Why kids count

Recent news reports celebrate the decline in the unemployment rate and the quickened tempo of the recovery. But four years into the recovery, Michigan’s child poverty rates remain consistently high.

In 2013, one of every four children in Michigan lived in a family with income below the federal poverty level (roughly $18,800 for a single-parent family of three and $23,600 for a two-parent family of four), according to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, released today.

It’s not just the economy that results in these high levels of child poverty. State and federal policies shape the social and economic environment in our communities. Full-time minimum wage yearly earnings at the level passed last year by the Michigan Legislature ($8.15 an hour) leaves a family of three almost $2,000 below the poverty level and a family of four by almost $7,000. Proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would at least lift a family of three above the 2013 poverty level.

The over half-million Michigan children living in financially strapped families are likely to face severe disadvantages not only during childhood but also during adulthood, as documented by a substantial body of research. Children who spend extended periods in poverty are more likely to be troubled by poor health and to attain minimal education as adults. They will not be equipped to fill the jobs that require postsecondary skills and training.

The 2015 Kids Count report highlights the problem areas for children and suggests state policy changes. For example, strengthening the safety net programs, including Food Assistance Program and the child care subsidy, would shield children from some the economic impact of the sluggish recovery.

Voting ‘yes’ May 5 on the road funding package will trigger the reinstatement of  the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit, which will help more than 1 million Michigan children in working families.

State policies are currently restricting, rather than expanding, access to families in need. Increased access to the child care subsidy would help both children and parents. A recent survey revealed that one of every eight parents in Michigan’s low-income families with young children reported changing, quitting or not taking a job due to child care constraints.

High-quality child care enhances child development during the critical early years so why would we curtail access by depressing the payment structure to roughly half the market rate in the state’s child care subsidy program? We want parents to work to support their families but low-wage workers can ill afford the average monthly cost of roughly $500 for full-time child care for a preschooler in Michigan. It represents over 40% of gross earnings from a full-time minimum wage job.

As Michigan retools for the 21st century, it will need to count on the next generation, and their future depends on their well-being today.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

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.

“The unraveling of family’s economic security cries out to be addressed by state leaders but what’s happened is just the opposite of what is needed,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan Project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The state Earned Income Tax Credit was cut 70 percent in 2011. It goes to working families earning the least. (Voting ‘yes’ on the May 5 road funding proposal will restore it to 20 percent.) Other barriers are hard caps on lifetime limits for cash assistance, fewer weeks of unemployment, an asset test that limits federally funded food assistance, and child care subsidies that haven’t kept up with inflation.

“These are the tools we have to make sure a family in a crisis doesn’t spiral downward and is able to survive. The shredding of these programs is bad policy when it comes to the well-being of Michigan’s children,’’ Zehnder-Merrell said. “It’s hoped that the merger of the state departments of Community Health and Human Services will offer improved services for children and families, though budget pressures could bring more cuts.’’

In addition, Michigan in recent years eliminated financial aid grants for adults attending public colleges and universities and slashed adult education to a fraction of where it was a decade ago.

The toxic effect of poverty on children cannot be overstated. Research shows that children growing up in poor homes are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to have stable employment as adults. Boosting income in those families through such strategies as tax credits pays off with children in those families earning more and working more hours when they grow up.

More than a half-million Michigan kids lived in poverty, defined as $23,600 or less a year for a two-parent family of four. Child poverty is particularly high in communities of color where a lack of jobs and transportation has deepened economic woes. Detroit, a majority African-American city, has the highest level of concentrated poverty of the 50 largest U.S. cities, a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found.

The Kids Count report also highlights the racial inequity in access to oral health that needs to be addressed in the 2016 budget. The Healthy Kids Dental program, which provides additional payments to dentists for children on Medicaid, is in 80 counties. The three remaining counties left out of the program, Wayne, Oakland and Kent, have large populations of children of color.

That means that only 28 percent of white children eligible for Medicaid are in counties without Healthy Kids Dental compared with 63 percent of African-American children eligible for Medicaid.

“Gov. Snyder has called for the Healthy Kids Dental to be available in all communities. That needs to happen this year. Using public dollars in a way that mainly benefits white children and leaves out African American children is simply unacceptable,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Of the 15 trends in child well-being examined in the report, eight improved, five worsened, one stayed about the same and one could not be tracked over time. The report also ranks 82 of the 83 counties for overall child well-being with Livingston and Ottawa counties tied for the best rating of No. 1.

Statewide, all four education trends improved while fewer children remained in foster homes or relative care. Yet nearly 200,000 children live in families investigated for abuse or neglect, a 41 percent jump in the rate between 2006 and 2013, while nearly 34,000 were confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect.

A partner in the release of the Kids Count report, Matt Gillard, president and CEO of Michigan’sChildren, said p revention and early intervention are the keys to ensuring safety at home.

