Congress

Starting Off with a Shutdown

October 1st marks the beginning of the new fiscal year for both the State of Michigan and the United States.  And boy are they starting off in two completely different but intricately intertwined ways.

Nationally, we’re obviously operating under a partial government shutdown as a result of Congress’ inability to identify a short-term spending plan to maintain operations.  Congress continues to negotiate a short-term plan to fund the federal government and will likely come to some resolution that will maintain fiscal year 2013 funding levels for a little while longer to give them more time to identify a fiscal year 2014 budget.  Of course, the longer this partial shutdown lasts, the greater likelihood of Michigan’s already struggling children and families to feel the effects of the shutdown.  For example, basic needs programs that children and families rely on such as nutrition assistance through WIC and the school lunch program could be in jeopardy if Congress doesn’t agree to a spending plan quickly.

At the state level, today marks the first day of the fiscal year with a budget that includes some significant enhancements (as well as disinvestments) to programs serving Michigan’s most challenged children and families.  What we can’t forget, however, is that our state budget is reliant on federal funding, so a continued government shutdown will impact our state operations, and whatever ultimate budget decisions that Congress makes will impact the way our fiscal year 2014 budget is rolled out.  I’ve said this many times before but it bears repeating.  Over 40 percent of our state budget comes from federal sources, but what’s even more important is that the departments that serve Michigan’s most challenged children and families have even greater reliance on federal dollars.  Nearly two-thirds of the Department of Community Health budget is made-up of federal dollars, three-quarters of the Department of Education budget comes from federal sources, and four-fifths of the Department of Human Services budget comes from the feds.  The departments that work to reduce disparities in child outcomes by ensuring that our most struggling children are fed, housed, safe, healthy, and educated are the departments that will feel the brunt of this government shutdown.

So as we mark the beginning of the fiscal year 2014 budget with some state-level wins like the historic expansion of the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program, expansion of the Healthy Kids Dental Program, and some additional supports to address infant mortality; we can’t forget how programs that rely on federal dollars will negatively impact the same families who would be benefiting from these wins.  The same children who will have greater access to preschool and oral health care are also the ones who will be impacted by cuts to cash assistance, food assistance, and child care assistance if Congress can’t come to a resolution.

In all likelihood, Congress will come to a resolution in the very near future through the passage of a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to maintain federal government operations at the fiscal year 2013 levels for multiple weeks.  However, Congress will need to agree on a spending plan for the entire federal fiscal year and this is where your voice can make a difference.  While the sequester seems like ages ago, the impacts are being felt across our state now, and our members of Congress need to hear about them.  If your child is no longer able to access Head Start or adequate special education services as a result of the sequester, please talk to your members of Congress and urge them to reinstate the harmful sequester cuts in the fiscal year 2014 budget that they are debating.  Or, if programs like food assistance or after-school supports are helping your family or your community, Congress needs to hear about those too.

To learn more about the importance of the federal budget here in Michigan, visit our website.

-Mina Hong

Beyond the Bickering to What Matters

I was so proud today to see the culmination of hard work from two members of our Congressional Delegation – yes, our Congressional Delegation, those guys in DC who are responsible for either coming to some budget conclusion today or partially shutting down the federal government.  In Michigan, we have some pretty important folks who represent us in DC.  Congressman Dave Camp, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee – you know, that committee responsible for coming up with government spending priorities – and Congressman Sander Levin, who is the ranking Democrat on that very same Committee.  While more often than not, the ideological gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives seems unbearable, every now and then, there is a glimmer of bi-partisan leadership about something that really matters to the most challenged children and families in our state and nation.  This is one of those glimmers, and the leaders responsible need to have that work acknowledged and celebrated, even in the midst of larger and more polarizing conversations about how we will be spending our public resources in this nation.

Two Democrats and two Republicans, including our two delegation members mentioned above, today introduced the Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act, which reauthorizes the federal Adoption Incentives program through 2016 and makes improvements in how the program works to help some of the kids who tend to stay in foster care longer than others – those who are older, who are over-represented by children of color.  This program was originally created by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 to help states increase adoptions by giving them some additional resource to do so.  (I shouldn’t forget the two other bill sponsors – a Democrat from Texas and a Republican from Washington state.)

In Michigan, we are again looking at the over-representation of children of color throughout our child protective services system.  This disparity begins at the time that complaints are investigated and continues to increase through removal of children from their families through permanent placements with guardians and adoptive parents or aging out of foster care with no placement option.  Incentives to target adoption and guardianship supports so that they benefit the kids who need them the most are critical.  The fact that two members of our delegation were able to overcome their disagreements on a host of issues, to work together on this critical issue, is worthy of celebration.  Now, they start working on all of their colleagues on the Hill and we are poised to assist.

