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Expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits

8133E959-4131-4A80-9C81-DA770BA57421-770x470Governor Whitmer has signed an executive order temporarily expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits. Under the order, unemployment benefits would be extended to:

  • Workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, including those who have childcare responsibilities due to school closures, or those who are forced to care for loved ones who become ill.
  • Workers who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
  • First responders in the public health community who become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.

We must come together to protect those who have become unemployed from this health crisis. Sign our petition to support the expansion of unemployment benefits to hardworking Michiganders.

 

Tell the Michigan Public Service Commission to make DTE work for us!

MsMargaret01_1200-1Reposted from the MEJC

The Work For Me, DTE! campaign is working for health, affordability, and democracy in Detroit and throughout southeast Michigan.

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) is supposed to be our watchdog making sure DTE treats us ratepayers fairly. The MPSC is currently considering DTE’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). DTE’s IRP is how they plan to spend your money over the next 15 years, shaping the future of our communities. Their plan right now is to spend your money building giant fracked gas plants and pipelines, making massive profits for their shareholders and leaving our communities sick, underserved, and overcharged.

We can change that.

We are calling on the Michigan Public Service Commission to put community welfare over corporate profits. The IRP should promote affordability, health, community ownership, and good jobs in our communities through local clean energy like rooftop solar, accessible weatherization and energy efficiency, and equitable infrastructure upgrades.

Make your voice HEARD!

Resources:

The following organizations are part of the Work For Me, DTE campaign. To add your organization, email work4medte@gmail.com.

East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Engage Michigan, Ecology Center, Meta Peace Team / MCHR, Good Jobs Now, MI Citizens For Conservation, Coalition To Oppose US Ecology, WACO, D2SOLAR, Sierra Club, MI Interfaith Power & Light, Good Jobs Now, Soulardarity, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Citizen’s Resistance Against Fermi Two, We Want Green Too!, We The People Detroit, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit

Coalition of immigrant rights groups urges communities to spread facts, not fear, on public charge rule change

FREAReposted news release from the Michigan League for Public Policy

On Monday, Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision that allows the new public charge rule aimed at immigrant families to take effect while several cases challenging its legality make their way through the courts. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services intends to begin implementing the rule on Feb. 24, 2020. The Protecting Immigrant Families – Michigan Coalition issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. The statement may be attributed to Staff Attorney Tania Morris Diaz of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC).

“This new rule is essentially a wealth test that severely changes the face of family-based immigration in the United States, and threatens the health, nutrition, and housing of families all over the country. The rule is designed to disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, and undermines our nation’s core values.

We must ensure that families are equipped with accurate information about public charge so they can make decisions based on facts and not fear. Many immigrant families, including those with United States citizen children, have been unnecessarily disenrolling from public benefits as a precaution in light of the new rule. Right now, direct service organizations around the country are working hard to prevent this harmful chilling effect, and to address existing confusion about the public charge rule itself.

“Most families can continue to get benefits they’re eligible for without it affecting their immigration options.

“The ultimate fate of the final rule is currently unclear, as these lawsuits will still have to be decided on their merits, and the courts hearing these cases may still strike down the rule. If this rule is fully and permanently implemented, it will have a serious impact on our family-based immigration system. We have yet to know how this highly complicated new rule will be applied to future green card applicants, but every case is different and outcomes will depend on the circumstances of each applicant. We encourage individuals seeking to obtain a green card through a family member to educate themselves on the process and speak with an attorney to determine how to proceed.

“In this country, we don’t value people’s contributions to their community by the size of their bank account. We are hopeful that regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the temporary injunction, this rule is ultimately struck down by the courts as unlawful.”

The Protecting Immigrant Families – Michigan campaign urges the media to put out the right information and help document the harmful impacts of this rule.

As an important reminder, the public charge rule does not affect individuals who already have their green card and want to renew it, remove conditions on it, or apply for citizenship. It does not apply to those who are not eligible to apply for a green card. The new rule does not apply to U.S. citizen family members of mixed-status families. It does not apply to those who have or are applying for asylum or refugee status, T-Visas, U-Visas, SIJS or VAWA. 

 

Immigrant families with questions about public charge should call the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center at 734-239-6863 for free and confidential information.

