Michigan needs a comprehensive approach to third grade reading

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical benchmark for future academic success, so Michigan policymakers have been seriously considering strategies to improve the chances that more children will reach this goal. After third grade, children read to learn, and half the curriculum materials in fourth-grade require grade-level reading skills. Three of four third-graders who struggle to master reading will continue to struggle as high school students. A comprehensive approach is needed to improve early literacy for children in Michigan.

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Ask Your Candidates

To address our crumbling roads, lawmakers are offering proposals ranging from increasing the sales tax, creating a wholesale tax on gas, raising vehicle registration fees, or diverting current sales tax revenue to road maintenance. Any type of tax increase, especially to the sales tax, will have a disproportionate effect on individuals earning low wages.

Do you support increased or new revenue to address Michigan’s crumbling road and infrastructure? Would you support increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit or other tax credit to help offset the burden on people earning low wages?

Since the 1970s, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has been considered a significant poverty reduction tool that encourages individuals to work. In 2006, Michigan created its own state-level EITC based on 20% of the federal tax credit. The governor and state lawmakers scaled back the EITC to 6% in 2011.

Would you support restoring the state-level EITC to 20% of the federal tax credit?

3 Michigan is one of only seven states that continue to rely on a flat income tax rather than a graduated income tax. States with graduated income tax structures tax at higher rates as income rises making it a more modern and equitable system.

Would you support reforming Michigan’s income tax structure from a flat income tax rate to a graduated one?

Sales taxes are typically considered to be the most regressive type of tax costing individuals earning low wages a larger proportion of their income compared to wealthier individuals. Expanding the sales tax to apply to services can serve to both increase revenue and make the sales tax less regressive. Even still, the sales tax will remain regressive, which is the reason some states offer sales tax credits to provide relief for individuals who earn the least.

Would you support extending the state’s sale tax to services with a sales tax credit for filers with low wages?

The Michigan Homestead Property Tax Credit (HPTC) is a refundable credit available to eligible Michigan residents who pay high property taxes or rent in relation to their income. In 2011, it was eliminated for many middle-class families, veterans, and seniors whose total household resources were over $50,000 or the taxable value on their homes was over $135,000.

Would you support restoring the HPTC to provide relief to moderate-income taxpayers?

6 Out of 16 states offering families additional heating assistance to qualify for additional food benefits, Michigan was one of four that declined to add dollars to keep the program going when the rules changed. That means an average loss of $76 a month in food benefits for 150,000 families. It will take only $3.1 million to pull down $137 million in extra federal food assistance for these Michigan families.

Do you favor spending $3 million in the ‘heat and eat’ option to draw additional food assistance?

Michigan hasn’t adjusted its child care subsidy eligibility since 2003 even though spending has fallen dramatically. As a result, only working families in poverty or living just above poverty qualify.

Should Michigan expand its child care program back to 150 percent (just under $30,000 for a family of three) of poverty?

8 Two recent federal audits found that Michigan child care centers and homes visited without prior notification were not complying with all state licensing requirements related to the health and safety of children, including required criminal record and protective services checks of caregivers. The auditors concluded that the state has too few child care inspectors (known as child care licensing consultants) to ensure adequate oversight of child care homes and centers, with caseload ratios more than three times the recommended ratio of 1:50.

Would you support the appropriation of state funds to increase the number of child care inspectors and improve the state’s ability to oversee compliance with basic health and safety requirements in state law and policy?

9 Children living in families that must rely temporarily on state income assistance live in increasingly deep poverty as a result of the very low payments provided by the state (a maximum of $492 per month for a family of three through the Family Independence Program). Michigan used to provide a one-time payment to all school-age children from families receiving FIP to ensure that children could at least start the school year with a decent set of clothes. Since 2011, the school clothing allowance has been restricted to only those children living with grandparents or other caretakers who do not receive cash assistance.

Would you support the restoration of a school clothing allowance for all school-age children living in families receiving FIP benefits?

10 Over one-third or 35,000 Michigan third- graders did not demonstrate proficiency in reading in 2013. A House bill would require that third-graders who are not proficient in reading as measured by the state test would be required to repeat the grade at least once and no more than twice. Alternate tests and portfolios may be used to document reading skills but the school superintendent would make the final decision. Critics contend research on retention documents a higher likelihood of drop-out for retained students while supporters of retention decry the negative impact of social promotion.

Would you support the retention of Michigan third-graders who are not reading at grade level?

11 Child poverty in Michigan has escalated by almost 40% over the last 25 years. Almost one of every four children in the state lives in a family with income below the poverty level: $19,000 for a family of three and $24,000 for a family of four. Several policy initiatives to alleviate child poverty have been suggested, such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10—closer to its value in the 1960s and indexing it to inflation, reinstating the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC and raising the child care subsidy and eligibility so parents earning low wages can have access to child care.

Would you support any of these initiatives?

12 Dental cavities remain the No.1 chronic disease in children, despite being preventable with proper dental care. In Michigan, 27% of third-graders have untreated disease; in the Detroit area, the percentage increases to 42%. The Healthy Kids Dental program, a partnership between Delta Dental and the state for Medicaid-eligible children, has greatly increased access to dental care for those covered. The program is available in all counties except Kent, Oakland and Wayne.  All Michigan children should have access to this program. The estimated state investment required is about $22 million.

