vote

Casting A Vote for Kids and Families

November 2, 2017 – I still remember the first time I ever voted – it was 2000, a waiter at a restaurant in Washington, DC passed a ballot to me, a first grader who had just learned the names of our “founding fathers”. Eager to show off my new skill, I proudly voted for my own hybrid ticket of Al Gore and Dick Cheney.

It’s probably for the best that six-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, but their interests and, ultimately, their futures will be front and center on November 7, 2017, when communities across Michigan will vote for municipal and county officials, school board members, and a number of property tax increases, many of which would fund local public school facilities improvements.

Choosing the right local candidates is vitally important because not only will the winners make decisions that immediately impact the well-being of Michigan’s children, youth, and families, they also, more often than not, will be the people running for state house and Congress, governor or state-level office, and, maybe, even for President.

Local elected officials have the power to direct available resources towards issues of interest to local voters, including matters like education, health, and human services, and criminal and juvenile justice policy. School board members, for example, can ensure that diverse voices are included when planning facilities renovations and build relationships with community partners to bring the whole community’s resources to bear in public schools. County commissioners can allocate funds to court programs that divert youth from the criminal justice system or promote maternal and infant health. Sheriffs can work with their police departments to promote more equitable practices and build relationships with youth in their community. Simply put, local officials have a say in policies that affect the day-to-day lives of children, youth, and families.

It’s also incredibly important to elect local officials who uplift the voices and tend to the needs of children, youth, and families because, one day, those same people will run for a state-level or higher office. If you’re not satisfied with your own elected official for being out of touch with the needs of struggling kids and adults, you can begin to turn the tide by filling the benches of all political parties with candidates who truly put the interests of children first.

All politics is local, and all politicians get their start somewhere. We can ensure that youth and family voices, especially the voices of those who are struggling the most, guide policy change, and simultaneously lay the groundwork for a new generation of committed child advocates in our state and federal legislatures, by getting out on November 7 and choosing local political candidates who share these values.

Bobby Dorigo Jones

What Do We Expect For Our Vote? Round 2

July 25, 2017 – Here we are again, getting much less out of our elected officials than we deserve.  This time it is with our members of Congress, but similar thoughts run true to what I’d blogged about back in May related to our state Legislature.  My earlier list of what we expect and need to demand for our vote for those who represent our best interests in Lansing or Washington, DC included:  1. An ability to share our thoughts and concerns; 2. A path to understand the actions of our elected officials; and 3. A voice in important decisions about priorities.  In other words: hear us, share with us, and include us.

For the past several weeks, I’ve found myself needing to articulate a few more expectations that honestly, I didn’t think needed articulation.  We expect and deserve representation that knows the impact of a piece of legislation before voting on it, and that will share that information publicly in time for some constituent response.  In other words:  know exactly what you are voting on, and talk to us about it before you act.

So many of the discussions around repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act, and those about some of the most significant cuts that the Medicaid program has seen since its inception, have demonstrated that neither knowledge of the legislation up for debate, nor communication about its details are required. The U.S. House of Representatives voted through a bill before the Congressional Budget Office had a chance to fully analyze its impact, and today the U.S. Senate has voted to proceed with a bill process without knowing the final details that vote will represent.

Our members of Congress, like our state Legislators, are still scheduled to be home in their districts during most of the month of August.  While they are here, we need to make sure that they better understand what we expect of them.  We can demonstrate that we understand our responsibility too – that we are here to help.  For those members of our delegation who have done what we expect, we need to make sure they know how much that matters to us.  Find out who they are and how to contact them here.

It is our votes that compel the kind of understanding, communication and partnership that we expect from those who represent us, not any other legal mandate.  As always, it is up to us to make sure that our representatives are aware of what it takes to win those votes and keep them.

– Michele Corey

What Do We Expect For Our Vote?

May 12, 2017 – We live in a representative democracy — a republic.  We put a few things up to a full vote of the people, but those things are few and far between, and typically only happen if proposed change requires that we adjust our State Constitution.  Otherwise, we vote for people to represent our best interests, and as I’ve said so very many times before, we then work to make sure that they understand what is in our best interest and how their actions support or fail to support those things.

I’m not entirely sure why this year’s state budget process has been more frustrating to me than in year’s past.  Some of the things that have been happening that severely limit the public’s opportunity (and even the full Legislature’s opportunity) to weigh in on these most important decisions are not new and have been moving in this direction for several years now.  I think that part of my frustration has been how the Legislators themselves have been talking about it.

