Despite recovery from recession hunger threatens Michigan’s health and economy

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, headlines have trumpeted the state’s recovery and inspired hope for a bright future filled with abundant jobs, comfortable incomes and a high quality of life for Michiganians. As the League’s new policy brief, Still Hungry: Economic Recovery Leaves Many Michiganians Without Enough To Eat, explains, what these headlines don’t capture is that the recovery hasn’t touched everyone in our state equally, and people at the lower end of the economic scale still struggle disproportionately with unemployment, underemployment and low wages. For many, income and employment gains have been insufficient to overcome rising food prices and other barriers to healthy food access. As a result, roughly 1.5 million Michiganians still don’t have enough to eat. This is not the time to downsize our anti-hunger efforts. Instead, we should preserve and expand existing programs that have proven effective and implement other reforms to ensure that all Michiganians have the fuel they need to lead healthy, productive lives and keep our state on an upward trajectory.

Still hungry blog graphic 1Certain people experience food insecurity and hunger more than others or are particularly vulnerable to the associated negative impacts. These residents and families who are struggling would be harmed disproportionately by proposals to restructure government nutrition programs and slash funding for other services that provide a basic standard of living for millions of Americans.

Households with children are less food secure than those without children. This is troubling because it’s difficult for hungry parents to support their families and raise healthy children, and nutrition is so important to children’s health and development, academic success and prospects for the future.

Seniors and people with disabilities often have increased nutritional and healthcare needs while also facing limited income opportunities and mobility challenges. This combination presents barriers to healthy food affordability and access.

In rural areas, poverty is often higher than average, full-service grocery stores may be rare and dental care providers may be scarce. Further hindered by a lack of public transit, rural residents may struggle with food availability, affordability and accessibility more than those living in urban and suburban areas.

A long history of public policy shaped by racism has left Black and Latino households at a broad disadvantage which leaves them particularly susceptible to the devastation that comes with a national economic crisis. As a result, food insecurity among households of color remains significantly higher than the peak level of food insecurity experienced by White households during the Great Recession.

Although some people are more affected by hunger than others, ultimately we all pay the price of food insecurity as the negative health impacts trigger a domino effect that burdens families, strains the healthcare system, harms the viability of our workforce and increases poverty.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and a number of other federal services provide much of the funding that our state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations rely on to fight hunger in our communities. Other state and local initiatives involving government, nonprofit entities and the business community further fight hunger and boost the state’s agriculture and grocery industries.

These services help families achieve food security, keep people out of poverty, promote health and stimulate our economy. For these reasons, the League is pleased that Michigan’s 2018 budget includes funding for several healthy food access initiatives, such as $500,000 for the purchase of wireless equipment that will enable more farmers markets to accept Bridge Cards, support for Double Up Food Bucks to combat the effects of lead poisoning in Flint, and expansion of the 10 Cents a Meal program.

Still hungry blog graphic 7 reportThese resources, however, aren’t sufficient to serve everyone in need and address root causes of hunger, so society continues to incur billions of dollars in avoidable costs through poor health and a less dynamic workforce. Ensuring access to adequate healthy food presents one of the most cost-effective opportunities to strengthen our state’s greatest resource—its people—and promote our state and national prosperity.

— Julie Cassidy

Advocates tackle challenges facing U.P. kids

I recently had the pleasure of presenting before the Upper Peninsula Children’s Coalition in Marquette with several Great Start Collaboratives connecting via video conference. The annual event brings together many child advocates working on the ground to get updates on how kids in the U.P. are doing, and most importantly, for invited lawmakers to hear this information and make the connection to public policy changes that could improve the lives of children and their families.

During the nearly eight-hour drive, which was my first trip to Marquette and a very beautiful drive since the weather cooperated, it was so easy to see the many barriers that families in the U.P. face when trying to access anything—groceries, child care centers or the doctor, to name a few. When we think about families who may be experiencing additional barriers, such as housing, lack of transportation, unemployment and/or low wages, you can appreciate the need to improve how different service delivery and outreach is structured. (more…)

Unemployed workers falsely accused of fraud need more than just repayment

Imagine receiving a letter in the mail telling you that you committed Unemployment Insurance (UI) fraud several years ago and owed the government thousands of dollars in benefit repayments and penalties.

Beginning in 2013, workers who became unemployed began filing claims using Michigan’s new online unemployment system called the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System, or MiDAS. These workers did not expect to receive notices in the mail, in some cases long after they had found work and stopped receiving UI benefits, wrongly accusing them of fraud. The letters demanded thousands of dollars in repayment of their benefits plus large penalties, but did not provide information as to why the claimants were determined to have committed fraud. (more…)

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

Minimum wage gets step-up but tipped workers still underpaid

MI minimum wageMinimum wage workers earned more this past week than they did in 2015, due to Michigan’s minimum wage increasing from $8.15 to $8.50 on January 1 of this year.

The increase is the third step in a legislated five-step increase that began in 2014. In 2018, minimum wage will increase to its final step, to $9.25. For years beyond 2018, the legislation requires that the minimum wage have an annual increase that is indexed to inflation. (more…)

Two generation policies offer support for parents and kids

On Monday, October 26th, the Michigan League for Public Policy held our annual meeting and public policy forum, “Secure Parents and Successful Kids.” We were joined by more than 250 people from around the state and a host of national and state experts and innovators in the fields of education, economic security and child well-being to discuss a two-generation approach to tackling poverty. (more…)

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…)

Many kids stuck in poverty without solutions

Contact: Judy Putnam or Jane Zehnder-Merrell, 517.487.5436

Kids Count in Mich. ranks 82 counties on child well-being

LANSING, Mich. – Too many kids in Michigan remain mired in poverty at a time when policymakers have reduced help for struggling families, according to the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015 released today.

Three measures of economic conditions worsened over the trend period with nearly one in every four children living in an impoverished household, a 35 percent increase in child poverty over six years. The trend period measured from 2006 to 2012 or 2013, depending on the availability of data.

(more…)

High poverty, unemployment harm economic growth

Often touted as the “Comeback State,” Michigan’s economic recovery has not included everyone as reflected in the state’s high poverty and unemployment rates. Leaving people behind will only hinder Michigan’s potential economic growth, which has already showed signs of slowing.

A recent report ranking states based on multiple indicators of economic security and opportunity reveals the state’s major lack of investment in its people. On almost every factor from poverty to education to affordable housing, Michigan is ranked worst or second-worst among the Midwest states. (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…)

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