“It’s so very important that we focus on interventions that work – the earlier the better. This includes increasing evidence-based services for the most challenged families in local communities to prevent child abuse or neglect, and targeting services to vulnerable families with infants,’’ Gillard said. “A two-generation approach that helps parents get the resources and tools that they need, while at the same time supporting children, is critical.”

The Michigan Coalition for Children and Families, representing 20 child and family advocacy groups across the state, will use the report to focus on improvements to benefit children.

“This report offers communities and state level officials a treasure trove of information so they can know what’s working and what needs to be improved,’’ said Michele Strasz, chair of MCCF and the director of the Capital Area College Access Network.

More contact information: Matt Gillard, matt@michiganschildren.org, 517.488.9129 (c); Michele Strasz, programdirector@capitalareacan.org, 517.712.2014 (c).

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Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Battle Creek Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation and John E. Fetzer Fund of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

‘Yes’ on road funding is right direction

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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It’s a pivotal time for Michigan public policy. Decisions made in the next few months will determine the path Michigan takes into the future.

In three short months, voters on May 5 will decide Proposal 1, the road funding package. There’s no doubt that this is Michigan’s single best chance to raise sorely needed money to pay for road repairs and put new dollars into school classrooms all while protecting families earning the least.

A ‘yes’ vote on May 5 would end the era of delaying needed road repairs or paying for them with borrowed dollars. All with a penny sales tax increase. The sales tax increase to 7 cents will put Michigan in the middle of the pack of states — the same as Indiana’s.

For working families earning the least in Michigan, the penny tax will be offset by a full restoration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit.

The EITC is the best tool we have to reward work and lift families from poverty. More than 1 million Michigan children will benefit. What a win-win!

Also, this month, on Feb. 11, Gov. Snyder will unveil his executive budget, offering both challenges and opportunities.

The governor, in his State of the State address, announced the merger of the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Services to a new Department of Health and Human Services under the leadership of Nick Lyon, the director of DCH and interim director of DHS.

At DCH, Lyon continued impressive strides in implementing the Healthy Michigan Plan so that a half-million previously uninsured or underinsured adults in Michigan get wellness care and care when they are sick.

Lyon has kept the League and other advocates informed about the merger and he seems sincere in efforts to help Michigan families and children. I pledge to work with him to find solutions that will make a positive difference in the lives of Michigan’s economically vulnerable kids and adults.

As the new department works to streamline programs with a “people first” rather than a “programs first” approach, we’ll monitor with this principle in mind: True efficiency must be found in making sure services match the needs of families rather than measuring success by the number of kids and adults dropped from programs.

In addition, there will be strong pressure to cut programs as the deep business tax cuts from 2011 resulted in revenue shortfalls that are now apparent.

Next year, business tax revenue is projected to contribute a small share (8.3%) of Michigan’s General Fund — the state’s main checking account that covers public safety, higher education, healthcare and other needed services.

That’s a far, far cry from two decades ago when business revenue contributed nearly a third (29%) of the General Fund. To succeed, businesses need those public services, and it’s a reminder, once again, that business tax cuts do not grow the economy.

So buckle your seat belts as we head into 2015 public policy debates! It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The League will keep you informed of developments, and we hope you will be engaged in these important decisions ahead.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

Diving deeper into the river of opportunity

At the League, economic opportunity is our mission so it was heartening to hear Gov. Rick Snyder talk about the ‘river of opportunity’ in his fifth State of the State address Tuesday. There is an assumption in that analogy, however, that deserves a closer look.

The governor spoke about his background growing up in a 900-square-foot home in Battle Creek in a supportive family. He said despite his family’s modest income, he was still able to be part of the river of opportunity. He spoke of the Michiganians who are not part – separated by poverty, absent parents or other barriers — and he talked about his desire to move them into that river of opportunity.

Though it was a welcome tone from the governor, it contained a flawed analogy. The governor  said government is in the background of the lives of those already enjoying opportunity while it plays a prominent role for those in need. Yet, there is no ‘them and us’ when it comes to government services because we all benefit.

Let’s take public education for starters. Free education is not just for kids from families with low incomes. The support of public universities, including $300 million a year to the governor’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, helps many, many children of the affluent. Tax dollars create the public transportation to move the goods that supports the jobs, helping job providers and workers. In short, public dollars are used to keep that river flowing, and enjoyed by the citizens who are benefiting from opportunity.

The governor also called for revamping of services to help those in need. At the Capitol Tuesday, several reporters sought out League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs for comment on the merger of the Departments of Human Services and Community Health into a new Department of Health and Human Services. Jacobs was positive about the potential to really lift barriers for people and also about the leadership of interim Director Nick Lyon. (See the League’s statement.)

