budget

What Will You Be Doing This Spring Break?

Over the next two weeks, Michigan’s Legislature is on spring break.  Sure, many legislators may be, literally, taking a break with their families but this also provides a great opportunity to connect with your legislators in your community – in their districts.  And boy, is there a lot to talk about.

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittees approved most of their budgets for fiscal year 2014 (FY2014), which begins October 1 of this year and goes through September 30th of 2014.  The subcommittees made many changes from the Governor’s proposed budget for FY2014 – particularly in the Community Health budget – and many will continue to be topics of debate as the budget process continues.  We know that good health is critical to education and life success, and in fact, the Michigan Department of Education – Office of Great Start agrees as demonstrated by their first objective to ensure that all children are born healthy.  With children of color disproportionately challenged by access to consistent, high quality health care, changes made to the Community Health budget will have the greatest impact on them.

House changes that will affect child and family health disparities include the following.

  1. Medicaid Expansion: The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Community Health did not include the Governor’s proposed Medicaid Expansion in their budget proposal.   This expansion would’ve insured more than 320,000 adults who are living at 133 percent of the federal poverty level or below (that’s an annual income of $25,975 for a family of three), and we know that African American and Latino Michiganders are more likely to be uninsured than their White counterparts.  As a result, Medicaid expansion is important for Michigan children of color as we know that low-income adults are often parents or caregivers of young children and that many uninsured young adults are still working to complete their high school credentials.
  2. Infant Mortality Reduction: The House Subcommittee eliminated the Governor’s proposed $2.5 million to support the state’s Infant Mortality Reduction Plan.  In a state where African American babies are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies, this elimination of funding is unacceptable.
  3. Healthy Kids Dental Program: The House Subcommittee rejected the Governor’s proposal to expand the Healthy Kids Dental program to an additional 70,500 children and youth in Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties.  This program increases provider reimbursement rates, encourages provider participation and helps more children receive the high quality dental care they need.  Dental disease is the most common chronic illness for children – more so than asthma or hay fever – and disproportionately affects children of color and children from low-income families who lack access to sufficient dental care.
  4. Mental Health Innovations: The House Subcommittee rejected the Governor’s proposed $5 million to support his new Mental Health Innovations, which would’ve supported comprehensive home-based mental health services for children, a pilot high intensity care management team for youth with complex behavior disorders, and mental health “first aid” training to recognize mental health problems in youth and connecting them to professional help.  These efforts could assist in ensuring that children – particularly children of color – who struggle with mental health issues get  appropriate intervention services rather than being mislabeled as youth with bad behavior at-risk of school suspension.

This spring break provides opportunities to connect with legislators on these important health programs that reduce disparities and ensure that children are on-track to succeed in school and life.  Though the House Subcommittee made these inequitable changes to the Department of Community Health budget, the full House Appropriations Committee has yet to adopt these recommendations.  Additionally, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Community Health has yet to finalize their budget for FY2014 and is expected to do so shortly after the break.  Now is the time to talk to your legislators in both the House and Senate about these important health programs and what they mean to your children and your community.

-Mina Hong

Will Michigan Leaders Rise to the Sequestration Challenge?

I know, I know.  We are all a bit fatigued by the Sequestration conversation.  The word itself is too complicated and irritating, and the public is so fed up with reports of partisan bickering and inactivity in Washington, DC that they just expect that our elected officials won’t reach any solution to yet another stage of our country’s ongoing fiscal crisis.  However, on the day that without further action, the federal government will remove millions of dollars directly from Michigan coffers, I felt the need to talk about it one more time.

We rely so heavily in Michigan on federal funding, particularly for the programs that do the most to promote equity in our state – those that directly target disparities present by race and ethnicity, by income, or by other characteristics like speaking English as a second language or needing Special Education services; and others that don’t specifically target particular populations but still successfully reduce the equity gap.  In the face of a future workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan leaders have spent the last decade or so disinvesting state resource in the kinds of programs that are proven effective in closing equity gaps – resulting in deeper and deeper reliance on federal funding.

The State Budget Director reflected his concerns about the potential cuts in assistance to poor families, low-income pregnant women, young children – really the most vulnerable among us.  He also reflected that the state is in no position to offset federal reductions to these and other engines of economic recovery, like education, job training and college scholarships, which we all would have surmised.