Chairs of several Appropriations Subcommittees, where the real nuts and bolts of budget decision making is done, have publicly talked about how their work is not the “end” of the budget process, that many of these issues are still “being discussed.”  They have also expressed frustration with the current process.  While they may feel that way, they did not take steps to continue that discussion among anyone but the very small, and rapidly decreasing, number of legislators who will be serving on budget conference committees to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of how we spend the billions of dollars under our control.

So, I for one don’t think that what has happened in the budget process so far is worthy of our votes.  Here’s what we expect and yes, what we must demand, for our support:

  1. An ability to share our thoughts and concerns.
  2. A path to understand the actions of our elected officials.
  3. A voice in important decisions about priorities.

If those who represent us, at the state and federal level, are not working hard to make sure that we have all three of those things, they are not worthy of our vote.  Of course, if we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities that they are providing, then that is on us.

This state budget process provided virtually no opportunity for the public to comment on proposed spending priorities other than the Governor’s recommendations.  The House and Senate revealed their versions of the budget in subcommittees and voted them out of those committees in the very same meetings.  During the full appropriations committee meetings and on the floor of the chambers, steps were taken to limit amendments and discussion, even amongst the Legislators themselves.

This is not what we expect from those who we’ve elected to represent us.  We need to demand better.   There is still some time to express your state investment priorities to your elected officials.  But, keep in mind that the messaging now has to be how all legislators must champion their constituents’ priorities with the small number of their colleagues who will finish those decisions in the next month.  There is always time to express your expectations to your elected officials, and make sure they are well aware of what it takes to win your vote and the votes of many others in their communities.

– Michele Corey

Democracy is not a one-way street. Unhappy? Start talking about it.

The Center for Michigan released their most recent community conversation report this week, which evidenced some pretty extreme distrust of the public sector and public systems intended to work for the people of Michigan. Of course, this result is heightened, and should be, by the tragedy in Flint, where there was such a horrendous failure of local, state and federal public systems that thousands of people were poisoned – the ramifications of which we will not truly know for many years to come. And, we just lived through the kind of election season that I hope we don’t live through again, with hateful, divisive rhetoric intended to divide the nation on economic, gender, racial and geographic lines.

Fortunately, the report also highlighted a need to help fix what we believe is wrong. Well, that’s the crux of it. We live in a democracy, a democracy where people are elected (or NOT), where laws are made (and laws are CHANGED) based on the will of the people. Yes, the people. This democracy is our privilege and our (you’ve all heard me say it before…) RESPONSIBILITY. We don’t have the luxury to just sit back, our system requires participation. ALL policy makers, including those who we like or dislike, trust or don’t trust, decide things based on what they have heard, from their friends, from their constituents, from the people who take the time (yes, and effort and resources) to talk with them about the things that concern them – not just once, but many times.

Yes, investments made with our hard earned tax dollars are not always made in the best interest of children, youth and families. That is true at the federal level, where we rely more significantly than MANY other states. That is true at the state level, the county level, municipal level, yes. And, our system requires that we do something about that.

Almost every elected official offers consistent opportunities to talk with them publicly. AND, there are endless opportunities to share with them via phone, email, snail mail, their social media feeds, etc. If you sign up for your elected officials’ electronic newsletters, you will get notice of their coffee hours – those times when they are at a local business or church, or somewhere else in their district just waiting to hear from their constituents. If the people we elect don’t know what we know and what we think they should do differently, how can we really blame them for decisions that we disagree with? How can we not trust them if we haven’t even talked with them?

We all need to make sure that we have done all that we can to make sure that our elected officials are well informed, understand that their constituents are paying attention to what they are doing and that those same constituents are going to hold them accountable for those actions: in the media (read: letters to the editor); at the ballot box (read: attend candidate forums and VOTE); and elsewhere. Now is the time, when we feel the most frustrated about it, TO ACT.

Okay, I know, you have jobs, you have kids, you have LIVES. It is easy for me to say, take time to talk with your elected officials. But, really, take time to talk with your elected officials. Michigan’s Children can help. We can work with you to bring policymakers, youth and families together; we can help you with contact information and talking points.

We can all agree that our elected officials need help – they need help to earn back our trust, and they need help to make the kinds of decisions that we can be proud of. Let’s commit to helping them, and making things better for children, youth and families in Michigan.

– Michele Corey

This blog was originally published in Bridge Magazine.

Turning Frustration Into Opportunity

November 9, 2016 – As disheartened as I am with the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign, the results clearly point to the extraordinary level of frustration on the part of people around the state and nation that our public systems are not working for them. That frustration was let out at the ballot box, as it should be.

