Getting state priorities right by investing in children and families

With the reassurance that state revenues will grow slightly next year, state legislators will soon meet to iron out differences between the House and Senate spending plans for 2019. Decisions are expected to be made quickly, in part because it is an election year and both House and Senate members are eager to return to their districts to campaign. At the League, we hope that in their haste lawmakers don’t forget to make wise investments in the state’s children and families—many of whom have yet to recover fully from the great recession in Michigan and nationally.

Kids Count data show that despite lower unemployment rates statewide, for many families the only jobs available are low-wage and lack benefits, leaving parents struggling to make ends meet. The result has been stubbornly high rates of poverty, affecting one of every five children in the state, including more than 40% of African-American and 30% of Latinx children.

So what is the connection between the state budget and childhood poverty? It is through the allocation of state revenues—not campaign slogans—that lawmakers reveal their true priorities. By controlling the state’s purse strings, Michigan legislators have the power to change the odds for families struggling to find their way in the state’s shifting economy by investing in human capital, including health and human services, education, and early childhood education and care.

Poverty is itself a barrier to work. Parents who struggle to secure adequate food, clothing, shelter and transportation are less able to find and keep jobs—much less get the education and training they need to move forward and secure their children’s futures. Yet, state investments in public assistance programs that help stabilize families and ensure that children do not live in deep poverty have dropped dramatically.

House_Senate Human Srvcs chart 2One painfully blatant example is the state’s failure to increase income assistance grants for decades, along with the adoption of strict lifetime limits and other punitive policies for the Family Independence Program (FIP). The result has been a steep decline in the number of children receiving income assistance at the same time that child poverty remains high.

The governor recommended a very meager FIP grant increase of 1.2% for 2019, an increase that equates to $2 per person per month and leaves the maximum grant at only 29% of poverty. The House and Senate rejected even this tiny recognition of the continual erosion in purchasing power of state assistance, seemingly unaware that 80% of the beneficiaries are children, or not understanding that children won’t succeed if their parents can’t.

The League supports the governor’s grant increase as a baby step in the right direction, and further seeks an expansion of the annual clothing allowance for children receiving income assistance. In addition, the League is advocating for adequate healthcare services, more access to high quality child care for families with low wages, funds to expand the early identification of children with developmental delays and better support for high-poverty schools. Check out the League’s website for summaries of the differences between the House and Senate budgets, and join us by contacting your legislators.

— Pat Sorenson

What to watch for in 2019 state budget

The state budget is a big focus of the League’s work each year, and often our most viable opportunity for victories for the people and kids of Michigan. And while we were disappointed that lawmakers passed a personal exemption increase, it should not affect this year’s budget as much as earlier proposals (the bigger cuts will be left to future legislators instead).

budgetandmagnifier175-by-116Here are the main things good and bad in—or absent from—Governor Rick Snyder’s 2019 budget that the League is keeping an eye on as the legislative process gets underway. You can learn more about these issues in our “First Look” at the governor’s budget and we will continue to provide updates on our budget page.

thumbs up The Good
  • Continues funding for the “heat and eat” policy that provides increased food assistance to families with low incomes, people with disabilities and seniors.
  • Supports the Healthy Michigan Plan that has provided health insurance for over 675,000 Michigan residents.
  • Provides $5 million for Michigan’s Early On program that identifies and serves infants and toddlers with developmental delays—the first investment of state funds in Michigan’s grossly underfunded early intervention program.
  • Provides a small increase in monthly Family Independence Program income support provided to children in deep poverty after decades of flat funding that pushed families to less than 30% of the federal poverty line.
  • Provides increases of between $120 and $240 per-pupil for the state’s public schools—with additional funding for students in high school or career and technical education.
  • Expands funding for partnerships with school districts that are needing academic supports from $6 million to $8 million.
thumbs down The Bad
  • Continues funding for Michigan’s successful preschool program for at-risk four-year-olds, but does not expand services to three-year-olds from families with low incomes.
  • Fails to expand funding for At-Risk School Aid and the school-based literacy programs needed to prevent the retention of children in third grade, including a disproportionate number of children of color.
  • Does not increase funding for adult education after deep cuts over the last two decades.
  • Leaves in place Michigan’s child care assistance eligibility cutoff, which is one of the lowest in the nation.
  • Diverts School Aid money intended for K-12 public schools to fund the state’s community colleges—rather than securing adequate General Fund revenues for post-secondary education.
  • Does not restore financial aid for an increasing number of college students who are older and supporting families.
  • Reduces cities, villages and townships (CVT) and county revenue sharing payments, neither of which have received full statutory funding in nearly two decades, so that many communities would either receive decreased CVT and county revenue sharing payments or no payment at all.
question mark The Absent