What will be important is making sure that there are savings resulting from true efficiencies and that the merger’s goal isn’t just to save dollars. Simply cutting people from services while poverty and unemployment remain high is not the way to measure success.

With revenues coming in below expectations, the pressure will be on to make those cuts. More insight will be offered in the governor’s executive budget recommendation in February. So stay tuned!

 – Judy Putnam

Back to school: Are children ready to learn?

For children to succeed in school, they must go to school “ready to learn” –  rested, fed and healthy. But how many children will start the school year with a toothache or other dental problem?

According to the Department of Community Health’s 2011 -2012 Count Your Smiles survey, the number is likely pretty high. (more…)

Senate and House Approve DHS FY 2015 Budget

Full report in PDF

Both the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives have approved their versions of the Department of Human Services budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on Oct. 1, 2014, and ends Sept. 30, 2015. Differences between the Senate and House versions will now be reconciled in a joint House/Senate conference committee.

After years of declining investments, the DHS budgets approved by the House and Senate further reduce total funding for DHS. The governor’s budget cuts DHS by $427 million or 7.1% from current year-to-date spending. The Senate cuts DHS by 7.4% or $448 million, while the House reduces funding by $466 million or 7.7%.

Reductions in spending partly reflect policy decisions that have made fewer families and children eligible for public assistance benefits, including lifetime limits on income assistance, and a new asset test for food assistance.

In the current fiscal year, the DHS budget is the state’s third largest, accounting for 12.3% of total spending from federal and state resources. Federal funds now account for more than 80% of DHS funding, up from 70% in Fiscal Year 2004. Other sources of revenue for DHS are state General Funds (17%); and state restricted, local and private funds.

DHS administers a range of services, including the Family Independence Program; the Food Assistance Program; State Disability Assistance; State Emergency Relief; and child protective, foster care, adoption and juvenile justice services. Decisions made by the Legislature will affect nearly 2.4 million Michigan residents—including over 1 million children—who receive some form of public assistance to help them hold low-wage jobs, feed and shelter their children, access healthcare, or survive when faced with serious illnesses or disabilities.

Income Assistance

GOVERNOR’S BUDGET:

  • Another deep reduction in funding for income assistance for families with children. The gover­nor’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015 includes $152 million for the FIP program, a reduction of 29% from the current level of $214.3 million. The governor assumes that FIP caseloads will fall from 44,400 this year to 33,200 in 2015, a reduction of 25% in a single fiscal year.
  • Expansion of funds for out-stationed DHS workers. The governor recommends $19.3 million in federal, private and local funds to expand the number of outstationed DHS workers by 150. With this funding, DHS would be able to expand the number of workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities, school-based centers or businesses that agree to pay a portion of the cost, using their contributions to draw down federal funding.
  • Continuation of the current Extended-FIP policy, which gives households leaving FIP due to earnings $10 per month in FIP assistance for six months. In 2011, when the state tightened its 48-month lifetime limit on FIP, those six months of very minimal assistance began to count against a family’s lifetime limit. The governor’s budget also removes language requiring DHS to notify persons eligible for Extended-FIP that receiving it will count toward federal and state lifetime limits. The governor projects monthly Extended-FIP caseloads of 1,105 next year, down by 155 cases.
  • Continuation of the current FIP children’s clothing allowance. The governor’s budget includes $2.9 mil­lion for the annual clothing allowance for children. The allowance was originally designed to make sure that school-age children have the opportunity to at least start the school year with a set of clothes. The program was restricted in 2011 to only those children in FIP cases that do not include an adult—e.g., children living with ineligible grandparents or other caregivers.
  • New contract to verify eligibility for public assistance. The governor includes $5 million for a contract to verify assets and other financial information for public assistance applicants and recipients.

HOUSE:

  • The House agrees with the gover­nor’s recommended FIP caseload of 33,200, and total funding of $152 million.
  • The House also allocates $2.9 million for the annual FIP children’s clothing allowance, but expands eligibility to all FIP children ages 4 through 18.
  • The House continues current policy of counting minimal Extended-FIP benefits against lifetime limits, but expands budget language requiring DHS to notify families of the effect on lifetime benefits on both the FIP application and the form that notifies families of their eligibility.
  • The House agrees with the governor’s expansion of out-stationed workers, but reduces the number of non-child welfare DHS staff by 150 ($19.3 million) to offset the expected increase in donated funds positions.
  • The House concurs with the governor and includes $5 million for a contract to verify assets and other financial information of public assistance applicants and recipients.