EJ Communities’ Urgent Need for Climate Action

mejc_logo_colorReposted from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition

*This letter was originally prepared for a meeting with EJ Public Advocate Regina Strong, and Dr. Brandy Brown, Climate and Energy Advisor to the Governor

Memo on Governor’s Climate Agenda: To Address the Urgent
Need for Environmental Justice, We Must be Climate READY

First, we want to recognize the moral significance of making time and space to meet directly with environmental justice communities and organizations on the urgent demands of the climate crisis.

Vulnerable communities, Black, Latinx, Arab, and Indigenous peoples have bore the brunt of contamination and degradation in Michigan for decades, if not centuries. As such, our expertise of the regulatory system, our traditional ecological knowledge, and our social networks are rich, exact in their capacities, and best suited to troubleshoot and resolve climate issues – whether the issues are ones that are emergent or ones tied to past abuses of the energy sector.
Additionally, organizations and Tribes led by leaders who live in their communities bear externalities and the highest risks of bad policy decisions. They also have the most to gain from positive results of good policy in physical and material ways. The rewards of positive policy decisions should seek to amend and resolve the historic disproportionality of toxicity and inaccessibility to food, water, land, healthy communities and cultural freedoms.
With this in mind, we believe there are several low hanging fruits for the Governor to move on that exemplify early stage crisis responses that are administratively sound. We summarize them in a community-useful acronym called Climate R.E.A.D.Y. that identifies our priorities and timeframe.

CLIMATE R.E.A.D.Y.
Readiness for the crisis
● Establish regular communication with frontline communities, especially those that are
multilingual and accessible for multi-abled people;
● Engage local hearings, townhall, and listening sessions on toxics, vulnerability, health, pollution, legacy sites, flooding, high heat and extreme cold;
● Meet regularly with EJ organizations and Tribal governments about climate, environmental impacts, and troubleshooting resilience strategies;
● Communicate with multi-platform channels through televised, print, and online sources.

Emergency-response protocols
● Establish cross-agency and cross-jurisdiction working groups that can quickly mobilize when there is a threat of exposure and/or contamination along with extreme weather contingency planning, funding, and execution;
● Troubleshoot and evaluate emergency situations and closure of regulatory loopholes;
● Disclose fully all materials, incidents and responsible parties, with fines and fees levied at the scale of the risk and directed toward clean up and harm reduction/mitigation;
● Deploy effective and timely risk communication to potentially impacted communities, with
adequate evacuation notification.

Assess past and foreseen harms
● Employ Cumulative Impact Assessments and Health Impact Assessment in decision-making;
● Assess climate risk in decision-making at the permit level, and certificate of necessity, IRP and other planning, including high lake levels, including life cycle analysis of all GHG emission sources (public and private);
● Establish a Climate Commission in which equity is central and where environmental justice communities have a majority in decision-making;
● Enact vulnerability criteria that are utilized in decision-making processes regarding emissions control, reduction, mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Development initiatives
● Aggregate financing, block grants, and special funds deployed for Just Transition within geographies directly impacted by pollution, flooding, food shocks, high heat, drought, extreme cold and persistent contamination AND particularly where there is no or inadequate access to healthcare, housing, food and clean water, and other resilience measures for public health and welfare;
● Direct public dollars to leverage the Just Transition of municipalities and workforce sectors impacted by fossil fuel regulatory statutes like facility closure;
● Target strategies for transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable economy within those same vulnerable geographies, including EV access, clean drinking water and sanitation infrastructure, organic food, waste reduction and elimination, community solar, energy, efficient retrofits, transmission renovation and distributed generation;
● Create a “Do business in Michigan” incentives program for Michigan-based companies to receive tax breaks or other incentives as they pursue/maximize using local production inputs and purchase products, minority-owned businesses, as locally as possible to reduce transportation emissions, which will also create Michigan jobs and economic benefits.
● Train those most under-represented in the clean energy workforce including but not limited to: returning citizens, veterans, Tribal members, DACA residents;
● Reject bailout promises that burden residential consumers with debt from stranded assets we foresee in the energy sector;
● Adopt strategies for EJ communities displaced by extreme weather events settling or unsettled in Michigan.

Year 2030
● Acknowledge that by all estimates the climate crisis is upon us in Michigan and there is no time to wait.
● Pursue aggressively 100% renewable energy by 2030. As the steward of 89% of the nation’s fresh surface water, Michigan must act.
● Reject the false solutions presented by the oil and gas industry, like carbon capture and storage, cap and trade, and nuclear energy, as being the only options to put millions of people to work, and save lives on a global scale.

