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.