Yearly Archives 2013

Information for Action

December 17, 2013 – It is that time of year again.  No, I’m not talking about snow, ice or family gatherings.  I’m talking about comprehensive county-level information about children and their families through the 2013 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book released today.  Every year for the last 20 or so, the Michigan League for Public Policy has compiled easy to understand information about Michigan counties across systems and age groups.

For nearly that long, Michigan’s Children and other advocacy partners across the state have been using the information with decision makers to guide policy and program investment priorities, as well as policy and practice improvements in this state.  Over those years we’ve seen improvements and unfortunately some outcomes where we just haven’t been able to move the dial.

One of the serious challenges again highlighted in this year’s Data Book is the continued increase in child poverty across the state.  Michigan’s consistently poor outcomes on this indicator point to the need for different policy and program decisions that actually improve the economic situation of families.  Unfortunately, many decisions made over the last several years have served to further disadvantage families economically.  Cutting supports for low wage workers like the Earned Income Tax Credit are counter-productive.  Michigan’s subsidized child care system needs major changes in order to be a real work support for families in the state.  Workforce development resources need to be much better targeted toward the most challenged families and need to include better supports for education and training.  Beyond workforce supports, programs that improve the educational success of the most challenged young people and adults need to be prioritized.

Another area of grave concern is the continued increase in child abuse and neglect.  The Data Book again indicates disturbing trends in the share of children who have been identified and those confirmed as victims of child maltreatment.  Several things contribute to this distressing information.

  1. Poverty, as mentioned.  Increases in economic stressors for families impact their stability.
  2. At least a decade of disinvestment in programs with proven effectiveness in preventing child abuse and neglect.  We know so much about the risks that lead families into the system, and we need to actually invest in preventing those risks – maybe even state resources, rather than relying entirely on the whims of the federal investment.  Better investments in domestic violence prevention and treatment; in behavioral health assessment and intervention, mental health and substance use/abuse, are required.  And, perhaps most importantly, better supports for parents of the very youngest children are necessary.  Infants are the largest share of any other age group as confirmed victims of abuse and neglect.

As always, the Data Book helps us better define what work needs to be done.  And, as always, it is our responsibility to help our elected officials use that information to make better decisions in the coming year.  So, use Kids Count as a conversation starter.  Even if you haven’t talked with your elected officials before, your county Kids Count data can provide a topic of conversation.  Ask your policy makers what they think about the data, and what plans they have to help address some of the issues of concern.  Help your policy makers understand the context behind some of the numbers.  If you’ve seen improvements in an area, have there been community efforts that have impacted the situation?  Or have there been cuts in programs and services that have resulted in worsening data in an area?  You can access your county information and other resources to assist with your advocacy at the Michigan League for Public Policy’s website.

We are here to help you, and here to remind policymakers that there is a lot they should be doing to make Michigan better for children, youth and families.

-Michele Corey

Seventeen Years of Expert Testimony

December 16, 2013 – Decision-makers gathered last week, representing the Governor’s Office, a bi-partisan group of 17 members of the Michigan Legislature, the State Board of Education, the Departments of Community Health and Human Services, philanthropy, municipalities, law enforcement, education associations, after-school, school health, researchers, and other youth advocates to listen to some Michigan experts.  Young people from a dozen communities around the state came to the Capitol to share their challenges, successes and recommendations for improving program and policy.   Programs that serve some of the most challenged young people in the state braved the snow and cold weather to bring these articulate young people before our listeners.

One young man brought out his specific concerns about the family he was planning to have – concerns that he would be successful enough to support them and that the education and other systems would be able to serve them better than they had served him.  He is a young adult now, part of an amazing program that gets young people back on track to a high school credential and onto a post-secondary path.  Reflecting that he had been out of school for several years, realizing that his future was compromised, there was a program that re-engaged him.  Instead of a path of unemployment and potentially criminal justice, he is now on a path to personal success and building success for the next generation.

This same experience was repeated over and over – young people who had been failed by and often pushed out of those systems that are charged with moving them toward adult success, often with personal consequences that were difficult for our listeners to hear.  Also repeated was the experience of these young people, who our public and private sector dollars had failed, finding a path to success.  These programs blend together different funding sources and share a commitment to providing many paths to success and many chances for moving down those paths.  What they also share is a space to make up for the failures of other systems.

