June 26, 2017 – Many legislators love nothing more than being able to leverage state investment with other funding to increase the reach of the limited dollars in our state coffers, especially those involved in the state budget process that just got wrapped up last week. Of course, the largest leveraging that we do is with the federal government, and we rely heavily on those leveraged funds. Many programs in Michigan get just enough state funding to be able to draw down federal funding allocated to our state – child care assistance, foster care and other child welfare services, and many others. Of course, federal funds that support many critical programs in Michigan are at great risk right now, but that’s a topic for another blog.
This is about giving credit where credit is due. At the beginning of the state budget process, when the Governor released his budget recommendations in early February, many pieces stood out to Michigan’s Children, including two that provide support for young people as they age out or leave the foster care system.
First, there was a recommended expansion to the Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative (MYOI). MYOI is a state legislators dream. Not only is it a great and effective program that helps young people in foster care build the skills and relationships that they need as adults, but it is also based on a funding model that takes full advantage of private philanthropy, community resources and partnerships and federal funds. The problem: MYOI didn’t have staffing around the state, so young people’s geography, rather than their need, was determining their access to the resource. The ask: increase the state investment to support enough staff to serve youth wherever they live.
The second program is one whose state funding seems to always be on the chopping block, the Fostering Futures Scholarship Fund. This funding helps young people who have been in the foster care system access higher education. It is also a legislators dream, because there is a comprehensive private fund raising component around the state for the fund, in addition to its state funding. The problem: taking away the $750,000 in state funds that adds to the roughly $180,000 that is raised privately each year would be a huge blow. The ask: maintain the current state investment in the program.
As the state budget process wore on over the last several months, it became clear that although the Governor was supportive of funding in both programs, there were members of the Legislature who were not. Some of this was driven by legislative interest in finding state resource for tax cuts and to pay for adjustments to the teacher pension system. For whatever reason, funding for both was at risk.
So, we got to work. Michigan’s Children got the word out through our networks, talked about the critical importance of these programs with legislators on key budget committees, and most importantly, encouraged young people who had been served by these programs to get involved.
And, we won. Both programs will be funded through September 2018 at the levels recommended by the Governor. We are convinced that the work done by the amazing young people in MYOI, and in college access programs for youth experiencing foster care sealed the deal. When they were there on their own or with Michigan’s Children, talking directly with legislators, those legislators listened. The legislators became champions for these programs with their colleagues and joined us in demanding that their funding remained in the final budget.
Thank you to the young people, thank you to the programs that support them, and thank you to the legislators that heard us all. We will continue to ask for more support for young people experiencing foster care, but we can take a moment to congratulate ourselves on this win as well.
– Michele Corey