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!

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a great website, it’s a little like dressing up for the prom with great accessories, but wearing an ill-fitting, out-of-date dress.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


Surprise! Voters supported taxes

August 16, 2010

Sharon Parks

The August 3 primary election said a great deal about what voters care about, in addition to their preferred candidates for office. The election results sent a clear message that voters value public services, and they are willing to pay for those services.

While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to some of us optimists, an analysis by The Center for Michigan shows that voters overwhelmingly stepped up to the plate to pay for good roads, fire and police protection, services for seniors and libraries. 

According to one analyst, “People are finally starting to really feel the effect of government cutbacks.”

The Center for Michigan’s analysis showed the following: 

  • Voters approved 86 percent of the 623 ballot proposals affecting how much they would pay in taxes or fees.
  • Voters approved 96 percent of the requests to either renew taxes or restore rates that had previously been reduced.
  • Voters supported 69 percent of the proposals that were flat-out tax increases. 

These election results counter the noise from the Tea Party folks that the electorate is fed up, doesn’t value government, and is not willing to pay a dime more for government services. 

Our citizens aren’t stupid. They know what they need; they know what they value.  By in large, they want essential services continued in their communities even though the state will no longer pick up the tab.

There are other services, equally important, which have been cut and are likely to be cut further. The General Fund budget, with a deficit of at least a half-billion dollars or more, depending on whose numbers are used, is not yet resolved. Many more services are likely to be cut if the Legislature can’t agree on revenue solutions.

At that point, voters will be looking at cuts in higher education as they attempt to send kids to college, and cuts in Medicaid as they attempt to deal with their own medical issues or those of parents or grandparents.

There’s more — the state licenses and inspects day care facilities where our children and grandchildren spend time each week; they also license and inspect nursing homes where many of our family members reside. Those of us who eat out occasionally or often should take comfort in the fact that restaurants are also inspected. The parks and forests that we all enjoy are maintained at government expense — taxpayer dollars. 

Considering The Center for Michigan’s analysis, candidates should welcome the opportunity to talk taxes with voters. Let the voters know what’s at stake and ask whether they want to go without the services they are used to having. The answers may surprise more than a few hopeful candidates for state office. 

— Sharon Parks


Chronic conditions: Attacking our wallets

August 12, 2010

Jan Hudson

The Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation (CHRT) recently released a brief on the high cost of treating chronic conditions in Michigan. 

Annual spending for someone with a chronic condition can range from $3,800 to $38,000 more than for someone without a chronic condition. 

The brief reports that nationally 5 percent of the people with the most complex conditions account for 49 percent of U.S. health care spending, while 20 percent of the population account for 80 percent of total health care spending. 

Heart disease was by far the most costly chronic condition both nationally and in Michigan. Total annual spending per patient by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 2008 for heart disease ranged from $16,900 to $41,000.

These costs document the importance of good public policy and strategies to address chronic diseases – both their prevention and their effective management. Prevention programs have certainly not been a priority for Michigan policymakers in the last several years as funding for programs has been dramatically reduced and programs have been eliminated.

In FY2008, the Healthy Michigan Fund, a key funding source for prevention and health education programs, provided $26 million for programs.  By FY2010, the amount had been reduced to $11 million, and the FY2011 Senate-passed budget further reduces program funding to $5.9 million. 

Many of these programs are considered ‘nice, but not essential.’ Cardiovascular health programs have been cut by nearly 50 percent, diabetes programs have been cut by more than 60 percent, and smoking prevention programs have been cut by 30 percent. Michigan needs to reverse this trend in disinvestment. 

Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act provides many opportunities to develop new strategies and demonstration projects to determine what works best. Policymakers must be encouraged to fund these opportunities and to make these critical investments.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act requires new health plans, beginning on or after September 23, to provide recommended prevention services (e.g., screenings for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes) without any cost sharing by the patient.  In January, Medicare beneficiaries will have access to these recommended prevention services without any cost sharing.

Policymakers often talk about the need for personal responsibility in health matters, but people need the tools to be successful.  We cannot wait any longer to address the impacts of chronic disease.  As the CHRT brief notes, “chronic conditions are attacking our wallets,” particularly the state and the business community that pay for much of Michigan residents’ health care.

— Jan Hudson


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


Tax break for working poor

June 15, 2010

Peter Ruark

In a Factually Speaking post on Feb. 22, I wrote about the federal Child Tax Credit and how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act lowered the minimum household income level from $10,000 to $3,000.

This change has helped many very poor families in Michigan qualify for the credit, and Congress must make the change permanent. Without such legislation, the minimum eligibility level for the Child Tax Credit will jump to $12,850 next year. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has just released a paper showing that failure to make the change permanent will result in a loss or reduction of the credit for the families of 477,000 urban and suburban children in Michigan and 106,000 rural children.

The reduction for some families comes about because the tax credit is phased in at the low end of the income eligibility scale. Currently, families with two children with household earnings between $3,000 and $16,333 receive a partial credit based on their income. Families who earn more than $16,333 (but less than $70,000 if they are one-parent families and $140,000 if they are two-parent) receive the maximum credit of $1,000 per child. 

If Congress does not make the $3,000 threshold permanent, families earning less than $12,850 won’t receive a Child Tax Credit at all, and families earning less than $26,183 won’t receive the full $1,000 amount.

As with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, much of the money families get back for the federal Child Tax Credit gets spent in their own communities, helping local businesses and stimulating the economy. That is why this tax credit expansion was passed as part of the Recovery Act.

If you feel comfortable calling your representatives in Congress, you might want to pick up the phone and ask them to stand up for low-income working families in our state. You can find your representative’s office phone number here.

— Peter Ruark


Reading before fourth grade matters

May 18, 2010

Judy Putnam

Children who cannot read by the end of third grade cannot succeed. As they get older, they tend to drop out of school, pushing good-paying jobs beyond their reach. We’re writing the scripts of their lives by the age of 9 and they don’t have happy endings.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new national KIDS COUNT report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters is out today, and it’s a must-read reminder about the importance of reading by the end of third grade.

The report’s major message is that children are learning to read until the ages of 8 and 9. After that they read to learn. Children without that essential skill quickly fall behind.

Michigan does not look good in this report. We rank 34th among the states on reading proficiency among fourth-graders as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That’s a rigorous test given in each state to a sample of students. 

In Michigan, 70 percent of fourth-graders tested were not considered proficient. That compares with 68 percent nationally. In addition to average scores, we have large huge gaps by race and income. 

Michigan, Wisconsin and Louisiana had the worst ranking in the country among African American students with 91 percent not considered proficient in reading. In Michigan 64 percent of white students are not proficient.

Another large gap is the difference based on income. Among low-income fourth-graders, 85 percent were not proficient. Among higher-income peers, only 60 percent were not proficient.

Early childhood opportunities, good health, safe communities, good schools and teachers, quality child care, parents and grandparents reading aloud often to young children, early intervention for children with delays and good school attendance all play a role. For advocates interested in rewriting the story of the cycle of poverty, these early years offer the place to do that.

— Judy Putnam