Finding purpose in policy

Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

Have you ever read a bill in its entirety? If you have, congratulations, that can be quite a task. If not, let me explain a bit what it’s like. Bills can be complex. They can be long. They can have all sorts of details and clauses included, but have all the meat confined to one small section that makes all the difference. In a nutshell, there are times when a bill can appear to be written in a foreign language, traversed only by lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians.

But understanding bills, and thereby understanding the policies they aim to enact, is essential. While you may never see a hard copy of a bill, or hear much about what’s going on in the State House or Senate, what they pass or don’t pass ultimately impacts each one of us. It could be changes to Medicaid, the state income tax, or teacher pensions; regardless of what the topic is, in some way, somehow, the effects of various policy decisions will sift down to every individual. It is because of this inevitability, and the stake that each individual has in their society, that comprehension of policy is so important.

domeNow, most people are busy. Jobs, friends, kids, school … there are a million and one things going on in our lives that keep us moving, keep us working, keep us focused or even distracted. For the majority of us, policy is not one of those things. Luckily for society, there are a select few who have managed to make the interpretation of policy, and then the relaying of information to others in a direct and familiar fashion, their livelihoods. Such people can be found working at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

My own understanding of policy at the beginning of this year was limited. While I had kept up to date on the major legislative debates in Congress, I hadn’t ever done real research into the depths of any piece of policy. From day one with the League though, I was surrounded by professionals. Working here are the types of people who one would consider “policy wonks”. Here are the number crunchers, the data collectors, and the graph creators. The work that happens in this office day in and day out is painstaking, long, at times extremely frustrating, but done entirely with real passion and purpose. Through all that they do, the people at the League are dedicated advocates, policy experts motivated to promote equity and fairness, especially for those who have received the short end of the stick more often than not.

You can imagine that working with individuals of this caliber, I picked up on a few things. And while it is true that I now am more confident in discussing, researching, debating and writing about healthcare and taxes, perhaps more valuable was that through this process I have started to define why good policy is important to me. Policy is a reflection of society. The values of a people are exposed via the policies which they favor. Effective and equitable policy must then be a constantly sought, which requires that policies be backed up by facts and logic, and shaped with a vision towards a more just society. While I still have much to learn about both policy and my own value-based judgements, my experience with the League has put me on the right path.

I leave here having gained a great deal. The people I have met, and lessons I have learned will propel me towards future goals and help me with future endeavors. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, from the endless rounds of edits Rachel had me working on, to witnessing Tillie magically transform my excel graphs into something worth looking at, and smack talking this dreary Michigan winter with anyone and everyone who strolled by my desk. To all the staff here, and my fellow intern Alexa, it has been a pleasure. I wish the best to you all, and again, thanks to you all for making this an experience by which I have learned a truly substantial amount.

— Spike Dearing

Is the Legislature even listening?

As a legislator I took seriously my duty to serve the people I represented. I made it a priority to stay informed, to read the latest data and reports on each issue, and to ask experts for their opinions. But one of the most important aspects of my work was to listen. My constituents were not just data points. They were people. It was my job to hear their voices, and I’ve carried that priority with me to the League.

Unfortunately, listening to constituents and making informed decisions appears to be a lost art in the Legislature. Two weeks ago, the Michigan Senate passed Senate Bill 897, a proposal to take away Medicaid and the Healthy Michigan Plan from folks who don’t work a stringent number of hours. On May 2, I testified in opposition to this bill in the House Appropriations Committee, but they may take it up for a vote any day now. Please help stop it.

 

(Wes Stafford, Wednesday, May 28, 2008) The waiting room fills long before patients are seen Wednesdays at the Helen M. Nickless Health Clinic, 1458 W. Center Road, Hampton Township.

(Wes Stafford, Wednesday, May 28, 2008) The waiting room fills long before patients are seen Wednesdays at the Helen M. Nickless Health Clinic, 1458 W. Center Road, Hampton Township.

