When Michigan Invests in its Families and Children, Our Economy and Workforce Prospers

At a variety of youth-and parent-led forums this election season, candidates from both political parties have argued that when we invest in families through critical initiatives like affordable child care, mental health services, or juvenile justice reform, we give every Michigander a chance to be part of a strong workforce that will attract great employers, or to apply their talents toward starting their own game-changing companies.

This week, however, we learned that most lawmakers still follow the old school of “economic development.” That is – award tons of money to attract large businesses to move to our state – rather than investing in the very real needs that are affecting today’s workforce.

The federal funds that we spent a year ago to sustain the child care industry will run out in the coming years, and we have no new plan yet to invest state dollars in making child care affordable for any parent who wants to work or get a degree.

The funding invested in our mental health system this summer is still not enough to ensure that every family can access services for themselves or their kids, whether it’s a mild to moderate need or something more severe.

Yet the centerpiece of the latest supplemental budget is nearly $850 million in new incentives (aka corporate welfare) for companies to flock to Michigan.

Sure, Michigan invested a lot in its people through the Fiscal Year budgets earlier this summer, but those initiatives do not reach the same magnitude as the $2 billion we have given in corporate handouts going back to December 2021.

Not every item in this budget is bad – $15 million for housing for youth aging out of foster care is a commendable investment – but the only reason this deal was made is because it was part of a larger plan by eager lawmakers bent on handing out more money to big business..

The most notable beneficiary is the construction of a battery plant near Big Rapids, Michigan, right next door to, I kid you not, “Roben-Hood” airport.

You can’t make these things up.

To build a strong and sustainable economy in Michigan, let’s refocus our attention and public dollars on where those investments can do the most good for retooling our current and future workforce. Focus those dollars on Michigan parents and children, and not on out-of-state corporation hand-outs.

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What Budget Deal Means for Advocates

June 30, 2022 – Yesterday, Michigan’s Governor and Legislature agreed to a deal for the FY23 state budget that includes some significant investments into critical services for children, youth, and families while still leaving billions of dollars in surplus funds on the table, notably for the purpose of negotiating a tax reform plan later in the year. The budget has been passed by the Legislature and is heading to the Governor’s desk for signature.

Some highlights of the major investments that will benefit kids and families include:

  • $312 million for special education services
  • $295 million for K-12 workforce initiatives
  • $25 million for afterschool programs
  • $10 million for loan forgiveness for behavioral health professionals

These are wins worth celebrating and gratitude for the lawmakers who championed them. But the big picture that led up to one frenzied day in Lansing yesterday is what matters most for advocates.

Michigan has acted particularly slowly to allocate its historic one-time revenues. The urgency to invest in children, youth and families has been selective. Funding to expand mental health services, afterschool programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit took a backseat in the Legislature to bills providing giveaways to big businesses, auto shows, snowmobile trails, and ski jumps.

This is frustrating because our elected leaders have demonstrated before that prioritizing what is proven to impact our state’s kids and families is possible and effective. When Michigan’s leaders acted in a bipartisan way, at the urging of thousands of advocates, to allocate over $1 billion in federal child care funds last October, we stabilized a child care system that was on the brink of collapse, ensuring that more working families would have a trusted child caregiver to turn to when they returned to work. The work is far from over, providers are still reeling and families are still paying too much out of their own pocket, but we kept things from collapse.

What’s next? The Legislature will break to campaign until the August primary. Then, they will return, likely in September, to attempt negotiations on either additional spending, or a tax reform plan, or both. There is a very real chance that those negotiations result in nothing and that no direct economic relief comes for lower-income working families until after the November election.

Urgent action that meets the needs of children, youth, and families based on challenges they face is the key to securing Michigan’s future. We’ve seen that it’s possible.

We must work through this summer and fall, including during the elections, with that in mind.

For a printable version click here.

The Timing is Bad for Most Tax Cut Plans in Lansing– Except for the EITC.

March 11, 2022 – Calls to reform taxes and cut public spending are common in election-year politics, but this year’s budget cycle and election season share a big difference – the unprecedented and one-time $7 billion state surplus. At the end of the day, though, it’s our hope Lansing leaders have a change of heart and resist tax measures except one, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Should Michigan reduce its individual and corporate income taxes as state Legislators have proposed, and its retirement tax as Governor Whiter seeks without a sufficient revenue replacement, it is certain our state would be forced to curtail investments in programs and services for the most vulnerable children, youth and families. This would put many in jeopardy after decades of under investment and after more than two years of a dual economic and health crisis caused by the COVID epidemic. Moreover, the revenue cuts would likely kick in just as federal pandemic relief dollars gradually end. Cutting taxes when the graduation rate for foster youth in Michigan is only 39 percent? Or, when we still have no meaningful state support for child care that helps parents go to work? Or when there is still no meaningful state funding for afterschool programs that help families and put kids on a good path academically, socially and toward exploring future careers?

