Speaking For Kids

Strengthening Michigan’s Voices

Dealing with the implication of the federal fiscal cliff, overhauling Michigan’s educational system, implementing health care reform, all with a new legislative session that includes new members, new committee chairs, new caucus dynamics.  Whew!  How will we know how changes are impacting the large and growing equity gaps we see in this state?  How will we know how the changes are impacting the children and families most vulnerable to public policy shifts?

Even in the best of times, this is a challenge for those of us trying to give voice to children, youth and families around the state.  Unfortunately, this is not the best of times.  Michigan’s Children is about to celebrate its 20th year, and in some ways, we are in our own adolescent phase.  We are glad that like the public policies that give young people and families second chances that we’ve advocated strongly for throughout our existence, we have also been given a chance to reflect and review.

We need some help with that reflection and review, so we are also glad that some of the best advocacy minds in the state are going to help us.  Over the next five months or so, our Transition Task Force will be convening.  This Task Force will be evaluating our role, credibility, capacity and viability.  This evaluation will be bolstered by data about the impact we have (and have not) made over the last 20 years, and the effectiveness of our current advocacy strategies.  The Task Force will also have access to information about the most effective advocacy organizations in our state and around the country as it evaluates our role as the independent voice for children in Michigan.

The Task Force will be making recommendations about the best way to strengthen advocacy work for children, youth and families in Michigan and the role that Michigan’s Children and others can play in that work going forward.   I’m looking forward to being part of this important process in Michigan, and am excited about the future of advocacy in our state.  We all know that all of the policy challenges we will face in 2013 and beyond need the strongest advocates to face them.

-Michele Corey

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Cliff?

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.

-Mina Hong

The Work Has Just Begun

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!

-Michele Corey

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