With this Climate R.E.A.D.Y. program for Michigan, we believe the Governor’s Climate Agenda has the best opportunity for ecological and environmental justice success. MEJC is ready and able to help you meet this challenge and demonstrate our commitment to Michigan communities and the nation.

Thank you.

Regards,
Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition

Jail task force offers up major improvements

Michigan League for Public Policy urges Legislature to follow through

downloadDiverse, bipartisan group seeks to improve jail system to better serve all, reduce burden on people with lower incomes

The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration’s recommendations announced today. The statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“Our current jail system’s overemphasis on fines and fees—and severe imbalance and punishment for those who can’t afford them—is creating a modern-day debtors’ prison where people with lower incomes receive harsher penalties than people with money. This area of our justice system has sadly become more focused on public profits than public safety and the punishment often fits the pocketbook more than the crime. But the jail task force’s recommendations released today seek to change that, and the League wholeheartedly supports these recommendations.

“With the Legislature’s proven, bipartisan appetite for justice reform illustrated over the past year, we are optimistic that lawmakers will continue that momentum and take these suggestions to heart. This task force was conscientious of diversity in every regard, including experiences and perspectives, and with representatives from every angle of the jail system involved, this report stands to be a good area of common-sense reform and bipartisan agreement that is needed to start the new year off right.”

The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration’s policy recommendations are:

Traffic violations: Stop suspending and revoking licenses for actions unrelated to safe driving. Reclassify most traffic offenses and some other minor misdemeanors as civil rather than criminal infractions.

Arrest: Expand officer discretion to use appearance tickets as an alternative to arrest and jail. Reduce the use of arrest warrants to enforce court appearance and payments, and establish a statewide initiative to resolve new warrants and recall very old ones.

Behavioral health diversion: Provide crisis response training for law enforcement and incentivize programs and partnerships between law enforcement and treatment providers to divert people with behavioral health needs from the justice system pre- and post-arrest.

The first 24 hours after arrest: Release people jailed on certain charges pre-arraignment and guarantee appearance before a judicial officer within 24-48 hours for anyone still detained.

Pretrial release and detention: Strengthen the presumption of release on personal recognizance and set higher thresholds for imposing non-financial and financial conditions. Provide a detention hearing for all defendants still detained 48 hours after arraignment.

Speedy trial: Require defendants to be tried within 18 months of arrest and preserve speedy trial rights unless waived by the defendant.

Alternatives to jail sentences: Presumptively impose sentences other than jail for non-serious misdemeanors and for felonies marked for “intermediate sanctions” under the sentencing guidelines.

Probation and parole: Shorten maximum probation terms for most felonies, establish new caps on jail time for technical violations, and streamline the process for those in compliance to earn early discharge.

Financial barriers to compliance: Reduce fine amounts for civil infractions. Require criminal courts to determine ability to pay fines and fees at sentencing and to modify unaffordable obligations. Repeal the law authorizing sheriffs to bill people for their own incarceration.

Victim services: Invest significant resources in victim services and strengthen protection order practices.

Data collection: Standardize criminal justice data collection and reporting across the state.

Citizen initiative would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people

Reposted from Fair and Equal Michigan

Business, political and philanthropic leaders join LGBTQ advocacy groups to proclaim: Every Michigander should have an equal chance to succeed

Fair-and-Equal-Michigan-Proposed-Petition-for-Initiation-of-Legislation-Feb-7-2020-1024x622A growing committee of Michigan citizens submitted petition language today to the Board of State Canvassers seeking to initiate legislation amending the state’s current civil rights law  the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act. The proposed initiative would clarify that the Act’s existing prohibitions on discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of civil rights prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The petition submitted today by Fair and Equal Michigan, a Michigan ballot question committee, starts the process to amend the Act.

Non-partisan Michigan pollster Richard Czuba conducted a statewide survey of 600 registered voters that shows 77.5 percent of likely 2020 Michigan General Election voters support legislation to amend the state’s civil rights law to protect LGBTQ people (66 percent strongly support). Conversely, 16.5 percent do not support. By a margin of 77-17 percent, voters say they would support a citizen initiative to bypass the legislature and put the issue to a vote of the people — including 75 percent of leaning GOP voters and 66 percent of strong Republican voters.

“When I co-sponsored Michigan’s Civil Rights Act in 1973 with Rep. Daisy Elliott, it was about treating everybody equally, especially in employment, housing and our most basic of services; it is long past the time to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Hon. Mel Larsen, former Member, Michigan House of Representatives. “The legislature can act at any time to amend the Civil Rights Act. This coalition of Michigan citizens has support across LGBTQ groups, the business and philanthropic sectors, and both sides of the political aisle. There is more that brings us together – than forces us apart.”