As we move into the next budget year in Michigan, and try to keep up with federal budget decision-making, the testimony of the sixteen young people can provide some guidance:

  1. 2nd and 3rd chance programs for successful movement toward high school completion/post-secondary paths are not consistently available across this state, nor are they consistently accessible for all young people who need them.  As Michigan’s Children says all the time, resources need to be devoted to alternative, adult and community education to provide these chances to everyone.  This requires innovative strategies to utilize resources from a variety of sectors.  We can learn much from current programs who successfully serve our most challenged young people, families and communities.
  2. While we are making strides in how we serve the young people under our guardianship – those who the state removed from their challenged families and often their communities as well because of abuse, neglect and delinquency – we are still not successful enough.  These kids deserved better from us, and their stories continue to shock and dismay us.  This also requires multiple sectors working together to make sure that under our care, they are better able to rebuild what has been lost and move successfully toward supporting themselves and their own families now and in the future.
  3. Both of those intervention strategies scream for more investment in the prevention of poor outcomes in the first place.  This includes focusing resources on fragile families early on, and taking steps early and often to ensure young people can make it through high school successfully the first time.

If we take nothing from KidSpeak, we must take that we must do better.  I heard a great quote yesterday that fits perfectly here.  “Better is possible.  It doesn’t take genius.  It takes diligence.  It takes moral clarity.  It takes ingenuity.  And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”  Atul Gawande

We look forward to working with our experts, our listeners and others in the new year to invest in strategies that can change the trajectory of more young people, their families and their communities in 2014 and beyond.

– Michele Corey

Prosperity in Michigan: What Do We Need for the Climb?

December 3, 2013 – Kurt Metzger is perhaps the most experienced demographer in Michigan.  He is currently the director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, an initiative of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.  I mention him because he published an article recently in Bridge Magazine, Michigan still has a long climb back to prosperity, that illustrates in data what we all know to be true:  Michigan has been through a tough decade or so economically, and while some folks are starting to do better, the bulk of Michigander’s have not yet started that climb.  Michigan is a starkly different state than we were a dozen years ago, and nowhere is this more evident than in the disinvestment of state resources in programs supporting the most challenged children, youth and families over that same period.

In addition, economists at the UofM and elsewhere are predicting above average job growth over the next two years AND increasing money in the state coffers as a result.

So, if we are indeed beginning the slow trek back to economic prosperity, let’s be deliberate about assessing how the trek is going so far, and what we need to do as a state in this next budget year to aid us on the climb.  What do we know:

  1. We’ve lost ground.  Kurt points out, is that Michigan ranked 37th in per capita income in 2012, and was one of only three states who lost ground in that indicator from 2000 – 2012.
  2. Economic downturns are tougher on folks with less education.  Kurt also points out that Michigan has traditionally made a poor showing in that area as well – ranking 31st on the share of young adults (ages 25-34) with at least a bachelor’s degree.  In addition, according to the U.S. Census, we remain right around the national average in the share of young adults in that same age range without a high school diploma – around 10%.
  3. A well educated citizenry is the path toward economic success.  Yes, this point is well researched by many and embraced widely.
  4. The educational success of parents is a strong predictor of the educational success of their children.  If nothing else, parents who have had less educational success themselves, are on less stable economic ground and often have a more difficult time interfacing with systems serving themselves and their children, including the schools and other providers of services that could assist.
  5. Unacceptably high shares of new moms do not have adequate education levels themselves.  You may recall from the release of the Right Start in Michigan last spring that fully 4 in 10 moms of Michigan newborns in 2011 had no college education, and more than a third of those didn’t even have a high school credential.

With these facts in mind, what do Legislators need to do include in their budget priorities as we move into 2014 in order for Michigan to have what we need as a state for our climb toward economic prosperity?

  1. Get kids through to high school graduation the first time.  Michigan’s Children blogs consistently about what the research says are investments needed to be able to do this better, including investments in challenged families well before children enter kindergarten, solid connections between home and school throughout the child’s educational career, consistent opportunities for extended learning programs to assist in skill development and engagement, and 2nd and 3rd (4th and 5th…) chances to reach that high school diploma, just to name a few.
  2. Provide opportunities for adults to reconnect to GED and post-secondary paths throughout their lives.  Target these opportunities for young mothers and fathers.

