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a great website, it’s a little like dressing up for the prom with great accessories, but wearing an ill-fitting, out-of-date dress.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

Sandbox Party: An election year for kids

August 24, 2010
Photo of Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Thursday, the Sandbox Party will hold its conference to mobilize a broad range of stakeholders to support a coherent system of early care and education in Michigan.  The League is proud to be a supporter of this important event, designed to draw candidates’ attention to the needs of children.

An early care and education system would assure that children are born healthy; that they thrive and develop on track without suffering from untreated health conditions or avoidable developmental delay;  that they enter the K-12 system ready to succeed; and that they can read proficiently by the end of the third grade.

This goal is also the very first  strategy recommended  in the Early Warning report (pdf) recently issued by the Casey Foundation. It presented four recommendations  to increase the share of fourth graders proficient in reading.

In Michigan (pdf) only three of every 10 fourth-graders could read proficiently by the fourth grade, according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Children who can read proficiently by fourth grade are prepared to learn by reading as they advance academically.  Those without at least a modest skill level will be at high risk of being retained in grade and dropping out of school.

In reality all of us are stakeholders in this Sandbox effort as the state struggles to move forward economically and to increase the educational attainment of more residents so they can compete in the global economy.  By 2018 estimates suggest that two of every three jobs in Michigan will require training or education beyond high school.   

Right now we’re still trying to make sure more youth complete their high school education, particularly low-income and minority youth.  The first step to reaching that goal will require making sure that more children have what they need in early childhood to prepare them to be lifelong learners. 

— Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Gilda Jacobs named president & CEO

August 4, 2010

Board chair Lynn Jondahl

As chair of the Michigan League for Human Services’  Board of Directors, I am very pleased to announce today that state Sen. Gilda Jacobs will be the League’s next president and CEO.

We know that change is both challenging and full of opportunities. What makes it challenging is saying goodbye to Sharon Parks, who has worked on behalf of vulnerable people for more than three decades in Michigan. 

Sharon is well known around the state and a tireless, smart and quick-witted advocate. She has been a key part of the League since 1977 and I knew her well in my capacity as a state representative working on social issues. She took over as president and CEO in 2008 after the retirement of Ann Marston, who very ably led the organization for 14 years. 

Sharon will be missed, and we plan to call on her for help with the League’s mission even as she enjoys her well-earned retirement.

But change also brings opportunities, and Gilda brings a bounty of talents to the table. 

She is finishing up her second term as a state senator from Huntington Woods. She also served two terms as state representative, and she was an Oakland County Commissioner and Mayor Pro-Tem of Huntington Woods.

Gilda has a reputation for working across the aisle.  She has many friendships in state government and in both parties in the Legislature, and she was the state’s first female floor leader in either chamber, selected by her peers. 

Her legislative record is impressive. She led a bipartisan effort among legislators, lobbyists, county commissioners and Detroit Zoo leaders to establish a 20-year tri-county millage in 2008 to support the zoo. She is the sponsor of laws that allow children to carry epinephrine pens or inhalers to camp, prohibit sex offenders from adopting children and make medical records more secure, among others. 

She is an able fund-raiser, working for many years for JARC as development director.

Trained as a special education teacher, she has passion for advocating for people with disabilities as well as low-income children and their families and the frail elderly.

We will miss Sharon but she will be replaced by the right leader to move forward the mission of the League in advocating for vulnerable people in our state.

— Lynn Jondahl, chair of the League Board of Directors

New budget gap of $244 million

May 21, 2010

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

The state Treasurer and the heads of the Senate and House fiscal agencies gathered today to hear economists talk about Michigan’s future. At the end of this meeting, known as the Revenue Estimating Conference, the three of them reached consensus on projected revenues available to the state.

While the Conference did bring some encouraging news about Michigan’s economy, it is clear that the state continues to have a serious General Fund revenue problem.  Revenue estimates from today show a new budget gap of $244 million for the 2010 budget.

A sharp decline in business tax collections is the cause for the recent fall in revenue. This unexpected news means that more revenue must be found or more programs and services must be cut. The Legislature, which has been working to address an anticipated $1.8 billion budget gap for the 2011 budget, must now also turn its attention to this new budget shortfall.

As state Treasurer Bob Kleine said today, this is a revenue problem, not a spending problem. Michigan has been in a budget-cutting mode for much of the last decade. Most recently, deep cuts have been made to health care, public safety and education.

On the heels of years of cutting, a balanced approach to this shortage of state revenues must include the evaluation and closing of some tax expenditures, which cost the state about $35 billion a year. As state revenue has plunged, tax loopholes have increased every year.

Michigan also needs to modernize its tax structure to provide for stable revenue.  In the short-term this can be done through extending the sales tax to most services.  And in the long-term, Michigan should adopt a graduated income tax which would produce more revenue and would provide a tax cut for 90 percent of tax filers.

Without structural changes, the state will continue to face budget gaps and programs and services will be in jeopardy each year. Earlier this week, Senate Fiscal Agency Director Gary Olson indicated that without revisions to the tax structure and even with an assumed 3 percent increase in revenues, the state faces continuing budget shortfalls.  His projections were that the gaps would range from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion a year over the next several years.

Economist George Fulton, one of the presenters at the Conference, described Michigan’s economy and budget situation as “despair followed by hope.”  Part of that hope rests on lawmakers taking action now to close tax loopholes and to modernize the state’s tax structure.

 — Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Can health care reform cure my headache?