“Business leaders know that to stay competitive we need to support the people we employ, and that means making clear that there is no place for discrimination in the workplace,” said Jerry Norcia, President and Chief Executive Officer, DTE Energy. “Today’s top job creators are looking to grow in states and communities that are welcoming to everyone. If Michigan wants to compete, we must take a clear stand against discrimination in any form. This effort strengthens Michigan business, our economy and our people.”

“Dow has called Michigan home for more than 120 years, and we are proud to bring top talent here from around the world,” said Jim Fitterling, Chief Executive Officer, Dow. “For Michigan to continue to compete and win globally, and for Dow to continue to innovate in the state, we must be able to recruit and retain the best talent. A fully inclusive community for everyone that lives in Michigan is imperative for all of us to continue effectively doing business in our great state.”

“Discrimination runs contrary to our most basic of American values,” said Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer, Apple. “By protecting every person from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, we can help make sure that every person is measured by their talents and creativity and is treated with the dignity and respect that is due to all.”

“Advancing the fair treatment of all people – regardless of their race, religion, disability, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity – is a key component of retaining and growing a world-class, talented workforce,” said Patti Poppe, President and Chief Executive Officer, Consumers Energy. “To stay competitive in today’s economy, we need to be bold in our efforts to make our communities more welcoming to all. And efforts to expand Elliott-Larsen is also the right thing to do for our companies, our customers and Michigan.”

“Few people know that in 1972 East Lansing was the first city in the United States to ban discrimination in hiring on account of homosexuality. Nearly five decades later, it’s time we update our laws to be more inclusive and ensure no person, including the LGBTQ community, should fear losing their job or be denied services or housing because of who they are,” said Andi Owen, President and Chief Executive Officer, Herman Miller. “This proposal gives everyone the same chance to succeed so that Michigan can be a more attractive, vibrant and thriving place to live, work, and raise a family.”

“Solidarity is for all of us, and that’s why for the last 40 years, the AFL-CIO has supported adding protections for the LGBTQ community to federal law. Just last year, the Michigan AFL-CIO reaffirmed our support for amending state law to include these protections as well,” said Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “We stand against any form of discrimination in the workplace or in the community — no one should be fired or discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. We are dedicated to fighting for a Michigan that’s open and welcoming to all.”

“As the first CEO to offer Congressional testimony on eliminating LGBT workplace discrimination back in 1997, I thought this would be the law of the land by now,” said Raymond Smith, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Bell Atlantic, now Verizon Communications. “As I said to Congress then and still believe today: No company can afford to waste the talents and contributions of valuable employees as we compete in a global marketplace. It is good business, and it is good citizenship.”

“Throughout Michigan’s history, Michiganders have believed that if you work hard everyone should be given the same right to succeed,” said Mark Bernstein, President and Managing Partner of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm, PLLC, Regent of the University of Michigan, and former Member, Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “This proposal reflects Michigan’s values that every individual, no matter their sexual orientation and gender identity, deserves respect and dignity.”

“At Whirlpool, we are proud to be one of the majority of Fortune 500 companies that have taken steps to enact policies to prohibit discrimination for LGBTQ employees,” said Jeff Noel, Corporate Vice President at Whirlpool Corporation. “We strive to create an internal workplace culture that allows and encourages its personnel to bring their full selves to work. This means an open, supportive, and inclusive environment where it is possible for LGBTQ employees to feel welcomed.”

“Every Michigander should have an equal chance at success, without threat of being fired, harassed, or demoted just because the boss doesn’t like that they’re gay or transgender,” said Trevor Thomas, Co-Chair and President of Fair and Equal Michigan and Board Chair for Equality Michigan Action, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. “After waiting 37 years, this effort gives the legislature eight additional months to pass these basic human rights. If they can’t get the job done, our Constitution affords Michiganders the right to vote to ensure that workers are judged on the job they do, not who they are or who they love.”

“Oftentimes in the LGBTQ community we see harm, violence, murder, and discrimination justified through religious bias, but I believe that God has love, grace and mercy sufficient for us all,” said Jeynce Poindexter, Co-Chair Fair and Equal Michigan; LGBTQ Community Advocate and Activist. “It’s important for all of us to come together, not with our politics but with and for people to move this work forward and finally right this wrong.”

