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Green Gavel scoring system rates Michigan’s Supreme Court’s environmental impacts

Note from OKT: If you were at the Southeast Area Farmers Market last week, you may have talked with the Michigan LCV folks who ere sharing information there. Here’s an example of their good work.

Reposted from Rapid Growth Media

In collaboration with students at the University of Michigan Law School, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has updated its online Green Gavels tool. When a Michigan Supreme Court case concerns an environmental issue, the scoring tool rates the justices’ decision on the case either green, yellow or red, based on how it impacts the environment. 

“We want our Supreme Court legal system to be independent from political influence of all kinds and not independent from the best ideas and public desire for cleaner land, air and water,” says Nick Occhipinti, Michigan LCV’s Grand Rapids-based government affairs director.

A green gavel indicates a decision that was good for the environment, a red gavel means not only was the decision bad for the environment, but the justices could have chosen to rule differently. Yellow gavels indicate either that the issue had no impact on the environment, was bad but decided upon precedent or an unrelated issue, or was bad but based correctly on the existing law.

“It’s an opportunity for the public to gain better access to information that is not easily available. [The Green Gavel] is shining a bright light on what the Michigan Supreme Court is doing,” Occhipinti says. “The state Supreme Court is a third, coequal branch of the government.”

One case the Michigan LCV followed was Henry v. Dow Chemical. A unanimous 2018 Michigan Supreme Court decision reversed the lower courts and prevented residents from bringing lawsuits when negative health issues caused by pollution do not develop until after the existing statute of limitations had passed.

“Now it is harder for property owners to bring suits,” Occhipinti says. “Because we’re active in the legislative arena and connected to the legal realm, with this tool, we can put the pieces together. [We can] say, ‘Hey, folks, this legislation is critically important because it closes this legal gap.’ In this case, the statute of limitations, but pick your issue.”

Nick Occhipinti

Originally launched in 2012, Michigan LCV’s Green Gavels scored environmental cases from 1980-2012. The update adds cases from 2012-2020 and tracks scores for current justices. Cases and justices’ scores are updated regularly. Currently, the website reports that Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack has the most green gavels, seven, while Justice Brian K. Zara has the most red gavels, seven.

“Connection of the legal outcomes at the State Supreme Court, at that highest level, connection to statute and legislative change within the Michigan legislature, that is how we connect to issues,” Occhipinti says. “Finding that there are holes and a legal recourse for protecting [people from] contaminated sites, protecting Michigan’s land, air and water. My job is to improve our legislative policy that will then protect communities.”


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Michigan League of Conservation Voters

In solidarity with Michigan food workers

Strikes Waged Across the Country Come On the 12-Year Anniversary Since the Last Increase to the Federal Minimum Wage

Today, starting at 12:00, dozens of restaurant workers in Detroit will conduct a ‘wage strike’ at Mcdonald’s on 14142 Fordham in solidarity with McDonald’s cashiers and cooks going on strike. One Fair Wage leaders are demanding a full minimum wage plus tips in order to remain in the industry, with the overwhelming majority of them citing low wages and tips as a core reason for finding new employment.

The ‘wage strike’ is being organized by One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of tipped subminimum wage workers, and the Fight for $15 coalition, just before the July 24th date, which marks 12 years since the last increase to the federal minimum wage. 

WHERE: McDonald’s, 14142 Fordham, Detroit, MI
WHEN: Tuesday, July 20, 12:00pm EST
LOCAL CONTACT: Chantel Watkins, 313-623-9022

According to a report from One Fair Wage, 53% of all workers say they are considering leaving their restaurant jobs, with the overwhelming majority of them citing low wages and tips as a core reason for finding new employment. The report comes as restaurants (and other low wage paying businesses) across the country are reporting difficulty hiring new workers, with nearly 40% of restaurant companies saying they’re having trouble finding servers, cooks and other workers.

“The restaurant industry doesn’t have a worker shortage – it has a wage shortage. Tens of thousands of restaurant workers do not want to go back to work to earn poverty wages putting their lives on the line,” said Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage. “Now is the time to change that. With strikes taking place across the country this week, workers are demanding One Fair Wage – a full minimum wage wage with tips on top: the only way to put our nation back on the road to economic recovery and to ensure that restaurants and their workers can thrive as we rebuild our economy.”