SENATE:

  • The Senate agrees with the gover­nor’s projected FIP caseload of 33,200, a reduction of 11,200 cases monthly, reducing FIP funding by $62.3 million.
  • The Senate adds budget language requiring DHS to report quarterly on: (1) the num­ber and percentage of nonexempt FIP recipients who are employed; (2) the average and range of wages of employed FIP recipients; and (3) the number and percentage of employed FIP recipients who remain employed for 6 months or more.
  • The Senate agrees with the gover­nor’s expansion of out-stationed workers by $19.3 million and 150 full-time positions.
  • The Senate agrees with the governor by continuing to count minimal Extended-FIP benefits against families’ lifetime limits. The Senate retains the current requirement to notify families that Extended-FIP will count toward federal and state lifetime limits.
  • The Senate includes new budget language requiring DHS to create a workgroup to determine how Michigan Works! job training programs can be revised to reflect declining FIP caseloads, including possible reductions in the amount of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding that is provided to Michigan Works!
  • The Senate concurs with the governor and the House by including $5 million for a contract to verify assets and other financial information of public assistance applicants and recipients.

Food Assistance

GOVERNOR’S BUDGET:

  • A reduction of $444.5 million in FAP funding, to a total of $2.4 billion. The cut reflects the loss of federal ARRA funding as well as a projected drop in FAP households, from 894,750 this year to 890,000 in Fiscal Year 2015. Nearly 1.7 million Michigan residents received FAP benefits in January 2014, including over 700,000 children. Of those children, 242,408, or more than one-third, were under the age of 6.
  • Continuation of the optional state asset test for FAP benefits. Beginning in October 2011, DHS adopted an asset test for FAP eligibility that is not required under federal law. FAP households/groups must now have less than $5,000 in assets, including the value of vehicles after certain exemptions.
  • No resolution of the “Heat and Eat” provisions of the federal Farm Bill. The governor’s budget was released right before the Farm Bill was passed by Congress and therefore does not address federal cuts related to the “Heat and Eat” provisions of the bill. The Heat and Eat option, which has been util­ized by 16 states including Michigan, allows states to use a standard utility allowance in determining food assistance benefits, including situations where eligible households receive a nominal $1 per year in energy assistance through the Low Income Health and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). As a result, Michigan has been able to enhance the very modest Food Assistance benefits for some house­holds, particularly important on the heels of a cut in benefits for all FAP recipients in November of 2013 due to the loss of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Under the new Farm Bill, the nominal LIHEAP payment was increased to a minimum of $20 per years. Eight states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, Montana, Massachusetts and Vermont have already announced that they will meet the new $20 minimum and continue current benefits for low income families, while two additional states and the District of Columbia are considering the change.

The House Fiscal Agency estimates—based on Fiscal Year 2010 data—that continuing the Heat and Eat option in Fiscal Year 2015 will require an additional $8.4 million in LIHEAP spending, but will prevent the loss of approximately $250 million in federal food assistance. Failure to raise the LIHEAP payment to $20 will result in the loss of $88 per month in food assis­tance for more than 235,000 low income families.

HOUSE:

  • The House agrees with the governor on the projected FAP caseload of 890,000, as well as the loss of ARRA funding, resulting in a total cut in FAP funding of $445.5 million.
  • The House also retains the FAP asset test.
  • The House budget bill does not address the “Heat and Eat” provisions of the federal Farm Bill.

SENATE:

  • The Senate concurred with the governor and the House on FAP caseloads and related funding.
  • The Senate also retained the FAP asset test.
  • The Senate did not address the “Heat and Eat” provisions of the federal Farm Bill.

State Disability Assistance and Services

GOVERNOR’S BUDGET:

  • A reduction in funding for State Disability Assis­tance of 14%. The governor’s budget includes $17.9 million for the SDA, down from the $20.8 million appropriated in the current fiscal year. SDA case­loads have been decreasing since Fiscal Year 2010, in part because of efforts to ensure that SDA recipients who are eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income are transferred to that program.
  • A continued reduction in SDA cases. The governor assumes that the SDA caseload will also fall by 14% from the level budgeted in the current fiscal year, with total cases of 6,693 next year.
  • An increase in funding for Michigan Rehabilitative Services. The governor includes $4.4 million ($2.4 million in one-time funding), allowing DHS to draw down an additional $14.8 million in federal matching funds for rehabilitative services and avoid waiting lists.
  • Additional disability determination staff. The governor’s budget includes an additional $20.6 million in available federal funding, allowing the state to add 80 staff positions to determine eligibility for disability services.

HOUSE:

  • The House agrees with the governor on a caseload of 6,693 for SDA, a reduction in funding of $2.9 million in state General Funds, and total funding for SDA payments of $17.9 million.
  • The House includes only $2 million for Michigan Rehabilitative Services (down from the governor’s recommendation of $4.4 million), along with a $100 “placeholder” to ensure later budget discussions about the remaining $2.4 million that the governor designated as “one-time” funding.
  • The House appropriates an additional $1 million for the Centers for Independent Living for accessible, comprehensive and coordinated services for persons with disabilities—with the goal of improving financial self-sufficiency.
  • The House concurs with the governor on the expansion of federal disability determination workers.

