Monthly Archives November 2011

Hearings on Deaf Ears?

On October 1, 2011 over 11,000 families and nearly 30,000 children were removed from the state’s Family Independence Program (FIP) caseload in Michigan. However, a federal judge ordered a temporary injunction halting these cuts saying that the state did not give enough notice to the families being removed from cash assistance of the state’s intent to remove them. On November 1, 2011 however, approximately 40,000 people lost their cash assistance, which averaged just over $500 a month, just as the cold weather moves in and the holiday season is upon us.

It is possible for families to appeal their loss of benefits and receive a hearing to look into it. This sounds as if some families may be given the chance to at least understand the rationale as to why they have lost assistance, or even have the decision to cut off their assistance overturned. However, with so many appeals coming in, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has taken to reviewing cases this week—over 500 cases a day, under a “rocket docket” approach.

While it is a nice gesture to allow families to appeal their case closure, doing so in such a rapid manner gives families a false sense of empowerment and does not allow for real answers for families that are already wondering how to pay rent next month.

The timing on this couldn’t be worse. While the October 1 deadline missed the start of the school year, the loss in cash assistance benefits for so many children and families comes just as the temperatures fall. In addition, unemployment remains high, wages remain stagnant and in turn, the poverty rate continues to rise. Unfortunately, this means that communities of color, and therefore, children of color, will be hit hardest by losing assistance.

In Michigan, the African American unemployment rate has been more than double that of whites and many of those who are unemployed have children who depend on their income, or lack thereof. This goes hand in hand with data from DHS which states that of all children who were slated to lose assistance, approximately 90 percent are children of color. Families, and children in those families will be pushed even deeper into poverty and it has been shown time and time again that childhood poverty has a direct negative impact on future outcomes. This fact is striking across every racial/ethnic group, but particularly among children of color.

As people look for assistance in their community, United Way 2-1-1 call centers, a resource families were originally directed to check into, may be bearing the brunt of it. While this will place more stress on agencies that are already stretched to the bone, ranging from workforce development agencies to homeless shelters, working with 2-1-1 and other community partners may be the best way to figure out how this devastating policy changes will impact families once their cases have been closed.

-Jacqui Broughton

Pathways to Graduation: Continuing the Conversation

At the November 3rd, Pathways to Graduation Conference, over a hundred people gathered in Lansing to discuss the barriers to bringing disengaged youth back to the education system.  Attendees came from state education and workforce offices, local education agencies, recovery/reengagement programs, county departments, community colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations and other interested non-profit organizations.

Even though our Keynote speaker had to cancel at the last minute because of illness, conference attendees overwhelmingly agreed that the conference identified barriers to disengaged youths educational success. The afternoon breakout sessions brainstormed on these barriers and developed solutions that may need to increase local community development initiatives and make changes to state policies and laws.

Some of the most significant recommendations coming out of the conference are:

Dual Enrollment

  • Change the calculation for Full Time Employees regarding the difference between classes vs. credits.
  • Change the calculation for Full Time Employees regarding the difference between classes vs. credits.
  • Requiring all state-funded post-secondary institutions to accept dual enrollment transfer credits.
  • Developing fiscal incentives for both k-12 and post-secondary institutions to develop dual enrollment programs
  • Develop a communication plan including the benefits of dual enrollment.

Utilizing Technology

  • Fully develop broadband infrastructure so location is no longer a barrier to educational access.
  • Allow for a 5th and 6th year waiver for programs that utilize a non-traditional structure, including some online coursework.
  • Address issues of funding instability for seat-time waivers.
  • Identify ways to add flexibility to teacher contracts to allow hours that are conducive to student’s needs.

Workforce Community Partnerships

  • Programs and schools need understand the staffing needs of the businesses in their communities and develop partnerships to fill those needs.
  • Increase School Administration interaction with the business community and utilize local services when possible
  • Make relationships with model programs, like Michigan Works!, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc… to increase community investment in programs that serve the community’s’ youth.
  • Develop Asset Maps within communities to determine what businesses and community organizations can provide – jobs, mentoring, unique leaning experiences, etc…

Community College Partnerships

  • College faculty teaching at the high school or other K-12 building space – there is room to spare in many school buildings.
  • Utilizing existing K-12 teachers who are qualified to become community college faculty.
  • Develop a bridge from k-12 to college that makes the transition a partnership between the k-12 and post-secondary community.
  • Engage community partners creatively.
  • Recognize dual enrollment as a selling point for both systems – K-12 and post-secondary.
  • Improve local knowledge of existing flexibility for credit transfer options.
  • Facilitate a common definition of readiness – high schools have a readiness definition and post-secondary institutions have different readiness definitions.

We’re currently working on the final report from the conference and will be sharing the recommendations with the legislature and with our partners via the Graduate Michigan Action Network.

-Beth Berglin

Super Committee, What’s the Deal?

What is really the deal with the Congressional Super Committee and are they actually going to come up with a deficit reduction plan that both sides of the aisle can agree upon?

The answer: no one knows.

The deadline for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – aka the Super Committee – is today and it seems they are years away from identifying a ten-year plan that would reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.  Senate Democrats on the Super Committee have proposed a plan that would reduce the federal deficit by up to $3 trillion by cutting critical safety net programs like Medicaid and Medicare but also raising new revenues from tax code changes.

However, the proposal was a no-go as soon as the Republican Super Committee members saw it because of the tax changes.

If the super committee fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight, sequestration takes place.  Sequestration would trigger across the board cuts for all discretionary programs while preserving mandatory programs.  (Don’t know the difference between discretionary and mandatory programs?  Learn more at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)  The across-the-board cuts would begin January 1, 2013. If the Super Committee successfully votes out a plan by tonight, the plan then goes to Congress.  The plan must be voted on by December 23, 2011; amendments and filibustering are not allowed and only a simple majority is needed.

So why does all this matter to children and families in Michigan?  The Super Committee has full jurisdiction to make any changes to discretionary and mandatory programs to reduce the deficit.  This means that critical entitlement programs could be at risk such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, SNAP (aka food stamps), free- and reduced-lunch, child care, etc.  But if the Super Committee fails to reach an agreement and sequestration takes place, then education programs such as Title I funding and Head Start, health programs such as the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and community health centers, workforce development programs and the like would be decimated.  Either way, it could be bad for kids.  Thus, a smart deficit reduction plan would address needed revenues and prioritizes sensible and effective investments in low-income children and families.

Here’s the catch.  If the Super Committee doesn’t identify a plan triggering sequestration, Congress has an entire year to “fix” the problem.  Congress could pass a law that would reverse sequestration and revert to traditional methods of determining the federal budget rather than succumbing to the across-the-board cuts.

So in the end, what does this all really mean for children and kids?  I still don’t really know but I’m keeping my eyes on it and telling Representatives Camp and Upton – Michigan’s two Congressmen who sit on the 12-member Super Committee – that federal dollars are important for Michigan children and families.  Learn more on Michigan’s Children’s federal budget page.

-Mina Hong

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