 

In pushing this legislation, Republican lawmakers are ignoring state and federal data and analysis, the large group of advocates opposing this bill, and the hundreds of concerned residents that have reached out to their offices. And they are disregarding the real Michiganders who would be impacted—real Michiganders who have been sharing their stories and fears with us.

Ralph H. is self-employed and works from home because he needs to care for his wife, who is disabled. For 10 years, Ralph went without health insurance, as many self-employed people do. When he was approved for the Healthy Michigan Plan, Ralph was finally able to get surgery for a blood clot. Since being on the plan, he still lacks stable income, but at least he hasn’t been worried about his basic healthcare needs. “Some months, we’re lucky if we have $100 left over, once we pay all our bills, so we’re hardly running away with the state’s money.”

He’s nervous because due to the lack of information and clarity on the bill, he’s not sure he can continue to receive healthcare. “Without the coverage, I would essentially be thrown back into the situation that I confronted before I finally got it. That’s one more worry that I certainly do without.”

Kristen H. (no relation) shared a cautionary story with us. She lost her job—and insurance coverage—when her daughter was diagnosed with a genetic syndrome and required more care than Kristen could manage while working. It’s every parent’s nightmare. Kristen, a single mom, found herself suddenly unemployed, with no insurance, and caring for three kids, including a child facing major health issues. “The next several years were very difficult financially as I wasn’t able to work, but we managed to get by. I ended up having a minor surgery during that time that could have seriously impacted my health. Without Medicaid, I may have put off getting care, resulting in serious harm. I may not have been here to provide care not only for my disabled daughter, but my other two children as well. It not only could have impacted my health, but I could have ended up in a financial hole I couldn’t get out of as well.”

Because of Medicaid, Kristen was able to care for her daughter and eventually she was able to work again. But she’s terrified for other parents who might find themselves in her situation: “I would have been one of the individuals who may not be here today if these requirements were in place when my family so desperately needed the safety net that Medicaid provided.”

Therese O. is a 54-year-old widow who receives Medicaid. She couldn’t afford insurance payments after her husband died, and she now works from home. Her work, though, doesn’t offer healthcare and she doesn’t earn enough to purchase it on her own. “This proposal to make Medicaid recipients work 29 hours per week will cause me to lose my Medicaid. If I could work that much, I wouldn’t need Medicaid. I am housebound and I have no family to help me.”

Mitch and Julie B. are married and both self-employed. While Mitch is a veteran and has health insurance through Veterans Affairs, he wrote that “the only way we can afford healthcare for my wife is with Medicaid.” They are worried about how self-employed people will prove their work hours. But they have another concern—homeschooling their daughter. As Julie shared, “Between the two of us we work 60+ hours a week so that one of us can be with our child. Why should one of us have to get a low-paying job so that we can put her in school, pay for childcare and afterschool care?”

These are just some of the stories we’ve heard. Other potential concerns include people who work seasonal jobs or people in the service industry with unpredictable work hours, and those with mental health challenges. People like Ralph, Kristen, Therese, Mitch and Julie, and others need to know they can continue receiving healthcare. They are already living in perilous situations, uncertain from week to week whether they’ll be able to afford the basics. We’re terribly concerned that some in the Legislature seem to be ignoring stories like these and are instead insisting on cutting people off.

Stable healthcare allows people to work. Taking away healthcare just creates yet another barrier to holding down a job to support one’s family. These requirements would be a great burden to patients, hospitals, employers and state offices. The question I’m wondering is, “Other than the perceived health of some candidates’ campaigns, who is this poorly conceived policy really helping?”

