Diving deeper into the river of opportunity

At the League, economic opportunity is our mission so it was heartening to hear Gov. Rick Snyder talk about the ‘river of opportunity’ in his fifth State of the State address Tuesday. There is an assumption in that analogy, however, that deserves a closer look.

The governor spoke about his background growing up in a 900-square-foot home in Battle Creek in a supportive family. He said despite his family’s modest income, he was still able to be part of the river of opportunity. He spoke of the Michiganians who are not part – separated by poverty, absent parents or other barriers — and he talked about his desire to move them into that river of opportunity.

Though it was a welcome tone from the governor, it contained a flawed analogy. The governor  said government is in the background of the lives of those already enjoying opportunity while it plays a prominent role for those in need. Yet, there is no ‘them and us’ when it comes to government services because we all benefit.

Let’s take public education for starters. Free education is not just for kids from families with low incomes. The support of public universities, including $300 million a year to the governor’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, helps many, many children of the affluent. Tax dollars create the public transportation to move the goods that supports the jobs, helping job providers and workers. In short, public dollars are used to keep that river flowing, and enjoyed by the citizens who are benefiting from opportunity.

The governor also called for revamping of services to help those in need. At the Capitol Tuesday, several reporters sought out League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs for comment on the merger of the Departments of Human Services and Community Health into a new Department of Health and Human Services. Jacobs was positive about the potential to really lift barriers for people and also about the leadership of interim Director Nick Lyon. (See the League’s statement.)

What will be important is making sure that there are savings resulting from true efficiencies and that the merger’s goal isn’t just to save dollars. Simply cutting people from services while poverty and unemployment remain high is not the way to measure success.

With revenues coming in below expectations, the pressure will be on to make those cuts. More insight will be offered in the governor’s executive budget recommendation in February. So stay tuned!

 – Judy Putnam

More child care oversight needed

Every day in Michigan, parents head out to work with their young children in tow, dropping them off at local child care centers or homes. Child care is a necessity for many working families because they rely on two incomes to make ends meet or because they are raising children as single parents.

Yet oversight of health and safety requirements is stretched far too thin in Michigan, a new policy brief from the League concludes.

Child care centers and homes are required to be licensed or registered with the state to ensure that basic requirements are met. Two federal audits and national studies have found that Michigan falls short in its efforts to inspect child care settings. The unacceptable reality is that parents cannot rest assured that their children are spending their days in care that consistently meets state licensing standards.

The risk to children is greatest in families earning low wages, including parents who are required to work 40 hours a week as a condition of receiving public assistance. Low-wage families have fewer options and face difficult choices because they cannot afford higher quality child care that comes at a higher cost.

These are the facts:

  • Michigan cannot provide adequate oversight of child care because the state’s child care inspectors have caseloads that are more than three times the national standard. Child care inspectors in Michigan have average caseloads of 153, with a nationally recommended ratio of 1 worker for every 50 child care programs.
  • In unannounced visits, federal auditors found that child care providers failed to comply with one or more state health and safety requirements. Most disturbing was the fact that half of the family and group child care providers had not done required criminal and protective services background checks, and none of the child care centers had completed those checks on their employees.
  • A national report gave Michigan a “D” grade for its child care centers regulations and oversight, citing ineffective monitoring.
  • Michigan was one of eight states that received a score of 0 out of a possible 150 points for its licensing of child care homes, primarily because of a failure to inspect homes before they are registered and children are placed into care.

The state inspects a range of services in order to protect the public including restaurants, roads and bridges, and grocery stores. Certainly the state’s youngest children, who are in child care so their parents can work to support them, deserve to be at the top of the list.

– Pat Sorenson

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…)

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. (more…)

An unexpected gift: 4-star charity rating

From the First Tuesday newsletter
Sign up for enews and newsletters 

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.’’ (more…)

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. (more…)

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!

From the First Tuesday newsletter
Sign up for the newsletter and e-alerts 

‘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…)

Next Page »