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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

 

Children’s Advocates Need Political Leadership in 2015

Matt’s blog was published for our Sandbox Party site on 11/10/14.

Nov. 12, 2014 — The mid-term elections are over and who isn’t glad for an end to nasty campaign ads and verbal attacks. While the quiet always comes before the storm, let’s look ahead to our prospects for next year.

On one side of the political aisle, the Legislative landscape in Lansing just got more Republican and more conservative as the GOP gained major victories in even the tightest contests across the state.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who championed key improvements in state-funded pre-K in his first term, even if his K-12 support wasn’t as robust, is back for a second term.

State Rep. Kevin Cotter, a conservative from Mt. Pleasant ending his first term, was just elected by his Republicans peers as House Speaker, a role central to moving legislation supported by the majority of his party. (Another contender, State Rep. Al Pscholka, considered less conservative than Cotter, fell short by a few votes.)

So what does this new partisan make-up mean for child advocates seeking improvements in such priorities as child care, 0-3 supports, home visiting, expanded learning for after-school and more?

It’s going to be challenging for us and challenging for Gov. Snyder, too. Much of our success and future will depend on the positions and posturing the Governor takes in dealing with an ever conservative Legislature.

Come January, Republicans will hold a 63-47 majority in the House and a 27-11 supermajority in the Senate after winning five new House seats and one additional Senate seat. How much of what becomes the legislative priority will come from the Governor’s leadership or from the demands of a growing conservative Legislature who don’t want to additional spending undermine their ability to cut taxes.

Gov. Snyder has shown great willingness in the past to invest in quality programs like pre-k. It remains to be seen whether he will be willing to lead again on other issues of importance to children and families as the ranks of potentially like-minded Legislative Republicans are cut short. One test of that leadership may come over roads. His stated priority – crafting a road improvement package for the state – is back on the table after failing dismally before the campaigns began.

And what of moderate Republicans, many of whom have supported investments in children and education due to their recognition of the importance of building a strong future labor force? In many ways, they’ve been neutralized. Like across America, moderates who dare to take progressive stances will risk certain primary challenges from Tea Party activists in the future.

All these challenges will make investments in the programs and services that help children and families more difficult in the coming year, but not impossible. Gov. Snyder’s support will be even more necessary in the coming months.

Let’s hope he sees this as a critical part of the legacy he leaves behind for the future of Michigan when his second term ends four years from now.

– Matt Gillard

 

Cast Your Vote for Children, Youth and Families

November 3, 2014 – I came away from our youth-led candidate forums this fall feeling pretty optimistic about our democratic process. The candidates who attended our four forums around the state were well prepared, articulate, respectful and willing to prioritize the intense demands of an election season to spend 2-3 hours with groups of young people, their parents, the organizations supporting them and members of the communities where they live. Despite the fact that many of the young people weren’t of voting age, these candidates recognized that they were future voters and that their parents and other community members were voters or potential voters. The candidates also recognized, and articulated to us, the media and the young people themselves, that they had something to learn from the experience that would help them in the election and beyond.

That said, there are differences between the candidates for office. They have different opinions about the solutions to the concerns raised by the young people at our forums. They have different opinions about the role of government to be part of those solutions, and how much public resource should be invested. They have different priorities for their own work if elected, and different ways to keep in touch with their constituents to make sure that they are prioritizing what works.

I want to thank our local forum partners, who supported the young people in their preparation, facilitated the forum location, and helped Michigan’s Children convince the candidates to come and the media to cover the forums. We will be working with these partners after the election as well, to help the winners better understand critical issues and workable solutions, and to hold them accountable to make sure that their actions once elected match their commitments made.

I also want to personally thank the candidates who spent time with us at our forums. While I’m not endorsing them individually or as a group, we do want to recognize their participation. Many candidates who were invited did not participate, and those who did deserve our respect. The time that they took was so impactful to the young people involved, and helped their communities better understand their commitment to children, youth and families in our state.