“Michigan has the unique opportunity to change and save lives by expanding the state’s non-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation,” said Alanna Maguire, Co-Chair of Fair and Equal Michigan, and President of Fair Michigan, a statewide LGBTQ and women’s advocacy group. “It is my hope and expectation that by banning this kind of discrimination, all Michiganders can lead safer, more productive lives, and our state will be made better for it.”

“Michigan lawmakers have long been asked to protect LGBTQ individuals from job and housing discrimination for decades, ever since the first legislation was introduced in 1983,” said Dr. Mira Jourdan, Co-Chair of Fair and Equal Michigan and a Neuropsychologist. “This proposal would simply add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to existing Civil Rights law to make sure LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination, under the law, just like everyone else. It is time to finally right this wrong once and for all.”

Honorary Leadership Committee (still growing):

Dr. Mira Jourdan, Co-Chair Fair and Equal Michigan, Neuropsychologist

Alanna Maguire, Co-Chair Fair and Equal Michigan; President, Fair Michigan Foundation

Jeynce Poindexter, Co-Chair Fair and Equal Michigan; LGBTQ Community Activist

Trevor Thomas, Co-Chair Fair and Equal Michigan; Board Chair, Equality Michigan Action

Julisa Abad, Director of Trans Advocacy, Fair Michigan

Tonya Allen, Philanthropic Leader in SE Michigan

Tommy Allen, Publisher, Rapid Growth Media; President, Grand Rapids Pride Center; &

Chair, Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission

Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, President, NAACP Detroit Branch

Diane Antishin, Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, DTE Energy

Susy Avery, former chair, Michigan Republican Party

Jesse M. Bernal, Ph.D., Vice President for Inclusion and Equity, Grand Valley State University

Mark Bernstein, President, The Sam Bernstein Law Firm, PLLC

Rabbi Amy B. Bigman, Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Randy Block, partner to Gerry Crane

Charity Dean, Director of Civil Rights, Inclusion, and Opportunity, City of Detroit; & Commissioner, Michigan Women’s Commission

Brandon Dillon, former Chair, Michigan Democratic Party

Katie Rogala Fahey

Rev. Leslee Fritz, Albion First United Methodist, former Dep. Dir. of the Dept. of Civil Rights

Hon. Tracy Hall, Kalamazoo County Commissioner and Board Member, OutFront Kalamazoo

Brandon Hofmeister, Senior Vice President, Consumers Energy

Hon. Derek Dobies, Chief of Staff, Michigan AFL-CIO and Mayor of Jackson

Rick Johnson, former Michigan Speaker of the House, 2001 – 2004

Hon. Erin Knott, Executive Director, Equality Michigan Education Fund & Action Network and Mayor Pro-Tem of Kalamazoo

Hon. Mel Larsen, former Member, Michigan House of Representatives and co-sponsor of Michigan’s Civil Rights Act of 1976

Leander LeSure, Executive Vice President, Herman Miller

Richard McLellan, Transition Chairman to Governor John Engler

Ronald Moore, Board Member, Equality Michigan & Equality Federation

Hon. Jason Morgan, Chairman, Washtenaw County Commission

Noreen K. Myers, Employment Attorney, Noreen K. Myers PLC

Chuck Otis, Board Member, Equality Michigan

Travis Radina, President, Jim Toy Community Center and LGBTQ Liasion, Mayor of Ann Arbor

Lilianna Reyes, LGBTQ Advocate

Hon. Andy Schor, Mayor of Lansing

Hon. Joe Schwarz, former Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Angela Thompkins, former Assistant Prosecutor, City of Detroit

Cynthia L. Thornton, President, Pride at Work Michigan and General Board Member, Michigan AFL-CIO

Jim Toy, Co-Founder of the Spectrum Center

Selma Tucker, Vice President, Public Sector Consultants

Louis Vega, President, Dow North America

The Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act was passed in 1976 to prohibit discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign is the next evolution of Michigan’s support for the LGBTQ community. Until 2018, Michigan had barred the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from taking calls reporting discrimination to their hotline. The Commission now is reviewing cases of reported discrimination. Meanwhile, Equality Michigan’s hotline reported 1,000+ calls for help in the past four years.

Once the petition is approved by the Board of State Canvassers, Fair and Equal Michigan has until May 27, 2020, to submit petitions including the signatures of at least 340,047 Michigan voters. Once enough valid signatures are submitted, the Michigan Legislature will have 40 days to adopt the proposed amendments to the Act without change. If the Legislature does not Act, or rejects the proposal, it is submitted to Michigan voters for approval at the November 3, 2020, General Election. According to research by the non-partisan Glengariff Group, 77 percent of voters support the measure.

