degree or higher. Nearly a quarter of them are also parents supporting children according to a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

These facts suggest a reconsideration of the minimum wage, not as pocket change for teenagers, but as wages for adults who are responsible for themselves, and perhaps for young children. (more…)

Moving in the wrong direction

The latest U.S. Census Bureau data confirms what we all suspected. While there have been improvements in the economy, it has not been enough to float all boats, and state poverty rates, especially for children, remain 25% to 30% above pre-recession levels.

Certainly there have been cuts in state and local services in Michigan that affected low-income families with children, thwarting their opportunities to share in the American dream by earning enough through hard work to move into the middle class. Deep cuts in basic income assistance have forced more children into extreme poverty, exposing them to homelessness and hunger, and creating barriers to academic success. A failure to invest in child care for low-income families has resulted in fewer parents having the care they need to secure and retain jobs that support their children. (more…)

Detroit’s woes, solutions don’t stop at city limits

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The July 18 bankruptcy filing for Detroit was shocking, though in many ways, it wasn’t a surprise at all. Detroit’s struggles have been evident for years. Still, as a native Detroiter, my heart broke a little that day.

One thing that is clear in this multilayered controversy: Detroit’s problems and solutions do not stop at the city limits. We all have a stake in this — not only in Michigan, but across the country as Detroit may be the canary in the coalmine for other regions.

What should be the response from policymakers? First and foremost, let’s remember that this is about people. Stronger state and federal strategies that invest in children and families, reduce poverty and grow jobs will be good for all. And we have lots of room for improvement. (more…)

Drug testing fails the test

Last week, Utah released preliminary data on their year-old drug testing policy for recipients of cash assistance. As Utah is my home state and as the Michigan Legislature is considering drug testing proposals, I was very interested in seeing the results.

Utah was one of the first states to implement a suspicion-based drug testing policy for cash assistance – one in which all applicants are required to be screened for substance abuse issues and then must take a drug test if the screening indicates an issue may exist. Here is how the numbers came out: 4,425 people were screened for drug use, 394 were then required to take a drug test and nine people ended up testing positive for drugs. That’s right, nine. The cost to the state of Utah to identify the 0.2% of those screened that ended up testing positive for drugs? $26,391

Oklahoma had a similar experience. In the first four months that they implemented their suspicion-based policy – about 1,300 people were screened, 340 of those were referred to drug testing and 29 people were denied benefits as a result of it all – 2%. The cost for the four months? $74,000 (more…)

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