The report, “It’s A Wage Shortage, Not A Worker Shortage: Why Michigan Restaurant Workers Are Leaving the Industry, and What Would Make Them Stay,” identifies how the core problem with restaurants recruiting workers isn’t the lack of workers available, but rather, the lack of workers who will go back to jobs that pay so little. The report finds that: 

  • 64% of Michigan workers are considering leaving their restaurant job with the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Michigan workers report that they are leaving restaurant jobs due to low wages and tips. ‘Low wages and tips’ was the most popular reason for leaving the industry, nearly 7 percentage points higher than the second most popular reason — COVID health risks.
  • The vast majority of all Michigan respondents (77%) report having a full, stable, livable wage would make them consider staying at their job. Again, ‘full, stable, livable wages’ was by far the most popular factor that workers reported would make them stay at their job, nearly 30 percentage points higher than the second most popular factor — better COVID safety measures.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 Michigan workers (89%) say their tips have decreased during the pandemic, and nearly three quarters (76%) say their tips are down 50% or more.
  • Michigan workers report leaving their restaurant jobs due to hostility and harassment from customers at a rate 24% higher than the national average.
  • 82% of Michigan workers reported coming into contact with maskless individuals at least once per shift. 62% know someone that has died from COVID. 
  • Women in Michigan were most than twice as likely as men to report a noticeable increase in the levels of sexual harassment during the pandemic (51% v 24%).

SEE THE FULL REPORT HERE: https://onefairwage.site/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/OFW_WageShortage_MI-1.pdf

Grand Rapids Public Schools wants your opinion

TAKE SURVEY HERE

Take 10 minutes to help GRPS develop a plan to guide the district for the next five years. GRPS writes, “The success of our school district affects everyone in our community, and we want to be sure all of our residents have the opportunity to provide input to this process.” Your response will be anonymous. Results will be posted on the GRPS website later this summer. The survey will be open until June 25th.

Catalyst Conversations: Re-designing Our Food System.

Tuesday, May 25th, 2:30-4 p.m. 

Virtual. Register here.

The Michigan Local Food Council Network is launching an interactive discussion series, Catalyst Conversations: Re-designing Our Food System. These conversations will invite all advocates and community members – from novice to seasoned expert in topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion – to build relationships and share ideas to mobilize communities for transformative action. The Catalyst Conversation series will use deep-dive discussion to frame a spectrum of food systems change across individual, organizational, and institutional levels; equip participants with practical, accessible change models; and incorporate healing and restorative practice.

The first of these interactive conversations will take place Tuesday, May 25th from 2:30-4 p.m.  During this initial event, a panel of “relatable experts” will ground participants in cultural understandings of food systems engagement and transformation. We will invite participants to engage in small group discussions with these experts and one another.  The MLFCN will also seek input on future discussion topics for this series.

We will send more detail on the first in this series in the coming days, as speakers are confirmed. Meanwhile, please save the date!  You can also register for the May 25 event at: https://msu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJElfumvqzopGtZYwxMcWwtpRmW4bsPJbvSE

This series has been created through the MLFCN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Team, a small (but mighty) group of MLFCN members from across Michigan, that has worked to build a framework for this series that is inspiring, educational, and action-oriented.    

Workers rally in celebration of the Raise the Wage Act

Workers in DC, NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix & Detroit Hold Socially Distanced Rallies in Support of $15 Minimum Wage & Raise the Wage Act

Today, starting at 2:30pm, Detroit essential workers will hold a socially distanced rally in celebration of the Raise the Wage Act, legislation that would end the subminimum wage for tipped workers and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and that is included in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID package, at Senator Gary Peters’ Office. Speakers will include:

  • Davante Burnley, an executive chef for an upcoming restaurant in Detroit, who has 12 years of experience in the restaurant industry in every kitchen position. He’s an activist because he notices that fair wages make all the difference for quality of work and life.
  • Godwin Ihentuge, owner of beloved Detroit restaurant Yum Village
  • Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie, a bakery in Detroit

WHERE: Senator Gary Peters’ Detroit Office, 477 Michigan Avenue Suite 1837 Detroit, MI 48226
WHEN: Monday, February 22, 2:30pm EST
LOCAL CONTACT: Chantel Watkins, 313-623-9022, chantel@onefairwage.org

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.

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.

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.  

Decades of state revenue sharing cuts have harmed communities, impeded racial equity

New report shows state funding for local governments has declined by up to one-third over 22 years, forcing budget cuts, diminished services and bad policies

LANSING—As local governments seek to address the COVID-19 crisis and address calls to reevaluate local spending and its impact on racial equity, a new report, Building Equitable Communities: More Funding Needed for Local Governments, looks at the role that revenue sharing declines are playing in these decisions. 

The research from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows that local revenue sharing payments—state funding that’s distributed to local governments—have declined 35.4% for cities, villages and townships and 25.4% for counties between 1997 and 2019. In addition to the report, related fact sheets offer an overview of the decline in state revenue sharing and a timeline of important policy decisions that have affected local government funding.

“I have served on the Huntington Woods City Commission and in the Michigan Legislature, so I have seen both sides of the revenue sharing equation and know how vital a fair deal from the state is to our local governments,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Local government spending touches our daily lives just as much as state spending, from the local health departments making important decisions right now, the emergency services we depend on in a crisis, the roads we drive on, the parks our kids play in and more, and for the past two decades, our state government’s commitment to our counties, cities, villages and townships has dwindled. COVID-19 has amplified the importance of our local governments and their funding needs, but equitable revenue sharing should be a part of every single state budget.”

The report reveals that local governments have been getting hit on both sides as far as their budget funding goes. In addition to state revenue sharing declines, property tax collections have also diminished. When adjusted for inflation, property tax collections in 2019 were 8.7% below collections in 2017 and only 11% above the trough in property tax collections brought on by the 2008-2009 foreclosure crisis. In 2019, real Michigan property tax collections were on par with collections in 2004. 

These trends in property tax collections are the product of two intertwined constitutional limitations: the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A. The passage of Proposal A had some unintended consequences when combined with the Headlee Amendment, and the report explores those policy changes and their impact in greater detail.

Increasing local revenues is a racial justice issue. To achieve the vision of racial equity, economic prosperity, and social justice, the people, organizations, and governments that support those goals need resources. With more flexible spending power, local units of government can target resources to programs and services as needed.

“Racial equity is an important concern in every policy decision, as they have both intended and unintended consequences, and revenue sharing is no different,” Jacobs said. “The continued fight against police brutality toward Black and Brown people has also raised important questions about local government spending, and with more resources from the state in revenue sharing, greater investments can be made in the areas that promote racial equity and economic security for all. And as state lawmakers tackle a variety of criminal justice reforms, including revisiting court fines and fees, they must also acknowledge that revenue sharing declines have pushed local governments to rely more on court fines and fees.”

The League’s analysis points out that local units of government are seeking to recoup declining revenues in increasingly inequitable and unpopular ways, including a growing reliance on fine and fee collection to pay for city services. The white supremacist system on which modern policing is built and longstanding racially biased policing in Michigan have created a system where Black and Brown people in Michigan are systematically targeted by police. As such, a heavy reliance on fines and fees is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities.

In addition, the movement to defund police is pushing for the reinvestment of revenues from policing into racially equitable systems that target and preempt the root causes of crime. To do this, local units of government are going to need funding to reinvigorate opportunities in communities of color to reduce income and wealth inequality. Funding a completely new vision of public safety will require injections of money from the state to help fund the mental health services, youth programs and social safety net that will achieve that vision.

The League’s report outlines the following recommendations to address local governments’ funding needs, improving racial equity in the process:

  • Significantly increasing statutory revenue sharing to counties and cities, villages and townships to at least match what is called for under the statutory formula from Public Act 532 of 1998;
  • Creating new formulas for the distribution of statutory revenue sharing to send more resources to communities with low housing wealth;
  • Expanding the Homestead Property Tax Credit; and
  • Authorizing more tax options for local units of government, including motor vehicle taxes and registration fees, and alcohol, tobacco and cannabis taxes, and taxes on entertainment and amusement.

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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.