Michigan wastes massive amounts of food.

Here’s how it can be rescued to improve people’s health.

Reposted from Second Wave-Michigan State of Health Series

harvest-7_(custom).jpg

Food Rescue US reports that over 50 million Americans are food insecure, while over 40 billion meals are wasted each year — and 40% of the U.S. food supply rots in landfills. The solution is obvious: deliver this food to people who need it instead of to the dump. Food rescue operations in Michigan are doing their best to make that happen – and positively affecting public health in the process.

According to a Centers for Disease Control report, A Public Health Opportunity Found in Food Waste, “The United States has an epidemic of food insecurity and obesity that coexists in the same population (low-income families on a budget). Moreover, fruits and vegetables, which are linked to improving health and preventing chronic disease, are also perishable and commonly wasted.”

Obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it — diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, sleep apnea, and some cancers — are only a few of the medical issues resulting from poor nutrition. Behavioral health issues can take root in a poor diet, too. And as housing, childcare, and transportation costs viciously outpace wages, more and more working families are finding themselves without the means to provide good food for their families.

Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization serving Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, says the need for emergency food is increasing despite improvements in state employment numbers. A lot of working people live paycheck to paycheck, and any life crisis can put them in a vulnerable situation that forces them to choose between buying food and paying the rent.

“Inflation has outpaced wages for decades, so people struggle to keep up,” Mayes says. “It’s more difficult for the average family to keep pace with rising expenses.”

Emergency food can provide those families a way to get their health back on track.

angie.jpgGood food = good health

Samantha McKenzie is president and CEO of Hidden Harvest, another Michigan food rescue serving the Bay, Midland, and Saginaw region.

“All of our food pantries say that they are getting more and more people who have never been to a pantry before,” she says. “We take a resource that already exists and make sure it gets put on the dinner table instead of in the garbage bin. Our donors don’t want to throw away good food. They feel real positive about where it’s going and we’re happy to share it.”

In 2018, 300 donors gave Hidden Harvest 2.5 million pounds of food — about 200,000 pounds a month. Hidden Harvest delivers the rescued food to 170 nonprofits including soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, and youth programs.

oranges.jpgHidden Harvest’s food rescue efforts directly integrate good nutrition into the healthcare system through donations to substance abuse rehab centers, where food donations free up funds for treatment options; and health clinics like Saginaw’s Hearth Home, which treats people living with HIV and AIDS.

“They need items high in protein and rich in vitamins and nutrients. We direct these foods their way as it helps their medications to be more effective,” McKenzie says. “Fresh produce is a proven cancer preventative. There are many positive reasons why good health depends on having a well-rounded diet.”

Forgotten Harvest’s 30 refrigerated trucks glean food from 400 partners at 800 locations — grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers growing food in Macomb County and Ontario, Canada. The nonprofit also grows food on 100 acres of land in Fenton.

“If we’re giving them corn, it’s probably an ear,” Mayes says. “If it’s green beans, it’s a bunch, not a can. We’re one small part of the set of things people got to do to be healthy.”

Because the operation specifically takes in food that no longer meets retail specs, nutrient-rich perishables like dairy products and meats are in abundance. From its warehouse in Oak Park, the full-time drivers deliver to more than 250 pantries, churches, community centers, and community-based organizations with food-related missions.

“We see a little bit of everything,” Mayes says. “There is no shortage of variety in the things we come across.”

Grocery stores do their part

Kroger, ALDI, Trader Joe’s, and Meijer are among the many Michigan retailers who operate robust food rescue operations. Michigan-based Meijer’s effort began with 29 stores in southeast Michigan in 2008. Now all 235 of its stores rescue food, and they donated over 10.6 million pounds in 2018.

Many of Michigan’s smaller retailers take part in food rescue too. Busch’s Fresh Food Markets, a 15-store independent grocery chain headquartered in Washtenaw County, partners with Washtenaw County-based food rescue nonprofit Food Gatherers, as does the single-location People’s Food Co-op of Ann Arbor.

sausgae.jpgThe Co-op rescues about 200 pounds of food a month, not as an afterthought but to support its primary goal of promoting health and economic justice. Its donations include fresh produce and dairy products, as well as canned and boxed goods.