SENATE:

  • The Senate agrees with the governor’s overall reduction in funding for SDA payments from $20.8 million this year to $17.9 million in Fiscal Year 2015, as well as the projected SDA caseload of 6,693.
  • The Senate agrees with the governor and expands funding for Michigan Rehabilitative Services by $4.4 million, drawing down an additional $14.8 million in federal funds. In addition, the Senate adds $3 million to match $11.1 million in funding in the Department of Corrections to provide vocational and other services to persons with histories of probation and parole violations (not currently incarcerated), as well as those with severe mental health needs.
  • The Senate concurs with the governor on the expansion of federal disability determination workers, and takes savings of $2.2 million in the budget, assuming that additional staff support would reduce the average number of months individuals would receive state disability assistance from 12 months to 9 months (for half the caseload).
  • The Senate agrees with the House and appropriates $1 million to continue and expand the Center for Independent Living project.
  • The Senate includes new budget language that would limit the number of times persons could apply for disability assistance to two times per year—subject to federal approval.

State Emergency Services

GOVERNOR’S BUDGET:

  • Continuation of current energy assistance poli­cies and appropriations. In addition to federal funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assis­tance Program (LIHEAP), in the past, Michigan received funds through the state’s Public Service Commission for energy assistance. After the courts ruled that the PSC did not have authority to collect restricted fee revenues, a decision that reduced funding by $60 million annually, the Legislature approved a new surcharge on electric meters to fund the Michigan Energy Assistance Program (MEAP). The MEAP was created in state law (P.A. 615 of 2012), and required DHS to establish a consolidated energy assistance pro­gram with a single, simplified application. For Fiscal Year 2015, the governor includes nearly $175 million in LIHEAP funding, as well as $60 million for the MEAP.
  • Continuation funding for State Emergency Relief services, including $13.6 million for local DHS office emergency services, $15.7 million for homeless services through the Salvation Army, $4.3 million for indigent burial services, $1.8 million for the Food Bank Council, and $3 million for multicultural services.

HOUSE:

  • The House includes $165 million for LIHEAP—$10 million less than the governor—including approximately $85 million for home heating credits and $80 million for energy crisis assistance. The House uses $10 million in federal LIHEAP to fund the MEAP, reflecting a statutory cap on the new surcharge of $50 million in collections, and bringing total spending for the MEAP in the House budget to $60 million.
  • The House concurs with the governor and provides $13.6 million for local office emergen­cy services, $15.7 million for homeless programs, $4.3 million for indigent burials, $1.8 for food banks, and $3 million for multicultural integration funding and the Chaldean Community Foundation.

SENATE:

  • The Senate concurs with the governor, providing $175 million for LIHEAP, and $60 million for the MEAP.
  • The Senate includes a $200,000 increase in funding for food banks, bringing total funding to nearly $2 million.

Child Welfare and Family Services

GOVERNOR’S BUDGET:

Foster Care and Protective Services

  • A slight increase in funding for foster care services. The governor recommends $190.3 million for foster care payments, up slightly from the $187.7 million appropriated for this year.
  • A small reduction in projected foster care cases. The governor cuts $2.4 million ($1 million state General Funds) to reflect a projected decline in foster care cases from 6,250 this year to 6,075 in Fiscal Year 2015. Foster care cases have been falling and, with the governor’s projections, will be down 43% between Fiscal Years 2005 and 2015.
  • Funding to pay 100% of private agency administrative rates. The governor includes a $5 million increase in funding to pay 100% of the private child placing agency administrative rate for new cases entering care. Those costs are currently split between the state and counties.
  • An increase of 4% in the County Child Care Fund. The governor includes $178 million for the Child Care Fund, an increase of 4% over the current year appropriation. The Child Care Fund provides for the care and treatment of delinquent or maltreated children who are court wards and not eligible for federal payments through Title IV-E. The primary sources of funding for the Child Care Fund are state General Funds (49.8%) and federal TANF (48.5%).
  • Increased funding for medical and psychiatric evaluations of abused and neglected children. The governor includes an additional $2.1 million for medical and psychiatric evaluations for children in the child welfare system, increasing total funding from $6.6 million to $8.7 million.
  • Funding to launch a new performance-based contracting model for child welfare services. The governor includes $1.4 million, including $1 million in state General Fund) for the first phase of a new financing model for child welfare services.

Adoption Services

  • A small decrease in funding for adoption subsidies. The governor includes $241 million for adoption subsidies, a small decrease from the current year appropriation of $244 million. Subsidies are provided to families adopting children with special needs, and include both cash and medical subsidies for pre-existing medical or mental health conditions. Adoption subsidy average monthly caseloads increased by 11% between Fiscal Years 2005 and 2010, and have since stabilized at approximately 27,000. The major sources of funding for adoption subsidies are Title IV-E (46%), state General Funds (33%), and federal TANF (21%).
  • An increase in incentive payments for private agen­cies finalizing adoptions. The governor includes a total of $3.2 million—an increase of 5%—for private agencies that are placing children for adoption, including incentive payments to encourage more timely adoption turnaround times.