The Governor is working on his recommendations for the upcoming budget season right now.  We’ve had a mixed record of investment and disinvestment in programs and initiatives that matter to our state’s success.  Now is the time for us all to get real about what it takes to improve economic prosperity in Michigan and share that knowledge with policymakers.

-Michele Corey

Those Precious First Days

Two weeks ago, I welcomed my son – Lennon – into this world.  Being my first child, I must admit that I was less anxious about the actual labor and delivery process and much more anxious about those first few days at home with him and figuring out how to keep this little person alive.  While we’re a fortunate family to have both of Lennon’s grandmas living in the same town as us and many supportive friends (including those who are already parents) that we could lean on for support, it still felt a bit daunting to have this little human being completely dependent on us for his survival.

Even with our vast network of support, one of the great things we got to experience on our second day at home with Lennon was a home visit by a registered nurse.  That’s right.  Though our family doesn’t qualify for any specific home visiting service for more challenged families, the University of Michigan hospital where Lennon was born provides a home visit to all families after they go home.  This was such an amazing opportunity to ask the many questions that we were having both about Lennon’s health and well-being as well as my own recovery.  The visit provided an opportunity for us to ask about what’s normal infant behavior, offer guidance on nursing, sleeping, and other developmental questions we had about our three-day old baby, and offered guidance to my partner and me as we navigated this whole new world.

As I mentioned earlier, we have a great network of support but having a trained person come to our home to provide guidance and expertise early in Lennon’s life was extremely helpful.  It made me think about the evidence-based home visiting services that are available in our state that target the most challenged families.  How exciting yet daunting it is to care for a newborn baby.  Yes, the love is overwhelming and I know all mothers are willing to do whatever it takes to do the best by their child.  But to have other stressors in one’s life may make it significantly more challenging to tend to the needs of a newborn while also recovering from one’s own physical experience of delivering a child.  These voluntary home visiting programs have demonstrated improved outcomes for both mom and baby in terms of baby’s health and development and mom’s ability to provide a stable home for baby.  Based on the one home visit that I experienced, I could see how they can be extremely beneficial – to have a trained professional to talk about specific baby challenges and to have a support person to lean on when times are rough.

Here in Michigan, the Governor and the Legislature are gearing up to build the fiscal year 2015 state budget.  Michigan has high quality home visiting programs that already exist around our state.  Unfortunately, these programs are vastly underfunded, only reach a fraction of the families that are eligible for services, and rely far too heavily on federal dollars to support them.  At Michigan’s Children, we hope to see these home visiting programs expanded using sustainable state funding, and have been working with key partners towards this endeavor.  In the meantime, won’t you talk to your legislators about the challenges that new parents face and how home visiting programs can support our state’s most challenged new parents?  Learn more about home visiting programs in Michigan by visiting the Michigan Department of Community Health website.

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-Mina Hong

Extending Educational Accountability Beyond the School Doors

We have high expectations of our education system, and rightly so.  Educators have one of the most important jobs with the greatest ability to impact Michigan’s economic recovery.  Do we want and need effective teaching and learning?  Of course.  Do we want and need accountability for educational outcomes?  Of course.  Do we want all schools to be of the highest quality?  Of course.  The need and impact are too great and we certainly don’t have public funds to spare.  The Legislature is currently debating the best way to communicate our schools’ effectiveness, but the question that we should be grappling with is how do we support and evaluate our education system to be best able to promote that effective learning.

Effective learning demands a great deal of things.  I like the ASCD’s Whole Child language, which I’m paraphrasing here.  Michigan children and youth need to:

  1. enter school healthy and learn about healthy practices as they progress;
  2. learn in physical and emotional safety;
  3. be connected to the broader community through their learning;
  4. have access to learning tailored to their challenges and strengths;
  5. have access to caring and competent adults involved in their learning; and
  6. be challenged throughout their educational careers so that they can be prepared for college and career.

Much of this is obvious, and all is well documented in research.  When kids are hungry, when they haven’t slept, when they aren’t feeling safe at home or at school, as just three of many possible examples, their ability to engage with even the highest skilled teaching in the best run school is challenged.

The responsibility that falls on classroom teachers and other school and district staff for effective teaching and learning has been and continues to be discussed, and the best way to measure its effectiveness hotly debated.  What is perhaps less obvious and certainly not discussed enough, is the responsibility that falls on other systems that impact students for the rest of their learning, beginning well before kindergarten and continuing outside of the classroom through their educational careers.

