Protecting food assistance to preserve our future

While in Washington, D.C. last month for the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference (AHPC), I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. I was particularly fascinated by the exhibit on the Inka, who developed an expansive system to store surplus food for redistribution during hard times to ensure the empire’s survival. It was a timely experience since the AHPC was bringing together more than 1,300 anti-hunger advocates from all over the country just as the federal food assistance programs that so many American families rely on to survive—programs that have traditionally had bipartisan support—have come under attack by the president and congressional Republicans.

Conference presenters outlined threats to the mainstays of federal food assistance, most notably a proposal to convert funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from an entitlement structure to a block grant. Recognizing the interconnection of hunger, health and the economy, speakers also touched on feared cuts and structural changes to Medicaid and several tax credits that encourage work and empower families with low income to achieve economic independenceThemes that came up over and over again were the disproportionate impact of poverty and hunger on children, people with disabilities and people of color, and the disturbing effect that recent hateful, dishonest rhetoric and changes in immigration enforcement policy have had on access to public benefits by eligible immigrants and their children.

Under such gloomy circumstances, what can anti-hunger advocates to do to protect the programs that have lifted so many, enabling them to contribute to the American economy and society? How can we be effective when we’re on the defensive? Conference speakers and attendees alike spoke of the power of storytelling and shared values in framing statistics in a way that humanizes the frequently maligned recipients of food assistance and connects federal policy changes to the lives of real people in our communities and neighborhoods. (Note: If you receive food assistance and would like to share your story, please email our Communications Director Alex Rossman.)

Armed with lots of new information and propelled by the energy of my fellow conference attendees, I was proud to join a well-organized group of Michigan anti-hunger advocates in visiting nearly all of the members of the Michigan congressional delegation to educate them about the impact of federal nutrition programs on their constituents’ lives and the critical need to protect the funding and structure that make these programs so effective.

As the Inka wisely recognized, a robust nutrition assistance program isn’t merely charity to people having a tough time, it’s an essential investment in the nation’s future. At this critical time in our history, it’s vital that stakeholders from all sectors, ranging from anti-hunger advocates and human service providers to the healthcare and agriculture industries, band together to defend the food programs that help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s parents, workers and leaders. To get the latest news and find out how you can get involved in the federal fight against hunger, check out the Food Research and Action Center.

— Julie Cassidy

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

The League’s top blogs of 2016

The League’s staff blog is one of my favorite communications tools. It is always current, as we aim to post at least one new blog a week, sometimes more. It is personal, as many of us share about our personal lives and experiences in connection with what we do at the League. The blog provides a variety of perspectives, as they are written by everyone from our CEO and board members to our interns and even former staff. And our blog strives to make public policy issues interesting and accessible.

A blog is only as effective as its reach, and what I love the most about our staff blog is that people actually read it and share it with others. So, as 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at our most popular blogs of the year. Each of these blogs was shared over 100 times, showing that these issues struck a chord with our supporters. If you’ve already read these, I encourage you to take a look at them again. And if these are new to you, I hope you’ll give them a read.

  1. When are we going to really value education?: Michigan Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren talks about Michigan’s disinvestment in education and how the state spends dramatically more on corrections than education.
  2. Why we fight: I wrote about the aftermath of the 2016 election and why policy advocates need to dust ourselves off and keep fighting the good fight.
  3. Angry about Flint? Be part of the solution: Policy analyst Peter Ruark writes about his volunteer work in Flint and the need for people to get involved on the ground and in the Capitol to help residents.
  4. Changing minds by touching hearts: League Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill blogs about the lives and hearts our work touches.
  5. Top ten voting tips: League CEO Gilda Jacobs writes about the importance of voting and dispels some prevalent myths around the process.
  6. Quit spreading misinformation: Michigan is NOT a high tax state: Legislative Director Rachel Richards seeks to set the record straight on Michigan’s tax climate.
  7. Bundle of joy: Gilda Jacobs discusses the birth of her new granddaughter and why we need a better Michigan and a better world for all kids.
  8. Michigan, 20 years after “welfare reform”: Peter Ruark blogs about the impact still being felt in Michigan today from the federal welfare reform of the 1990s.
  9. 14,000 unemployed workers will soon lose food assistance: Peter Ruark writes about a policy change that will take away vital food assistance for struggling workers.

