Were Lawmakers Naughty or Nice in Stiffing Afterschool, Adult Education and Others this Holiday?

December 17, 2021 – When General Motors suggested they might want to build a new battery manufacturing plant on property they own in suburban Lansing, state Lawmakers this week didn’t break a sweat giving away $1.5 billion in federal relief dollars for business tax incentives. Our elected leaders are all too often extremely eager to hand out massive corporate tax breaks (“corporate welfare”) even when it’s shown time and again to be truly less incentivizing than say, a better educated workforce, strong, healthy families, and desirable communities that attract and retain people who want to live there. Wouldn’t it be nice if turning Legislator’s heads was that easy for priorities we fight for every day, priorities that improve quality of life and future outcomes for our kids, youth and families?

Afterschool/summer programs, adult education/skill building, and shelters for homeless and runaway teens. These were all among the top priorities on our holiday list before lawmakers headed home for their holiday recess. To be clear, investments in human capital are never wishful wants but essential needs for strengthening the lives of our children and youth. Michigan families desperately seek safe and enriching places for school-age children when school’s out, but the scarcity of these programs is staggering with the state offering darn little help. Michigan’s ratio of youth to provider is seriously 376 to 1, and the children least able to access it are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. The reality is that our children are missing out on homework help to overcome learning loss, exposure to career opportunities, mentoring, and other opportunities to connect with caring adults and their peers when parents aren’t with them. The state investment “ask” was $100 million this year.

Another missed opportunity? Our friends at the Michigan Network for Youth and Families, a volunteer association that speaks up to prevent homelessness among youth in our state – and for crisis intervention and beds when homelessness occurs – have tried for years to win favor from lawmakers and boost the number of shelters and service programs statewide. The chasm is wide: available beds in Michigan number in the hundreds versus the thousands of youth known to be couch surfing or worse every year. Helping to bridge the gap would cost around $20 million over three years, advocates believe.

Lawmakers also took a pass this year on helping adult learners seeking better career opportunities by earning a high school diploma or other basic skills needed to move up. One in 10 Michiganders over 18 do not have a high school diploma, and over 1 million Michiganders without a college education are working, but earning less than the living wage. Compared to General Motor’s ask, this one should have been an easy yes. Advocates were asking for $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to adequately fund programs statewide.

The bottom line is that state lawmakers went home for the holidays this year and left lots of unfinished work, namely the fair distribution of billions upon billions of unallocated federal dollars and surplus state funds. The people we send to Lansing must better prioritize these issues and others that matter to you in your communities. When lawmakers return to their desks in the New Year, let’s not let them off the hook. Let’s not leave money intended to help people sit idle while so many suffer. In January, Legislators must resolve to take responsibility for all citizens of Michigan, not just the corporate ones. After all, it will be a New Year, and new start. Happy holidays to one and all.

For a printable version click here.

In a Year of Terrible News, Something to Celebrate: Child Care Gets a Needed Shot in the Arm

September 24, 2021 – In a time of terrible bad news – a pandemic that’s raged on for 18 months, and real safety concerns for schoolkids and teachers set against the awful political theater over mask mandates – it’s sensible to celebrate some good news. The negotiated FY2022 state budget grinded to victory this week with a never-before, historic investment of $1.49 billion to begin rebuilding Michigan’s weak child care system. The budget should be signed by the Governor soon. Yes, it really is historic; and yes, it is finally a significant step forward for providers, kids, parents, and their employers. Michigan’s Children and other advocates have been calling for major system change for a very long time. So we’ll pause for a bit to say, thank you to our Republican-led State Legislature, and thank you to our Democratic Governor Whitmer for putting partisan differences aside to work for positive change on behalf of the hard-working families and child care providers of Michigan. You showed us that bipartisanship still has a heart-beat in Michigan.

To begin, let’s talk about why this budget is significant and historic for child care. This investment will be transformational, pivoting Michigan in the direction of a stronger, more sustainable system by addressing serious economic considerations. For too long, child care has been unaffordable for many working parents, not profitable for providers, and a service that’s devalued its workforce for so long that people just up and quit for more lucrative fast food jobs.

For parents, a major improvement includes expanding the family income eligibility for obtaining a child care subsidy from the current and historically low 150% of the federal poverty line to 185% of the federal poverty line. (FPL = $32,227 for a family of two; $40,626 for a family of three; and $49,025 for a family of four). In some states, eligibility is well over 200% of the federal poverty line. The good news is that more parents will become eligible for the subsidy, making child care more affordable for a greater number of Michigan families.

