Speaking For Kids

What a Difference Our Voices Make

This week, the Legislature finished their work on the fiscal year 2013 budget.  While it is still possible that funding for specific programs and initiatives, as well as language directing state departments in their implementation, could be vetoed by the Governor in his final budget approval, we can assume what has passed out of the Legislature is pretty close to what we’ll be working with beginning in October.

The state budget, as the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities, is a tool for either improving equity or widening gaps.   Michigan’s Children advocates for many programs, initiatives and strategies during the budget process each year, and this year put some strategic focus on two items that prove critical to improving educational equity:

  1. supporting an expansion of funding for the state’s preschool program (GSRP) and ensuring that some of those dollars would be directed towards Michigan’s youngest children from birth through age three; and
  2. reinstating funding for extended learning opportunities (before- and after-school programs) that was once funded at $16 million through the state budget.

Staff worked with partners, local advocates, Legislators and their staff through each stage of the budget conversation to make sure that those investments were included or protected.  Countless community allies reached out to their Legislators to encourage them to lend their support.

Here’s the verdict:  voices are heard.   The Legislature chose to prioritize additional funding for pre-school programming allowing nearly 1,500 more children to be served in the next school year.  Even though language was not included in this budget to dedicate some of that new language for programs supporting younger children and their families, Legislators and staff have improved understanding and critical ground work was laid.  Another verdict:  as advocates always say, this is a marathon, not a sprit.

The Legislature also chose to prioritize extended learning beyond the school day by including $1 million for the kids who need it most, those in families whose income is below twice the poverty line.  While this was not the $5 million that was originally proposed by champions in the House of Representatives, nor is it even a fraction of the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them, but it is a victory – again, a marathon.

We thank the Legislature for valuing programs that improve educational equity in our state, and we (of course) ask that the Governor not utilize his line-item veto power to remove those investments before signing the appropriations bills into law.

These investments were made because advocates and Legislative champions persisted.  The verdict for this election season:  it matters who is elected to office.  That leads to the need for all of us to understand where our candidates stand on supporting strategies that lead to better and more equitable outcomes for kids and families all around this state.  After the best candidates are elected this fall because of our votes, we continue the marathon.

-Michele Corey

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

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