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 pack of 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


An unexpected gift: 4-star charity rating

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After all the hubbub over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Tuesday was #GivingTuesday, a day that’s been set aside to promote charitable giving and celebrate generosity.

So it’s appropriate to announce that Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator, has awarded the League 4 stars – the highest rating possible – as a charitable organization. The nonprofit, independent group rates charities based on financial performance, accountability and transparency.

“Michigan League for Public Policy’s coveted 4-star rating puts it in a very select group of high-performing charities,’’ according to Ken Berger, president and CEO, Charity Navigator. “Out of the thousands of nonprofits Charity Navigator evaluates, only one out of four earns 4 stars – a rating that, now, with our new Accountability and Transparency metrics, demands even greater rigor, responsibility and commitment to openness.’’

The League fell short in one area – telling donors that their names will not be used to solicit for other organizations. While our policy has always been not to share or sell our donors’ or email list names, now we’re making it clear on our website.

The unexpected vote of confidence from Charity Navigator comes as the League begins its important end-of-year donation campaign. This season, we’re looking to increase donations by 16% to build a $20,000 Rapid Response Fund and to find 103 new donors to mark our 103rd anniversary.

Our Rapid Response Fund allows us to do the advocacy to react quickly to a bill or suggest a solution to state and federal policymakers. It’s needed because a large share of the League’s grants is tied to research and education and does not allow advocacy or lobbying.

Because of the support of individual donors like you, the League makes a difference in the lives of families, children and vulnerable adults. This year, more than 460,000 previously uninsured or underinsured adults in Michigan are able to see doctors when they need to thanks to the Healthy Michigan Plan and the Affordable Care Act. The League was part of a strong, diverse coalition that helped make the Healthy Michigan Plan a reality.

From increasing the minimum wage to funding preschool education, subsidizing high-quality child care, improving workforce development, and focusing on women’s issues, the League has been a trusted voice in advocating on behalf of men, women and children who are still struggling every day to make ends meet.

I’m glad that #GivingTuesday gave us the opportunity to recapture the spirit of the season.

Will you join us in making a difference? Your gift of $25, $50, $100 or whatever you can afford will help us meet that goal.

A gift of any size from new donors will help us expand our reach to make life better for all in Michigan.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

Maintaining cultural ties and family stability for American Indian Children

American Indian children in Michigan are the most likely to be removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect: 1.5 times the rate of white children and the highest of all children of color in the state, according to the Michigan Race Equity Coalition. They are also more likely to age out of the foster care system. It is disturbing, however, that the rate of investigation for abuse and/or neglect is lower compared with white children.

Removing American Indian children from their homes at higher rates is cause for alarm. Research indicates that placement in the foster care system can lead to an increased risk of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, substance abuse, and more. Although American Indian children in Michigan fare better than their peers in other states, the disparities in the child welfare system persist, creating instability for American Indian children and their families and jeopardizing their cultural ties.

Photo from Livingston Community News. Native American Veterans of Southeastern Michigan event.

As background, Michigan is one of the top 10 states with the largest American Indian populations in the country. The state is home to 130,000 American Indians, including 14,000 children. We have 12 federally recognized tribes and the vast majority of American Indians in the state do not live on a reservation. In 2013, the Department of Human Services supervised 240 Indian child welfare cases; a number that tribal representatives believe to be understated.

The Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, was passed by Congress in 1978 to protect the best interest of American Indian children and to promote stability and security for tribes and families. The most recent annual progress report found that to be in better compliance with ICWA, DHS needed improvements in four areas:

  • Notification to Indian parents and tribes of state proceedings involving Indian children and their right to intervene.
  • Placement preferences of Indian children in foster care, pre-adoptive, and adoptive homes.
  • Active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family when parties seek to place a child in foster care or for adoption.
  • Tribal right to intervene in state proceedings or transfer proceedings to the jurisdiction of the tribe.

To strengthen practices used in American Indian child welfare cases, the Michigan Legislature enacted the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act in 2012. However, embedding ICWA in state law is not enough. Training in the law and cultural competency for all workers at every point in the system—caseworkers, court employees, and others—is critical. Additionally, there needs to be active recruitment of Indian foster care and adoptive homes. Also important to measure compliance and improvements, along with having the ability to identify areas of inadequacy in the system, is data collection.

Finally, as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, appreciating cultural differences and continuing to build and develop relationships with Michigan’s tribes and their leaders will truly enhance outcomes for American Indian children and their families.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

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

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!

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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…)

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

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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…)

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