The trickier task for me, as an advocate for better public policy investment in what really works to improve the lives of children, youth and families, is to tease out the reality from the rhetoric – from the winning candidates as well as from the voters. Frustration is borne of situations where you believe you are getting a bad deal, where you believe that something different should be happening. The frustrations that came out during this presidential election had to do with feeling left behind in the current economy and the impact of those economic losses on quality of life. They also had to do with feeling like the political construct of this nation was being led by people who don’t understand lived experience.  Some of the frustration came out as fear.

I would never justify any of the statements made over this election season that were, honestly, horrifying and unbelievable in their disrespect of women, of Muslims, of immigrants, of Latinos, of differently abled people, and of others.  And now, we need to move forward. We must harness the frustration that has spilled out and work together in creating opportunity to change the things that need changing.

I have worked my whole professional life to help people realize that there is a path for their frustration. That we own this democracy, this state and this country. That the decisions that have disenfranchised us and failed to support us can be changed. As we move forward, Michigan’s Children and many others will be working hard to listen to the frustrations expressed around the state and help to redefine those frustrations into policy strategies. We will continue to provide opportunities for people to express their frustrations directly to decision makers and use those conversations to build relationships that support champions for change.

We are frustrated too. Let’s use it to move Michigan children, youth and families forward.

– Michele Corey

Take Action during Child Abuse Prevention Month

April 16, 2015 – April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  It’s a time to cast a light on the important services and programs that families with many significant challenges need to provide safe and stable homes for their children.  April is also a time when the Legislature is putting together the state budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins on October 1 of this year and ends September 30 of next year.  There are a couple of things related to the budget that we think are important for Michigan residents to realize and to take action on.

First, Michigan relies heavily on federal funds to support our abuse and neglect prevention services.  This is because state investment in those programs has been virtually eliminated as our state was dealing with a structural budget deficit in addition to an increased focus on investing in much needed improvements in the state’s foster care system, as required by the Children’s Rights settlement agreement.  And this investment has paid off, since many of our goals to improve the foster care system have been met (though we still have a long way to go with others).  But with this focus and investment to improve our foster care system, abuse/neglect prevention funding has not kept pace and has in fact declined.  Couple that with our persistent, unacceptable, and rising child poverty rate; it’s no surprise that child maltreatment has been on the rise too.

In light of all of this, a recently approved budget by the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the Department of Human Services actually removed $2.75 million of federal TANF funding currently supporting child abuse/neglect prevention and family preservation programs to replace state general funds in the Family Independence Program – the state’s cash assistance program.  Ensuring that very low-income working families have access to cash assistance is critically important so that they can meet their children’s basic needs.  Ensuring that maltreated children who have been removed from their homes or are at imminent risk of being removed have access to intensive family-focused services is also important so that children can stay or be reunified with their parents and have a stable and safe home environment.  Supporting parents with the tools they need to provide a nurturing and safe home provides the foundation for their children’s future success.

There is still time to influence the state budget.  These budget bills will next head to the full appropriations committees in each chamber before going to the full House and Senate before differences are negotiated.  We can and should be talking to our elected officials about the Senate version that maintains funding for these critical abuse/neglect prevention programs.  It should be noted that the Senate version also maintains FIP cash assistance without reducing state investment in that program.

Another important thing to point out is that the House’s shuffling of federal TANF funds illustrates what will likely happen if the May 5th ballot proposal fails.  That’s right, I’m talking about the ballot proposal to fix our state’s roads.  Proposal 1 provides an opportunity for new revenue – including new state general funds – to fix our roads, increase funding for schools and local municipalities, and reinstate the EITC.  If Proposal 1 fails, the Legislature will likely go back to the drawing boards for the FY2016 budget to see where they can pull out the over $1 billion needed to fix the roads.  If the ballot proposal fails, Michigan’s most challenged children and families will most likely face even more hardships as our state tries to shuffle around federal dollars as state funds are diverted to fix our roads.

During Child Abuse Prevention Month, and on May 5th, please be sure to take action for Michigan’s most challenged families and their children.

-Mina Hong

Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party Powered by You!

February 12, 2015 – Thomas Jefferson famously remarked that a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy. Extending that thought, we know that staying well-informed is essential for people like you who are willing to stand up and speak out for our children and families.

Toward that goal, the Sandbox Party reinvented itself in 2014 as the election-arm of Michigan’s Children, the only statewide independent voice working to ensure that public policies are made in the best interest of children from cradle to career and their families. As Michigan’s Children Sandbox Party we delivered important information to voters about the 2014 mid-term elections in which significant changes happened in governmental leadership in Lansing and Washington, D.C. We also helped inform candidates by strategically engaging teens to share their perspectives before state Legislative hopefuls in a series of youth-led candidate forums we sponsored across the state.