The League will keep pushing for these and other budget priorities in the coming months, and advocate for racial, ethnic and social justice in all state budget decisions this year and every year. We also encourage you to use our advocacy tips and budget timeline to get involved and speak up for the priorities you believe in.

— Alex Rossman

House and Senate personal exemption increases have too high a price tag for state budget

For Immediate Release 
January 17, 2018

Alex Rossman

The League continues support of Governor Snyder’s plan, opposes any hit to funds for roads, schools and public safety

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on competing House and Senate bills (HB 5420 and SB 748) to increase Michigan’s personal exemption. Initially proposed to counter state income tax increases related to the hastily-passed federal tax plan, the increases to the exemption proposed this week pose a threat to an already-strained state budget and all that it supports in residents’ daily lives. This statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“The League continues to support the governor’s proposal, which would clarify that the personal exemption is still in place and would increase it to $4,500 in 2021—a move that is universal in its benefits to taxpayers and neutral in its budget impact. Other proposals in the House and Senate would create deep revenue losses that would likely lead to cuts to the schools our kids attend, the roads we drive on, the police officers and firefighters that keep our communities safe, and more.

“Our opposition to these House and Senate bills may not be politically popular, but it is fiscally responsible, a value we have adhered to for more than a century. We speak for all Michigan residents, especially the workers, families and seniors who are struggling the most. These proposals come with a greater cost to the state, our services and our people than individuals stand to gain from these personal exemption increases.

“This situation is further complicated by the fact that we don’t yet understand the fiscal impact of the recent federal tax changes here in Michigan. And because a federal budget has not yet been adopted—and deep cuts to vital programs are likely coming—we don’t know the impact of these changes on Michigan, which relies on about 40 percent of its budget from federal funds.”

League Legislative Coordinator Rachel Richards testified in opposition to HB 5420 this morning. The League also came out in support of Governor Rick Snyder’s initial proposal to restore and moderately increase the state personal exemption.


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

U.S. Senate budget plan slashes services for struggling Michiganians to push huge tax cuts for very wealthy

For Immediate Release
October 20, 2017

Alex Rossman

Michigan’s Senators stand up for the people, but preferential budget primarily passes along party lines

LANSING—The United States Senate passed its budget resolution last night, including drastic cuts to programs and services that support hardworking Michiganians to fund $1.5 trillion in unpaid-for tax cuts largely for the wealthy and profitable corporations.

The budget sets up a fast-track, partisan process for passing the Republican tax plan with just 51 votes—the same process the Senate used to try to force through their repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The tax plan would overwhelmingly benefit those at the top of the economic ladder: the top 1 percent in Michigan would receive 62.5 percent of the tax cuts while the bottom 20 percent of Michiganians would get just 1.1 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). Michigan households that make over a million dollars each year (only .2 percent of Michigan’s population) would see an average tax cut of $253,500, ITEP found. The middle fifth of households in Michigan, people who are literally the state’s “middle class,” would receive just 7.1 percent of the tax cuts that go to Michigan under the framework at an average of $440.

“Like the House’s federal budget passed two weeks ago, the Senate’s budget and corresponding tax cuts line the pockets of the wealthy and profitable corporations at the expense of everyday Michiganians,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Michigan residents who are struggling to get by suffer now, with immediate cuts to critical programs that help Michigan families thrive, including health coverage, tax credits for families with low incomes, and basic assistance for seniors and people with disabilities living in poverty, and they will suffer later, when dramatically higher deficits would ultimately force cuts to healthcare, education, infrastructure and other building blocks of economic growth.”

The Michigan League for Public Policy created a fact sheet on the top threats to Michigan in the federal budget, and has also drawn attention to the devastating impact of the tax plan drawn up by President Trump and congressional Republicans. An analysis by the League shows that Michigan is the second-most reliant on federal funds in the U.S., with 42 percent of our state budget coming from federal funds.

