Factually Speaking blog has moved

October 5, 2010

Please check out the new home for the League staff blog, Factually Speaking, at http://www.milhs.org/category/blog-factually-speaking.

If you’ve signed up through an RSS feed other than Feedburner, you will have to resubscribe. (If the last post you have in your feed is “League spruces up its look,” please resubscribe at the link above.)

The League’s redesigned website incorporates the blog.  We won’t be posting to this site any longer. Thanks for searching for us!

League spruces up its look

September 21, 2010
Photo of Judy Putnam

Judy Putnam

The League is sprucing up with the launch of a redesigned website. It features new type, new art, new colors and new organization. We think it is an attractive, simple, easy-to-navigate site that we hope will quickly give viewers the information they seek. 

As Ari Adler, a social networking consultant told us last year, an organization’s website is the communications hub. It’s the very heart of the operation. The League is employing electronic and social media — Twitter, Facebook, blog, email, and e-newsletters — but those are tools that drive viewers back to our website where our core content is housed. Without a great website, it’s a little like dressing up for the prom with great accessories, but wearing an ill-fitting, out-of-date dress. 

No more. 

Our main work is now under the “Issues” tab at the top of the page. There you will find drop-down boxes that take you to the topics of Kids Count, Budget and Tax, Safety Net/Health, Work and Wages, Recovery Act and Our Presentations. 

The new site features the League’s blog, Factually Speaking, under a tab, plus a link and preview on the Home page. And the latest news items that quote the League or cite its work will also be on display on the Home page. 

The most pressing issues will be under “Issues in Focus” at the top of the home page, while everything else that’s new to the site will be under ‘What’s New,’’ also on the Home page. 

And, as always, feel free to use the “Contact Us” tab frequently. We are eager to answer your questions and share data about the lives of low-income children, their families and individuals in Michigan. 

Like many nonprofits, the League has had its share of technology challenges. For many years, the League used a site designed by in-house staff using a host that was free at the start-up in the 1990s.  

For the redesign, we were lucky to get help from a funder who put us in touch with Lisa Beers of Beers Design, who used a WordPress template to create the new look. We’re also moving to a local web host, Liquid Web.

We hope you like it.

— Judy Putnam

The story the new Census data tells

September 16, 2010

Jacqui Broughton

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released new data from the Current Population Survey which gives us a look at what happened to household income, health insurance and poverty rates in 2009. As expected, things were worse in 2009 than they were in 2008 on both the national and state level.

Nationally, the two-year (2008-2009) median household income was $49,945 which is a fall of 3.2 percent in one year and a drop of 4.5 percent from 1999-2000 (when put into 2009 numbers). The one-year poverty rate moved from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent, an increase of 3.7 million people.

For Michigan, the numbers are not surprising. The state’s median household income fell and poverty increased. Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate moved from 13 percent to 14 percent. Median household income was $47,797, using 2008-2009 two-year average numbers. This is a decline of 7 percent from 2006-2007 to 2008-2009 and of just over 17.5 percent from 1999-2000.

Additionally, while Michigan is still below the national average in the percentage of people under age 65 without health insurance, this figure still increased to 14.4 percent, or 1.3 million people.

Today’s data release only confirms what we already knew and what so many families have been experiencing: income has been falling, fewer people have employer-based health insurance, and more people are struggling to afford day-to-day necessities. In addition, though Michigan’s rate of those with health insurance coverage is still much higher than the national average, more individuals and families are losing coverage due to unemployment. The increase in the number of those without health insurance further illustrates the need for federal health care reform and including the provisions that will take effect next week.

Despite the bad news, things could have been much worse without the federal Recovery Act which helped create thousands of jobs in Michigan and helped keep at least that many people out of poverty. With that in mind, Congress should act to support the extension of key Recovery Act changes that help low-income families, such as the expanded benefits for low-income, working families through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and preserving the refundable Child Tax Credit. Also, Congress should act to preserve funding for the Emergency TANF Contingency Fund which is scheduled to end on September 30.

