Policy

How rules and regulation can  shape opportunity.

flickr.com/jvalasimages

Three years ago this month, a new federal program got underway that’s since affected the lives of more than half a million young Americans – thousands of whom live in Michigan.

The program came with a characteristically bureaucratic acronym. And, like many things done by the federal government, it’s been controversial.

The program is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. 

Maybe it didn’t have a huge impact on your life at the time. But Liz Balck Monsma remembers how it affected hers.  

"It was a crazy time, three years ago," she says, "when we were just trying to get as many kids screened and processed as possible."

Erica Szlosek / Wikimedia Commons-https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Strengthening the child tax credit would help level the playing field for families, particularly communities of color.

That is one key finding according to new report by the Center for American Progress:

Prison Policy Institute, States of Incarceration: A Global Context / Prison Policy Institute

Badly. 

I came across this chart from the Prison Policy Initiative, which ranks all the states' incarceration rates and compares them to other countries throughout the world. None of the states fare particularly well. Michigan's rate is higher than the national average, and it's higher than every other country in the world (though not nearly as bad as some other states, such as Louisiana). 

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

There is an epidemic of drug use in Michigan, and in the rest of the country, involving a class of drugs called opiates – think Vicodin, Oxycontin or heroin.

In Michigan, at least 3,000 people have died  from these drugs since 2005. But even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. The actual number of deaths is likely much higher.

How much higher? We don't actually know. 

Chris Potter / Flickr

Michigan spends about $5.6 billion on social welfare programs a year, and that doesn't include health care. 

Even though that's only about 10% of the state's total budget, our passions and our politics are very much at work when we talk about these programs.  

In this hour-long special, we uncover why we get so emotional about social welfare spending. Do these emotions keep us from having policies and programs that would actually help families in Michigan get ahead? 

flickr.com/katerha

Over the weekend, The Washington Post published an analysis of every shooting death at the hands of a police officer since the start of the year. The Post found that the number of officer-involved shooting deaths is approaching 400 nationwide for the year, a number that's about twice as high as what you'd expect if you believe the existing statistics on deaths caused by police officers (most people don't). 

The Post has plenty of details within the numbers worth checking out, but still the most surprising part of this analysis is that it had to be done at all. Even with this analysis now available, it's clear that the number of things we don't know about violence involving police officers far outnumbers the things we do know. 

flickr.com/dbtelford

In 2013, a group of business leaders in Oregon decided to take on an issue that many other business leaders often shy away from: poverty. Not only did they talk about it, they set a strategy, with specific goals in mind.

But the Oregon Business Council didn't take on poverty reduction as an exercise to show what wonderful, caring people they are. The council acted because poverty represents a long-term threat to a healthy business community. 

The Council's 2015 Policy Playbook laid out the case: 

Declining revenues from personal incomes – combined with growing poverty rates – were reducing state resources and increasing funding demands for Medicaid, human services, and corrections. This, in turn, starved funding for education, especially postsecondary education. Declining investments in education reduced opportunities for Oregonians to prepare for well-paying work, which fostered lower incomes and more poverty. This amounted to a self-reinforcing downward cycle – a circle of scarcity.

The Council, through its Oregon Business Plan, has set a goal of reducing the state's poverty rate to less than 10% by 2020. It's an aggressive goal, but if there's any group that can pull it off, business executives may be it. 

Jessica Lucia / Flickr

More and more people, especially kids, need help getting food.

Last year, one in every five kids lived in households that depended on SNAP benefits (you know, food stamps) to help put food on the table. In Michigan, SNAP fed well over a million and a half people every single month.

Vicki and Chuck Rogers / flickr

Over the holidays, Governor Snyder signed a bill to bring back drug testing for welfare beneficiaries.

Snyder signed the bill on Christmas Eve, so it’s not surprising it slid by without most Michiganders noticing. But drug testing as a particular set of hoops for cash assistance is such old news in Michigan it’s hard to think critically about it anymore.

flickr/_chrisuk

Two years ago, Michigan raised taxes on the working poor. It was reported plenty at the time; it should be no surprise. 

If you want to be technical about it, the state didn't so much raise taxes on the working poor. It reduced the tax credits that went to the working poor. The Michigan League for Public Policy estimates that prior to 2011, the average low-income family in Michigan received a tax refund of $446. In 2012, that refund dropped to $138. The MLPP says the change means that about 15,000 fewer families were lifted out of poverty as a result of the credits. 

None of this is news. The change happened two years ago. 

Why bring it up now? Because right now Michigan leaders are considering another tax increase that will have a disproportionate impact on the state's working poor.

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