Family Preservation and Prevention

  • No reinvestment in prevention and family preser­vation services. The governor provides continuation funding for Strong Families/Safe Children ($12.35 million), Family Reunification ($3.98 million), and family preservation and prevention services pro­grams ($2.5 million). Small cuts were made in the Families First program (from $17.2 million to $16.9 million), and the Child Protection and Permanency program ($13.2 million to $12.9 million). Total funding for family preservation and prevention programs fell from $60.6 million in Fiscal Year 2005 to $49.3 million in the current fiscal year—a reduc­tion of nearly 19%, in the face of a 20% increase in the number of substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect.

Other Child and Family Services

  • An increase in funding for domestic violence prevention. The governor includes $514,200 for domestic violence prevention and treatment programs, increasing total funding from $15.2 million to $15.7 million.
  • Small increase in funding for juvenile justice reentry services. The governor recommends $800,000 for services for youths in the juvenile justice system to ease their re-entry into the community.
  • Funding for the Healthy Michigan Plan call center. The governor recommends $20.3 million for a call center for Healthy Michigan Plan/Medicaid applicants and recipients.

HOUSE:

Foster Care and Protective Services

  • The House recommends total funding for foster care payments of $188.4 million, slightly below the governor’s budget, but accepts the governor’s estimated foster care caseload of 6,075, at a projected cost of $28,061 per case for the year.
  • The House increases the Child Care Fund to $185.2 million. The House agrees with the governor to pay 100% of the private agency administrative rate for new cases next year (rather than splitting costs with the counties), but appro­priated those funds to the Child Care Fund, rather than to the foster care portion of the budget.
  • The House includes the governor’s recommended increase in funding for incentive payments for private agencies that finalize adoptions in a timely manner ($3.2 million).
  • The House revises the goal limiting the number of children in foster care for longer than 24 months from 31% to 25%.
  • The House appropriates an additional $3.7 million (including $3.3 million in state funds) to increase rates paid to private agency residential care providers by slightly over 2%—provided the county match rate is eliminated for the increase.
  • The House agrees with the governor to fund the launching of a new performance-based contracting model for child welfare services. The House shifts $100,000 of state funds (from the total $1.4 million recommended by the governor) for a technical assistance contract for Kent County—the first county to pilot the new financing approach. Under the House bill, Kent County would privatize all foster care and adoption services (not child protective services) by Oct. 31, 2014, with performance-based funding in place at that time.
  • The House expands the governor’s proposed increase in funding for medical and psychiatric evaluations of abused and neglected children by $100,000 to a total of $2.2 million.

Adoption Services

  • The House agrees with the governor on the projected adoption subsidy caseload of 26,800 at an estimated cost of $732 per month per case, as well as total spending for the program of $241.1 million.
  • The House concurs with the governor and adds $3.2 million in state funds for incentives for private agency adoptions.
  • The House adds budget language prohibiting DHS from using the income of the adoptive parent in determining eligibility for adoption support subsidies.
  • The House adds $1 million for a “Parent to Parent” peer mentoring program to provide support for adoptive parents.

Family Preservation and Prevention

  • The House concurs with the governor’s recommendation on funding for family preservation and prevention programs, with continu­ation funding for Strong Families/Safe Children, Family Reunification, and family preservation and prevention services programs, as well as small cuts in the Families First and Child Protection and Perma­nency programs.

Other Child and Family Services

  • The House allocates $3 million for before- and after-school programs, as well as $500,000 for a school success partnership program through the Northeast Michigan Community Services Agency.
  • The House approves the governor’s recommendation of $800,000 for services for youths in the juvenile justice system to ease their re-entry into the community.
  • The House cuts $8.1 million ($3 mil­lion in state General Fund) by closing the Maxey Training School for delinquent youths, transferring those youths to other facilities.
  • The House approves $20.3 million for the Healthy Michigan Plan call center.
  • The House accepts the governor’s proposed increase in funding for domestic violence and prevention services.
  • The House approves $350,000 for the Michigan Reading Corps to provide literacy services and tutors for students in kindergarten through third grade who are identified as being at risk of reading failure.