Moreover, these new data should send a message to the Michigan Legislature that now is not the time to further decrease support for safety net programs, which help Michigan families make ends meet.

More detailed information will be coming on September 28 when the Census Bureau releases its 2009 American Community Survey data. These data, however, give us a preview of what is to come with that release.

-Jacqui Broughton

Congress has chance to help Michigan families

September 14, 2010

Congress is returning from its Labor Day break this week with a number of key issues before it. In the coming days, Congress will make decisions on tax credits, child nutrition and cash assistance for needy families—votes that will directly impact families in Michigan.

In the midst of mid-term elections, the issue of which tax credits should be extended is receiving a great deal of attention. There are two tax credits directed at low- and middle-income families that were expanded under the Recovery Act to provide further tax relief.  

Without action by Congress to extend these tax credits, many families in Michigan will receive smaller refunds during these difficult economic times.

Twenty-five organizations here in Michigan have called on our congressional delegation to extend the Recovery Act changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Making these credits permanent will encourage work and will help low- and middle-income families.

The U.S. House is also facing a vote on Child Nutrition Reauthorization.   A bill pending before the House includes many important improvements to food programs for our children. These programs are a critical part of the safety net and provide vital resources to address child hunger.

A letter sent by 15 Michigan children’s advocates organizations calls on House members to support the House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The ill-advised Senate version funds the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with a future cut in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to low-income households. Raiding one food assistance program to fund another is not acceptable.

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund was created in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act. It has provided additional support to families here in Michigan during these challenging economic times. The fund, and its benefits, will expire at the end of September without action by Congress.

Understanding the ongoing need for the TANF Emergency Fund here in Michigan, 44 organizations have called on our Senators and our House members to extend this fund and its critically important benefits.

In the coming month, in particular, we will be looking to the Michigan Congressional Delegation to support policy and programs that will continue to assist Michigan families and will also help local and state economies.

— Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Big Band-Aid over budget hole

September 9, 2010

Sharon Parks

It appears that House and Senate leadership and the administration have hammered out a budget deal that will avert a third state shutdown in four years.

I suppose we should all be relieved but somehow the whole thing leaves some of us feeling pretty frustrated. The final budget resolution seems to be a very large Band-Aid over a gaping hole.

Included among the budget “fixes” are proposals for tax amnesty ($61.8 million), state employee retirements ($60 million), use taxes on Health Maintenance Organizations ($377.3 million), various liquor reforms ($9 million), and a shift of $208 million from the School Aid Fund to the General Fund to avoid further cuts to community colleges.

The budget deal also includes more cuts in state spending—3 percent to all departments and reductions of $50 million each in the departments of Human Services, Community Health and Corrections.

It’s too early to know how $150 million will be squeezed out of these departments, on top of reductions that have been made since 2004 and continued in each subsequent year’s budget. (Notable exceptions are the optional Medicaid services that were eliminated in the 2010 budget but restored in the 2011 budget deal.)

Thank goodness for the federal Recovery Act money that is spread throughout the budget, and for the recent extenstion of the enhanced Medicaid match.  Those dollars helped avoid deeper cuts than are being made—for now. 

Finally, there is wide acknowledgement that the root of our problem extends beyond the current economic firestorm. Yet, what’s missing in this budget deal is any serious attempt to address the state’s structural deficit. It’s a “get out of Dodge” budget that dumps the problem squarely in the laps of the next administration and Legislature. 

Maybe the newcomers will be the breath of fresh air that is needed.  Maybe they will be full of good ideas, resolve and the leadership that is needed to turn Michigan in the right direction. Or, they may come to Lansing and waste valuable time as they learn their assumptions were faulty and their stereotypes untrue. 

I hope it’s not the latter. This train is headed for the cliff, as billions of federal Recovery Act funds end and our own state revenues continue to drop in response to the decline in personal income in Michigan.

— Sharon Parks

Unemployment rate’s untold stories

September 3, 2010
Peter Ruark photo

Peter Ruark

It’s Labor Day once again, and as Harry scurries about getting things ready for his annual family cookout, he tries to squeeze in a few moments of reflection on the state of labor in Michigan.