Now we’re gearing up to do it again, and provide you with the child-and-family focused information you need to make the right call in the state’s upcoming May election. On May 5, 2015 voters will consider a one-cent hike to the 6 percent sales tax for funding state roads and bridges that will also bring changes to education funding and increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. If the sales tax proposal fails, this will have serious consequences on our state budget for years to come as the Legislature and Governor will need to identify alternative ways to fix our roads – ways that will likely result in cuts to child and family programs.

There is no doubt that much is riding on this next election. No doubt there will be a sizeable impact on schoolchildren and families. Credible information will be needed to put this all in focus, particularly as different interest groups begin weighing in and campaigning for and against.

There is also no other organization than Michigan’s Children with a breadth of understanding about public policies that impact the most challenged children, youth and families in order to ensure that all children have the supports they need to succeed in school and in life.

You’ll want to check back with us in upcoming months for elections-specific information about this May ballot proposal. And if you haven’t yet signed up, check out our twice-a-month “Speaking for Kids” e-bulletin. You can automatically expect to receive it if you’ve previously signed up for either of Michigan’s Children Action Alerts – via the Graduate Michigan Action Network and the Early Childhood Action Network — or the Sandbox Party e-bulletin.

In fact, if you haven’t yet subscribed to either action networks, you can easily do that today by linking to the Michigan’s Children website “like” us on Facebook, too.

Together we can amplify all our voices and make change happen. Join us and be informed and be heard!

— Teri Banas

Get to know your lawmakers: Tell them you’re watching and that you care about kids and families

Jan. 14, 2015  – When I was a 19-year-old Michigan State University college student I was hired as an intern in a Detroit lawmaker’s legislative office. In my totally realistic teenage mindset I smartly arrived for duty expecting to help champion important, headline-making legislation. Instead, a wry office manager greeted me with a husky manila folder and thrusting it in my unwelcoming arms instructed me to start writing: congratulatory letters, condolences and appropriate replies that she would instruct me on in cases of specific constituent concerns. Pouring into that stack of intimate personal stories, that’s what I did — every Tuesday and Thursday – for an entire semester.

What I learned is that the daily bread of a legislative office is all about what people are experiencing back home. Their struggles and troubles, celebrations and milestones. That is what I learned from the man I worked for, a public servant who served for nearly four decades with distinction (before seniority-ending term limits) in the House and Senate. Over the course of those years, he demonstrated the critical nature of constituent services for getting to know what really matters to people in a personal and meaningful ways.

Today, one-third of Michigan’s incoming state Representatives and Senators are newbies in state government. Some may have local representative experience that put them in touch with the issues weighing closely on citizens’ minds; others come to Lansing because they won a campaign. Maybe they succeeded because they had a competitive edge, more fire in the belly, the right political leanings, or an ability to outspent, out-organize or out-perform the other guy.

Maybe you voted for him/her, maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter either way. Starting now is when all citizens should begin thinking about molding campaigners into the political servants we all need to shape public policies that give Michigan’s the children and families, especially those who have been under-served and under-represented, a stronger chance at a brighter future.

Our children won’t make it unless they get the education they deserve, a chance for a safe and healthy environment to live in, and at the most basic level, particularly important in a state where one-fourth of all babies are born into poverty, food and medical care to strengthen the body and spirit.

You can make a difference by telling your story and opening a line of communication with your representatives in Lansing today. Tell them what’s important in your community, what children and families need to be successful, what you’re observing about gaps in services and programs that do exist, how they can help to make things right. Write an email, send a letter, make a call. Believe that everyone has an important story to tell, an opinion of value. Make your voice heard for our children’s sake! Here are some tips for reaching out.

1.  Letters should be brief, kept to one page. Be respectful in tone.
2.  Introduce yourself in a few lines: I’m a veteran schoolteacher, a new mother/father of a child with special needs, a parent trying to make it off public assistance. Etc.
3.  Make your point. Are you advocating for a particular piece of legislation, or writing to detail a troubling issue perplexing your neighborhood, community, school. Spell it out. Make a case. Use arguments that have been thought out. Use details that highlight the issue’s relevancy to the home district.
4.  Before signing off, describe how you plan to follow-up and how and when the representative’s office can reach you.
5.  Make sure the communication is properly addressed. For a listing of Lansing lawmakers, see the House website and Senate website.

Politicians make it to public office because of vote totals. True public servants are remembered because they identify issues worth fighting for based on the experiences and needs of their constituents back home. Become an advocate for children and families and help shape the public debate. Get the conversation started. Reach out to your lawmakers today.

Teri Banas is the communications director for Michigan’s Children.