Michigan’s Children is part of a national network called SPARC – the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center – that brings advocates from around the country together to insist on better public policy for children, youth and families in a variety of areas including protecting our most vulnerable.  As Congressmen Camp and Levin work across the partisan aisle to build support for this reauthorization, we will be working with our colleagues in other states to encourage constituent pressure and support to assist.

Please, acknowledge this good behavior – too often our elected officials only hear from us when we are expressing disappointment for what we see as poor decision-making on their parts.  Right now, we think that Congressmen Camp and Levin need to know that their constituents appreciate their efforts, and the rest of our delegation needs to understand that we expect similar bi-partisan work to be done on behalf of the most challenged children, youth and families in our state – today, tomorrow and every day.

-Michele Corey

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.

Lame Duck, Why So Divisive?

Lame duck.  The time after the elections before the new Legislature takes office.  A time when outgoing elected officials have minimal accountability.  A time when public policymaking can be particularly active – whether for good or for bad.  This lame duck session is marked by little progress in Congress and serious divisiveness in both Congress and the Michigan Legislature.  What gives?

First, on Capitol Hill, Congress must decide how to handle the pending federal “fiscal cliff” before tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts take place – a fiscal disaster.  While media continue to cover the discussions taking place, a pragmatic solution for the lame duck would be to pass a temporary extension of the tax cuts and delay sequestration (the automatic spending cuts) to allow the new Congress – a Congress that will  face political ramification if an approach isn’t taken that satisfies both sides of the aisle – to tackle the fiscal debate in the new year.  While this is likely to occur, the political battle currently underway will continue to jeopardize the public’s approval of Congress during a time when everyone must come together to identify the best possible fiscal solution for the nation.

Here in Lansing, the lame duck has been extremely active pushing through legislation that is hugely divisive.  Right to Work, Personal Property Tax, Emergency Manager law, and education reform.  Whatever your position on these various policies, the reality is that they further divide the state during a time when we need to come together to do what’s best for children and families.  At Michigan’s Children, we worry that the flurry of activity taking place in the Capitol could set-up the new Legislature for even greater divisiveness.  This is particularly devastating since the new Legislature has many important policy decisions to make like passing a balanced budget and reforming the state’s education system – serious undertakings that need the best thoughts from both sides of the aisle.  During lame duck, there are so many other important public policy decision-making that could take place that are less divisive and more important for the betterment of our state than those that the state Legislature has decided to take up.  Perhaps this lame duck, Congress and the state Legislature should take a break from their respective Capitols, enjoy the last few weeks at home with their constituents hearing from them on the issues that matter, and consider the real work that needs to begin in January.

-Mina Hong

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

Super Committee, What’s the Deal?

What is really the deal with the Congressional Super Committee and are they actually going to come up with a deficit reduction plan that both sides of the aisle can agree upon?

The answer: no one knows.

The deadline for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – aka the Super Committee – is today and it seems they are years away from identifying a ten-year plan that would reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.  Senate Democrats on the Super Committee have proposed a plan that would reduce the federal deficit by up to $3 trillion by cutting critical safety net programs like Medicaid and Medicare but also raising new revenues from tax code changes.

However, the proposal was a no-go as soon as the Republican Super Committee members saw it because of the tax changes.

If the super committee fails to reach an agreement by midnight tonight, sequestration takes place.  Sequestration would trigger across the board cuts for all discretionary programs while preserving mandatory programs.  (Don’t know the difference between discretionary and mandatory programs?  Learn more at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)  The across-the-board cuts would begin January 1, 2013. If the Super Committee successfully votes out a plan by tonight, the plan then goes to Congress.  The plan must be voted on by December 23, 2011; amendments and filibustering are not allowed and only a simple majority is needed.

So why does all this matter to children and families in Michigan?  The Super Committee has full jurisdiction to make any changes to discretionary and mandatory programs to reduce the deficit.  This means that critical entitlement programs could be at risk such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, SNAP (aka food stamps), free- and reduced-lunch, child care, etc.  But if the Super Committee fails to reach an agreement and sequestration takes place, then education programs such as Title I funding and Head Start, health programs such as the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and community health centers, workforce development programs and the like would be decimated.  Either way, it could be bad for kids.  Thus, a smart deficit reduction plan would address needed revenues and prioritizes sensible and effective investments in low-income children and families.

Here’s the catch.  If the Super Committee doesn’t identify a plan triggering sequestration, Congress has an entire year to “fix” the problem.  Congress could pass a law that would reverse sequestration and revert to traditional methods of determining the federal budget rather than succumbing to the across-the-board cuts.

So in the end, what does this all really mean for children and kids?  I still don’t really know but I’m keeping my eyes on it and telling Representatives Camp and Upton – Michigan’s two Congressmen who sit on the 12-member Super Committee – that federal dollars are important for Michigan children and families.  Learn more on Michigan’s Children’s federal budget page.

-Mina Hong

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