Without well-funded public services, the burden falls heavy on those least likely to weather storms from pandemic-related ills, including mental and physical health challenges, family instability, job insecurity and learning losses. Doing less today would be an erosion of society’s responsibilities as we enter the third year of the COVID gut-punch. To ensure we aren’t creating even greater inequities between citizens, leaving more working class and vulnerable children and families behind, we must not stop lifting people up for meager tax benefits.

We need publicly elected officials to show some restraint. Lowering the income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent turns out to be a good deal only for the wealthy. The Michigan League for Public Policy reports that middle income earners ($41,000-$70,000) would save about $92 a year; lower income earners (earning less than $23,000 a year) would gain just $12 a year. That’s not nearly enough for families by themselves to afford essential child care, mental health services, or afterschool programs that would go unfunded to “pay for” tax cuts. But those earning $539,000 or more would reap $5,000 in tax savings. If Michigan repeals its pension tax as the Governor has proposed, (creating a $1,000 bonus for a half million households, by the Governor’s estimates) Michigan would become an outlier among states without replacing the lost revenue. Forty-one states tax pensions today.

In contrast, expanding the EITC, as initiated Sen. Wayne Schmidt in Senate Bill 417, would boost incomes for hard-working families, and bring more children out of poverty. For reference, nearly 18 percent of Michigan children live in poverty, but for Black children, the rate is nearly 47 percent. Estimated to cost a half million dollars, the EITC increase would gradually phase in over four years to a 30 percent match of the federal credit. That is partly why the plan is heralded by divergent groups, including children’s advocates and business leaders with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber argues that improving the EITC encourages work and purchasing power that’s good for families and community prosperity. We agree, although we also think that lower-income childless workers outside the ages of 25-65 (the current EITC limits for earners without children) also deserve a tax credit for working.

A public opinion poll we commissioned with The Skillman Foundation last summer gave us valuable information about the voting public’s appetite to support programs that improve equity, help students overcome pandemic-related learning losses in school, and expand jobs and skills training for young people, among other supports. Nearly two-thirds said they favored increasing those investments and 58 percent said they’d support more investments even if it meant raising taxes.
Michigan’s Children has been in favor of expanding the EITC at the federal and state level, because we believe that tax reform makes good sense when it delivers sizable benefits to families and workers who are struggling the most. We can’t say the same for the other plans right now. Please urge your elected leaders to say no to adjusting the income tax and removing the pension tax. By all means, urge them to adopt a more robust EITC.

Learn more about the tax proposals at the state Capitol at our new Lunch & Learn program on March 16th from noon to 1 pm. Register here.

For a printable version click here.

Governor Whitmer’s Budget Proposal Kicks off Budget Season in Lansing

February 11, 2022 – Governor Whitmer’s presentation of her FY2023 budget plan to the Legislature this week marks the official beginning of the state’s budget process.

The highlights of Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal include many programs that Michigan’s voters value:

  • Significantly increased funding for K-12 education
  • A teacher and education professional retention program
  • Increased funding for pre-K and Early On
  • Annual state funding for afterschool programs
  • Significant funding to increase mental health supports and services for children
  • A large increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit and bonus pay for many essential frontline workers

One notable omission from the Governor’s budget proposal that is of interest to Michigan’s likely voters is the allocation of necessary state resources to strengthen the state’s child care system, an issue that’s emerged as a top economic and social problem plaguing employers, providers and working parents across Michigan.

For years our state government has been plagued by underinvestment which has allowed essential public goods and services including our schools, our mental health system, and our child welfare system to languish, leaving children, youth and families who shoulder significant challenges unable to take advantage of opportunities and contribute to our society and economy. Our child care system ranks highly on this list of underinvested needs. Michigan can afford to strengthen all of these systems, and we need our elected leaders in all branches of government to commit to doing so.

The focus now shifts to the Legislature, as they will begin the process of crafting their FY2023 budget which will ultimately be sent to the Governor. State leaders have a historic opportunity with roughly $7 billion in surplus funds available due to a combination of federal Covid-19 relief dollars and increased state revenues. This opportunity cannot be wasted as many critical supports and services for children and families have been underfunded for years by our state government. The Governor and the Legislature must rise to the occasion and ultimately enact a state spending plan that truly prioritizes the needs of the children and families in Michigan that have been under-supported for decades.

In coming weeks, we will be detailing these spending priorities, what they mean for the children, youth and families we care about, in Budget Basics reports, a budget-focused Lunch & Learn program on February 23, and in our next Speaking for Kids podcast. Join us then as we continue to explore next steps for moving these issues forward.

For a printable version click here.

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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