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Random Thoughts/ Tough choices for Michigan

Robert Downes - September 21st, 2009
Random Thoughts
Robert Downes 9/21/09

Tough Choices for Michigan

We’re very lucky here in Michigan that we still have something of a social safety net to care for the poor and people who are down on their luck. About 450,000 jobless residents are riding out the recession on
unemployment insurance at present, with tens of thousands of others getting by on
disability payments.
By contrast, I recall giving a coin to a leper sitting on a street corner in one of the most prosperous cities in India. The old man didn’t have any fingers on either hand -- just white stubs at the end of his palms -- and he sat all day long on the filthy pavement, begging in the 95-degree sun as thousands brushed past.
That’s India’s social safety net: beg or die. And that’s the reality in much of our world, where the very idea of a ‘social safety net’ is an inconceivable luxury.
One can’t help but wonder if Michigan is heading in that same dog-eat-dog direction as a result of the ‘Great Recession.’ Particularly in some of our towns: Flint, Muskegon Heights, Detroit... that have come to resemble Third World cities.
Michigan faces its budget deadline on September 30 with a deficit of $1.8 billion, and about the best one can say about it is thank God we’re not California, where their budget shortfall is at least 10 times worse.
Unfortunately, many of the budget cuts needed to keep Michigan solvent will come at the expense of the poor, with cutbacks in many social programs. Some feel that the state’s social safety net is in tatters.
In August, the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) was one of 27 social service organizations that sent a letter to Gov. Granholm and the Legislature stating that the “shared pain” approach to handling the shortfall in this year’s budget is a “moral and legislative failure.”
An executive order by Granholm cut $304 million from Michigan’s budget, half of which was from the departments of Community Health and Human Services, both of which provide basic support for low-income children and their families.
“Our message to the public and the Legislature is ‘enough is enough’, the state can no longer continue to tear apart the state’s social safety net to resolve the budget deficit,” said MCC Vice President for Public Policy Paul A. Long in a statement on the cuts.
Anyone who’s ever benefited from the Father Fred Foundation in the Grand Traverse area can appreciate the heroic outpouring of sharing, love and volunteerism by this Catholic relief organization. Father Fred is often the last best hope for thousands of people who are down on their luck in Northern Michigan when help is needed with a utility bill, a home, or obtaining food. The organization was strained to the limit long before the current recession kicked in.
So when the Michigan Catholic Conference says things are in a bad way, we have a solid assurance that they are on the front line of providing aid to the poor and know whereof they speak.
Currently, the MCC claims that “10 percent of all families in Michigan and nearly one in five children are in poverty.” Many others are in a risky economic situation.
Cutbacks in early childhood education, school aid and child care are particularly disturbing because many studies show that children need to be reached early and often to guarantee their success as adults.
According to the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, 85 percent of a child’s brain is formed by the age of three. Malnutrition, along with lack of love and stimulus, can cause lifelong problems. Yet, 45 percent of births in Michigan are to single women below the poverty line who are ill-equipped to educate or care for their kids. It’s estimated that 10,000 young children suffered from neglect in 2006 and that 60 percent of kids entering kindergarten in Michigan “don’t have appropriate social and emotional skills.”
Thus, a child’s success or failure may be dependent upon programs such as Head Start or day care. This is a concern for us all, because the child who grows up illiterate and drops out of school today becomes the dysfunctional, unemployable adult of tomorrow with all of the social problems that come with that baggage.
Similarly, a proposal to cut between 20-57 percent in the State’s general budget would have a devastating effect on mental health programs across Michigan.
“The proposed cuts will force Community Mental Health boards to eliminate services and turn away people who have nowhere else to go,” said Mike Vizena, executive director of the boards’ association. “Thousands of persons across the state will not receive the type of mental health and substance use disorder treatment services they need and the state will see increased costs in facilities, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, homelessness and criminal justice settings.”
Of note, Michigan will be cutting its budget for mental health at a time when our agencies are reporting increases of 15-20 percent for services such as depression “due to job losses, loss of private health insurance coverage, home foreclosures and other stressors caused by the current economy in Michigan.”
Needless to say, there are many other concerns relating to the budget cuts: prison closures and cutbacks in law enforcement; the closure of the State Library; cuts in
education...
What’s the solution? Easy answer there: a nation or state has to generate sufficient resources as the result of a robust economy to afford the kind of social programs that would be considered a luxury in lands such as India.
On the other hand, they certainly don‘t have 45 percent of births to single, impoverished women in India -- as is the claim for Michigan -- so maybe they know something that we don‘t about social programs.
For now, Michigan still has a whistle and a prayer for providing some vestige of a social safety net, but unless we get our economy fired up again, we’re likely to see beggars on the streets and the kind of social problems that can’t even be imagined today.
For starters, that means buying American, and especially buying products made in Michigan.

 
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