SENATE:

Foster Care and Protective Services

  • The Senate agrees with the governor on foster care caseloads and costs, projecting a decline in foster care cases to 6,075 next year, and a total reduction in related foster care costs of $2.4 million.
  • The Senate agrees with the governor on a nearly $7 million increase (4%) in the County Child Care Fund, with total funding of $178 million.
  • The Senate agrees with the governor’s recommendation to allocate $1.4 million for the new performance-based contracting model for child welfare services.
  • The Senate increases funding for medical and psychiatric evaluations of children in the protective services and foster care systems by $2 million over the governor’s recommendation, for a total increase of $4.1 million. Total funding would rise to $10.7 million—up nearly 63% from the current fiscal year.
  • The Senate agrees with the governor in approving a $5 million increase in funding to pay 100% of the private child placing agency administra­tive rate for new cases entering care.
  • The Senate includes $300,000 to cover the costs foster parents incur in transporting their foster children to parent-child visitations.
  • The Senate revises budget language to change the goal of limiting the number of children in foster care for longer than 24 months from 31% to 30%.
  • The Senate adds new budget language requiring DHS to set clear policies for parent-child visitations, including written plans with a minimum of three hours per child per week.

Adoption Services

  • The Senate concurs with the governor and includes $241 million for adoption subsidies, a decrease of $2.9 million from the cur­rent year based on a projected drop in the caseload of 350 cases to 26,800.
  • The Senate increases funding for incentive payments for private agency adoptions by only 3.3% (compared to the 5% recommended by the governor and approved by the House), for a total increase of $2.2 million.
  • The Senate includes $18.8 million to allow adoptive parents to claim enhanced payment rates for children who had special needs that existed at the time of adoption, but were not identi­fied until later. Adoptive parents would be allowed to receive the enhanced rate one time for any eligible child from birth to age 18. This recom­mended change is in response to complaints filed by adoptive parents that they were not notified that their adopted children had special needs, and includes physically disabled children needing greater supervision and care, as well as children with special mental health needs, requiring special diets, or with antisocial behaviors.
  • The Senate includes budget language prohibiting DHS from negotiating adoption subsidies that are below the standard payment for foster care.

Family Preservation and Prevention

  • The Senate concurs with the governor’s recommendation on funding for family preservation and prevention programs, with con­tinuation funding for Strong Families/Safe Children, Family Reunification, and family preser­vation and prevention services programs; and small cuts in the Families First and Child Protection and Permanency programs.

Other Child and Family Services

  • The Senate agrees with the governor’s recommended increase in funding for domestic violence prevention and treatment.
  • The Senate includes $125,000 in state funds to match federal funding for the Michigan Reading Corps—for the purpose of literacy and tutoring services for children in kindergarten through third grade—as well as $300,000 to expand the School Success Partnerships program to four new counties through the Northeast Michigan Community Services Agency.
  • The Senate includes $2.9 million for a database to track youths in the juvenile justice system, funding not included in the governor’s budget or the House budget.
  • The Senate includes $500,000 to expand grants to rural communities to fund new and expanded in-home juvenile justice programs, bringing total funding to $1.5 million.
  • The Senate includes the governor’s proposed increase in funding for juvenile justice re-entry services of $800,000.
  • The Senate includes $20.3 million for the Healthy Michigan Plan call center.
  • The Senate includes budget language requiring the DHS to work with the Department of Community Health and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to establish a lead abatement task force with recommendations by March 1, 2015. Senate language also requires the DHS and Community Action Agencies to give first priority for weatherization services to families with children with elevated blood lead levels.

80-mile walk

On this cool, windy spring morning I joined other advocates to show support for the youth who walked the 80 miles from Detroit to the Capitol steps in Lansing to express their concerns with Michigan’s zero tolerance policies and the impact on their lives.

Michael Reynolds, an organizer of the 80- mile event, said zero tolerance policies are "kicking good kids out of school.''

For the uninitiated, “zero tolerance” in this context refers to those education policies that mandate automatic suspension or expulsion for offenses deemed a threat to the safety of other students or school staff. The big problem in Michigan is that the list of such offenses now includes relatively minor infractions such as not having a school ID badge or wearing clothing that doesn’t adhere to the uniform code, according to the students who spoke this morning.

“I hope that legislators understand that youth around Michigan want to modify zero tolerance, and we’re willing to walk 80 miles to show it,” said Michael Reynolds, co-president of Youth First and an organizer of the march.

In 1995, Michigan enacted a series of laws in response to the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 that required expulsion for at least one year any student who brought a weapon onto school property. Unfortunately Michigan legislators enacted some of the most stringent policies in the country by expanding the list of “expulsion” offenses to include assault whether or not a weapon was involved, verbal “assaults,” vandalism, disobedience and an expansive definition of “weapon” that included toys and plastic knives. (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…)

Low-income Michiganians face food assistance cut in November

 Full report in PDF

In Michigan, 1.8 million low-income people will see their food assistance cut when a temporary boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) expires Nov. 1, new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show.1 SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal after the cut.