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Tax day 2018: Celebrating the contributions of all Michiganders

We at the League make no secret of the fact that we celebrate what tax dollars can do for our state. Schools, parks, bridges, safety services, roads and other important community resources are funded by taxes, so we certainly had plenty of reasons to cheer for taxpayers on April 17 (and April 18) and every day of the year. Among these taxpayers are thousands of undocumented Michiganders who filed their tax returns just as they do every year. As we celebrate all the good things taxes provide, we also honor our immigrant neighbors and community members whose invaluable contributions to Michigan’s culture and economy have helped revive our state in more ways than one.

tax day 2018 325x736Current rhetoric on immigration often overlooks the important contributions undocumented immigrants make to our communities as neighbors, workers and taxpayers. Research from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy highlights the significant contributions that undocumented immigrants make to our state and local economies by paying taxes. According to the report, undocumented immigrants across the United States collectively contribute $11.74 billion in state and local taxes. In the Great Lakes state, which is home to more than half a million foreign-born residents, about 130,000 undocumented immigrant residents contributed an estimated $86.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014 (the latest year for which data is available).

What are some of the ways undocumented Michiganders contribute to the tax base, you ask? Just like their fellow residents, undocumented Michiganders pay sales and excise taxes on things such as utilities, clothing and gasoline. They also pay property taxes, either directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants also pay state income taxes that help grow state investments in schools, infrastructure, healthcare and other important services.

Among residents who help strengthen our state are Dreamers—young undocumented immigrants whose futures continue to hang in the balance as Congress stalls action on the Dream Act. Dreamers contribute to our communities every single day, and they also contribute to our local and state economies as working professionals, consumers and entrepreneurs. As taxpayers, they contributed an estimated $13 million in Michigan in 2014. Yet, if Dreamers lose their DACA status, they will also lose their temporary work permits that enable them to work in good-paying jobs with benefits. The loss in tax revenue from this shift is equivalent to the cost of 220 teacher salaries in Michigan.1

Looking at the contributions of our immigrant neighbors in Michigan brings up an important question about fairness. Michigan’s tax system is upside down—it’s regressive. This means that Michiganders who have low and middle incomes pay a larger portion of their income in taxes than the top 20% of taxpayers. Unfortunately, undocumented taxpayers aren’t left out of this unbalanced system. When it comes to state and local taxes, the average effective tax rate (a measure of the share of total income paid in taxes) for undocumented immigrants is 8%, and 8.9% for Dreamers (young undocumented immigrants). This is striking when compared to the average nationwide effective tax rate among the richest taxpayers: 5.4%.

Policymakers can and must make wise choices that strengthen our communities and recognize the substantial contributions made by our immigrant neighbors. When it comes to immigration, state and national leaders have an opportunity to explore and enact sound public policies that promote economic growth and immigrant integration based on facts and reality rather than playing out the politics of fear and division.

  1. Fiscal Policy Institute (FIP) analysis of Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) tax revenue data and National Education Association (NEA) data on teacher salaries.

— Victoria Crouse

Medicaid work requirements: A prescription for problems

“We’ll call you with the results on Monday.”

If you’ve ever left your doctor’s office after hearing those words, then you’re familiar with the dread. Minutes become hours, hours become days, and the worst fears tend to enter your mind no matter how hard you try to suppress them.

Waiting for that call is excruciating. But a law being proposed in Lansing would make it a lot worse for many in our state.

Michigan’s Senate Bill 897 is ethically, logically and morally wrong; it threatens the healthcare of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. And it’s going to cost us a boatload.

The bill comes on the heels of a change at the federal level that allows states to request waivers to enforce work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

First, let’s look at what Medicaid is. Medicaid is healthcare. It was designed to help sick people get well and to help healthy people stay that way. And it does a pretty great job. Michiganders with low incomes are able to sleep at night knowing that they can receive healthcare through Medicaid and Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program, the Healthy Michigan Plan. Since its creation in 1965, that’s what Medicaid has been: A healthcare plan.

Now, let’s look at what Medicaid is not. Medicaid is not a jobs program. Jobs programs help train workers, eliminate barriers like transportation and childcare issues, and work with local governments, community members and businesses to find solutions to problems in workforce development. By all means, let’s invest in solid jobs programs!