Providers participating in the child care subsidy system will be getting a rate increase, too. The budget includes an ongoing reimbursement rate increase by 30% for two years, plus temporary increases for one year, starting at 50% above that new rate and ending at 30% above the rate. Another boost to their bottom line: Providers will also be paid based on enrollment instead of attendance for two more years.

The budget sets aside $700 in stabilization grants to child care providers whose businesses have been hurt by the pandemic. In two payments this fall and in the spring, the funding is designed to help these businesses stay open. Too many regions in Michigan are pockmarked with child care deserts where families can’t find care. With that in mind, the budget also includes $100 million for start-up grants for new providers. Additionally, the budget addresses another critical problem in the system – a shortage of care slots for infants and toddlers. The approved plan has $36.5 million carved out for what’s described as infant-toddler contracts with providers, recognizing that it is more expensive to provide care for these youngest children. For child care workers, themselves, there will be a one-time bonus of $1,000.

Federal spending for child care has been increasing in recent years, then spiked with new relief spending as the pandemic ushered in a period of greater necessity and urgency to keep parents working and providers in business. The lack of affordable child care is why tens of thousands of women in Michigan have left the workforce in the past year, creating a crisis for employers and putting their own future employment and retirement prospects at risk. Anyone paying attention to the headlines, particularly in the past year, understands that we can’t fix the workforce issue here in Michigan without fixing the child care issue. This new state budget recognizes the need to reboot an under-resource system of care. But we all have a lot of work to do.

The Legislature and Governor deserve credit for moving the federal dollars out the door in a way that makes sense for the child care needs of families and providers. But now it’s going to take continued investment to transform child care in Michigan. That’s where your voices and ours will be needed. We can pause to cheer today, but tomorrow we carry on the fight. Keep the momentum moving and join us Tuesday (Sept. 28) at our virtual event, “Invest in Child Care, Invest in Michigan’s Future.” Providers, parents and advocates will come together to address the offices of Members of Congress and urge them to make child care a priority in the next funding opportunity, the $3.5 trillion Reconciliation bill under debate in Washington. Register today.

For a printable version click here.

Gillard Urges Lawmakers ‘Put Differences Aside’ Over Federal Relief Funds; Agree to Help Kids and Families Now

March 5, 2021 – As vaccines are being distributed and a glimmer of light begins to appear at the end of the long tunnel of COVID-19, a real opportunity exists for our elected officials to truly support struggling children and families.

Despite the terrible relationship that currently exists between Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, they have a responsibility to put their differences aside and focus on what Michigan’s kids and families need. The federal government has done their part by enacting a series of COVID relief bills and are poised to pass another one in the next week. These measures have sent significant amounts of taxpayer money down to the states to be spent on programs that help people that have been most impacted by the pandemic. This should truly be a no-brainer. In the vast majority of other states, the elected leaders quickly embraced the opportunity and came to an agreement on how to get the money to the programs where it is most needed to support their most vulnerable citizens. Increased support for child care for working families and out-of-school time programs for underserved children are just a couple of the areas that should be prioritized with these funds.

Governor Whitmer, to her credit, has proposed using these federal funds to significantly increase funding for these and other critical programs. The Legislature is currently negotiating amongst itself to come up with their own plan to spend a portion of the available funds and the Republicans are intent on tying the allocation of the money to policy bills aimed at curbing the Governor’s powers in dealing with the pandemic, something she obviously opposes.

The major problem now is that urgency is crucial. Michigan’s children and families need help now. It is beyond time for our elected leaders to put their political differences aside just for a moment and get this money flowing to the critical programs that will help us emerge from the pandemic stronger.

For a printable version click here.

Matt Gillard’s Statement on Wednesday’s events in Washington D.C.

January 8, 2021 – The sad and tragic siege on our nation’s capital building by the rioting mob on Wednesday is one of the most blatant acts of domestic terror that our country has ever seen. The political rhetoric and divisiveness in our society should be alarming to everyone and is not productive for anyone other than self-serving opportunistic politicians. Nonetheless, the swift action taken by Congress to quickly come together and continue the business of certifying the 2020 Presidential Election, shows the ability of our political system to persevere and accomplish what is necessary. Now, more than ever is the time for all public servants to unite by continuing to forge ahead, abide by their respective oaths of office and work towards finding solutions to the many problems all of our communities at-home face, which includes serving the best interests of our most vulnerable children, youth and families.

Despite all of the obvious challenges the last year presented, one of the many observations and outcomes we witnessed in 2020 was our resolve to unite together to serve the needs and interests of the greater good – especially among our community of advocates. If we continue to forge ahead as a united front, I know we will be able to continue to defend ourselves and the values we hold dear against the threats we currently face, whether it be the Covid-19 pandemic, threats to our way of life and democracy, or anything else.