The cut will affect more than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, who receive SNAP, known as the Food Assistance Program in Michigan. For a family of three, that cut will amount to $29 a month. That’s a serious loss given SNAP’s already low benefit levels and the very low incomes of SNAP participants — more than 80% of SNAP households live in poverty.

In Michigan, the benefit cut through October 2014 will total $183 million, slowing economic growth by reducing overall consumption. Nationally, the cut will total roughly $5 billion in federal fiscal year 2014 and an additional $6 billion across fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

Despite continuing high poverty and unemployment, Michigan has cut programs aimed at helping families through hard times. Lifetime limits on cash assistance and an asset test on food assistance have resulted in lower caseloads while a reduction in the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit means working families are having a more difficult time making ends meet. Michigan also shortened its traditional period of unemployment from 26 weeks to 20 weeks yet the state’s June unemployment rate of 8.7% remains above the national rate of 7.6%. Michigan’s poverty rate of 17.5% is also above the national average.

Benefit Increase Designed to Boost Economy and Ease Hardship

Congress enacted the benefit increase as part of the 2009 Recovery Act to deliver high “bang-for-the-buck” economic stimulus and ease hardship. The Recovery Act boosted SNAP’s maximum monthly benefits by 13.6% beginning in April 2009. It provided that SNAP benefit levels would continue at the new, higher amount until SNAP’s regular annual inflation adjustments to the maximum benefit exceeded the Recovery Act amount. But Congress has since voted to accelerate the sunset of the benefit increase to Oct. 31 of this year.

The scheduled benefit cuts are especially painful in light of the inadequacy of existing benefit levels. In a report issued by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, nutrition experts identified several shortcomings with the current SNAP benefit allotment and recommended evaluating ways of changing the benefit calculation to better ensure that households have enough resources to purchase an adequate diet.2

Benefit Cuts Will Increase Hardship

These cuts will likely cause hardship for many SNAP participants, who will include 22 million children in 2014 (10 million of whom live in “deep poverty,” with family incomes below half the poverty line) and 9 million people who are elderly or have a serious disability. In Michigan, 1.8 million participate in the program — that’s one in six residents.

USDA has found that the Recovery Act’s benefit boost reduced the number of households in which one or more persons had to skip meals or otherwise eat less because they lacked money — what USDA calls “very low food security” — by about 500,000 households in 2009.3 More recent research finds that boosting SNAP benefits during the summer for households with school-aged children who don’t have access to USDA’s summer food program cut very low food security among these households by nearly 20%.4

Given this research and the inadequacy of current benefit levels, we can reasonably assume that a reduction in SNAP benefit levels of this size will significantly increase the number of poor households that have difficulty affording adequate food this fall.

Evidence Doesn’t Support Argument for Cutting SNAP

The Obama Administration and some members of Congress have proposed delaying or cancelling the Nov. 1 cut, but Congress has taken no action on these proposals. Moreover, some in Congress have called for deep cuts in SNAP on top of the scheduled cut. The House of Representatives, which recently defeated legislation that would have cut $20 billion from SNAP — eliminating food assistance for nearly 2 million people — could reconsider these or even deeper cuts in the coming weeks.

Supporters of large SNAP cuts claim that because SNAP enrollment hasn’t declined in tandem with the unemployment rate over the past few years, the program’s enrollment growth in recent years is largely unrelated to the poor economy. In reality, however, the recent reductions in the unemployment rate overstate the improvements in the labor market, as Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke has observed.5 The proportion of the adult population with a job — the employment rate — has barely improved since the recession bottomed out.

In addition, the number of unemployed workers not receiving unemployment benefits — the group of the unemployed most likely to qualify for SNAP because they have neither wages nor UI benefits — has continued to grow and is higher now than at the bottom of the recession. Also, the historical record shows that declines in poverty and SNAP enrollment typically lag behind declines in the unemployment rate following recessions.

Endnotes

1 For more detail on the scheduled cut, see Stacy Dean and Dorothy Rosenbaum, “SNAP Benefits Will Be Cut for All Participants in November 2013, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Aug. 1, 2013, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3899.

2 Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy, The National Academy Press, 2013, http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2013/Supplemental-Nutrition-Assistance-Program-Examining-the-Evidence-to-Define-Benefit-Adequacy.aspx.

3 Mark Nord and Mark Prell, “Food Security of SNAP Recipients Improved Following the 2009 Stimulus Package,” Amber Waves, 9(2), June 2011, p. 6, http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/227714/foodsecuritysnap_1_.pdf

4 Evaluation of the Impact of Enhancement Demonstrations on Participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP): FY 2011; FNS, USDA, November 2012, http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/menu/Published/CNP/FILES/SEBTC_Year1Findings.pdf.

5 “Bernanke Talks: A Conversation at the NBER,” Real Time Economics, Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2013, http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/07/11/bernanke-talks-a-conversation-at-the-nber/.

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