STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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How the sequester impacts Michigan's low-income families

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

When airlines and travelers complained of long flight delays due to the sequester, Congress jumped into action and passed a quick resolution to end the delays. Meanwhile the millions of low-income families who lives are being impacted by the sequester continue to wait for Congress’ help.

The cuts keep rolling in

Now, you should know that there are a couple big safety net programs that are exempt from sequester cuts – Medicaid, for one, and food stamps. But that doesn’t mean low income people get off easy.

Debbie Weinstein is executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, which advocates on behalf of low-income folks. She says "low income housing, Head Start, education programs, unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed," and much more is being cut.

One cut in particular really makes her angry. It's the elimination of the state’s clothing allowance for poor kids who live with extended family members. Usually 21,000 kids each get a $137 clothing allowance in August for the school year. But not this around.

It’s one of the many programs Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has chosen to scale back or cut entirely due to the Sequester, for a grand total of roughly $151 million-worth of cuts over the next two years.

To try to combat the cuts, the Coalition on Human Needs and other non-profits are collecting stories from people whose lives are being impacted by the sequester. They’ll then send those personal stories on to Congress.

"You're gonna go to school and when you’re done you’re gonna get a better job and we can go to Walt Disney world!"

Etim Obong, Jr. is one of the lucky ones. Lucky because he’s one of the last people who’ll be able to attend a machinist training program at Focus Hope, a non-profit in Detroit.

It’s a 12-week skilled trade program with a 70 percent job placement rate. The program is funded by Workforce Investment Act grants, and due to sequester, the program is about to be put on indefinite hold.

"We’re already check-to-check," explains 27-year old Obong. "If they take something like this away, it’s not gonna be good for our society at all."

For his part, Obong is thrilled to have gotten into the program by the skin of his teeth. And he says his 10-year old daughter, Brianna, is pretty thrilled, too.

"She’s as excited as I am. Like she knows, 'oh you’re gonna go to school and when you’re done you’re gonna get a better job and we can go to Walt Disney world!'"

He adds, "it's a blessing."

Head Start to get hard hit by the sequester

Linda McGillis, she’s president of the Michigan Head Start Association. She says Head Start programs around the country are planning for a more than five percent cut due to the Sequester. Head Start HQ is imploring its members not to scale back on quality, so McGillis says they have no choice but to reduce the number of slots available. That means thousands of kids who are eligible will not be able to attend Head Start in the fall.

But she says they’re not going down without a fight. Even if they can’t afford to spend millions of dollars to convince Congress that their program should be exempt from the sequester cuts:

"Our lobby effort is our children and unfortunately our children don’t have the financing power behind them that the airline industry did," says McGillis. "But advocates and providers of services have banded together through the national Head Start Association and other advocacy groups to ensure that their voice is heard."

Until that happens, low-income families in Michigan and around the country will continue to get hit by the ongoing sequester.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Share your story here.


Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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