Speaking For Kids

The Workforce Investment Act – Supporting Multiple Pathways Since 1998

The role of the Federal government in local programs is often murky, but whether through funding or regulation, the sustainability of programs that strive to provide options for children of color, families in poverty and undereducated-underemployed young adults rely on the political will and support of members of Congress.

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA), originally passed in 1998, is set to expire in August and is the largest source of federal funding for workforce development. WIA created a nationwide system of one-stop career centers – intended to provide training and employment assistance for low-income adults and youth. Programs funded by WIA provide a wide range of services, including connecting workers with other education and training options to create multiple pathways to success.

Programs in Michigan that provide youth an opportunity to gain education and career skills focus on a group of youth that are ages 16-24, have little to no high school credits, and limited employability. These youth are often referred to as disconnected, undereducated/underemployed, and Opportunity Youth by the US Department of Labor. Community-based programs strive to build a career path for youth and emphasize obtaining a high school diploma, or GED, as a critical step on that path.

Education ReConnection, in Kalamazoo, is an example of a program in Michigan that has a primary goal of re-engaging disconnected youth through a WIA-funded program and leads to high school completion. The model is unique in that it provides access to education and workforce development programming targeted to disconnected youth and supports students with a mentoring program offered through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Education ReConnection is uniquely funded through the Kalamazoo RESA, foundation grants and WIA funding targeted for youth.

WIA reauthorization is also an opportunity to readdress the needs of the employment sectors in communities and ensure that employers have workers with the skills they need to succeed. Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of CEO’s of the state’s largest corporations, continue to argue for increased funding for higher education because they know we need a million more bachelor’s degree holders by 2025 – the year children entering kindergarten this fall will graduate. The training and education made available by WIA reauthorization will provide long-term economic growth for Michigan by maintaining programs that provide access to family-sustaining employment.

There are currently two WIA reauthorization bills available for review – but they do not support youth programs equally. One of the bills, HR 4297, combines funding for youth programs with adult and provides no requirements that states utilize the funds to support youth programs. The funding in jeopardy serves low-income and youth of color and is particularly critical when fewer than 20% of them are able to find summer employment and more than 50% drop out of high school. Youth focused programs strengthen the skills and abilities of youth necessary to succeed in local labor markets, lead to career opportunities capable of sustaining a family, and support growth of our current and future economy.

Overall, WIA reauthorization must:
▪ Support attainment of post-secondary degrees and career credentials;
▪ Align education, job training, and higher education to support career pathways;
▪ Maintain separate funding streams for youth programs.

For more information about WIA reauthorization, check out:
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
The National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC)
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
The National Skills Coalition (NSC)

-Beth Berglin

A Double Whammy

$492. That’s the maximum monthly Family Independence Program (FIP) benefit for a family of three in Michigan. However, between September of last year and February, more than 46,000 kids lost cash assistance due to Michigan’s new time limit.

$432. That may not sound like a lot to some people, but $432 was the average amount of the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income families in 2011. Nearly 800,000 households claimed the EITC in 2011, or 19 percent of all households in the state of Michigan.

Furthermore, according to data from the Michigan Department of Treasury in 2011:

  • The average federal adjusted gross income (AGI) of a Michigan EITC filer was approximately $17,000;
  • Over half of all filers had an AGI of $15,000 or less, meaning that many were making a wage below the poverty level;
  • Nearly 7 out of 10 filers claimed at least one child exemption; and
  • The average filer claiming 2 children had an MI EITC of $657.

However, due to action taken in 2011, the state EITC was reduced from 20 percent of the federal EITC to just 6 percent. While it is important to keep in mind that the state EITC was saved from total elimination, this decrease in the EITC starting this year will not only hurt Michigan’s economy, but hit children and families of color the hardest, since households of color tend to have lower income than their White counterparts and are more likely to live in poverty.  According to Kids Count in Michigan, child poverty for African American kids is fully three times that of White children, and poverty rates for Hispanic children are more than twice the rates for Whites.

