Anika: I wanted to become a policy analyst because I started off working in a residential facility for Youth and I saw that all the reasons why, not all of them but a lot of reasons why the kids were going to drug rehab was because of structural inequities, and the lack of resources. I thought that being a policy analyst would serve me better in order to address those inequities that are bringing people into places like drug rehab and things like that. So I wanted to fight for a bigger change..
M: As a policy analyst what do you think about the Michigan House Speaker's call for the elimination of the state Earned Income Tax Credit?
A: The League is very really involved in trying to save the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, the administration says if they eliminate the tax credit that they could save the state $338 million. The problem is that we all understand that there is a shared sacrifice yet do we really need to target the earned income tax credit that keeps people out of poverty and mainly effects really low incomes families in Michigan, vulnerable people in Michigan. Instead, there is a list of taxes expenditures that we could review that could possibly save us $35 billion dollars, and they have not been reviewed, have for their effectiveness and their ability that to bring jobs to Michigan. Why are we immediately targeting something that helps families in Michigan? The Earned Income Tax Credit keeps people out of poverty and if we eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit, it is very likely that more people will be on welfare and needing services that we do not even have the ability to provide on an adequate level right now. So it really does not make any sense to cut a tax credit that helps working families to stay out of poverty.
M: As President Obama addressed in the State of Union, that he wanted to help America's families going back to work and parents can take care of their children. At this point, do you think that what kind of solutions will government provides to people who face the threaten of the elimination of tax credit?
A: I am thinking that the rational behind cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit is to reduce the State budget deficit and therefore have the ability to create more jobs if we close that gap. The problem is that we need to have a balanced approach between cutting and raising revenue. The problem is that we are always cutting, cutting, cutting and you cannot keep cutting without raising revenue. Our expenditures are increasing and our revenue is decreasing and so if we effectively look into all these taxes expenditures that are giving tax breaks to corporations that may or may not be producing jobs we can more effectively address the budget deficit instead of eliminating a tax credit that really helps hardworking American families.
M: What is the League willing to do to help people?
A: We have always been a data based advocacy organization. We have people working here who have been employees at the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Michigan Department of Human Services who have a wealth of knowledge on all these government programs. They are now working with us. We have the resources to really inform legislators, the public and other organizations about the impact of certain policy decisions and so we are continuing to be resources that the legislators can come to. We have all kinds of information on our website about the impact, like the upcoming reduction in the personal income tax rate. We have listed all the tax expenditures that have not been reviewed in a while. And just like all things that people can look to on a bipartisan view on what will happen to families in Michigan if you eliminated such and such programs.
M: Could you introduce something about what does the Michigan League for Human Services do?
A: We provide analysis information on all kinds of services on like TANF, food assistance, Medicaid and Medicare. We have a poverty report every year that shows how the State is faring in terms of poverty and what the current demographics look like. We do a lot work around tax policy and the state budget. How the budget deficit effects low income people, people of color in Michigan. We do a lot of work around racial equity and health disparities. We provide the Kids Count book for Michigan every year, which is a great resource. It shows the wellbeing of children in Michigan through key indicators, and is broken down by county. We are currently doing a lot of work around the Earned Income Tax Credit. We were key players when the State Earned Income Tax Credit was established around 2006. We are also doing a lot of work around the advancement on of health care reform in Michigan. One of the employees here has played a lead role in the state's coalition on healthcare reform, called Michigan Consumers for Health Care Advancement, working to keep implementation for health care reform smooth and active in Michigan. We are just really big key player in the policy realm around Michigan and a big resource.
M: What is the League's goal for 2011?
A: I think the League's goal for 2011 is to continue to advocate on the behalf of low-income families in Michigan. Our agenda is to show legislators and decision makers in Michigan the benefit of a balanced approach, which includes some spending and some revenue raising initiatives. And we have our policy agenda coming out soon, a road map to prosperity which outlines our policy agenda and key recommendations we have for a variety of topics, including adult education, transportation, housing, racial equity, poverty and kids wellbeing. You can look out of that on our website in the next month or so.
M: When the report comes up, usually whom will you deliver to?
A: We deliver it to legislators. We have it online. We mail it to our members. We have a lot of partners that we work with around in Michigan that we make sure that we bring it to all our meetings so they have it. We try to promote our publications to non-profits and their constituencies. Citizens who are interested in what is going on in the State can also get our materials.
M: Is there anything different with last year's agenda or something the League specifically wants to do in this year?
A: I think that right now with this new administration our main goal is to inform everyone about how things have been happening in the last few years. Because there was a huge influx of people term limited from the legislature. We do have a lot of new representatives, so a lot of them may or may not be familiar with the well being of low-income families in Michigan. So right now our main goal is just to inform them and be a resource. And keep advocating for policies we feel will benefit the low income families, like the graduate income tax, means testing certain programs that have not been look at recently, and extending taxes to services, so we have a broader rage of things being taxed, initiatives that will balance the budget.
M: Could you mention some of the successes that the League has already achieved?
A: We put out an annual report come every year that highlights our accomplishments. So I would say some of our achievements were that we moved into a new and more visible space and therefore we have a larger capacity to disseminate information. We hired a communications director and a new State Fiscal (SF) Project director in 2009. Our SFAI (State Fiscal Analysis Initiative) work has started up a revenue coalition that has over forty members. I was hired onto the League as a State policy fellow, so we were able to have a new employee for two years through the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in D.C. and I will be able to add to the production of the materials and collaboration with partner organizations. We also have a new president and CEO, which has been a great achievement. She was a former senator, Gilda Jacobs, helping the League go to the next level in terms of legislative advocacy, which has been great for us. We have updated our website, so it is definitely much more user-friendly and therefore we have also been able to do more outreach. We are hoping to increase our public relations capacity with our new communications ability we have been able to get more of our information in the media, and getting out our name to a broader community in Michigan. And with our new President Gilda Jacobs we are having more face time in the legislature being able to let them know that we are here as a resource.