Speaking For Kids

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

Baby Steps Are Good, But Bold Leaps Are Required

We applaud the efforts of the Michigan House of Representatives to re-instate $5 million in their version of the Department of Human Services’ budget to support extended learning options.  These programs provide young people with experiences that cut down on summer learning loss, improve school attendance, connect classroom learning with life relevance, as well as reduce violence, substance abuse and teen pregnancy and other behaviors that place young people at risk of school failure.

Not only do these programs result in better outcomes for kids, they also leverage public and private resources, and join the efforts of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors in a community to assist the work of schools and families.  Even in the short-term, this investment will come back to the state many times over.  And, while these programs improve educational success for all students participating, they are most impactful for the students who face the most extraordinary educational challenges – kids from low-income families and kids of color.

Directed by the federal government, and led by a wide variety of education stakeholders, Michigan has committed to eliminating educational gaps by 2022.  Gaps between children of different races and ethnicities; gaps between children from low-income families and those from families with more income; gaps between children receiving special education or English Language Learners and others who don’t receive those services; and even those gaps within every school between those who perform at the top and those who perform at the bottom.

Eliminating those gaps is not only a worthy task, but an essential one if we want Michigan, our families and our communities to regain their economic footing.  A return to state investment in quality extended learning programs is a step in the right direction, but $5 million isn’t nearly enough.  As recently as 2004, Michigan prioritized $16 million to support these programs, in addition to the federal resources available that even when taken together, served only a fraction of those who could benefit.

More investment is essential to support quality before- and after-school, summer, and other out-of-school-time programs; and assist community development of innovative options for their young people.  We urge the Senate to embrace at least the $5 million starting point, and we urge the Legislature to understand the key role that these programs play in getting to the educational success that we need for all Michigan’s young people.

-Michele Corey

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