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

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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


It’s only a start

July 21, 2010

Peter Ruark

We can celebrate. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to override a filibuster blocking a bill that continues making Emergency Unemployment Compensation available for workers who have exhausted their Unemployment Insurance (UI) but have still not found a job. This vote will prevent more than 130,000 Michigan workers from prematurely losing their UI benefits. 

However, the vote does not restore the Federal Additional Compensation (FAC) that added $25 per week to the UI benefits for Michigan workers. This additional money has helped unemployed families fill their gas tanks, pay their utilities and buy household necessities, and by the end of May 2010 added $669 million to Michigan’s economy.

Michigan’s average UI benefit during this past April would normally have been $301 per week, but with the FAC it was $326 per week. The maximum weekly benefit in Michigan has been $387 as opposed to $362 without the additional compensation. 

The vote also does not include the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) subsidy for health insurance for laid-off workers. This assistance helped roughly 83,000 Michigan households between the beginning of 2009 and the first few months of 2010.

Without the subsidy, many unemployed workers will see steep increases in their health insurance costs.

Two sources of federal aid to states to help with public assistance costs have also not been extended yet. One is the enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, which provided additional match dollars to help states pay for their Medicaid programs. The other is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which provides federal dollars to temporarily subsidize jobs for people who are leaving (or are in danger of having to seek) public cash assistance. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, this program could create nearly 200,000 jobs nationally by September, at which time it will expire at the end of September if Congress does not renew its funding.

So, we can uncork the champagne and celebrate the fact that Congress finally voted to allow long-term unemployed workers to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits. But Congress still needs to continue the COBRA subsidy, the enhanced federal Medicaid match, and the job creation subsidies. And it would be nice if our unemployed workers could have that extra $25 per week of help as they look for other employment.

— Peter Ruark


Penny Swan on being jobless

July 16, 2010

Judy Putnam

Penny Swan, 51, is an out-of-work respiratory technician in Hillsdale.

She’s one of the 104,000 jobless Michigan workers who, as of Saturday, will have lost their unemployment benefits this month after Congress failed to pass an extension. Swan found out she was eligible for 20 more weeks of unemployment, then a week later she got a letter saying it wouldn’t happen. Her benefits ended two weeks ago.

“It’s just wrong,’’ says Swan, who has been looking for work for 18 months. “It’s not only affecting me, it’s affecting everyone I pay bills to.’’

Swan says she hears the talk show chatter about people who say the jobless need to just get off their couches and get to work. It’s hard for her to hear because she spends long days sending out resumes and looking for work. She wants to work but is running into brick walls.

“I’m not getting any calls back. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Before this, I’ve never been out of work for more than two weeks,’’ she says.

Swan’s life has been caught up in the national debate about debt vs. economic stimulus. Some in Washington have suddenly discovered the national debt. While it is a concern (See a recent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities paper on the recession and debt), failing to stimulate the economy, many economists fear, will lead to a double-dip recession. In other words, there’s a time to address the deficit, but the time is not now if we want our economy to return to health.

Beyond making it difficult to make ends meet for thousands of jobless workers in Michigan, the loss of unemployment benefits removes more than $200 million a month from Michigan’s economy, the National Employment Law Project estimates.

Michigan’s congressional delegation, for the most part, has been supportive of extending unemployment benefits. Only Reps. Candice Miller and Dave Camp voted ‘no.’ Rep. Peter Hoekstra was attending a fund-raiser for his gubernatorial campaign and didn’t vote.

Michigan has led the country in unemployment  for 49 out of  the last 50 months. It’s important that these benefits be reinstated quickly. A vote in the U.S. Senate could do that as early as next week. Please read the League’s statement issued today urging a fast vote.

Swan says many in Washington are out of touch with the reality she faces. The health care company she worked for, providing in-home assistance for respiratory patients, has cut its workforce from 25 to seven. Still, Swan says she’s lucky. She has an understanding landlord and she is considering moving in with a sister a few miles away. She is single, with just two cats to care for.

“I can’t imagine the pressure on someone who has a family to support,’’ she said.

Even with unemployment benefits, Swan says she’s watched her pennies. A crown on a tooth fell off more than a year ago, and she hasn’t had it replaced, instead using a temporary dental patch to fill the hole.

“I can’t go to a dentist,’’ she said. “I don’t have any choice.’’

— Judy Putnam


While you’re at the parade…

July 2, 2010

Judy Putnam

Thursday, we posted a blog urging people to tell their U.S. representatives how important extending unemployment insurance is for the thousands in Michigan about to lose benefits.

The U.S. House later that day voted to extend the benefits. Michigan’s Democrats all supported the extension as did four GOP representatives – Vern Ehlers, Fred Upton, Mike Rogers and Thad McCotter. (The rest voted no except for Peter Hoekstra, who did not vote.) The League this week sent letters thanking the four Republicans for joining the Democrats in understanding how important these benefits are to Michigan families struggling in this recession.

 The Senate is expected to act on the extensions when it returns from the Fourth of July holiday. Jobless workers will see their benefits disrupted, though they are likely to be restored when the Senate votes. (Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin support the extension.)

Please thank the members of the delegation who support this! And when you see them at the Fourth of July parades or elsewhere, please tell them that Michigan needs fiscal relief in the form of enhanced Medicaid match. Without it, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has warned there will be huge cuts to the social safety net.

— Judy Putnam


Recovery Act’s life line in Michigan

July 1, 2010

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

New numbers show what an impact Recovery Act unemployment and food stamp benefits have had here in Michigan.  These numbers are particularly timely as unemployment and food assistance have been in the news.

There has been a lot of discussion, and concern, about unemployment benefits running out for 87,000 people in Michigan because Congress failed to extend them before the Fourth of July break.  Recovery Act dollars have played a significant role in providing these benefits during a time of very high unemployment.

According to estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, unemployed workers in Michigan received over $1.9 billion in extended unemployment benefits, through May 28 of this year.  Also, unemployed workers received an additional $25 a week through the Recovery Act, totaling almost $700 million, up to May 28.

The League’s Economic Security Bulletin  reported this week that Food Assistance caseloads topped 850,000 for the first quarter of 2010.  That number is a 27 percent increase over the same quarter in 2009.  Almost 18 percent of Michigan residents live in households receiving Food Assistance. 

Like unemployment benefits, food assistance benefits provided through the Recovery Act helped sustain Michigan families during rough economic times.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that people in Michigan received almost $500 million in additional Recovery Act food assistance benefits through May 28.

Not only have these benefits helped families, but they have helped the Michigan economy as well.  It is well known that these benefits are quickly spent in local communities on food and other essentials. 

To keep this economic stimulus flowing in Michigan, Congress needs to act to extend unemployment benefits. The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency projects that more than 400,000 jobless workers will run out of benefits by the end of the year without that action.

Members of Congress will be home for the Fourth of July holiday, so if you have a chance, please let them know the importance of supporting extended unemployment benefits.

— Karen Holcomb-Merrill