The question has always been, and rightly so, how do we ensure the best use of public dollar for education – how are we using what we know, in this case what we know about effective teaching and learning, to assess the best use of the resources that we spend within the education system, and within other systems that impact learning as well.

Can we assess and support and reward educators, schools and communities in addition to skill in subject area and teaching and learning pedagogy, and also in their prowess in those practices that serve to close achievement gaps?  In the ability to connect early and often with children, youth and their families?  In the ability to consistently engage each student?  In the ability to move students individually on their own trajectory? In the ability to provide 2nd and 3rd chances for the most challenged students to succeed?  Can we assess and support and reward the ability of educators and schools to collaborate together and connect with outside supports – parents and community resources?

Can we not punish educators and schools for structures and impacts beyond their control, BUT not end the conversation there?  Can we expand responsibility for educational success a little to rest with us all, and support that responsibility accordingly?  At this point, the Michigan Legislature is discussing yet another school accountability system.  We urge them to expand this conversation to evaluate how all of the components of our teaching and learning system are doing and invest support and resources accordingly.

-Michele Corey

Shining a Spotlight on Third Grade Reading

Last month, House Bill (HB) 5111 was introduced to address the significant challenges Michigan students face regarding third grade reading proficiency.  The 2012 Michigan Kids Count Data Book reported that 69 percent of Michigan fourth-graders had reading skills below the proficiency level according to national standardized tests, and significant disparities were prevalent by race and income.  Specifically, nine out of ten African American students, eight of every ten Hispanic/Latino, and eight of every ten low-income students could not demonstrate reading proficiency, rates that are significantly worse than for white and higher-income students.  Clearly, the Legislature must shine a spotlight on this critical benchmark, which can negatively impact students’ future educational careers beyond fourth grade if students fail to master needed literacy skills.

HB 5111 would ensure that students could not enroll in the fourth grade until they demonstrate third grade literacy standards.  However, merely retaining students to repeat the third grade will prove to be insufficient if the goal is to increase third grade reading proficiency.  Other evidenced measures to support children’s literacy development must be in place to ensure more students can reach this critical benchmark.  In response, HB 5144 was introduced this week and would require the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to adopt policies and programs that would enable more Michigan children to attain reading proficiency by the end of third grade.  This bill is tie-barred to HB 5111, meaning that neither bill would be implemented unless both bills are passed into law.

HB 5114 makes the critical first step of working to identify some strategies, led by MDE, to move more children towards reading proficiency.  However, we already know what it takes to ensure that children are meeting this critical benchmark.  Michigan took the first step by significantly expanding the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) – the state’s preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of being underprepared for kindergarten – to ensure that thousands of additional children could access this program.  GSRP has proven to not only better prepare youngsters for kindergarten but also increase third grade reading levels.

But access to high quality preschool is only one piece of the puzzle.  Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a Kids Count policy report on the first eight years of life, which I blogged about, that also addresses third grade reading.  As laid out in that report and as we know to be true from research, creating a high quality birth through third grade (B-3rd) system would support seamless transitions between early childhood and the early elementary years by merging the best and most critical components of early childhood and K-3/K-12 that result in better outcomes for kids, and ultimately eliminate achievement gaps.  A B-3rd system will ensure that children develop strong foundational skills in literacy/communication and math well before kindergarten and develop social and emotional competence that begins early – all of which will be sustained once children are in school.  Children and their families will establish patterns of engagement in school and learning while having the supports they need at home and in their communities – supports that can mitigate the challenges that are often associated with racial and economic disparities.  Brain development is at its peak in the first three years and cognitive gaps can be seen in infants as young as 9 months of age.  Thus, early, continued and coordinated supports are essential.

Beginning with early supports and creating a seamless transition between early childhood and elementary school is essential to making substantial strides in third grade reading proficiency.  As the Michigan Legislature continues the dialogue on what it takes to ensure more students are successfully reaching this critical benchmark, policymakers must look holistically at what challenges young children face to read proficiently and knock-down the systemic barriers that stand in their way.

Learn more about the birth to third grade system in Michigan’s Children’s Issues report.

