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Monthly Archives November 2012
The elections now seem like a distant past as talk of the federal “fiscal cliff” has taken over the media. While the political showdown in Washington, D.C. may seem like typical hoopla, folks in Michigan should care about the looming fiscal cliff. Why, you ask?
This so-called fiscal cliff would result in a significant increase in taxes you will pay while at the same time reducing spending for critical children and family programs (and other non-entitlement programs) through automatic sequestration – aka across the board cuts to federal programs. While neither Republicans nor Democrats want to see the U.S. go over the fiscal cliff, the two parties have different perspectives on how to battle the expiring tax cuts while cutting spending at the same time. So why does this matter to Michigan children and families?
We know that Michigan families have been harder hit by the recession than the rest of the country with the percent of Michigan children living in poverty having increased by 64% since 2000. Now, nearly one out of four Michigan children live in poverty and the statistics are worse for children of color. The connection to the federal fiscal cliff? So many programs that protect child well-being during times of hardship will be jeopardized, and in fact, many of these programs are likely to see cuts. The question that will be debated is by how much?
It’s also important to realize just how reliant Michigan is on federal funding. In the current fiscal year, federal dollars support 41% of Michigan’s total state budget. For the Michigan Department of Community Health and Department of Human Services budgets – departments that support Michigan’s most struggling children and families – federal dollars support 64% and 82% of these budgets respectively. While Michigan’s education system is less reliant on the federal budget, federal funding supports most of the education programs that work to reduce the achievement gap – an achievement gap that begins early and grows over time.
Some of the federally funded programs that may see significant funding cuts if a balanced approach isn’t taken to tackle the fiscal cliff including the following.
- The Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and Community Health Centers both fund a large percent of Michigan’s preventive health programs for children and families.
- LIHEAP and the Community Services Block Grant support low-income families with basic needs like heating, housing, and nutrition.
- Head Start, Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant promote school readiness while supporting struggling families.
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers and Title I target school districts with high percentages of students at-risk of school failure by supporting equity promoting education programs like high quality after school programming and high school dropout prevention efforts.
- The Workforce Investment Act for Youth engages disconnected young people to education and workforce opportunities.
All of these programs are critical in Michigan and all are in jeopardy if the federal deficit reducing solution isn’t fair and balanced. Talking to the people who represent your interests in Washington, DC about the importance of these programs to you, your families and your communities is essential. You can find out who your Congressperson is, as well as contact information for members of Congress and the U.S. Senate, on our website.
While some states are continuing to count their final ballots, here in Michigan, we already know who will be representing us at the federal, state, and local levels. Hopefully you took the first step of learning what was on your ballot, researched the candidates and proposals, and waited in line and cast your vote on Tuesday. But, that’s only the first step. Now is the most opportune time to talk to your newly elected officials (even those incumbents who are continuing to represent you) about the issues that matter to you. Now is the time that policy advocacy can make the biggest difference.
Why is that, you ask? Because the first and most critical component of getting engaged is building relationships. You know that you’re more likely to lend $5 to someone you know and trust rather than a stranger. When it comes to policymakers, the same is true. Over the next several months, your legislators will be hosting coffee hours, attending meet and greets, and doing everything they can to further understand the needs of their constituents. This is the time to introduce yourself, show them around your program, do some basic education on the children and family issues that matter the most to you and your community. No need to make the big ask, just begin to build the relationship and have them understand how and why you can be a resource to them. And if you already have a relationship with your elected officials, congratulate them and reiterate that you are a resource. If they don’t hear from you, how else will they know all of those critical things that you know that could really help them make the right decisions?
- They will be deciding how to invest our tax dollars. You can help them understand where these investments make the most difference, particularly for kids of color and from low-income families.
- They will continue to explore the needs of Michigan families and continue to work to strengthen the economy. You can help them understand what it takes for a struggling family to provide basic needs like food and housing for their children.
- They will be changing the way that education is funded and structured. You can help them understand that to reduce the academic achievement gap, children’s education must begin before birth and continue through to their successful career.
- They will be changing how health care is provided in Michigan and must focus on reducing costly disparate health outcomes. You can help them understand what it takes to make sure that pregnant women, babies, children, youth and their families stay healthy and what a difference their health makes to other life success.
Though the elections are over, our Vote for Michigan’s children webpage has resources you can use to assist in educating your legislators. There, you’ll find some quick facts about the status of children in Michigan, templates you can use to contact your newly elected policymakers, and issue briefs on specific children’s issues. Act now, and continue to act!