Are we really concerned about the children?

I think I would be hard-pressed to find a state lawmaker who did not care about children and the well-being of the next generation. Many are parents and grandparents, so they feel that concern at the most personal level. They want the best for their family—good schools, safe communities, access to healthy food and the best medical care.

Their dreams for their children are shared by most parents in the state, including those who struggle to support their children on low-wage jobs, can’t find or afford safe and high-quality child care, don’t have reliable transportation to get to work, or send their children to schools that are not prepared to meet their needs.

Despite Lansing rhetoric about supporting children, many are suffering—in part because of state policies and budgets that have at best not aggressively addressed the antecedents of poverty, and at their worst have forced more children into deeper poverty.

BB League recommendations graph 2Michigan has for many years disinvested in basic income assistance programs for families struggling to find and keep work. Since 2007, state lawmakers have restricted eligibility for public assistance through more stringent lifetime limits, toughened sanctions (including stopping benefits for a whole family if one child is truant), and imposed an asset test for food assistance. And, with virtually no increases in the monthly income assistance available to eligible families (currently a maximum of $492/month for a family of three), children are living in deeper and deeper poverty.

As a result of these changes, the number of children receiving income assistance through the state’s Family Independence Program (FIP) has plummeted while child poverty remains stubbornly high. Children represent nearly 8 of every 10 persons receiving FIP assistance, so any policy that restricts help to families is causing the greatest hurt to children, and especially young children.

And why is this a problem for all Michigan residents? First, investing in children is the right thing to do and it is what we expect of ourselves as residents of this state. I don’t think many of us would sleep well at night knowing that we had done something—even unintentionally—to hurt a child.

Second, it is to our mutual advantage. With our rapidly aging population, the next generation of workers and parents are the foundation for growth and stability of the state’s economy. The link between childhood poverty and a host of negative outcomes for children is undeniable and includes poor health, higher rates of disability and reduced academic achievement—all potential barriers to success in the workforce.

The governor has recommended funding in the 2018 state budget that could benefit families living in or near poverty, including continuation of the “heat and eat” policy that expands food assistance and an increase in the annual clothing allowance for families receiving FIP. The League supports those investments as a first step on a long path.

For more on the governor’s budget and the League’s priorities, see our most recent Budget Brief (link here).

— Pat Sorenson