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.

Preschoolers at play Michigan received praise in the report for its new, tiered reimbursement rate system for higher-quality child care providers, implemented in July 2014.

Michigan now rates licensed child care providers on a scale of 0 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest quality early learning experience for children.

Under the new reimbursement system, providers can receive an additional 25 cents per hour for a three-star program, 50 cents per hour for a four-star program, and 75 cents for a five-star program.

Higher rates for higher quality makes sense, and is an important step forward. The goal is to give parents reliable and affordable child care, as well as peace of mind while they work to support their families. For children, the goal is to provide daily learning experiences that take advantage of that brief window of time when their brains are developing rapidly, affecting their chances of achieving in school and beyond.

The reality is that Michigan’s child care system still falls far short, as outlined in a recent League report:

  • As of early October, 80% of Michigan’s licensed child care providers had zero stars in the child care rating system, meaning that they only met baseline licensing requirements, and were not eligible for higher rates under the new reimbursement system.
  • Least likely to be eligible for higher rates are the more affordable family child care homes, with less than 4% having 3 or more stars.
  • Michigan continues to have some of the lowest child care subsidy eligibility levels in the country. While over two-thirds of the states increased their income eligibility levels between 2013 and 2014, Michigan did not.  In fact, eligibility levels fell from 178% of poverty in 2001 to 121% of poverty in 2014—a reduction of 57%.

With the second large expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program this year, Michigan continues to make strides for 4-year-olds.

Still left behind are the families who need to work but cannot find safe, affordable care for their infants and toddlers. Also left adrift are the state’s 3-year-olds, who are not eligible for the state-subsidized preschool that could help them get ready for school and develop the literacy skills needed for that important benchmark of reading by third grade.

It is time to turn our attention to the youngest learners in the state and their hard-working parents.

– Pat Sorenson

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.

You can do this by:

1. Informing candidates for public office about policies you support.
2. Asking candidates about those issues so you can vote for the person who best reflects your priorities.

There’s a lot at stake in this election. In state elections, all 110 members of the House of Representatives and 38 Senate members will be elected in addition to the governor.

To help sort through this monumental task, the League has identified 15 public policy areas.

One of the biggest is what to do about our crumbling roads. Solutions offered are increasing the sales tax, creating a wholesale tax on gas, raising vehicle registration fees or diverting sales tax revenue. Creating or increasing taxes, especially the sales tax, will disproportionately affect those earning low wages.

Here’s the question to ask your candidates:

“Do you support increased or new revenue to address Michigan’s crumbling roads 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?”

Beware of the candidate who has a simple solution. If the answer is to just make roads a priority for funding, what happens to the other services such as health and education that now must make do with a smaller funding pot? Those who would simply increase the sales tax risk ignoring the realities of our economy — that families with low incomes pay a much bigger share of their income in sales tax than wealthier families.

Another question for candidates focuses on child poverty, which has escalated by 40% over the last 25 years with nearly one in every four Michigan kids now living in poverty. That’s $19,000 a year or less for a family of three and $24,000 for a family of four. The question for candidates:

“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 easing eligibility requirements, parents earning low wages can access child care. Would you support any of these initiatives?”

A newer policy area of work for the League looks at clean energy and health-related costs of coal-fired electricity generating units that more deeply affect people of color and those who are economically vulnerable. To explore this, ask your candidate:

“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?”

For more help and background, see the League’s full set of questions, candidate fact sheets by district and advocacy basics.

When policies, debates and energy are focused on reducing child poverty, improving tax policy and making our air clean, we will be able to celebrate another ‘O.’

That would be for Outstanding!

– By Gilda Z. Jacobs

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…)

Flood waters: a taxing problem

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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My family and I were unfortunate enough to experience the recent flooding in Southeast Michigan. Despite the fact that we lost appliances, some precious photos and an assortment of stuff we had accumulated over the past 37 years, we will be OK. We had insurance and were able to get a company to clean and sanitize our basement very quickly. And we will not need to go into our retirement funds to make our losses whole. (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…)

A stronger Michigan economy is within reach

Yes we can grow Michigan’s economy, create good jobs and expand opportunities for all Michiganians with the right public policy decisions. A new report by Erica Williams at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how policymakers can make that happen.

Williams explains that states need to invest adequately in education, healthcare, transportation and workforce development. And in order to do that, they need to make decisions about how to raise and spend revenues with an eye toward the future. (more…)

Vets lose benefits as we celebrate Fourth of July

Just as we head into one of our most patriotic celebrations of the year next week (the Fourth of July), a new estimate out shows that 285,000 unemployed veterans will lose jobless benefits by the end of June, including thousands of out-of-work vets in Michigan.

Extended benefits known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation expired Dec. 28. Congress’ failure to extend the benefits means that 1.3 million workers were cut off from unemployment benefits nationwide at the end of last year, with an additional 1.6 million exhausting their regular state benefits in the first six months of this year. Included in those numbers are nearly 300,000 jobless vets, Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates. (more…)

Maternal and infant risks in Michigan’s legacy cities

Roughly one of every four children in the state lives in one of Michigan’s legacy cities located across the southern half of the state’s Lower Peninsula. These legacy cities, once economic and social powerhouses, are now, in many cases, struggling with population loss and high unemployment.

Perhaps, not so surprising, risks to maternal and infant well-being are generally worse within these cities than the out-county areas in the counties where they are located.

The latest analysis of Right Start in Michigan, an annual report from Kids Count in Michigan, examines eight indicators to assess maternal and infant risks across the 15 so-called legacy cities. Only Ann Arbor, which has actually thrived in the new post-industrial economy, shows lower risk on almost all indicators than the out-county. (more…)

A Mother’s Day minimum wage story

Imagine being a single mother, working full time and still living in poverty. Imagine losing your job after calling for a higher minimum wage so you can earn enough to care for your children.

That’s what happened to Donyetta Hill, a hardworking mom to three children who, prior to finding work as an organizer for ROC-Michigan, was working full time at a fast food franchise in Detroit.

Donyetta’s wage was exactly the state’s minimum of $7.40 an hour, or just $1,184 monthly before taxes. This amount left her unable to put food on the table without assistance, and pay rent or other bills on time. (more…)

Michigan a ‘comeback state’ — for whom?

With much talk about Michigan as a “comeback state,’’ it’s important to delve a little deeper to answer the question – a comeback state, for whom?

It’s certainly not a comeback state for Lori, an older worker with a part-time retail job in the Lansing area. Like many others, she struggles with an income that barely covers the bills.

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted income in Michigan doubled for those at the very top – the top 1% — while falling a bit for the rest of us between 1979 and 2007. (more…)

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