But some in the Michigan Legislature think we need to complicate the health plan by adding layers of bureaucracy and obstacles with work requirements. Here are a few logical truths to counter the myths being used to push work requirements:

 

  1. Most Medicaid recipients who can work are already working. Those who don’t work are students, caregivers, retired or in poor health.Work Requirements (2) 302x550
  2. Michiganders enrolled in Healthy Michigan are doing better at work and are able to find work because they have healthcare. It’s not a big stretch: Being healthy makes it easier to thrive in the workplace. But it doesn’t work the other way around. Being at work doesn’t suddenly cure health problems.
  3. Medicaid recipients, employers, doctors and state employees will be burdened with paperwork, red tape and additional hurdles. These complications will strain the state and cause many struggling Michiganders to lose coverage.
  4. It’s going to cost us. Kentucky, which recently implemented work requirements, reports that just setting up the infrastructure to track work requirements will cost nearly $187 million in the first six months alone.
  5. Work requirements are potentially illegal. Under the act that created the Medicaid program, certain parts of the Medicaid Act can be waived, but new eligibility criteria cannot be imposed—in this case, the criteria of work in order to qualify for Medicaid. Legal challenges have already begun in Kentucky that could have repercussions on any states pursuing work requirements. Michigan lawmakers should wait and see how that case unfolds.

I’m obviously urging you to take action on this issue. But I’m also asking you to start talking about it. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your family. Help them to understand what Medicaid is and what it is not.

I also hope you’ll listen. Over the years Medicaid has helped millions of Michiganders, from those going through a rough patch to those struggling with chronic health problems or terminal illness. It is likely that someone you love or know has benefited from Medicaid. Take the time to listen to how it helped them temporarily or on a long-term basis. And encourage them to share their story to make a difference.

Healthy people are better able to work, but working people do not automatically become healthy. Let’s stop discussing unnecessary plans like this and instead focus on the real things Michigan residents need to work and provide for their families, including Medicaid and other assistance programs, job training, adult education, high-quality child care, reliable public transportation, and more.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Thanks to tax cuts, large budget shortfalls loom in North Carolina

Eric Figueroa

Eric Figueroa

Lawmakers often look at what is happening in other states to determine what Michigan should do. Over the last year, lawmakers repeatedly talked about—and even tried—rolling back our state income tax because of what other states do. Unfortunately, policymakers often don’t learn the lessons from other states, and continue to nick away at our state taxes, putting at risk funding for our schools, our roads and our communities. Just recently, the Michigan Legislature passed what amounts to a token tax cut to families but will have dramatic impacts on our state budget, economy and the vitality of our communities for years to come. Policymakers need to instead look at what happened to states like Kansas and North Carolina when they made drastic tax cuts, learn from their mistake, and say enough. This guest blog from Eric Figueroa, a senior policy analyst with the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explains why.

By Eric Figueroa, Senior Policy Analyst, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Tax cut proponents claim that North Carolina’s tax cutting is a model for other states looking to boost their economies, but the state has not performed particularly well economically compared to its neighbors since the tax cuts took effect and those cuts have put North Carolina on a path to serious fiscal instability.

North Carolina since 2013 has enacted tax cuts that will cost $3.5 billion a year, or 15% of the state’s General Fund budget, once they take full effect in 2019. This massive revenue loss has yet to cause budget shortfalls, mainly because the tax cuts aren’t yet fully in effect, the governor and Legislature have left funding for schools and other services well below their levels before the Great Recession hit a decade ago, and the economy is relatively healthy. But large shortfalls loom in North Carolina’s future.

The Legislature’s budget experts project that the state will avoid shortfalls through the upcoming 2019 fiscal year, but will face major fiscal challenges after that, when more of the tax cuts are scheduled to kick in even as funding needs for schools and other services continue to rise. They project that North Carolina will face a structural shortfall of $1.2 billion in 2020, rising to $1.4 billion two years later. (See chart.)

 

CBPP NC Budget Graphic 400x353

Faced with such large shortfalls, the state will have a choice: cut funding for state services such as schools, healthcare, and transportation projects, or reverse course and repeal the tax cuts. (The state also could draw on “rainy day” funds, but those funds—which require a supermajority in the Legislature to access—are a one-time source of revenue that the state will need when the next recession hits and state revenues fall as a result.) Funding cuts would be particularly painful because the state already has deeply cut funding for core services. For example, state per-student funding for K-12 and higher education is down 7.9 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively, in inflation-adjusted terms since the Great Recession. The funding cuts have made it very hard for North Carolina to improve its low teacher pay and low per-pupil spending, and reverse sharp increases in college tuition.

