The Michigan Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity released a report this November, that has been two years in the making. The report titled, "Alleviating Poverty in Michigan," was commissioned to make recommendations to Governor Granholm and the Michigan legislator on how to create a better system for the nearly 15 percent of Michigan citizens who are living at or below the poverty level.In Michigan, 1 in 10 workers have lost their jobs. Also, there are currently 1,347,721 people living in poverty in the state. The report also shows that 17 percent of all children in the state are experiencing unsuitable conditions while living below the poverty line. .
To be considered above the poverty line a family of four would have to be earning at least 22,207 dollars a year. However, the report states that the Michigan League for Human Services did a recent measure of the cost of household goods and services and found that even those who make more than the poverty line could still not meet their basic needs. In fact, families who make double the poverty line are still considered low income and can struggle to meet their needs, while also struggling to qualify for many government services and benefits.
Part of the Commission's job was to travel throughout the state and conducted poverty forums. These forums were a chance for the Commissioners to speak directly to the people in need of services. They described this experience by saying, "The Commission was deeply affected by what they heard at the poverty forums, and the stories told there have fundamentally impacted their every subsequent decision." Many of the citizens felt frustration, alienation, as well as disconnected with social services. Others also expressed their need for better access to services and better programs to suit their needs.
The report touched on many different problem areas associated with poverty. Housing, health care, nutrition, education, work, race, and urban areas were included in the list.
The Michigan Statewide Homeless Management Information System (MSHMIS) released data claiming that the there are 50,000 homeless people living in Michigan. They also stated that there may be close to 30,000 additional undocumented cases. This is increasing the need for services such as Housing Choice, which gives people vouchers to help them pay for rent. The report states that the waiting list for this program is so long that in some counties such as Wayne and Macomb, the program has been shut down for three to five years.
Health care is becoming an increasing issue among the poor. People in poverty are much more likely to be without health insurance. There is actually more than 380,000 people in poverty living without health insurance. Programs like SCHIP and MIChild can no longer cover all the people that are eligible to receive benefits.
Poor nutrition can add to the need for health insurance also. The report states that nutritious food is become harder for people to obtain because of rising food prices. There was also an emphasis on places known as "food deserts," which are neighborhoods without grocery stores that provide fresh food. State and federal programs such as WIC, SNAP, and the Thrifty Food Plan, are consistently running out of resources while there maintains a steady increase in need.
There has been a clear connection between race and poverty in the state. There are 31.3 percent of African Americans and 24.7 of Latinos living in poverty, while there is only 10.2 percent of Whites. The report also notes that people of color are more likely to have a negative experience when dealing with state programs such as Michigan's child welfare program. African Americans are more likely to be considered incapable of caring for their children and more likely to have their children put into the states foster care program. It is thought that experiences like this will keep people of color from taking advantage of the programs that could help them.
The report showed that the distinction between rural and urban poverty is not very different. There are just as many rural poverty stricken people as there are urban. They often encounter the same problems such as rising food and housing costs.
Education and work has been shown to have a direct effect of the well-being of people in the state. Michigan currently leads the nation in the highest unemployment rate at 11.6 percent at the beginning of 2009 where 173,000 jobs were lost. The reports states that there is a lack of skills that are needed to keep a good job and help the economy. There are 23.9 percent of people living in poverty that do not have a high school diploma, where as only 3.4 percent of people with a bachelor's degree living in poverty. Rising tuition costs are said to only further this cycle and keep people from entering higher learning institutions.
The Commission did present some solutions to the extensive poverty problem in the report. They also stated that they understood that everything would not be able to be carried out because of budget short falls. They started by recommending that social services become more client focused instead of focusing on regulatory requirements.
They suggest streamline compliance to get people on the road to self sufficiency, as well as eligibility requirements to become more flexible. They also highlighted the need to focus social services on creating long term skill development instead of short term job placements. They would also like to revamp the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) by increasing funds, flexibility, and all activities to involve more client focused development.
They also strongly suggest the need for an expanded safety net including universal health care, increased cash benefits and better protection and support for vulnerable children.
The commission also suggest improving statewide policies and systems. They would like to see all social services united and get on board with one statewide poverty agenda. They think there should be a link between education and career paths, while also aligning work force development efforts with human service investments. Focus was also put on the need for excellent customer service.
Finally the report noted the need to cut down on those who are in correctional facilities. They would also like to see housing options for those people who get released from correctional facilities and also an expansion of the drug and mental health courts.
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