-Mina Hong

Cross-Sector Coordination Essential in the First Eight Years of Life

Today, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a Kids Count Policy Report titled The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.  This report takes a close look at how young children are faring and makes some public policy recommendations that could improve their first eight years of life.  As we’ve said many times at Michigan’s Children, we know that our next workforce will be the most diverse yet, so improving educational outcomes for all children – particularly children of color and children from low-income communities – is critical to Michigan’s future economic vitality.  This means setting the right foundation in those first critical years and continuing to build upon that solid foundation in the K-12 setting to ensure lifelong success.

We know that by the time children reach third grade, they must be successful readers in order to continue to succeed in school.  As they say, until third grade, children are learning to read; and beginning in fourth grade, they are reading to learn, with proficiency in every other subject – math, science, social studies, art – dependent on reading ability.  We know that too many Michigan children fail to achieve this critical benchmark indicator and children of color and children from low-income families struggle even more so.  Unfortunately, a focus simply at reading improvement at the school building and within the school day once children enter kindergarten is not sufficient.  Reading proficiently by the third grade is a symptom of system successes and failures up to that point in the life of a child.  Only when we look at this system holistically will we be able to ensure more children can successfully achieve this crucial benchmark.

As the Kids Count policy report shows, our nation – including Michigan – must do better when it comes to child well-being in the first eight years of life as this will impact third grade reading outcomes as well as future life success.  As today’s report lays out, an effective system serving children from birth through age eight would:

  1. support parents as they care for their children;
  2. improve access to quality early care and education, health care, and other services; and
  3. ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8.

Keeping a focused goal on reading proficiency, the Kids Count report reiterates the myth that classroom learning is isolated from other aspects of child development and that in fact, cross-sector collaboration that reaches outside the classroom doors is necessary to ensure that Michigan’s most challenged children can read proficiently.  These early years of a child’s life provide a perfect opportunity to illustrate how health, human services, workforce, and other sectors can work closely with the education community to foster children’s success.  Public policies can support and incentivize cross-sector and inter-agency coordination.

One example already in existence is Early On, which identifies infants and toddlers with developmental delays and works with families and their young children to provide appropriate interventions.  Early On oversight lies within the Michigan Department of Education but works closely with health and human services to ensure that families can support their young children.  Early On providers teach parents how to foster and support their child’s growth and development, connects children to appropriate interventions such as speech or physical therapy, and can connect families to other needed services as they relate to socio-emotional services, home visiting needs, and the like. Early identification of developmental delays can ensure that appropriate interventions can be administered and that children can get back on track to succeed in school.  While Early On provides a critical service for Michigan’s most challenged infants, toddlers, and their families, this program is woefully underfunded and too many families can’t access the wraparound services their children need.

Additionally, there are innovative practices happening around the state and nation that facilitate connections between schools and other public and private service providers.  Communities in Schools is a well-researched national model currently utilized in several Michigan communities.  Another relatively newer program that targets children in elementary schools is Pathways to Potential, which was modeled after the Kent School Services Network – a well-established county-based strategy that has demonstrated student outcomes.  These programs formally coordinate needed family supports through the Department of Human Services – supports like food assistance, child care assistance, and housing assistance – in a school setting, which is significantly less intimidating than a DHS office.  Pathways to Potential Success Coaches also integrate child and family health needs, parental needs, and other critical pieces that support struggling children with the ultimate goal focused on school attendance.  The work remaining is to ensure that Pathways to Potential results in the outcomes that we want and that it can be replicated in communities across our state while catering to individual community needs.

These types of holistic programs focus on the individual child’s success while also providing the needed services to ensure that other challenging factors in a child’s life can be addressed.  We know that these types of services can ensure that more Michigan young children from particularly challenging circumstances can reach the third grade reading benchmark.  Thus,  more coordinated programs and services are needed to ensure that Michigan can better support our young children from birth through age eight.

-Mina Hong

See the Michigan League for Public Policy’s blog on the Kids Count policy report and their corresponding news release.

Michigan’s Child Care System Continues to Struggle

Today, the National Women’s Law Center released its annual state-by-state report on the status of child care. This year’s report, Pivot Point: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2013, examines five critical factors that determine the affordability, accessibility, and quality of assistance in each state: income eligibility, waiting lists for assistance, co-payments required of parents receiving assistance, reimbursement rates for child care providers, and eligibility for parents searching for a job. What the report shows us is that Michigan continues to fall behind other states in these critical areas and must make policy changes to bolster its child care system to truly embed it within our P-20 education system. Here are a few critical pieces of the report.

