Sound budget to help weather virus

Michigan kids, workers and parents continue to face unprecedented challenges because of COVID-19, especially families with lower incomes or those struggling with unemployment.

But, during these tough times, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature rose to the occasion and found a way to invest through the 2021 state budget in some major policy improvements, including many programs and proposals that the Michigan League for Public Policy has advocating for over many years.

As COVID-19 hits our population hard, the need for the state’s vital health and human services programs has been more important than ever. We appreciate policymakers’ understanding of that fact and the noteworthy increases made to funding for Medicaid, the Healthy Michigan Plan, and public assistance programs.

Just Tuesday, Whitmer announced that the Healthy Michigan Plan is providing health care for more than 800,000 Michiganders. That includes around 5,000 residents from Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Oscoda counties. During the pandemic, food assistance enrollment has also increased statewide and locally.

There’s a reason those health and human services programs are called the “safety net” — and that they have been a cornerstone of the League’s work since 1912 — and we appreciate the role they have played in helping working families get by and bounce back during these trying times.

Meanwhile, child care remains a key to child development and a strong workforce, but costs continue to be out of reach for too many families.

The 2021 state budget increases the income eligibility level for the state’s child care subsidy, helping more families find affordable care, and we hope to continue to see bipartisan support for other investments in that area.

Before COVID-19 hit and turned our worlds and state budget upside down, the Healthy Moms, Health Babies initiative was a focal point of the League’s budget advocacy and analysis, and the major investment in the 2021 budget to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months will dramatically improve the health of moms and babies.

That program will also help reduce maternal and infant mortality, and the disparate outcomes in those categories by race.

The League is also happy to see the 10 Cents a Meal program expanded statewide. My colleague, Julie Cassidy, recently wrote a column for The Alpena News on that program and the need to extend its benefits to Northeast Michigan. The positive program that connects Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables with the state’s school meal programs is a win-win, especially in areas where food insecurity is particularly high and access to fresh produce continues to be a challenge.

As COVID-19 continues to impact the job market, Michigan’s older and less-skilled workers are being hit particularly hard. They need to go back to school or get training to better prepare for the new job market and earn more money, but the cost of doing so continues to be a huge barrier. Several investments in the budget will help make adult education more accessible, including funding for Going Pro, Michigan Reconnect, and the Tuition Grant program.

And, after years of advocacy, Michigan’s longstanding lifetime ban on food assistance for individuals with more than one drug felony has finally been stricken from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services boilerplate language. That is a huge win that will make it easier for justice-involved individuals to access food, improving food security, racial equity, and disability inclusion while reducing recidivism.

We appreciate the bipartisan support for that — and for also working to address this issue permanently with Senate Bill 1006.

Many individuals and organizations around the state were bracing for a particularly painful budget with significant cuts, but policymakers found a way to minimize cuts while also expanding and investing in programs that are particularly important right now.

The longer-term economic effects of COVID-19 — and the subsequent impact on the state budget — are still unclear, and federal action is still needed on true, long-term fiscal relief for states.

But, for now, our elected officials found a way to increase funding and come together across party lines to support the programs Michiganders in Northeast Michigan and around the state need the most.

Alex Rossman is external affairs director for the Michigan League for Public Policy.


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