May 19, 2010

Jan Hudson

Every time I participate in a discussion on the aspects of health care reform, my head hurts more.  I continue to be awed by the intricacy, complexity, and breadth of this new legislation. But at the same time, I am inspired by the great opportunity to make positive changes to public programs, insurance products, and the health care delivery system, to name just a few.

There was a dizzying array of information provided at the Public Policy Forum co-sponsored by the Michigan League for Human Services and the Michigan Health Insurance Access Advisory Council on April 23, followed by a forum sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago – Detroit Branch on April 26 and 27.

Public Sector Consultants brought a diverse group together May 12 to hear presentations by Department of Community Health Director Janet Olszewski and Insurance Commissioner Ken Ross, and to provide feedback on what next steps make sense. State staff are working diligently to identify all the facets that must be addressed to develop a strong foundation for ongoing implementation efforts.

The complexity of the federal health reform legislation will make it an ongoing challenge to implement. Thank goodness every component is not scheduled to be implemented immediately, and hopefully there is enough time to get it right.

The health care reform legislation will touch all of us. A few of the benefits follow:

  • 32 million people are expected to gain health care coverage by 2019.
  • Medicaid will be expanded (2014) to all families or individuals with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $14,400 for an individual).  A federally designated category or group will no longer be required to be eligible; the federal government will cover the cost of the new enrollees for the first three years.
  • Young adults can remain on their parents’ health care plans up to age 26, without being an IRS-defined dependent or being in school.
  • When the Insurance Exchange is implemented in 2014, subsidies will be available to assist families with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level (about $88,000 for family of four) be able to afford coverage. In addition, cost-sharing caps, on a sliding income scale, will also be implemented.
  • Insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or cancelling coverage when an insured person gets sick. Insurers will also have to use a high percentage (80 percent to 85 percent) of  premiums for patient care, and will no longer be able to establish annual or lifetime limits on benefits.
  • Small businesses will receive subsidies (up to 35 percent) to help them afford coverage for their employees.
  • The Medicare Part D “donut hole” (the period when costs have reached a high level, but no assistance with drug costs is available) will gradually be reduced.
  • Programs to promote wellness and prevent chronic disease will become a major focus.

These are only a small sampling of the extensive provisions included in this historic legislation. Many organizations are putting information on their websites. The key thing to remember in reviewing these documents is that they are works in progress, and may be updated frequently as more clarification or regulations are issued by the various federal offices involved in implementation. 

Families USA, the Kaiser Family Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation include extensive materials on the health care reform legislation and its implementation.

I think Atul Gawande in The New Yorker in December articulately summed up where we are and what we need to do to make this work:

 “At this point, we can’t afford any illusions: the system won’t fix itself, and there’s no piece of legislation that will have all the answers, either… But if we’re willing to accept an arduous, messy, and continuous process we can come to grips with a problem even of this immensity. We’ve done it before.”

— Jan Hudson

Enormous task ahead on health care

April 15, 2010

Jan Hudson

With the release of more information and analyses on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148), and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, I am struck by the enormity of the task before us to implement the provision of health care reform.

I am very grateful for the expertise joining us at the Public Policy Forum, Federal Health Care Reform: Challenges for the States, Friday, April 23, sponsored by the Michigan League for Human Services in collaboration with the Michigan Health Insurance Access Advisory Council.

I am sure our speakers will provide valuable information as we seek to implement, in the best possible way, this great opportunity to provide health care coverage to 32 million more Americans, but also limit the financial burden on families while improving the overall system – a daunting task indeed.

I can’t think of a better person to open the policy forum than Ron Pollack, Executive Director, Families USA.  His belief in and commitment to meaningful health care coverage for all Americans has been unwavering and unflappable through all the years and all the turmoil and distraction preceding its passage. 

He always kept his eye on the finish line.  For many of us, he was the one to maintain our spirits when things looked particularly bleak earlier this year.  I know he will have great insights to share.

Our afternoon panel, Janet Olszewski, Kevin Seitz, Kris Nicholoff, Ed Wolking and Sister Mary Ellen Howard will provide a broad spectrum of perspectives on the Michigan specific challenges to implementation, from how to expand Medicaid, to insurance implications, to provider challenges, to business challenges, to challenges for those who are uninsured.

I know we all have many questions about health care reform and its impacts, and the policy forum will certainly provide a great opportunity to obtain answers. 

I’m hoping to find out how the young adult extension of coverage (to age 26) will be implemented – can any young adult without coverage qualify, will they have to be claimed as dependents on their parents’ income taxes to quality?  Will the Medicaid eligibility maintenance of effort require that the Adult Benefits Waiver be maintained at 62,000 recipients, rather than being reduced to 50,900 as is recommended in the FY2011 budget?

I am also hoping that recent analyses, summary of the law from Kaiser Family Foundation or  Summary of Medicaid, CHIP, and Low-Income Provisions in Health Care Reform from the Center for Children and Families, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, based on the laws, will stop the dissemination of information that is misleading or an effort to create fear, such as the assertion by some elected officials that “every American will be required to buy health insurance or face jail time.”

Due to the complexity of this issue, I don’t think there can be too much discussion or education on the impacts and implementation issues related to health care reform. 

I encourage you to educate yourself by participating in as many conference calls, webinars, or policy forums as your time permits, starting (or continuing) with ours on April 23 at Eagle Eye Golf Club, just north of East Lansing.

Other opportunities include a forum by the Detroit Regional Chamber and a Webinar by Michigan’s Children.

— Jan Hudson