As evidenced by data published by the Michigan League for Human Services on their EITC website, the state EITC put over $349 million back into the state’s economy. However, with tax changes in 2011, that figure will drop to an estimated $104 million and the average amount received for each family will drop to approximately $132. This is just 30 percent of what families received in 2011 and effectively a tax increase on low-income families…and for families already struggling to make ends meet, this could prove dire.

Furthermore, according to data from the report, the top five House and Senate districts hardest hit by this change were from areas that are predominately African American communities in Southeast Michigan. However, particularly for the Senate, once you move out of top five districts hardest hit by these changes, the next five areas are places that have high concentrations of people of color in West Michigan, Flint and Saginaw. This means that communities in Southeast Michigan, West Michigan and elsewhere stand to lose millions of dollars that were used to help families and drive the local economy.

Therefore, by cutting the EITC, not only will families have less money to put back into their local economy, but families and children living in low-income families will face even more economic hardship. And with approximately 86,000 EITC filers earning less than $5,000 in 2011, some of whom may have lost, or are threatened with the loss of cash assistance benefits, we are once again hurting those who are already hurting the most, and children in these families will be hardest hit. Not only will families see a reduced EITC amount, but they may also be losing cash assistance each month that is used to cover basic needs such as clothing, housing, and utilities. This double loss of assistance to parents and children may prove detrimental in the long run as children who grow up in poverty are more likely to live in poverty as adults. As Governor Snyder aims to reduce child poverty, eliminating cash assistance benefits for thousands of children and simultaneously reducing the MI EITC is no way to accomplish this goal.

-Jacqui Broughton

Healthy Mental Health Starts at Birth

Today is SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  This year’s focus is how, with the help of caring adults and informed child-serving systems, children can demonstrate resilience following traumatic experiences.  While intervention is crucial to ensure healthy mental and emotional development, a strong socioemotional foundation that begins at birth is critical.  Programs that serve families with young children prenatally through age three ensure that young children are socially and emotionally on-track while reducing exposure to traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, or domestic violence.

Why does children’s mental health matter in the early years?  Children with social, emotional and behavioral problems have more difficulty with language development and acquiring the “soft skills” needed to succeed in school and life such as perseverance, attention, motivation, self-confidence, effective communication, and conflict resolution.  Left untreated early in childhood, socioemotional challenges can result in poor educational achievement, long-term mental health problems, and anti-social behaviors that lead to increased school discipline and delinquency.  To prevent these issues, parents and caregivers need access to information and resources to support their child’s social and emotional health in the first three and five years of life; and need resources to maintain healthy relationships and access basic needs to avoid traumatic experiences such as domestic violence and abuse/neglect.

Programs that serve young children from birth through age three and their families often target children who are most at-risk of experiencing social or emotional problems.  According to the 2012 Michigan Right Start report, one in ten Michigan births are to teen moms and one in six are to moms without a high school diploma.  Teen moms and moms of any age who have not been successful in school themselves are typically least prepared to understand the developmental and socioemotional needs of their children and lack the skills to navigate the systems necessary to provide needed interventions.  Many programs that serve children from birth through age three target these challenged families, and provide parents with the foundational tools they need to ensure their child’s healthy development – physically, emotionally, and socially.  These programs ensure that young children have access to early and regular screenings for developmental delays and socioemotional challenges.  Children whose social and emotional problems are identified and addressed early on are more likely to succeed in the early learning programs that have been shown to increase school achievement and later success in the workplace.  In addition, their parents are more likely to be able to participate successfully in education and job training programs, and to maintain employment.

Unfortunately in Michigan, between 10 and 14 percent of all young children birth through age 5 experience social, emotional and behavioral problems; yet most do not receive mental health services—even when their mental health conditions have been identified.  This is due to the vastly insufficient resources available for mental health treatment.  Creating a consistent source of funding for children from birth through age three and their families will not only expand access to the family support programs that serve families with young children from birth through age three but could also expand access to mental health treatment that young children need to succeed in life.

-Mina Hong

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