Would you support statewide expansion of Healthy Kids Dental as a priority?

13 Michigan has been a leader in investments in preschool programs for 4-year-olds, but funding for families with infants and toddlers living in poverty or near poverty has declined—despite scientific evidence that the first three years of life are when children’s brains are growing most rapidly, affecting their lifelong development, learning and achievement.

Would you support additional state funds for proven programs for parents of very young children, including home visiting and parenting programs?

14 Michigan currently has nine coal-fired electricity generating units, with health-related costs associated with emissions from these facilities totaling $1.5 billion annually. These health issues range from asthma to cancer, and heart and lung disease, with people of color and those who are economically vulnerable being the most likely to suffer from these health complications.

Would you support transitioning from coal to clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power to reduce pollution and improve the health of Michiganians?

15 Workers who are laid off, or who work in low-paying jobs, can often improve their financial situation by building skills at a community college or university. However, Michigan’s financial aid grants are not available to workers who have been out of high school more than 10 years. There is discussion in the Legislature of reinstating two financial aid grants that were discontinued several years ago that would help older workers go back to school and get a degree (the Adult Part Time Grant and the Educational Opportunity Grant).

Would you support the reinstatement of the Adult Part Time Grant and the Educational Opportunity Grant to help older workers get the skills they need for jobs that will support their families?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erratic work schedules create erratic family life

A new bill in Congress reflects growing awareness that work scheduling can make or break a family’s well-being.

It is easy for those of us who enjoy regular work hours to take for granted that we can plan our days and paychecks with stability. We know when we need to drop off or pick up our children at school activities or child care, and we can plan other important aspects of our lives—college classes, social or civic activities or even second jobs—around a predictable work schedule. We also know that we will be compensated for the same number of work hours every week. (more…)

F for no effort: Michigan fails working families

Workplace policies have been on the minds of many over the past two years, with minimum wage and right-to-work rising to the top of debate in Michigan.

Yet, two important labor issues have not received nearly as much thought, despite their relevance to a wide number of Michiganians: paid sick days, and family and medical leave.

A new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, could bring this issue the attention it requires. According to the report, Michigan is one of 17 states to score an F in family-friendly workplace laws for new parents, and it is the only Great Lakes state to receive this grade. Other states in the failing grade category include Alabama and Mississippi. (more…)

If there’s a will, there’s a way

A new video and visually engaging report out today strongly makes the case for rebuilding the state’s education system, protecting Michigan’s abundant natural resources and investing in roads and our communities.

The project is called The Michigan Dream at Risk, from the Michigan Economic Center, an affiliate of Prima Civitas, a nonprofit organization that works to create resilient, adaptable communities in Michigan.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, the League’s president and CEO, and board members Charley Ballard and Bob Kleine were interviewed for the project. (more…)

Senator’s claim smells fishy

Two out of the last three times the minimum wage was raised, Michigan’s unemployment rate decreased in the years that followed.

That indisputable fact makes a recent claim from state Sen. Pat Colbeck, R- Canton, surprising.

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News reported last week the senator’s assertion that raising the minimum wage will decrease the rate of employment “every time.” This false claim needs to be corrected. (more…)

We’re 115 days late

Today is Michigan’s Equal Pay Day, marking how far into the 2014 calendar Michigan women must work in order to earn what men earned in 2013. (The National Equal Pay Day was April 8.)

States observe their own Equal Pay Day relative to the federal day based on how much their pay equity gap diverges from the gap nationwide. Michigan observes the day more than a week later because our state’s wage gap is the 7th widest in the nation. Michigan women earn 73.7 cents for every dollar that men earn, compared with 90.3 cents in the District of Columbia (and at the lowest end, 63.8 cents in Wyoming). (more…)

EITC expansion would keep workers out of poverty

President Obama’s 2015 budget rightly seeks to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to more workers — particularly childless workers. The current EITC rules are unfair to low-wage workers who aren’t raising children, including noncustodial parents. Those workers receive such a small EITC that they can be literally taxed into poverty, or driven deeper into poverty.

By far, the largest share of the EITC goes to those in poverty who work and have children. The EITC is a refundable credit for low-income working families and has been successful at encouraging certain people to take jobs, particularly single mothers. The EITC promotes work and reduces the need for public assistance. (more…)

League vs. Mackinac Center on the minimum wage

Recently, I’ve had two opportunities to debate the Mackinac Center on the minimum wage. The events took place at the Hauenstein Center of Grand Valley State University and on a public affairs show on WGVU, the public station at Grand Valley.

The minimum wage has been on the minds of many lately – particularly after fast-food workers held rallies and called for an increase to $15 per hour, and a ballot campaign formally launched last month.

On one side of the debate are those who understand that $7.40 is too low – at this wage, full-time work is just $15,400 annually. On the other side are those who are opposed to increasing or even having a minimum wage at all. (more…)

Minimum wage — not just your summer job

Long gone are the days when minimum-wage jobs, such as those in food service, were the province of suburban teenagers starting their working lives. A great majority (85%) of low-wage workers in Michigan are at least 20 years old, and 82% have a high school degree or higher. Nearly a quarter of them are also parents supporting children according to a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

These facts suggest a reconsideration of the minimum wage, not as pocket change for teenagers, but as wages for adults who are responsible for themselves, and perhaps for young children. (more…)

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