Kansas, which like North Carolina faced large budget shortfalls after enacting deep income tax cuts, reversed course last year, repealing major parts of the earlier tax cuts in hopes of restoring fiscal stability.

Click on the following links for other recent posts explaining how North Carolina’s tax cuts:

— Eric Figueroa

Political theory meets practical public policy

Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

First off, I know what you’re probably thinking: “there’s no way Spike is his actual name.” While I cannot fault you for thinking that (it is a rather odd, if not interesting name) it does in fact appear on my legal birth certificate (as a middle name, Jack is my first, but how can I not go by Spike, right?).

While my family now lives in East Lansing, I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Denver, Colorado. What that means of course is that I spent most of my free time in the mountains hiking about, and enjoying the fantastic Tex-Mex food of the Southwest. Interestingly enough, I prefer the warmth of an indoor batting cage to the cold of a snow-covered slope, so I actually didn’t spend much time at all skiing or snowboarding. Hopefully that doesn’t discredit me as a Coloradan.

Upon moving to East Lansing and shortly thereafter graduating from East Lansing High, I enrolled in Michigan State University and chose to major within James Madison College. Currently, I am a junior, and my particular field of study is Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy. I am highly fascinated by the Constitution, the founding of our country, and the age-old debates of State vs. Federal authority, the role of civic participation in a democratic republic, the constant issues of class, and others, all pertinent at the conception of our nation and even now, as I write this blog.

Beyond my historicalMI Capitol and MI Flag and philosophical interests (which are numerous, and I love to discuss and debate these with anyone who is at all intrigued), I realize the importance and practicality of understanding policy, and the current political landscape. My knowledge of policy had been somewhat limited until debates really ramped up in early 2017 as the GOP set off on their first attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The press coverage surrounding the event caught my attention, as I’m sure it did for many, but what I got from CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to critically comprehend the elements regarding healthcare, and why it was such a divisive issue.

While the argument as to whether or not the government should have a role in determining the healthcare of individuals is extremely important from an ideological standpoint, I knew that I needed to know more about why costs were so high, the quality of the care, who was going to be adversely affected should the Individual Mandate be repealed, the state of the healthcare market, and why, in the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country in the world, there was an uninsured rate higher than any other developed nation.

My drive to learn and create a strong foundation rooted in a mixture of philosophy, ideology and strong policy knowledge, plus a little nudging from my friend and fellow Madison student Lorenzo, has led me here, to the League. I am incredibly excited to be a part of this team, to learn from everyone, and to contribute to the fantastic body of work of this organization.

With that longwinded introduction out of the way (thanks, James Madison), I’m ready and eager to get to work with the rest of the League and its partners and supporters, and am thankful for the warm welcome and exciting opportunity.

— Spike Dearing

Wishing for the stork to bring some common sense

Having recently returned to work following maternity leave, I’ve been reflecting on my experience with pregnancy, childbirth and clumsily learning how to care for my now five-month-old baby. Humans aren’t delivered by storks and we don’t spring from our parents’ heads as fully formed adults capable of caring for ourselves, but the attitudes shaping this country’s policies surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care often seem to be based on ancient mythology and silly stories parents tell their kids to avoid awkward conversations about sex.

Sadly, these misguided notions have been invoked as justification to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the law’s critics have asserted that men can’t get pregnant and pregnancy is not a disease (although before the ACA’s enactment, insurance companies could consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition warranting higher premium charges and deductibles if not outright denial of coverage).

Despite not experiencing any of the scary complications that can occur during the nondisease of pregnancy, I’m befuddled by a prevailing mindset that discourages prenatal coverage as a standard element of health insurance and paid leave time for new mothers and fathers. This attitude certainly isn’t conducive to good health for children, parents or families.

