Celebrating good public policy in Michigan

Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, part of the bipartisan compromise on road funding approved early today, will be a boost to struggling families across Michigan.

If voters agree to the package, it will put extra dollars into working households where families have the hardest time making ends meet. It’s designed to offset additional costs from an increase in the state sales tax and wholesale gas tax to pay to fix Michigan’s battered roads.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the Thursday news conference.

In 2011, the average family received $446 in a state EITC when the credit was 20% of the federal credit. After the EITC was cut to 6%, the average refund plummeted to $138 per family. That’s more than $300 — a big loss to hardworking families.

Gilda Z. Jacobs talks to a reporter at the news conference.

A strong state EITC is key to helping workers pay for transportation and other supports to keep them on the job. It’s a win-win for workers and the state’s economy.

Still it’s not a perfect package, but that is what compromise is all about. It’s unclear what will happen to higher education to fill a $200 million hole if the School Aid Fund can no longer support higher education as part of the ballot proposal.

And sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning that it takes a bigger share of the income of families earning the least than it does of wealthier households. Increasing it to 7 cents puts Michigan about in the middle of the packof the 50 states when local sales tax (not allowed in Michigan) is factored in. It would match Indiana’s. But the restoration of the EITC helps to soften the regressivity for those earning the least in Michigan.

There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that Michigan’s roads need repair. An earlier plan approved by the House would have been devastating to school districts and communities by diverting sales tax dollars designated for them.

This is a far, far better option, and a big reason to celebrate good public policy in Michigan.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

 

Michigan Families Continue to Struggle Since Recession

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children thrive when parents succeed

Roughly half of Michigan’s young children ages 0-8 live in low-income families where meeting basic needs is a daily challenge.

Living in a financially stressed family during childhood has a long-term impact on education and employment. A child who spends the critical early years in poverty is less likely to graduate from high school and remain employed as an adult. To be more effective in assisting these families, public and private programs need to address the needs of both parents and children.

In the majority of Michigan’s low-income families with young children no parent has a year-round full-time job (56%) nor a credential beyond a high school diploma (79%) severely limiting their opportunities to secure well-paid job, according to the latest policy report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Getting access to higher education as a nontraditional student has become much more difficult at a time the state needs a more educated workforce. Over the past decade Michigan policymakers have eliminated all public university and community college grants for older students. Most (85%) parents of young children in Michigan families with income below 200% of the poverty level (roughly $47,000 for a family of four) are over age 25.

Not only does the state not offer financial support to help with college costs for older adults, the state’s woefully inadequate child care subsidy fails to meet the needs of low-wage workers and students. It offers payments substantially below the market rate and only on an hourly basis — severely limiting child care options for families in need of care. Furthermore, eligibility for the subsidy ends when parental income rises only marginally above the poverty level where absorbing the cost of care, which averages over $500 a month, would not be feasible, thus disrupting the stability of care.

One of every eight parents in the state’s low-income families with young children reported that problems with child care resulted in changing, quitting or not taking a job.

Employer practices impose additional stress on working parents who struggle to meet their responsibilities as parents. Parents in part-time, low-wage employment typically lack benefits, as well as flexible and predictable schedules. The constant juggle of changing work schedules and family responsibilities exacts an emotional as well as a physical toll.

Unfortunately programs targeted to assist low-income families rarely address the needs of both parents and children in the family. For example, job training programs do not focus on the quality or accessibility of child care. This latest Casey report makes several recommendations on strategies to strengthen the whole family, including:

  • Providing parents with multiple pathways to family-supporting jobs and financial stability through access to employment and training programs, and state and federal assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Structuring public systems to respond to the realities of today’s families through interagency collaboration and streamlined application systems.
  • Using existing neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty.

In order for children to thrive, their parents must have access to the tools and supports they need to be successful as parents, as well as workers in an economy that requires postsecondary training or education for a job with a family-supporting wage. We cannot afford to delay addressing these issues. The future of over half a million of the state’s young children is at stake.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

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.

The program, called Food Assistance Program in Michigan and SNAP at the federal level, helps 73,100 veterans — about 11% of Michigan’s vets. Michigan is one of 10 states where more than 10% of veterans are in households on food assistance.

“For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families,’’ the report states.

Food assistance has been a vital lifeline to many in Michigan as the state continues to recover from heavy job losses and falling income from the Great Recession.

Despite high unemployment and stagnating poverty, Michigan policymakers have made it harder rather than easier to get food assistance:

  • For a relatively small amount of additional heating assistance, Michigan could have opted to keep a ‘heat and eat’ provision that secured extra federal food assistance to families needing help with utilities. Only four states, including Michigan, of 16 using this option declined to continue by increasing help with utilities.
  • Michigan is bucking the trend nationwide by requiring a harsh food asset test that is not required by the federal government. Considering that the benefits are 100% federally paid, it’s unnecessary for Michigan to make it harder for veterans and others to access food assistance.

As policymakers continue to look for ways to tighten eligibility for public assistance in Michigan, it’s a good reminder that among those being harmed are veterans, who deserve help when they need it in return for the sacrifices they have made.

– Judy Putnam

 

 

High-quality, affordable child care elusive

Although Michigan has started to address its long-neglected child care system, the state has a long way to go to make high-quality child care affordable and easily accessible, especially for low- and moderate-income working parents.

That is the conclusion of a new report on child care assistance policies. (more…)

Oh Michigan!

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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‘O’ stands for October — and it also stands for Opportunity.

With just a few short weeks before the Nov. 4 election, now is your best chance as a concerned Michigan citizen to make a difference. (more…)

Census numbers tell of stagnancy and slow recovery

Today is the big day that comes each year: the release of American Community Survey figures on income and poverty.

Ready for some numbers?

Michigan’s household median income in 2013 ($48,273) was a bit higher than in 2012, but is nearly $1,000 lower than in 2009. The income bracket that grew the largest from 2009 to 2013 was the share of Michigan households who make under $10,000 a year. The only other income bracket with a significant share increase was households making more than $200,000 a year. These numbers taken together suggest that the slow economic recovery in Michigan is primarily benefiting those at higher incomes. (more…)

Healthcare coverage on the upswing

There is some good news out today in terms of health insurance.

The share of uninsured people in Michigan fell from 11.4% in 2012 to 11% in 2012, according to today’s Census Bureau release, with major additional improvements expected ahead due to the Affordable Care Act.

Still, more than 1 million in Michigan were without health insurance in 2013, according to the Census Bureau. That number is expected to decline dramatically as the Healthy Michigan Plan (Michigan’s Medicaid expansion), Marketplace enrollment and other provisions in the Affordable Care Act get counted in the numbers that will be released next fall. (more…)

League supports Michigan’s move to cleaner energy

The Michigan League for Public Policy has recently added clean energy as a focus area in our policy and advocacy work.

Clean energy is an important issue for the organization, as well as our state, as Michigan looks to implement Environmental Protection Agency’s policy to reduce carbon emissions nationwide. While the state has been on the way to supplying some of its electricity with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bioenergy with a goal to meet 10% by 2015, we need to do more. (more…)

Need Facts About Your County?

How much does a parent need to earn to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in your county? What percentage of children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school? What percent of the population in your county is Native American?

Answers to questions such as these can be found in the new, updated county fact sheets called Mapping the Facts, by the Michigan League for Public Policy. We developed these fact sheets for advocates, policymakers and concerned citizens. The sheets have been updated with the latest data available, including 2012 poverty statistics. (more…)

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