Policy

How rules and regulation can  shape opportunity.

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.

Greyloch / flickr

There have been a few recent developments that meet at the intersection of the Venn diagram made when State of Opportunity meets government affairs.

What matters is how likely these reforms are to make a difference for kids in Michigan. Here's some early stage analysis. 

Gina / Flickr

Earlier this week, President Obama signed a bill that could lead to major changes in the child welfare system.

Arguably the most important part of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act is its acknowledgment of something we don't like to think about but is nevertheless true: the strong connection between foster care and human trafficking. 

Michigan child care options pushing low-income families out

Sep 25, 2014
Michigan League of Public Policy

Child care is an absolute necessity for working families -- and their employers. Nearly two-thirds of preschool age children in the U.S. live in homes where both caregivers work. So healthy and reasonably priced child care is essential for parents. 

What happens when affordable, high-quality child care isn't an option?

user DarkGuru / creative commons

Pay now or pay later? I feel like that could be the unofficial tag line for our State of Opportunity project.  

The "pay now or pay later" question comes up time and again when we talk about programs aimed at helping kids climb out of poverty. For example: Do we spend the money up front for high-quality preschool for low-income kids, or do we wait until they're falling behind to try and step in to help? Do we offer preventive medical care for low-income kids, or do we wait to treat them until they've developed asthma or heart disease later in life?  

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