Tomorrow is election day. As Matt Gillard said in his recent video on our Sandbox Party website, we are all tired or seeing all of the campaign ads, and getting the endless stream of fliers in our mailboxes and phone calls. However, decisions that will be made by the share of registered voters who show up at the polls to cast their vote will determine the path of our state for years to come. Don’t let those decisions be made by someone else, make sure that you are part of the process.

Find out more about the youth-led candidate forums, and about how you can get more information about your candidates.

Then, of course, come November 5, join us as we use our influence as voters and constituents to help and to guide the winners toward decisions that point us toward a better Michigan for children, youth and families.

– Michele Corey

It IS About Changing the World

October 20, 2014 – My daughter Sarah is nine, and like many nine year olds, is not that interested in my job. It seems that I just sit around in front of a computer screen all day, and despite our conversations about our roles and responsibilities in a democracy, she has never really understood it – go figure. It isn’t as if I was a fire fighter, a nurse, a teacher or even a restaurant owner, like my husband. This policy advocacy thing has not been something that any of my three children have easily grasped.

Last week, she went with me to the Parenting Awareness Month Conference in Marquette. And much to her chagrin, had to come to my “Policy Advocacy 101” workshop there as I talked about the importance of getting more involved in public policy to a great group of parents and services providers.

Honestly, that kind of thing is a lot of what I do – talking to people about how much it matters to take 5-10 minutes out of their jobs and their lives to influence public policy on behalf of children, youth and families. Michigan’s Children believes that when more people are involved in the policymaking process, particularly people who are directly impacted by the policies themselves, the result is better policy. We blog about it all the time, and work to produce tools and opportunities for that to happen.

Workshop attendees were really engaged in the discussion, and it was clear that the workshop had been impactful. While it seemed like Sarah was paying some attention – she had said that she was just going to read the whole time, but now and then I caught her eye as she was listening to me and to others in the room – we didn’t talk too much about it afterward, and just went on about our travels.

The day after we got home, however, her grandma was asking her the usual stuff, how the trip went, how did she like our hotel, that sort of thing. Then, my mom asked what she thought about my presentation. Sarah turned to me and said rather accusingly, “I thought that your work was about kids, Mom. It is about changing the world!”

Indeed, it is about both. All of our work is about making sure that those who represent us, those who decide how our tax dollars are spent, have everything they need to make the best decisions that they can, understanding the impact of those decisions on us all. The election season is winding down, and we will soon be deciding who those people will be for the next couple of years and beyond. We will try to make the best choices that we can, and then we all have to stand ready to help those we have elected. Help their work be about making public policies that move us to a better Michigan for children, youth and families – those that change the world for kids in our state.

– Michele Corey

Politics to Policy

August 7, 2014 – I’ll be the first to admit it. I hate politics. Being in the public policy field, people sometimes ask me if I ever think about running for public office. I just laugh. And never is there a time more brutally and unapologetically political than an election season. This seems to be particularly true leading up to primary elections when candidates are trying to market themselves as more conservative or more liberal than their challengers. Matt enjoys all of the politics (read his political perspectives on the outcomes of the primary elections), and we are glad that he is able to translate his enthusiasm and interest into great policy strategy for Michigan’s Children. That said, I’m looking forward to moving past the politics and getting back to conversations about public policy. In other words, lifting up what matters to Michigan families, and ensuring that public policies and investments are made in the best interest of kids.

Now that we’re looking forward to the general elections, we can thankfully move in that direction. The general elections are a time when we can really begin to ascertain the differences between candidates on issues that matter to children, youth and families and see if we agree with how they say that they will tackle areas of concern. Now is the time when we can really understand how our candidates will or will not prioritize the needs of Michigan’s most challenged kids and families. At Michigan’s Children, we have highlighted some of our priorities this election season, and you’ll be hearing more and more from all of us about each of these areas in the months to come:
• Two-generation strategies that ensure parents have opportunities to get ahead in life while their children are connected to high quality learning opportunities.
• Adequately supporting the needs of Michigan’s most challenged young children from birth through age three.
• Increasing access to high quality child care for children from birth through age 12.
• Expanding learning opportunities for students and young people who face educational challenges to ensure that all young people can obtain a high school credential.

