A better budget for all Michiganians

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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In our world, “winning” isn’t clear-cut. There’s no finish line, no time limit, no line judges, and certainly no landslides. Our victories are determined not by a final score, but by a day-to-day analysis of how Michiganians are impacted by policies and programs. And when the state budget bills were passed by the Michigan Legislature in late June, they included several victories for us and the people we’re fighting for.

diversity 428x200Though we still have concerns about certain elements of the final budget, we are pleased that this budget was largely created with the well-being of Michigan residents in mind.

Food Security

One of our most important policy priorities is that of food security, and the new budget certainly earns solid marks in that area. A major goal of the League this year has been to support “heat and eat” to secure additional food assistance for hundreds of thousands of Michigan families, seniors and people with disabilities. Seeing this program funded is reassuring. The budget contains support for other valuable food programs, including “double-up food bucks” in Flint, which helps residents who receive food assistance make their dollars go further when purchasing fruits and vegetables that help combat the effects of lead exposure.

We had hopes that the Legislature would fund the Corner Store initiative, which provides grants to small food retailers, allowing them to make fresh, nutritious foods available in low- and moderate-income areas. However, we are grateful for the acknowledgment that this is an important program and hope that funding becomes available for it in the future. Another positive point in the healthy foods column is funding for farmers markets to purchase wireless equipment, allowing them to accept Bridge Cards.

Child Care and Education

Child care is another big focus of the League’s, not just due to the learning environment it provides for kids but because of the significant expense and concern it means for most parents. The final budget includes $8.4 million in state general funds and $19.4 million total to increase child care provider reimbursements—paving the way for more access to higher-quality care for families with low incomes. In addition, $5.5 million in federal funding from the Child Care Development Fund is appropriated to increase the entry eligibility level from 125% to 130%of poverty.

The expansion of At-Risk funding for students in struggling families is encouraging, as is the increase in per-pupil funding, particularly at the high school level. While the increase is not yet on par with inflation, it is certainly a move in the right direction. Another gain is the Legislature’s decision to increase funding for the Pathways to Potential program, which places ‘success coaches’ in schools to identify barriers faced by students and their families. This important program—left out of an earlier budget draft—will help students access important services, and the League commends Gov. Rick Snyder for recommending its expansion.

Healthcare

The decision to continue funding the Healthy Michigan Plan is a positive for all Michiganians—especially the 670,000 residents who rely on the plan for healthcare.

Department of Corrections

We are pleased that the Residential Alternative to Prison program was expanded. It provides low-risk probation violators an opportunity to avoid going to prison and instead enter a residential program in which they receive occupational training and cognitive behavioral programming. The budget not only continues this program in Wayne County, but adds $1.5 million to replicate it in 13 counties on the west side of the state.

Federal Cuts Loom

Unfortunately, the gains made in this budget could be undone by the senseless and insensitive policies being considered in Washington. If the Trump budget or the U.S. Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) are passed, the people of our state will lose many valuable resources and benefits. These federal cuts and program eliminations would dramatically shift costs to our state budget and force the Michigan Legislature to make cuts of their own.

While we celebrate the victories in the 2018 state budget, we urge you to take action against these proposals that would undo the good progress we’ve made. Please keep up the pressure in the fight against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the elimination of the highly successful Healthy Michigan Plan. And if you haven’t already, please contact your members of Congress and tell them you strongly oppose the Trump budget and its historically harmful cuts to the services our residents depend on.

Our success in the state budget process shows the power of persistence and advocacy. We will continue to put that same energy into policy work at the federal level, and we hope you will, too.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs