Nestle gets richer while Michigan waits for better water protections

House Bills 5290, 5291 and 5292 introduced almost a year ago languish awaiting a hearing

While water shut-offs and lead poisoning still threaten Michigan’s vulnerable citizens, late last week, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) dismissed a challenge to Nestle Waters North America’s 2018 permit that allows the multinational corporation to extract Michigan’s groundwater at an extraordinarily minimal cost. Under the current Safe Drinking Water Act, EGLE is authorized to issue permits for water extraction, but may not charge a fee for groundwater extracted for bottled water.

In late 2019, state Reps. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) introduced legislation that would explicitly include all waters of the state in the public trust, expand the Department of Natural Resource’s authority to manage Michigan’s water supplies, and remove the small-container exemption to the prohibition on diverting water from the Great Lakes that allows for Nestle’s operations.

“Tomorrow will mark exactly 50 weeks since my colleagues and I introduced legislation to secure and protect Michigan’s water resources,” said Hood. “While the decision that EGLE reached in this challenge is no surprise, the refusal by the legislative Republican majority to give this package of bills a hearing in committee is both shameful and disappointing. Over 80,000 Michigan citizens have documented their concerns about Michigan water resource give-aways to benefit the shareholders of an international corporation. The citizens of Michigan have been waiting for years for legislative action to stop this foolish ‘blue light special’, allowing corporations to privatize our state’s greatest natural resource, freshwater. This has been an issue in our state for far too long, and we must act quickly to enact policies that protect Michigan’s natural resources and secure the rights of all Michiganders.”

House Bills 5290, 5291 and 5292 were introduced on Dec. 10, 2019, and have been awaiting a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee since that time.

Read OKT’s take on Water Justice here.

MiBlues Perspectives features OKT

Grant Funding Empowers Expanded Food Justice Efforts in Grand Rapids’ Neighborhoods  

One of our funders, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, shared this post about OKT.

For some Grand Rapids residents, growing a garden doesn’t just mean a bumper crop of tomatoes and greens at harvest time, it means taking back control of what’s on the dinner table.  

Since 2003, Our Kitchen Table has been empowering families in four Grand Rapids neighborhoods – Garfield Park, Southtown, Eastown and Baxter – to grow their own food. The organization formed to address high levels of lead in the area. Homes in the neighborhoods sit on land previously used for farming, with pesticides leaving concentrated levels of lead in the soil. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables has been shown to counteract the effects of lead.  

The organization’s mission today includes addressing food insecurity, food justice, nutrition and oral health among women and their families through gardening and services supporting health.  

PANDEMIC DRIVES RENEWED INTEREST IN GARDENING 

Demand for Our Kitchen Table’s services has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, said executive director Lisa Oliver-King. With families stuck at home and looking for ways to improve their health, Oliver-King said the number of households the organization served over the summer through a container gardening program nearly doubled.  

A $34,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation will help Our Kitchen Table expand peer educator training, which will further help the organization keep up with increased demand. Oliver-King said empowering families with knowledge is a step toward food justice for underserved areas.       

“The closer you are to your food in its natural state, the more nutritious it is,” she said. “The closer you are to your food, the more control you have over it.”  

EDUCATION INSPIRES A HEALTHY CONNECTION TO FOOD 

Through Our Kitchen Table’s Educate to Elevate programming, peer educators help families learn to grow their own nutritious foods and cook with them. They also show healthier ways to cook favorite dishes and introduce new produce to families so they can expand their palates and preferences for healthy foods. Peer educators also help expectant moms understand the relationship the food they eat has on the health of their growing baby. Greens with calcium can help babies’ bones grow strong, for example.  

Della Levi started growing veggies and herbs in small pots in 2018, inspired by Our Kitchen Table’s Program for Growth, which partners with local schools to teach children about gardening and where food comes from. Levi’s efforts expanded to raised beds in 2019 and designated garden space in 2020 with more raised beds.  

“Growing your own produce is magical,” Levi said. “Not only does food taste better, but it also looks better.”  

Her intense interest in growing her own food is rooted in heritage as well. “The other reason why I grow produce is to pay homage to my ancestors and elders. Black farmers were instrumental in the freedom movement for African Americans in America,” Levi explained. “I have pledged to give away produce from my garden every season to show gratitude to the ancestors and elders.”   

Oliver-King said stories like Levi’s are the reason Our Kitchen Table exists and she hopes to inspire more women and families passionate about home-grown food so they too can take charge of their own health and that of their families.   

“The work that Our Kitchen Table is doing in Grand Rapids is helping transform the relationship families have with their food, which will ripple through generations and lead to better health outcomes,” said Audrey Harvey, executive director and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. “We’re proud to support efforts that are addressing food insecurity, food justice and providing families the education they need to increase their consumption of healthy foods.”  

Michigans’ for-profit colleges target low income students, fail to provide graduates high-quality outcomes

New report shows many for-profit colleges use deceptive practices to recruit students in order to gain access to federal aid

For-profit colleges in Michigan are overpriced, under-regulated and target students who have low incomes, according to a new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy. The report, For-profit colleges in Michigan: Path forward or dead end?, shows that most for-profit colleges in the state—there were 77 of them in 2018—cost more money than traditional public schools and don’t provide opportunities or degree value that aligns with that high price tag. The schools target students with low incomes, Black and Latinx students and veterans largely because those students are more likely to receive federal aid like Pell grants.

“We see predatory behavior when it comes to the way these for-profit institutions advertise. They’re aggressively recruiting folks earning low wages, nontraditional students trying to raise a family, our nation’s veterans, and Black and Latinx students. In fact, nearly three-quarters of students in for-profit schools in the United States had an income of $24,000 or less in 2016. Meanwhile, the students are graduating with massive debt and lower employment rates than their counterparts at traditional public and nonprofit private schools,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

All told, Black students are overrepresented in for-profit schools when compared to the overall population of potential Black students in the state. In 2018, on average 30.6% of the student body at a Michigan for-profit school was Black. This percentage of Black enrollment was at least 20 points greater than that in other

types of institutions in the state. Systemic inequities in postsecondary education by race and targeted, aggressive marketing strategies likely compound, creating overrepresentation of Black students enrolled in for-profit institutions in the state.

Eighty-three percent of graduates from for-profit colleges in the U.S. took out student loans and graduated with an average of $39,000 in debt. That’s 41% higher than graduates from other types of four-year colleges. What’s more, 30% of students at for-profit colleges in Michigan defaulted on their federal student loans, compared with just 4% of students at public colleges. 


“By definition, for-profit colleges aim to make money for investors. So what incentive do they have to keep tuition and other costs down? They’re not only shortchanging students, they’re exploiting them in order to benefit from federal aid like Pell Grants.The influx of students receiving federal aid means taxpayer money is flowing right into these schools and helping them profit. These for-profit schools prey on students who are in need, promising a way forward to the ‘American Dream,’ but they’re not delivering on that promise,” Gilda Z. Jacobs said.

For-profit college recruiters have used misleading claims about cost, time commitment and job placement in order to attract students. This, along with other deceptive practices, has led to several for-profit colleges and their parent companies being prosecuted for consumer protection violations and other protection violations. Attorney General Dana Nessel has signed Michigan on to several multi-state lawsuits against for-profit educational companies that defrauded students.

The League recommends a variety of solutions that state and federal policymakers can adopt, including requiring institutions to disclose all federal funding, encouraging high school counseling offices to provide materials on how to weigh costs and benefits when choosing a college, and restoring student borrower protections that were enacted during the Obama administration and eliminated by the Trump administration. 

The higher education needs of all Michiganders, especially students of color and those with lower incomes, continues to be a focus of the League’s policy work. A report released in May 2020, Expanding the dream: Helping Michigan reach racial equity in Bachelor’s degree completion, found that Michigan ranks third-worst in the nation for the number of bachelor degrees earned by Black students. Another recent report looked at COVID-19’s impact on college students and their basic needs.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

2020’s virtual #TheShift Summit takes place Saturday

Register Here! #TheShift Summit

Hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Black Business (GRABB).

This one-day experience dedicated to empowering Black entrepreneurs and communities, #TheShift Summit has gone virtual this year with the theme, Progressively Black. This annual gathering connects, engages and informs Black entrepreneurs, creatives small business owners, professionals and stakeholders about opportunities, resources and programs in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that will foster to economic empowerment and equity.

#TheShift Summit attendees will enjoy a day filled with panel discussions, workshops and networking with entrepreneurs, influencers, doers, creatives and other social, public and private leaders.

Featured speaker Lynn Smith is an entrepreneur and the creator of Buy The Block, one of only Black-owned crowd-investing platform that is helping Black communities build wealth while determining the direction of development in their communities.

Lynn has invested in real estate since she was 21, and experienced firsthand how difficult it can be for small investors to get financing. She also saw how the North Miami neighborhood where she grew up was radically altered by development, without any input from residents. Those experiences led her to found Buy The Block.

Smith is motivated by the power that crowd-investing has to engage people and give them a sense of agency. “It’s really helps to get the community involved and show them they can be part of an action that’s being taken in their community and get the benefits and rewards,” she says.

Learn More Here – Buy The Block

Featured speaker, Andre M. Perry, is a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, a scholar-in-residence at American University, and a columnist for the Hechinger Report. He is the author of the new book Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities, which is currently available wherever books are sold.

A nationally known and respected commentator on race, structural inequality, and education, Perry is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has been published by The New York Times, The Nation, The Washington Post, TheRoot.com and CNN.com. Perry has also made appearances on CNN, PBS, National Public Radio, NBC, and ABC. His research focuses on race and structural inequality, education, and economic inclusion. Perry’s recent scholarship at Brookings has analyzed Black-majority cities and institutions in America, focusing on valuable assets worthy of increased investment.

His research has spotlighted the struggles of Black businesses—including artists and art institutions, restaurants, and barbershops and beauty salons—as they await federal relief from COVID-19’s economic impact.

Learn More Here – Know Your Price



Additional COVID-19 food assistance extended through November

Nov. 6, 2020 Press Release from MDHHS

Additional COVID-19 food assistance for 350,000 Michigan families in response to COVID-19 emergency extended through November 

Approximately 350,000 Michigan families will continue to have access to additional food assistance benefits during the month of November as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced today.

Michigan previously approved the additional food assistance for March through June – and now that is being extended for the month of November with approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.

“MDHHS remains committed to helping families who continue to struggle to put food on the table as a result of the pandemic,” said MDHHS Director Robert Gordon. “Providing nutritious food is vitally important during these difficult times just as protecting residents from the virus is.”

Eligible clients will see additional food assistance benefits on their Bridge Card by Nov. 30, with payments beginning for some households on Nov. 21. Additional benefits will be loaded onto Bridge Cards as a separate payment from the assistance that is provided earlier in the month.

Nearly 1.5 million people in Michigan receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through the state’s Food Assistance Program 

Households eligible for Food Assistance Program benefits will receive additional benefits in November to bring all current SNAP cases to the maximum monthly allowance for that group size. This change only applies to customers not currently receiving the maximum benefit amount. The 350,000 households that receive increased benefits represent more than 50 percent of the more than 682,000 Michigan households that received food assistance in September. The remaining households already receive the maximum benefit.

The table below shows the maximum allowable benefit for SNAP customers based on their respective household size: 

One Person Two PersonsThree PersonsFour PersonsFive PersonsSix PersonsSeven Persons Eight Persons 
$204$374$535$680$807$969$1,071$1,224

The federal government is providing additional funding to states for food assistance under House Resolution 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Eligible families do not need to re-apply to receive the additional benefits. People who receive food assistance can check their benefits balance on their Michigan Bridge Card by going online to  www.michigan.gov/MIBridges a consumer service representative toll-free at 888-678-8914. They can ask questions about the additional benefits by calling or emailing their caseworker.

Customer service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Spanish and Arabic service is available. If you are deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing or speech-impaired, call the Michigan Relay Center at 7-1-1.

Information around the COVID-19 outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at  Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.  

COVID-19 Testing at Garfield Park

New Neighborhood Testing Site Begins Offering COVID-19 Testing in Grand Rapids

LANSING, MICH. A new Neighborhood Testing Site in Grand Rapids opens today, bringing the total number of community sites offering COVID-19 testing to 21. The Michigan Department of the Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is working with trusted community partners including churches, community colleges and nonprofit organizations to launch the sites.  

The site, at Garfield Park Gym, 2111 Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, will offer testing Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  

“Neighborhood testing sites have proven to be a valuable resource for communities across the state to ensure free testing is available to all Michiganders,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy of health at MDHHS. “Since these sites were opened at the end of August, more than 16,000 Michiganders have been tested at one of the Neighborhood Testing Sites. Locations were chosen in part to help address racial and ethnic disparities that existed prior to the pandemic and were exacerbated by the virus.” 

“We are pleased to collaborate with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Kent County Health Department to bring COVID-19 testing to our Garfield Park neighborhood,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “Providing free health screening to our most vulnerable residents is critical as we all work together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  And this is another example of how we are working with partners to reduce health disparities in our community.”

The new sites join 20 other sites in Albion, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Ecorse, Flint, Graying, Lansing, Niles, Roseville, Saginaw and Wayne. Language translation is being provided at all sites, as well as assistance for the deaf and hard of hearing.

“As we continue to encourage the people of Kent County to get tested, we are grateful to have this additional resource in our community,” said Dr. Adam London, administrative health officer with the Kent County Health Department. “Ensuring access to quality testing is a key part of our strategy to identify cases and limit COVID-19’s ability to spread.” 

Testing sites are offering saliva tests, which are less invasive than nasal swabs and may make the testing process more tolerable for some people.  Appointments are strongly encouraged and can be made either by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 and selecting “1,” or online. Walk-ins will be taken as space allows, but pre-registration is strongly advised. Online registration is available at Michigan.gov/CoronavirusTest

Test results can be obtained via phone, email or by logging into the results portal.  

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.    

Last farmers market of the season Saturday Nov. 7

11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller Ave. SE 49506

Last chance to visit the Southeast Area Farmers Market is Saturday Nov. 7. Have you tried the wares of Chef Boi Boi Seasoning or Shea Buttercups by TahLee? They and other vendors will be on hand to serve you.

If you have Double Up Food Bucks left, now is a good time to spend them! Our market warmly welcomes SNAP, EBT, WIC and many other assistance and coupon programs.