Maybe some of these issues resonate with concerns that you have about your family or your community. If so, please visit the Sandbox Party website to learn more about What’s At Stake this election season, and of course check back to Michigan’s Children’s Resources section as well.

While I hate politics, I still believe in the system. Sure, many Americans and Michiganians feel that our government is no longer functional – that Congress can’t get anything done, and that the Michigan Legislature no longer represents their views. But unless we get involved and stay involved in the democratic process (read Michele’s blog on her reflections on the primary elections and how it relates to this), we can’t expect Congress or the State Legislature to understand our priorities. This election season, I hope you will begin having conversations with candidates about what matters most to you, your family, and your community. If you’ve already started those conversations, kudos to you! Please keep them going and connect your friends and networks into those conversations so that more Michigan voters can be informed. And I hope you will join the 18% of Michigan’s registered voters who voted on Tuesday and get out to vote in November.

– Mina Hong

The Power of Our Vote

August 7, 2014 – Okay, I’ve admitted to you before that I love democracy – I love the power and the responsibility that comes with determining who will be making big decisions on my behalf, and assisting them make the best decisions possible along the way. For the past couple of months, we’ve been pestering folks as best we can to participate in the electoral process, beginning not in November, but beginning earlier than that in the Primary Elections that happened yesterday.

As we looked today at the winners and losers from yesterday and what that tells us about Michigan voters, candidates and their supporters, I was struck again by how close some of these Primary races were – several decided by fewer than 10 votes. Yes, you heard me, fewer than 10. I’ve had more people at my house for my book club! And many more decided by fewer than 100. We all know 100 people, and it is astounding to think that is all it takes to hand somebody success or failure at the polls. Now we know that turn out will be higher in November – typically we have about 20% (18% this last go round) of registered voters voting in the primaries and about 45% or so voting in the general election (okay, those dismal numbers are worthy of another blog another day), but contests will still be won often by small margins. Why would we put that kind of power into the hands of someone else?

The other thing that I was struck by was that once again, money alone doesn’t buy elections. Whenever I talk to people about getting more involved in policy advocacy, I always stress that even though the media never stops talking about the impact that money has in politics, it actually isn’t as impactful as some democratic system nay-sayers want to believe. That said, even I sometimes use the caveat that money makes more of a difference in statewide races, and in Congressional bids, then it does in more local races. Well, yesterday the people voting in the Republican primary of the 4th District Congressional seat, the one vacated by popular and powerful U.S. Representative Dave Camp, voted for the candidate who got outspent more than $5 to $1.

So what won that primary contest if it wasn’t money? Votes. Oh yeah, they always win. Candidates can get money from where-ever, and some of them do. You hear a lot about big monied interests funding campaigns that aren’t their own – campaigns in other communities, in other states. Well, that can get you advertising, staff and sometimes better strategy, but the only thing that gets you into office are the votes. Those can only come from the constituents in the district that you are vying to represent. They can only come from us, and we are all on even footing with votes – we each get one.

Now that we are moving into the general election, we have to take a closer look at how we decide which candidates are best to represent our interests – policy making in the best interest of children, youth and families. At Michigan’s Children, we’ll be focused on making sure that candidates are hearing about the issues that most concern constituents, and we’ll be paying close attention to what candidates are saying or not saying about the most critical investments needed in Michigan today:

1. Two-generation strategies that ensure children do well while their parents move ahead.
2. Earlier learning opportunities that optimize investments in 4-year old preschool.
3. Accessible, affordable, quality care for children and youth while parents can’t be with them.
4. Expanded learning opportunities beyond the school day.

Check back with the Sandbox Party and keep informed through our Sandbox Bulletin, our Early Learning Action Network and our Graduate Michigan Action Network. The power to move improved public policy for children, youth and families is, as always, in our hands.

– Michele Corey

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