As the Legislature discusses the Governor’s proposal for how we finance operations in the state of Michigan, they aren’t basing their priorities on the changing Federal playing field, but they really need to start.  I can point to several places where we will need to rise to this unprecedented budgeting challenge that will be faced by everyone, but faced more acutely by the children and families who experience the greatest challenges themselves.  You’ve heard all of these from Michigan’s Children before:

  • reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit to fiscal year 2012 levels;
  • increasing investment for family support services that reach struggling families with infants and toddlers; and
  • include equity building strategies of preschool, after-school and more time for high school graduation in any education reform and financing decisions.

Unfortunately, I can point to only one strategy where they are discussing the kind of investment necessary – the proposed increase in the state’s proven effective preschool program.  This increased funding is more important today than it was even yesterday, but it is certainly not enough.

Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand.  The impact of sequestration cuts will have devastating effects on our state’s budget and on the state’s ability to close equity gaps in income, health and educational success.  We have to keep talking to our Congressional Delegation about the impact of federal funding in this state, and remind them that they still have an opportunity to reverse the sequester cuts in budget discussions for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.

We also have to demand that our Governor and State Legislature step to the plate to increase investment in the programs that matter to the future of Michigan.

-Michele Corey

Why Health Insurance Matters to an Equitable P-20 System

Here at Michigan’s Children, we recently switched our health insurance plan, and I’ve been dealing with the headaches associated with it.  Mainly, finding a new physician (that the customer service folks at the health insurance company had confirmed twice was in-network) and then finding out that my doctor isn’t actually in-network when it came time to pay the bill.  Basically, meaning that I have to cover more of the doctor visit out-of-pocket rather than being covered by my insurance.  (Don’t worry, I’m still battling this one.)

While I’ve been navigating the hassles of our health insurance system, I can’t help but think about how fortunate I am to be able to deal with this frustration.  I consider myself to be well-educated (read: I know how to use health insurance lingo), squarely in the middle class (read: if I absolutely had to, I could pay for the out-of-pocket costs), and my workplace gives me the flexibility to spend far too much time on the phone with the customer service agents at my health insurance company since, of course, they’re only open during regular business hours.

And then of course, since I am me, I think about how my experience relates to my work.  At Michigan’s Children, we focus on strategies that reduce disparities in child outcomes.  That means we’re talking about low-income families and families of color who may not understand the health insurance lingo nor have flexibility during working hours to deal with 9-5 frustrations.  When a system is built to work against the average citizen (read: me), it can only create larger barriers for the most challenged children and families.

My health insurance frustrations also make me thankful that the Governor is proposing to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid for low-income adults up to 133% of the federal poverty line, despite criticisms from his colleagues in the Legislature.  Sure, more people in Michigan will have to struggle with navigating Medicaid, just like I’ve been struggling for the past couple of days.  But in the end, being uninsured is far worse than dealing with the hassles of health insurance, and this expansion is a much better deal for Medicaid recipients and taxpayers alike.  And for adults of child-bearing age, having access to adequate health care is crucial to ensuring a healthy planned pregnancy and that all babies are born healthy – the first steps in a P-20 education system.

Governor Snyder’s proposed Medicaid expansion is one step towards improving outcomes for Michigan’s most struggling families.  Expanding access to preschool is another strategy towards reducing the achievement gap.  As a state, we must also focus on equity-promoting strategies across the P-20 continuum to truly reduce disparities in child and family outcomes.  These include strategies that support families with young children from birth through age three, and ensuring that students have access to the supports they need to succeed in school like high quality out-of-school opportunities.  We must focus on reducing disparities across the entire continuum, from cradle to career.

Learn more about the Governor’s budget and whether it’s promoting equity to ensure that all Michigan children can thrive.

-Mina Hong

Investing to Expand Minds and Opportunities in Michigan

Despite the crushing pressure of the fiscal cliff and the federal economy, I came back from Washington, DC last Thursday after spending several days with some Michigan colleagues and colleagues from around the country at the Afterschool Alliance National Network meeting feeling quite proud of my Michigan Congressional Delegation.