—Alex Rossman

Statement: League supports House budget effort to address Heat and Eat exclusion, return support to 150,000 households

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Michigan House Appropriations Committee’s inclusion of $3.2 million in the General Omnibus Budget today to fix the Heat and Eat policy that reduced federal support for approximately 150,000 households, including the elderly and persons with disabilities. The League has been working with lawmakers to find resolution for this problem for several years as it is a very cost-effective way to help low-income individuals while leveraging federal funds. The statement may be attributed to League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs. (more…)

Aging baby boomers face huge hurdle with food assistance asset test

From the First Tuesday newsletter
Sign up for the newsletter and e-news

When most of us think of hunger and those in need, we think of children. As our recent Kids Count Data Book points out, too many Michigan children are currently facing poverty and hunger. But there’s another group of people who are also struggling with hunger, and it might come as a surprise: baby boomers. (more…)

Schools out! Why some kids aren’t as excited for summer

As we counted down the last days of the school year, most of us were excited planning our summer vacations and camps. At the same time, too many kids were wondering how they were going to eat over the summer – something most of us take for granted. (more…)

Cutting off Assistance to Families Won’t Improve School Attendance, Will Drive Up Poverty

Pushing families further into poverty will not increase school attendance rates. The Michigan Legislature is considering House Bill 4041 that would codify current Department of Human Services policy that terminates Family Independence Program, or cash assistance, for an entire family if a child between the ages of 6 and 15 is considered to be truant by their local school district. An entire family is punished for the actions of one child. If the student is 16 or older, only the truant child is removed from the case. The bill will not boost school attendance rates, but it will increase the number of children and families living in extreme poverty.

DHS policy should have the goal of helping families, not driving them deeper into economic crisis. The cash assistance program helps families living in extreme poverty (income under half of the poverty level, or $9,385 for a family of three). Families receiving FIP have very few resources and already face a number of challenges, including inconsistent work schedules; lack of access to quality, affordable child care; and reliable transportation. Eliminating their cash assistance will do nothing to address these challenges and will make life more difficult for their children. The League has the following concerns with HB 4041:

Codifying current DHS policy ties the hands of the department. It becomes much more difficult to change policy after it is made into law. The department would lose any flexibility to adapt its policy to better serve the needs of the people.

Barriers to attending school are not addressed. Four of the top 10 reasons for missing school, as identified by the Michigan School-Justice Partnership, deal with transportation, child care, and lack of appropriate clothing for the weather. Eliminating a family’s cash assistance will only make these issues worse. Working oneon-one with families to identify and resolve the underlying issues—without reducing their resources—is a much better route to ensure that a child is ready and able to learn at school. HB 4041 does not include any type of required intervention.

Lack of due process to appeal a decision. At times, an illness or other situation results in a high number of absences. These could be excused absences depending on the school attendance policy. Individual situations should be recognized, and families should have a clear process for appealing a decision that terminates their assistance. While DHS policy does include an appeals process, this proposed law does not.

Full-family sanction for families with children between 6 and 15 years old is severe. There may be cases in which a parent is doing everything in their power to get their 14year-old to school, but the child—for whatever reason—does not arrive or stay in school. Terminating assistance for the entire family for the actions of one child could make it more difficult for other children in the family to get to school.

Unclear definition of truancy or attendance policy. Without a statewide definition of truancy and the variances across school districts in how truancy is defined, there will be inequitable impact on children and families.

Child poverty remains unacceptably high. From 2006 to 2012, the rate of children living in poverty in Michigan grew by 35%. The economic recovery has not touched everyone. More than 70% of program participants are children with an average age of 7. Cutting off assistance will undoubtedly harm children in these families the most at a time when the governor’s dashboard calls for reducing childhood poverty.

House Bill 4041, and the related DHS policy, is not the way to improve attendance rates or the lives of these families in either the short or long run. Codifying this DHS policy will only contribute to increasing child poverty and the number of families living in extreme poverty.

 

Michigan’s one-two punch against the unemployed

Eight of the nine states that cut the number of weeks that unemployed workers could receive Unemployment Insurance benefits, including Michigan, saw larger-than-average drops in the number of people collecting benefits after the cuts, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. Despite high unemployment at the time, Michigan was the first state to legislate such a cut, from 26 weeks to 20. (more…)

Child poverty in the 21st century

The number of Michigan children living in families with income below the poverty level drops by half when tax and non-cash benefits are included as income, according to the latest analysis from the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The percentage of the state’s children who would be living in poverty if no government program benefits and tax credits were available, however, stood at 30 percent, as calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure. (more…)

11% of Mich. vets in households receiving food aid

More than one in every 10 Michigan veterans lives in a household that receives food assistance, a new policy brief estimates.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released today in time for Veterans Day, is a reminder that thousands of struggling veterans use food assistance (formerly food stamps) to put food on the table.

(more…)

Next Page »