“We actually have a bunch of different reasons for rescuing food,” says Angie Voiles, Peoples Food Co-op general manager. “Through our commitment to the triple bottom line, it is environmentally sustainable to rescue and donate food instead of putting it into a landfill. From a social justice perspective, the co-op was founded and continues to strive to provide access to healthy food throughout the entirety of our community, at the retail level and also through food rescue.”

Voiles says her own health improved after switching to a whole foods diet. She believes that confirms research that has found eating fresh produce and less-processed foods contributes to improved physical and mental health.

“We want to get healthy, whole foods into the hands of as many people as possible,” she says.

Silver linings, logistics, and a long way to go

Rescued food can include much more than grocery store items nearing a sell-by date. Shipping or packaging errors, or failure to reach other specifications that have nothing to do with quality, can turn perfectly good food into waste. Mayes says well over 75 billion pounds of food is classified as waste in the U.S. every year.

In addition to helping more Michiganders be healthy, food rescue helps donor businesses by reducing disposal costs and providing tax breaks. It also helps the environment by diverting food waste from the landfill to the table.

“You never know when there’s going to be a truck accident, a shipment that a shipping company doesn’t know what to do with, weddings cancelled because of soap-opera stuff, a catering company doing an outdoor event in terrible weather, or a funeral dinner with leftovers,” McKenzie says. “We put it to good use. There’s always a silver lining.”

However, food rescue efforts are making only a small dent in the vast amounts of food waste. Feeding America, one of the country’s largest food rescue organizations, reports having rescued just 3.5 billion of the 72 billion pounds of food wasted last year in the U.S.

Experts from the state’s food industry, healthcare systems, government, and nonprofit sectors need to forge even more successful collaborations to ensure that healthy foods are not thrown away, but instead made readily available to all Michigan residents, starting with children and those experiencing chronic illness.

“Food insecurity is unfortunately a problem that is prevalent in almost every underserved and middle-class community in America,” Mayes says. “The volume of food rescue food puts us in a place where addressing hunger is no longer a food problem. It’s a logistics problem.”

A freelance writer and editor, Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness, and the arts. She is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media, communications manager for Our Kitchen Table, and chairs The Tree Amigos, City of Wyoming Tree Commission. Her finest accomplishment is her five amazing adult children. You can contact Estelle at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.

Hidden Harvest photos by Ben Tierney. Angie Voiles photo courtesy of Ken Davis.

 

Driver’s licenses for all would make health, economic, and community impacts

Michigan-Drivers-License-for-All_840x480Lack of transportation is a social determinant that directly impacts health by limiting access to healthy food and medical care.  It also makes it hard to keep a job. According to a report released today from the Michigan League for Public Policy restoring driver’s licenses for undocumented Michiganders would also bring the State $100 million in new revenue over 10 years. Here’s what a 12/19.2019 MLPP media release shared:

State law allowed undocumented residents to receive driver’s licenses until 2008, and the new information from the League reinforces the far-reaching benefits of renewing that policy. The Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom and the Economy) legislation would allow state driver’s licenses for all residents, and the bills were introduced in November by Sens. Stephanie Chang and Winnie Brinks and Reps. Alex Garza and Rachel Hood.

“The economic impact is important, but what we’re really talking about here is belonging. We’re talking about parents being able to take their kids to the doctor, to visit grandma, to get to school events. We’re talking about the fact that everyone living in Michigan should have an identity,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

If the Drive SAFE bills pass, an estimated 55,000 Michigan residents would pass driver’s tests and become licensed, leading to 20,000 vehicle purchases. Fees, registration and taxes from those two factors alone would result in $12 million in annual recurring revenue for the state. This does not take into account the positive impacts on local economies.
“Access to a driver’s license affects the amount of money people earn and spend. It’s imperfect, but it’s a fact: Being a Michigander often means being dependent on cars. When people can get to and from their jobs, they’re able to work more hours and earn more money. They’re able to expand the number of places they can shop and increase the amount of money they spend,” Jacobs said.

With 20,000 more Michigan drivers becoming insured and passing driver’s tests, roads will be safer and accidents resolved more quickly. The Drive SAFE bills would also lead to reduced auto insurance premiums.

Dozens of statewide organizations including the Michigan Farm Bureau, the ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Nurses Association support the Drive SAFE bills, and the Washtenaw, Oakland and Kalamazoo county commissions have passed resolutions in support of driver’s licenses for all. If the bills pass, Michigan will join 14 other states that provide access to a driver’s license or ID, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A 15th state, New Jersey, passed legislation yesterday that will allow immigrants without legal status to get a driver’s license, which is expected to be signed into law.