One area where Michigan has gotten progressively worse is in the area of eligibility. The original intent of the child care subsidy is to support low-income working parents who struggle to afford child care while maintaining their employment. Between 2012 and 2013, nearly half of the states increased their income eligibility limits to keep pace with or exceed inflation; and forty-six states increased their income eligibility limits as a dollar amount between 2001 and 2013. However, Michigan did none of these.  Between 2012 and 2013, our state did not adjust its income eligibility limits for families to access the child care subsidy, maintaining eligibility at an annual income of $23,380 for a family of three. Since no adjustments were made for inflation, this means that families now living at 122% of the federal poverty level (FPL) could access the subsidy. Moreover in 2001, Michigan allowed families of three making $26,064 annually (178% FPL) to access the subsidy. In essence, Michigan has shifted its eligibility such that working families need to be poorer to access this critical support.

Beyond the fact that the subsidy is supposed to help parents maintain family-supporting employment, the reimbursement rates in Michigan make it extremely challenging for parents to afford quality care. Federal regulations recommend that rates be set at the 75th percentile of current market rates – a rate that is designed to allow families access to 75 percent of the providers in their communities. However, Michigan does not come close to meeting this recommendation. In fact, for a four-year-old in center-based child care, a family can receive up to $433 in subsidy per month, though the 75th percentile averages $974 per month. For a one-year-old in center-based care, families can receive up to $650 in subsidy though the 75th percentile of the market rate is $1,000 per month. Clearly, the reimbursement provided is insufficient to ensure families can access high quality care, and families can be charged co-pays to make-up the difference between the true cost of care and the subsidy amount. This is a significant financial stretch for Michigan’s poorest working families who are served by the child care subsidy system.

Beyond the low reimbursement rate, Michigan is one of three states that provides child care subsidies on an hourly basis that’s dependent on a child’s attendance. Most other states provide child care subsidies on a daily, weekly, or monthly rate, which we know is aligned with what high quality child care programs need and charge private-paying families. This consistency in payment, that’s not dependent on attendance, is critical for programs to maintain their business model to provide high quality care and is the way that the child care market operates. Providing an hourly reimbursement makes it challenging for providers to anticipate continued revenue from subsidized families, making it difficult for providers to support quality improvement efforts – efforts that are critical to ensure the best outcomes for children.

Finally, Michigan fails to promote continuity of care, which we know to be critical to the healthy development and learning of young children. Michigan is one of only five states that does not allow families to maintain their child care assistance while looking for a job if they become unemployed while receiving the subsidy. We know this to be problematic not only because families need to be able to access child care to attend job interviews but it also allows parents to start working sooner if they already have child care available when they secure a new job. For children, having consistent care from a high quality provider ensures the best outcomes for their learning and development.

Michigan has a long way to go towards ensuring a robust child care subsidy system that truly supports working parents while promoting the learning and developmental needs of our most challenged children. Other states have shifted their child care subsidy systems to promote school readiness for young children through high quality early childhood settings, promote school success for school-aged children through high quality after-school programming, and support low-income working families to access these quality programs. As a state, we must ask ourselves what is our ultimate vision for children and families served by our child care subsidy system and how can we transform our policies and procedures to achieve that?

-Mina Hong

Starting Off with a Shutdown

October 1st marks the beginning of the new fiscal year for both the State of Michigan and the United States.  And boy are they starting off in two completely different but intricately intertwined ways.

Nationally, we’re obviously operating under a partial government shutdown as a result of Congress’ inability to identify a short-term spending plan to maintain operations.  Congress continues to negotiate a short-term plan to fund the federal government and will likely come to some resolution that will maintain fiscal year 2013 funding levels for a little while longer to give them more time to identify a fiscal year 2014 budget.  Of course, the longer this partial shutdown lasts, the greater likelihood of Michigan’s already struggling children and families to feel the effects of the shutdown.  For example, basic needs programs that children and families rely on such as nutrition assistance through WIC and the school lunch program could be in jeopardy if Congress doesn’t agree to a spending plan quickly.