Potential Good News for Kids and Families in Road Solution

December 19, 2014 – After a long and tumultuous debate, the Michigan Legislature has finally done something to address the lack of adequate funding for road and bridge improvements that has plagued the state for years. Both the Senate and House had passed competing proposals that would have provided a legislative solution to increase dedicated funding for transportation purposes earlier in the lame-duck session. The Senate plan would have raised new revenue dedicated for road funding by increasing taxes collected on gas purchases, and the House plan would have re-directed money that currently goes to schools and local governments from the sales tax applied to gas purchases to road funding. Legislative leaders and Governor Snyder spent the last two weeks trying to forge a compromise between the two proposals and there was real fear among advocates for children that a long-term solution would steal funds otherwise available for children’s programs and services.

Ultimately, the legislative leaders and the Governor could not reach an agreement on a legislative solution to increase funding for road and bridge improvements and instead decided on putting a proposal to increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7% before the voters on a May 5, 2015 referendum. The constitutional amendment required a 2/3 vote in each chamber to be placed before the state’s voters giving Democrats, who generally oppose sales tax increases as disproportionately impacting low and moderate income families, more negotiating leverage resulting in a restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and increased funding for public schools to be included in the final package. The entire package, which also includes increases in vehicle registration fees, increases in heavy truck permits, a modest gas tax increase and some other statutory changes, was passed by both chambers of the Legislature early Friday morning.

With the Legislature now adjourned for the year, attention will immediately begin to focus on the May statewide vote. This last-minute, bi-partisan deal reached by the Legislature with the support of Governor Snyder provides a real opportunity to solve Michigan’s road funding shortfall while at the same time providing tax relief to low and moderate income working Michigan families and much needed increased resources to our schools.

All of this can only happen if the citizens of Michigan vote yes on May 5th, however. There will certainly be well-funded and organized opposition to the May vote and it will be important over the next few months for child advocates to join with other groups interested in supporting this plan to educate citizens about the value of a yes vote in moving Michigan forward. With a considerably more fiscally conservative Legislature coming to Lansing in January, the ballot initiative is probably our best opportunity for next few years to actually increase funding for schools and other education related programs.

– Matt Gillard

We Will Do Something About It, Together

December 2, 2014 – Okay first, I want to warn you that I’m using some foul language in this blog. Not the really bad stuff, but just a little minor swearing. I heard some commentary post-election that really got me riled up, particularly on this day where we celebrate good public works. You’ve seen Matt’s “Life After Midterms” video and some of our discussion about the election results – despite some fairly drastic shifts on the national scene, basically very little is changing in the political landscape in Michigan. The Governor was re-elected, the same political framework that runs the Michigan House and Senate will be running the Michigan House and Senate come January 1. The commentator I heard was summing up the 2014 election results in Michigan in one way: that the electorate, particularly the Democratic Party faithful who failed to vote in larger numbers than they had in previous election years, was basically saying, “We are mad as hell, and we aren’t going to do anything about it…”

Now, I’m not so sure that the Michigan electorate was so mad about how things have been going in the state in general. There have certainly been pros and cons to the last two years that Michigan’s Children has talked about in many different ways. During our series of youth-led candidate forums across the state, young people and candidates alike expressed successes, opportunities and challenges. The part that really got me riled up was the assumption made that although the citizenry was concerned, they were not going to act. Being an optimistic soul, I never believe that is inevitable, despite being historically true.

There are certainly groups of people who feel like they have such little power in the political decision making process in our state that even their vote doesn’t matter, particularly if they live in a district where the majority of voters lean toward one political party. Other groups of people do vote, but then don’t engage with their officials to help after the elections are over. While getting out to vote is one powerful way to do something about those things that concern you, it definitely isn’t the end game. Now that the votes have been tallied (well, still being tallied in one Michigan Senate district), it is time to take responsibility for setting Michigan’s agenda for the next few years. The winners in November need our help more than ever before to tackle the challenges that face us and to take the opportunities we have to better invest public resources in things that work.

Michigan’s Children will be doing everything in our power over the next two years to make sure that whether we are mad as hell or just wanting to make our state better for its children, youth, families, and future, more of us are doing something about it. We are here to help others do the same.

We also want to take this opportunity on Giving Tuesday to thank everyone who gets engaged in public policy decisions by talking to elected officials and keeping in touch with others who can engage as well. Of course, Michigan’s Children couldn’t do what we do to support those efforts without the trust of the philanthropic community and assistance from individual donors. In order to remain independent, we don’t take public funds. In order to remain effective, we need your help. Consider joining us in action, and consider supporting us financially as we work to move public policy in the best interest of children, youth and families in Michigan

– Michele Corey

 

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