Some have suggested that the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies sold on the healthcare exchange cover obstetric care constitutes special coverage unfairly given to women at men’s expense. However, every single one of us, regardless of sex, exists because someone with a uterus carried us for months and then gave birth through a usually long, painful and sometimes traumatic process (which, in the United States, is shamefully often threatening to health and life). That some of the insurance premiums paid by people who will never become pregnant ultimately cover expenses associated with pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care isn’t an injustice, it’s just paying it forward.

In waiting until age 37 to have a child, I’ve heard countless lectures about how selfish it is to be childless by choice and that we all have a duty to procreate for various reasons (all of them ironically selfish). But when it comes time to pay for it, human reproduction is suddenly viewed as an extraordinary burden to employers, other insurance subscribers and society at large rather than the natural process by which every one of us comes into this world.

Yes, healthcare for pregnant people, fetuses and newborns is expensive (as is healthcare for all other humans in the United States), and accommodating absences for new parents presents challenges to employers and coworkers. But it doesn’t look like nature will be changing the way our species perpetuates itself anytime soon–there’s no reason to single out pregnancy and childbirth from other naturally occurring health conditions, so we might as well learn to deal with them in ways that don’t cause further losses to society.

Family LeaveToday, my daughter is healthy and happy, largely because we have insurance that covered most of the costs, my employer provides paid parental leave and is accommodating of my family’s needs, and we could afford for my husband to take an extended unpaid leave along with me. But many American families aren’t so fortunate.

Families with low incomes, families of color and single parents have the least access to so many of the supports that save lives and strengthen families and are then cruelly stereotyped as inferior, while white, middle-class, married couples who are more likely to have robust insurance coverage, access to high-quality health providers and paid leave benefits are admonished to have more children so as to maintain an adequate population of “people like us”.

Historically, the stork has been revered as a sign of good fortune, even enjoying special protection in some cultures. Why don’t we show such regard for the actual human bearers and nurturers of children? A society that claims to value children’s lives must also value their parents’ lives, especially during the early years when so much crucial development takes place, and reflect this value in its policies related to health and family.

— Julie Cassidy

Personalizing politics: Putting narratives at the forefront

Lorenzo Santavicca

Lorenzo Santavicca

At a time when we are more connected by online profiles and other technological means of communication, an unintended consequence is that we have become increasingly disconnected in listening and empathizing with one another in person. Many of our politics today—both in Lansing and Washington—are undercutting values that are a cornerstone to our democracy: listening to each other in the process of lawmaking.

By invitation, I recently participated in an inaugural summit called the “Intercollegiate Diversity Congress at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation. I attended in my capacity as Student Body President at Michigan State University. Dedicated to indexing testimonies in our world history, the Foundation currently has stocked more than 55,000 video testimonies, a bulk of them that particularly expound on the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. The Foundation’s work in compiling these stories serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a story to tell and a narrative that we live. Our stories cannot be taken away from us, nor invalidated by someone else’s poor policy proposals in a position of political power.

The summit hosted over 20 student leaders from around the country to brainstorm and strategize how we can foster a better culture of active listening with one another and the power of storytelling that follows. Most importantly, we discussed what it means to arrive at disagreement in dialogue in a civil manner, which is especially important in these polarizing times. I could not be more thankful to have been a part of this conference, considering our desperate societal need to reach out and listen to our peers, whether we agree with them or not.

League intern and MSU Student Body President Lorenzo Santavicca joins other members of the Intercollegiate Diversity Congress

League intern and MSU Student Body President Lorenzo Santavicca joins other members of the Intercollegiate Diversity Congress

Through my work at the Michigan League for Public Policy, I have already seen the power of storytelling influencing the ways in which policy faces scrutiny, feedback, and even an end without moving on through the legislative process. A notable example is the consistent measures taken by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Our ability to push back on the efforts of repealing healthcare through Congress was largely surrounded by discourse by fellow Americans on how the changes would affect their personal health, or someone they loved.