He brings this year’s Labor Day Report from the Michigan League for Human Services out onto the deck, and reads that Michigan has had the highest unemployment rate in the nation for 49 out of the past 52 months, and that the current unemployment rate is still more than 13 percent.

As he waits for the coals in the grill to heat up, he skims and realizes that 41 percent of Michigan’s unemployed workers—and nearly 50 percent of African American unemployed workers—have been unemployed for six months or longer.

Harry sips a Michigan brew and puts the meat on the grill, thinking about his friends and neighbors who were laid off, but were lucky enough to not be unemployed. The guy at church who got his hours cut to part time kept his job, to be sure, but has sure had a helluva time paying the mortgage.

He reads in the Labor Day Report that one-fourth of all part-time workers last year wanted to work full time but could not because of the economy. The unemployment rate doesn’t include these people like his church friend.

Harry thinks of his neighbors. One lost her job last year because the shop where she worked went out of business. She tried for the next several months to find another job, and finally gave up in frustration. She now stays home and volunteers at her children’s school, but hopes to look for work again in the future when the job market is friendlier.

Then there is the single mother across the street who had to stop working because she no longer has reliable evening child care, and the only jobs she can find are during the evening. She applied for public assistance, which is now her only means of support for her family. She uses this downtime to get some training at the local community college, so that when the economy gets better she will be able to find solid daytime work. Neither of these neighbors is counted in the unemployment rate.

The relatives finally arrive for the picnic, and Harry’s niece tells him how she lost her manager position at the box store and now works for a fast food chain earning only one-third of her former wages.  Harry shows her the Labor Day Report and tells her that her wages would not bring her family out of poverty.

She is glad that her husband has not lost his job, but is worried that if he does, she would not be able to support her husband and young daughter on her fast-food wages alone.  She is also not counted in the unemployment rate.

As folks eat their lunch and socialize, Harry’s brother mentions that he hopes next year’s Labor Day Report shows a decrease in long-term unemployment and in the share of workers who are part time for economic reasons. His aunt points out that the end of the report lists some things that Michigan could do better to support workers and their families, such as increasing funding for adult education and vocational training, modernizing the Unemployment Insurance system, and strengthening Michigan’s social safety net for those who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

Finally, sensing the conversation is going to turn to MSU’s  opening football game, Harry reminds everyone that we live in a representative democracy and that people might want to consider calling their state legislators to urge them to take action on some of these issues.

— Peter Ruark

One in six

September 1, 2010

Jacqui Broughton

Just as the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to release poverty, income, and health insurance data for 2009, which may show a record one-year jump in poverty, a USA Today article in the Detroit Free Press sheds new light on just how many Americans are being caught by the frayed safety net.

The numbers are deeply troubling. One in six Americans, or roughly 16 percent of the population, receive assistance from programs designed to help people in tough economic times. Additionally:

  • Over 50 million people are on Medicaid (1.9 million recipients in Michigan).
  • Over 40 million people receive food assistance (1.8 million in Michigan).
  • Nearly 10 million receive unemployment insurance benefits (387,000 in Michigan).
  • Over 4 million receive cash assistance (225,000 in Michigan).

These numbers are most certainly dismal but, unfortunately, in the face of all of this, Michigan continues to hack away at funding for programs at a time when people need them most. Since the official start of the national recession in December 2007, Michigan has reduced General Fund spending in the Department of Human Services by 35 percent and in the Department of Community Health by nearly 27 percent.

Meanwhile, unemployment has increased, and caseloads for all safety net programs have increased with approximately one in four Michigan residents receiving some sort of assistance (food assistance, cash assistance, child day care subsidy, state disability assistance or Medicaid). Even still, the governor has stated in her revised budget plan that each department must reduce spending by 3 percent across the board with an additional $50 million in reductions in the Department of Human Services and the Department of Community Health.

Now is not the time to eliminate or further reduce spending on programs that so many families rely on just to get by day to day.

-Jacqui Broughton