Some members of our delegation have been, of course, champions building extended learning opportunity (before- and after-school, summer learning, other opportunities outside the traditional school day) over their entire political careers.  Some are just beginning their careers in Washington and are thinking strategically about how support of extended learning may fit into their own political legacies.  And some, who are not always supportive of public spending, were indeed intrigued by the way that the largest federal investment in afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, maximizes federal investment by encouraging innovative and targeted partnerships geared toward the needs and strengths of each local community. These partnerships have demonstrated impact on the educational and life success of young people; provide support for families; and build stronger communities.

The evidence is crystal clear that high quality afterschool and summer programs accelerate student achievement, particularly for those most at risk of school failure – closing the achievement gap.  In case there was any doubt, the Afterschool Alliance has brought together literally decades of research that brings together best practices and the impact of those practices in a new compendium, Expanding Minds and Opportunities:  Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success.

Unfortunately, upon my return to Lansing, I was not so proud of the way that the Governor has again left off his priority list, as evidenced by the FY14 budget release last week, investment in one of the most powerful tools toward increased educational achievement and equity at his disposal – afterschool.  While I am extremely excited about the impact of the kinds of investments to our early childhood system he is proposing, these investments early will fail to reap all of the successes that they could without continued, targeted investment intended to build equity in outcomes throughout children’s educational careers.

Michigan’s Children will once again be working hard over the next months to ensure that we reinstate funding for extended learning opportunities – once funded at $16 million through the state budget.  Federal investment is not enough; we need to make this equity strategy a priority in our own budget as well, serving to make a dent in the kind of investment necessary to provide opportunities for all who need them.  In addition, any cuts to the Child Care subsidy Program, 40% of which supports elementary school participation in before- and after-school opportunities, should be taken with caution.

Now the Legislature has their chance to build Michigan’s investment in extended learning opportunities.  Join us in making sure that they do just that.

-Michele Corey

Will We Let Michigan Fall Off the Next Cliff?

Folks in Michigan are anxiously awaiting the release of the Governor’s budget on Thursday, with many hot issues already making the news in anticipation of the its release – a sizable increase in early childhood education funding, expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income children and families, or continued efforts around education reform.  While the buzz in Lansing is all about the Governor’s upcoming budget, it’s important to realize that everything that will be determined by the Governor and Legislature regarding state priorities is completely dependent on the federal budget.

Michigan’s Children’s latest Budget Basics publication takes a closer look at just how reliant critical programs in Michigan are on federal funding.  In the current state fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2012 and goes to September 30, 2013, over 40 percent of Michigan’s entire state budget is supported by federal sources.  However, a significantly higher reliance on federal funding supports budgets that serve Michigan children, youth and families – particularly those most challenged by their circumstances.  Specifically, federal funds support:

  • two-thirds of the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH) budget,
  • three-quarters of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) budget (note: this does not include the School Aid budget), and
  • four-fifths of the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) budget.

Even more important to note is that these federal resources support Michigan’s efforts to address huge disparities in child and family outcomes – disparities that begin early in a child’s life and can continue to grow if not recognized and addressed.  Federal funds pay for equity promoting programs like Medicaid and school and community-based health services through DCH, nutrition programs and child abuse and neglect prevention efforts through DHS, and child care assistance and support for low-income and special needs students through MDE.  All of these programs work to reduce disparities in outcomes, and many could have an even greater impact if funded at levels that ensure program fidelity.

Unfortunately, the federal budget, like Michigan’s budget, doesn’t provide enough resource to ensure access to high quality programs for the most struggling children and families who would benefit from them.  This is evident by the latest Kids Count Data that show that our children continue to struggle and that disparities persist.  At the same time that we will be attempting to address our growing child poverty, increases in child maltreatment, and lack of progress on educational achievement; Michigan will surely be facing some cuts in federal support as a result of the second pending federal fiscal cliff.  The only question is, by how much?

Perhaps as we in Michigan prepare for the exciting budget debates that will soon begin in Lansing, we should also consider the implications of the federal budget and how deficit-reducing efforts may further increase the disparities that we already see in child and family outcomes.  And while we’re considering those implications, we may want to pass on our best thoughts on how to address the federal budget to Congress in a balanced way.

-Mina Hong

* The next fiscal cliff is a combination of the pending sequester as well as the expiration of the continuing resolution that is currently funding the federal government through March 27, 2013.  Congress still must address a balanced approach to offset sequestration and pass a federal budget through the remainder of the federal fiscal year (which happens to be the same fiscal year as Michigan’s).  More information about the federal budget is available on our website.