“For too long, many Michigan residents have been getting left behind by state and federal policies, and these budgets and tax plans are only going to widen the gap further,” Jacobs said. “Instead of tax cuts that benefit those who need it the least, Congress should be prioritizing budget and tax policies that do not add to the deficit while strengthening our economy and supporting working families through investment in education, housing, infrastructure and more. We’re grateful to Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters for their understanding of this, and only wish the message would resonate with their colleagues across the aisle.”


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

With federal budget cuts, the sky may really be falling

My son loves books, and one of our favorite things to do every night is read before bed. Many of the stories we choose also provide a learning experience. One of our recent favorites has been Chicken Little, which I think my son chooses to laugh at me stumbling over tongue-twisting character names. It also gives us a chance to talk about thinking rationally.

This lesson is applicable from our kids to my policy work to the highest levels of government. But when President Donald Trump released his “skinny budget” in March—despite being light on detail—the potential impact it could have on our state budget and Michigan residents was stifling. And at times, I really do feel like the sky is falling.

My fear is not unfounded. Michigan has grown increasingly reliant on federal funds. Over the past decade, while our total state budget has grown by about 29%, federal funds in our budget have grown by nearly 69%. In our current budget, federal funds provide $22.7 billion of our $54.2 billion state budget. This means that more than $4 out of every $10 provided for important programs like public education, healthcare for children and families with low wages, food assistance and road maintenance are paid for by federal dollars.


These federal grants do matter to our state budget. According to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, federal grants to states and local governments make up nearly one-third of non-defense discretionary spending. Michigan receives 3% of total federal grants to states, and only California, New York, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio get a bigger share than Michigan. Cuts to these discretionary programs, which are already at historically low levels, would harm workers, college students, local communities and families with low- and moderate-incomes.

What’s more is that this “skinny budget” proposes to completely eliminate funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps families and many seniors pay heating bills; a block grant that supports housing, community facilities and economic development; the HOME program which helps develop and repair affordable rental housing and repair homes for homeowners with low incomes; and the Community Services Block Grant, which provides anti-poverty services.

While President Trump’s budget only outlines changes in discretionary spending, changes to mandatory grants may still be forthcoming, for example block granting or putting a per capita cap on Medicaid. (While the first round of the American Health Care Act was withdrawn, you can bet that Congress will try, and try again, to repeal the Affordable Care Act and alter Medicaid funding.) Changes in these programs, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), free and reduced-priced school meals, child care assistance and other assistance for families with low incomes, would mean deep cuts to these programs as states would be unable to absorb the costs themselves. This would reduce services to those Michigan residents who really need it.

Cuts to federal grants to state and local governments, and changes in federal programs, will only mean cuts to the very Michigan residents that rely on these services. Changes will result in more potholes and unsafe bridges, fewer Michigan residents with healthcare coverage, more children going hungry, less affordable housing, more poverty and more problems, all having a long-term negative impact on our economy.

So pardon my doomsday sentiment, but states really rely on federal funds to run. And these changes would affect our state for years to come. But we can change the future. It is important for all of us to get in touch with our members of Congress and tell them the things that really matter to us as they make decisions on the federal budget that will have a direct impact on our great state.

— Rachel Richards

Turning understanding into action

My first introduction to the Michigan League for Public Policy came this past summer in the form of a State Budget 101 Training. It had been a long week, and I wasn’t sure if budget talk was going to keep my attention. Gratefully, I was very wrong.

The League’s staff presented data and stories in a way that helped me to understand and criticize the foundational budget policies that throw people into poverty across Michigan. The information was so enlightening and exciting that I kept talking about it, Googling it and crafting new ways of sharing it for weeks afterward. (more…)

Bundle of joy

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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Two days ago, my granddaughter was born, and she has already brought so much happiness to our family (well, the jury may still be out for her older brother).

When I hold her in my arms, I can’t help but think of what the future holds for her. What kind of world awaits her? What will college cost in 18 years? What jobs will be available?

Due to the nature of my work at the League, the joy of this occasion is also marked with an appreciation of the challenges that lie ahead—for my grandchildren and others. I think of the countless little babies across Michigan who are being brought into the same world, but are going to live markedly different and much more difficult lives. (more…)