Community invited to re-imagine downtown streets

City will hold design engagement events for Ottawa, Ionia and Fulton on Dec. 9-12

Reimaging – Linking Downtown streets: Ottawa, Ionia and Fulton logo

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The City of Grand Rapids wants to know how downtown residents, workers, property owners and visitors experience travel in and around the city core. It also wants to know how everyone hopes to experience travel in the future along downtown’s core streets – Ottawa and Ionia avenues NW between Fulton and Michigan streets and Fulton between Monroe and Division avenues.

That’s why the City is hosting several community engagement opportunities next month. Those who walk, bike, drive, use transit and rideshare along Ottawa, Ionia and Fulton are invited to attend one or more of the City’s three Reimagine – Linking Downtown street design open houses to provide their ideas and priorities about the design and operations of these core downtown streets.

The open houses – set for Dec. 9 and Dec. 10 – are part of a weeklong community design process expected to result in concept designs and recommendations for Ottawa, Ionia and Fulton. The concept designs and recommendations will be reported out to the community Dec. 12.

The opportunity to reimagine the three streets stems from a resurfacing project on Ottawa between Michigan and Fulton that is scheduled for 2021. Several community plans, including GR ForwardBicycle Action Plan and Michigan Street Corridor Plan, include specific recommendations for these core downtown streets.

 

Planning and design consultants from Moore & Bruggink and Toole Design Group will help facilitate community design process. Discussions may include:

  • One-way and/or two-way roadway operations on Ottawa and Ionia
  • Intersection needs and transit operations throughout the study area
  • Pedestrian and bicycle safety and access, including a separated bikeway on Ionia – recommended in GR Forward and Bicycle Action Plan
  • Community event needs, especially near Calder Plaza and Van Andel Arena
  • Opportunities to beautify and “green” the corridors with such elements as trees, flowers, benches and other decorative or urban furniture elements

 

A close up of a map

Description automatically generated“Ottawa, Ionia and Fulton are important transportation corridors for not only downtown but the entire city  and greater Grand Rapids region,” said Kristin Bennett, transportation planning/programs supervisor in the City’s Mobile GR and Parking Services Department. “That’s why we hope to get participation in this design process from all who work, live and visit downtown.

 

“We will use the outcomes of this design process in the initial street resurfacing project on Ottawa in 2021 and then work to identify opportunities and partnerships that may come along to advance other recommendations from this community engagement.”

 

Community members are encouraged to drop in any time during the open houses to provide ideas and priorities. The design process schedule is:

 

Open houses

Monday, Dec. 9

4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Ryerson Auditorium at Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library St. NW

 

Tuesday, Dec. 10

9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ryerson Auditorium at Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library St. NW

       5 to 7:30 p.m.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., 29 Pearl St. NW

 

Community Report out

Thursday, Dec. 12

5 to 7 p.m.

Ninth-floor Commission Chambers at City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW

 

Those who need to request accessibility accommodations or those who cannot attend an open house and want to share their ideas and priorities may do so online in English or Spanish or by phone at 616.456.3000.

 

Legal challenge signals Legislature to put brakes on Medicaid work requirements

Medicaid+work+requirements.jpgThe Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the announcement today of a legal challenge against the federal Department of Health and Human Services for its approval of Michigan’s Section 1115 Medicaid waiver project. The statement can be attributed to Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“All along we have said that the best remedy for Healthy Michigan enrollees is to stop work requirements before they start, and we appreciate the efforts of the Center for Civil Justice, the Michigan Poverty Law Program—and hopefully the courts—to intercede where the Legislature has failed to and to fight to protect the healthcare of Michigan residents. Medicaid is a supportive health program and should not be altered in such a way as to make it punitive and ineffective. We hope today spurs legislative action to put these work requirements on pause until this court case is settled. Affected Michigan residents shouldn’t have to wait on the courts—or experience unnecessary issues and coverage losses—for their elected officials to act.

Medicaid work requirements began as a partisan issue, with the Trump Administration approving them and Republican governors and Legislatures clamoring to adopt them, but increasingly—and rightfully so—there is near-universal hesitance to follow through with their implementation. Whether because of concerns over significant coverage losses, legal fights or the potential for legal fights, other states of all political leanings are pumping the brakes on their work requirements. Rather than charging ahead to implement potentially illegal and undoubtedly problematic Healthy Michigan work requirements, we urge the state to reconsider.”

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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.