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 Budget, A Tool for Equity?

The state budget is the single most powerful expression of the state’s priorities.  Where public taxpayer dollars are spent tells a whole lot about what public programs and services our state-level policymakers think are worth supporting.  And where the state chooses to invest public dollars can help increase or reduce racial/ethnic disparities.

With the next workforce set to be its most diverse yet, Michigan needs to allocate its scarce resources in ways that ensure that ALL children can thrive – from cradle to career.  And we know what children need to thrive:

  1. To be born healthy and have continued access to high quality health care services.
  2. To be raised by parents or caregivers who have the supports needed to be their child’s first, consistent and best teachers.
  3. To be assured a high quality education that begins in early childhood, extends through a career, and leads to economic self-sufficiency.

So how did the Governor’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal promote equity in these key areas?  He offers a mixed bag.

There are some positive areas such as an expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental program, which increases access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible children.  However, some of his proposals offer mixed results such as a small expansion of funding for infant mortality prevention – a funding increase that will be inadequate to truly address the massive disparity in infant mortality, particularly among African American babies.

The Governor does nothing to restore last year’s harmful changes to critical family support programs such as the Family Independence Program, the Food Assistance Program, and the Earned Income Tax Credit though he does recommend small increases in child abuse/neglect and family support programs, but not nearly enough to offset the deep cuts these programs have suffered over the last decade.

And finally, he offers a mixed bag in the P-20 educational continuum.  The Governor reduces funding for the child care subsidy program as a result of anticipated caseload reductions and fails to invest those savings into quality improvement initiatives – quality improvements that can ensure the healthy development of young children and prepare them for school.  And while funding for early childhood education programs are maintained, he doesn’t provide additional resources to those programs that have shown to reduce the educational equity gap that emerges before children reach kindergarten.  And after a decade of disinvestment, the Governor provides no further funding increases for programs that build educational equity, including extended learning programs and opportunities for the 5th and 6th year of high school.

As Michigan continues to face increasing poverty rates and increasing disparities in child outcomes, failing to restore huge cuts to public programs that work to reduce and ultimately close these gaps will be detrimental to the future of Michigan children of color and low-income children.  With ever increasing need, working to close disparity gaps is a critical component of the state’s economic recovery.  Adequately funding public programs that strengthen opportunities and capabilities of ALL of Michigan’s future leaders and workers is vital.  Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget fails to do so.

See Michigan’s Children’s latest brief on the Governor’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget and how it may impact equitable outcomes for children.

– Mina Hong

Policymakers Need Your Help

The following blog was originally posted by the Michigan After School Partnership.

Do you want to see better things happening for more children and families in your community?  Do you know what could be done differently to make things better?

As we speak, the Michigan Legislature is determining how we will distribute tax dollars – what will we invest in, and what we leave out of those investments.  Term limits have dictated that this legislature is still inexperienced.  Despite this, they are faced with difficult decisions about investment in the face of Michigan’s economic crisis.   We are the ones who can help them.   Policymakers need our expertise and guidance to make sure that they have all of the information they need to make good policy choices.

The good news is that we already have most of the tools that we need to influence policymakers.  We all influence people every day – our children, parents, neighbors, teachers, spouses, and many others.  This is advocacy.  We just need to use those same skills to influence policymakers.

You are THE expert in what is going on in your community – the needs of the young people and their families who you serve, how your program addresses some of those needs, and how other needs aren’t adequately addressed.  When you use what you know and tell it to the people who are in the position to change things, great things can happen!  We have a lot of power to make changes happen, especially when we talk clearly, give solutions and understand what influences the people who can make change.  Knowing what would really fix the problems you are facing in your communities helps us get our message across.  Getting to know your elected officials better helps us put together the best argument.

Information about your community from the Kids Count 2011 Data Book and other sources is also a useful conversation starter.  Where there have been improvements, have there been community efforts that have helped?  How have the efforts of your programs contributed?  How could programs like yours contribute even more if adequate investments were made?

You Are Not Alone.   Many different people want the same changes you do.  Lots of them are working hard to make changes every day.  Utilize the Michigan After-School Partnership to help you tell your story, find the facts to support your argument, know the best time to impact your issue, and the best people for you to target.

-Michele Corey

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