Another challenge to our society, but seemingly less controversial than healthcare, is jobs. One of the participants of the conference was a student leader from West Virginia University. His sentiments during a session of the conference referenced the stereotypes about coal jobs in his home state. While he mentioned that West Virginia largely supported President Donald Trump because of his unwavering support of the coal industry, he indicated that many individuals have expressed interest to find other jobs outside of the coal industry. However, due to a lack of education and other employers for the state, many of these workers are limited to believe their working potential is strictly within the coal industry.

It seemed to be that individuals in his state were largely fooled by politicians to believe that the best route forward continues to be in the coal industry, even at a time when China and other world superpowers are pulling back from this age-old natural resource. Though Michigan’s industries are different from West Virginia’s, we, too, face challenges in job growth. Specifically with respect to Michigan’s economy, we continue to see a need for greater state support to fund our higher education programs that encourage more individuals to obtain higher diplomas and degrees.

As individuals, we must continue personalizing our politics, and understand that every decision taken by elected officials will affect someone else differently. If we’re able to better understand and listen to the needs of voices, like blue collar laborers who are led to believe their industry is going to survive beyond generations, or the ones that are living on food assistance and face threats from the state with little funding support going forward, we might be able to make a change to support the overall well-being for our state’s economy.

— Lorenzo Santavicca, Intern

My favorite kind of bagels are “Keep Fighting” bagels

I’m no newbie to late nights (that often turned into early mornings) watching legislation be written, debated and voted on. During my four years working in the Michigan Legislature, I saw countless hastily written amendments being put up for votes, short fuses getting the best of everyone, and even chants of “Shame! Shame!” being shouted at the majority party reminiscent of an episode of Game of Thrones after they refused to let members speak.

So when I heard that the U.S. Senate was expecting a long night trying to pass their latest version of the Affordable Care Act, I settled in.

I’ll admit when the evening started, I figured it was a done deal. As the Senate began debate, the months we had spent fighting against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the healthcare millions of Michiganians depend on were definitely hanging in the balance.

At around 1 a.m., the Twitterverse was going crazy. Things had stalled—votes weren’t being taken, reporters were analyzing body language and many people started predicting that things were not going well for the Majority Leader. Then in dramatic fashion, Sen. John McCain joined Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski (who had been publicly outspoken about the repeal attempts) in opposition to what was considered the Senate’s last ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. At 2:30 a.m., I emailed my co-workers in celebration and headed to bed.

The next morning, I thought we needed to celebrate. I stopped at my favorite downtown Lansing bagel shop for bagels. It was there I ran into a friend and told him about my “celebration bagels,” but he reminded me that they should actually just be “relief bagels.” And he was right because the fight to protect all the gains made through enactment of the Affordable Care Act was and is not over.image2

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and to stifle efforts to enroll people in the ACA exchanges during open enrollment. The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report on the impact of terminating cost-sharing reductions. Cost-sharing reductions are paid to insurers to cover costs of a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that requires them to offer plans with reduced deductibles, co-payments, and other forms of cost-sharing to individuals purchasing plans on the healthcare exchanges. The report found that by not continuing these payments the federal deficit would increase by $194 billion by 2026, would drive insurers to exit the marketplaces, and would cause premiums to increase by 20% in 2018 and 25% in 2020.

We are happy to report that President Trump has decided to fund these payments for the month of August. We encourage Congress to make a permanent, mandatory appropriation to ensure full funding of CSR payments in order to stabilize the marketplace and erase much uncertainty in the insurance market.

There is also word out of Washington that Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are working with the White House to push their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Cassidy-Graham plan continues many of the same flaws in the previous Senate and House Republican repeal and replace bills—and would have the same damaging consequences.

As an advocate, I get it—it’s been a long eight months and we are all exhausted. We are fighting battles on every corner. But it is important for us to remember why we do this work. Incredible work has already been done and it’s okay that we celebrate the little victories, but the next bagel you buy better be a “keep fighting” bagel, because as Congress returns to work next week, so will we.

Emily Schwarzkopf

 

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

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