At the state level, today marks the first day of the fiscal year with a budget that includes some significant enhancements (as well as disinvestments) to programs serving Michigan’s most challenged children and families.  What we can’t forget, however, is that our state budget is reliant on federal funding, so a continued government shutdown will impact our state operations, and whatever ultimate budget decisions that Congress makes will impact the way our fiscal year 2014 budget is rolled out.  I’ve said this many times before but it bears repeating.  Over 40 percent of our state budget comes from federal sources, but what’s even more important is that the departments that serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families have even greater reliance on federal dollars.  Nearly two-thirds of the Department of Community Health budget is made-up of federal dollars, three-quarters of the Department of Education budget comes from federal sources, and four-fifths of the Department of Human Services budget comes from the feds.  The departments that work to reduce disparities in child outcomes by ensuring that our most struggling children are fed, housed, safe, healthy, and educated are the departments that will feel the brunt of this government shutdown.

So as we mark the beginning of the fiscal year 2014 budget with some state-level wins like the historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program, expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and some additional supports to address infant mortality; we can’t forget how programs that rely on federal dollars will negatively impact the same families who would be benefiting from these wins.  The same children who will have greater access to preschool and oral health care are also the ones who will be impacted by cuts to cash assistance, food assistance, and child care assistance if Congress can’t come to a resolution.

In all likelihood, Congress will come to a resolution in the very near future through the passage of a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to maintain federal government operations at the fiscal year 2013 levels for multiple weeks.  However, Congress will need to agree on a spending plan for the entire federal fiscal year and this is where your voice can make a difference.  While the sequester seems like ages ago, the impacts are being felt across our state now, and our members of Congress need to hear about them.  If your child is no longer able to access Head Start or adequate special education services as a result of the sequester, please talk to your members of Congress and urge them to reinstate the harmful sequester cuts in the fiscal year 2014 budget that they are debating.  Or, if programs like food assistance or after-school supports are helping your family or your community, Congress needs to hear about those too.

To learn more about the importance of the federal budget here in Michigan, visit our website.

-Mina Hong

Beyond the Bickering to What Matters

I was so proud today to see the culmination of hard work from two members of our Congressional Delegation – yes, our Congressional Delegation, those guys in DC who are responsible for either coming to some budget conclusion today or partially shutting down the federal government.  In Michigan, we have some pretty important folks who represent us in DC.  Congressman Dave Camp, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee – you know, that committee responsible for coming up with government spending priorities – and Congressman Sander Levin, who is the ranking Democrat on that very same Committee.  While more often than not, the ideological gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives seems unbearable, every now and then, there is a glimmer of bi-partisan leadership about something that really matters to the most challenged children and families in our state and nation.  This is one of those glimmers, and the leaders responsible need to have that work acknowledged and celebrated, even in the midst of larger and more polarizing conversations about how we will be spending our public resources in this nation.

Two Democrats and two Republicans, including our two delegation members mentioned above, today introduced the Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act, which reauthorizes the federal Adoption Incentives program through 2016 and makes improvements in how the program works to help some of the kids who tend to stay in foster care longer than others – those who are older, who are over-represented by children of color.  This program was originally created by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 to help states increase adoptions by giving them some additional resource to do so.  (I shouldn’t forget the two other bill sponsors – a Democrat from Texas and a Republican from Washington state.)

In Michigan, we are again looking at the over-representation of children of color throughout our child protective services system.  This disparity begins at the time that complaints are investigated and continues to increase through removal of children from their families through permanent placements with guardians and adoptive parents or aging out of foster care with no placement option.  Incentives to target adoption and guardianship supports so that they benefit the kids who need them the most are critical.  The fact that two members of our delegation were able to overcome their disagreements on a host of issues, to work together on this critical issue, is worthy of celebration.  Now, they start working on all of their colleagues on the Hill and we are poised to assist.

Michigan’s Children is part of a national network called SPARC – the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center – that brings advocates from around the country together to insist on better public policy for children, youth and families in a variety of areas including protecting our most vulnerable.  As Congressmen Camp and Levin work across the partisan aisle to build support for this reauthorization, we will be working with our colleagues in other states to encourage constituent pressure and support to assist.

Please, acknowledge this good behavior – too often our elected officials only hear from us when we are expressing disappointment for what we see as poor decision-making on their parts.  Right now, we think that Congressmen Camp and Levin need to know that their constituents appreciate their efforts, and the rest of our delegation needs to understand that we expect similar bi-partisan work to be done on behalf of the most challenged children, youth and families in our state – today, tomorrow and every day.

-Michele Corey

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