For a printable version click here.

Budget Action Powered by Constituent Voices

August 28, 2020 – On Monday, fiscal analysts and economists got together to conduct another Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference (CREC) in order to give state legislators and Governor Whitmer updated state revenue projections to use to craft Michigan’s fiscal year 2020/2021(FY21) state budget. While the projections have certainly improved since the last CREC in May, the negative economic impacts of the COVID pandemic are still going to create a reduction in overall state revenues heading into FY21. The pressure will now be on Governor Whitmer and the Legislature to come to an agreement on a state spending plan before the September 30 deadline.

At the same time, in Washington, D.C., negotiations have stalled on another COVID relief package in Congress. Earlier this summer it appeared very likely that Congress and President Trump would agree to another relief bill that would include, among other things, significant relief to state and local governments that have seen the need for services dramatically increase at the same time their revenues were plummeting. There is still an opportunity for Congress to act and pass a bill that would provide much-needed resources to state and local governments, as well as families and children, but the clock is ticking.

It’s our top priority at Michigan’s Children to ensure that all of our state and federal elected officials understand the need behind urgent action to better serve and protect our most vulnerable children, families, and communities. We will continue to communicate with the Governor, state legislators, and our federal elected officials to underscore the need for a budget that funds programs and resources that support children and families, but we need your help. These next few weeks will play a huge role in how Michigan children, youth, and families are not only able to navigate the continuing impacts of the COVID pandemic, but also how we are able to recover and move forward.

We encourage our elected officials to hear what their constituents are saying, and not shrink from the responsibility of this moment. Their actions now will shape outcomes for families for years to come, for good or for bad. We encourage you to stay connected with Michigan’s Children via our website, social media, and other communications channels and join us in advocating for both state and federal investments that will truly serve and protect the best interests of our state’s children and families.

For a printable version click here.

Keep Up The Congressional Pressure for Families

August 6, 2020 – Michigan’s Children President and CEO, Matt Gillard helps us understand the urgency of constituent action right now to push for necessary federal action in what is likely to be the last COVID relief bill in Congress. Take a look at Matt’s latest message here.

Advocates’ Strength in Numbers, Persistence Deliver Recent Supplemental Wins

March 11, 2020 – After months of work by Michigan’s Children and so many other amazing advocates around the state, conversations with lawmakers over and over again about reinstating some critical programs – not partisan or pork — that were vetoed and transferred out of the state budget last year, we are relieved to finally see a budget supplemental for FY20 taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable children, youth and families pass the House and Senate and now moves to the Governor for her signature. One of the supplemental budgets passed included funding for several of our priorities that you’ve been hearing us talk about, and you’ve likely heard from the amazing advocates in these networks talking about them as well

  • $250,000 for Adoption Family Support Network. You can listen to a recording from Brooke VanProoyen talking about the critical importance of this work.
  • $500,000 for Court Appointed Special Advocates program (CASA). You can hear how Nicole Calver’s struggles were made easier by her CASA volunteer, and how Patty Sabin continued to believe that policymakers would do the right thing, even though it took a long time.
  • $800,000 for Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention and Support programs. Take a look at two stories from formerly homeless young people, as well as lots of other resources as we helped that network keep pushing for this investment.
  • $250,000 for the School Success Partnership Program, where student needs don’t get in the way of their learning and success.

Our appreciation is nearly exclusively reserved for the individual advocates and organizations whose tireless outreach work with us finally secured this and other vital funding. Together, as unified advocates, we can take pride in knowing each of the direct constituent meetings, phone calls, and visits – both in-district and in Lansing – convinced legislators to take action to correct the shortcomings in previous supplemental budget proposals.

You may remember back in December, our opinion piece via Bridge Magazine that underlined the sense of urgency needed in reaching a supplemental agreement. While we’re pleased to finally have one, they took way too long, resulting in staff layoffs and even program closures, as well as failing to meet the expectations of their own constituents. The unnecessary strain caused to these individuals, organizations and programs directly serving children, youth, and families across Michigan seems to indicate more attention being paid to partisanship and infighting than the needs of the most vulnerable amongst us.

And the work goes on: Governor Whitmer failed to include funding for the four programs we’ve highlighted above in her FY21 budget proposal that is being discussed by the Legislature right now. So, as advocates and champions for Michigan children, youth and families, we’ve got to continue our tireless outreach work to ensure that these same programs, and more, are included at the end of this budget process.

For a printable version click here.

Matt Gillard is President & CEO of Michigan’s Children.


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