Michigan: Operation Doomsday



by P.D. Lesko

In July, all of Michigan’s Republican Senators voted to put a 48-month time limit on public assistance. The same Bill passed the Michigan House on August 24, 2011. If Governor Rick Snyder signs it, on October 1, 2011, an estimated 12,600 families—including 25,000-30,000 children—will lose access to public assistance. Republican Governor Rick Snyder supports the move, and has told the media that the cap on benefits is in the best interests of Michigan, and in the best interests of those being tossed out of the program.

Removing those families from public assistance may move Michigan into the top spot on a recently released list: the percentage of a state’s residents facing food insecurity. During Snyder’s first eight months in office, childhood poverty in our state has increased sharply, as has infant mortality. Now, Snyder’s administration can claim yet another poverty-related statistical prize.

Results recently released from a new national study on hunger in the United States reveal that Michigan ranks third in the United States in the percentage of its residents, including children, who face food insecurity. Food insecurity is living without consistent access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life, according to the study. In our state, 1.8 million people wake up hungry, go to bed hungry and face the consequences of malnutrition. Those consequences can be severe. Several studies have shown that food insecurity affects cognitive development among young children. With respect to older children, school performance is adversely impacted. Additional research shows that with hunger comes more frequent sickness and higher healthcare costs.

Mississippi has the largest percentage of residents—some 19.9 percent of the state’s residents— who face “food insecurity, or hunger on a regular basis,” according to the study. When comparing number of residents Michigan, with its 1.8 million residents facing food insecurity, lags behind states with much larger overall populations such as Texas (4 million residents facing food insecurity), Florida (3.1 million residents facing food insecurity) and New York (2.6 million residents facing food insecurity). The study also includes an estimate of how much more money state residents (or the state) would need to spend in order to eliminate food insecurity. In Michigan, residents facing food insecurity and hunger would require an additional $702,000,000 to meet their food needs, according to the study, “Map the Meal Child Food Insecurity 2011.”

The idea behind tossing those 16,200 families off of public assistance is to save $77 million dollars in a state that needs to spend less, pay down debt, and build up savings. The “cut-then- reallocate” strategy has been practiced by millions of residents in Michigan over the past decade during a time some have dubbed a Great Depression in our state. Unemployment state-wide remains stubbornly perched around 10 percent. However, that number does not include the number of people who unable to find full-time work, and who either accepted part-time employment, or have stopped looking for work. Economists estimate that when those people are factored into the state’s employment picture, it begins to look more and more like The Portrait of Dorian Grey, with a combined underemployment and unemployment rate of almost 20 percent.

Results from the 2010 U.S. Census revealed that Michigan experienced a 0.6 percent drop in population. Michigan’s drop to 9,883,640 residents marked our state as having suffered the largest loss of population in the United States. Puerto Rico is the only other United States territory to see a population drop. All of the other territories and states saw population growth. Michigan has fewer residents, and more of them than ever are on public assistance, and more of them than ever before face chronic hunger.

Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder spent $5 million dollars of his own money on a blowsy, say-nothing 10-point feel good campaign designed by the same high-priced Hollywood, California political consulting firm that worked with Senator John McCain, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush. Snyder’s campaign mentioned nothing about waging a relentless war on the state’s lower and middle-class residents through various policies that include putting the screws to the state’s labor unions via an Emergency Manager law that gives an individual appointed by the state the power to unilaterally dump labor contracts, additional taxation, the reduction of important tax credits (such as the Earned Income Credit), the reduction of state-provided benefits, and the elimination of certain state programs that serve those in need.

Many of the public policy moves supported by Michigan’s governor have come straight out of the policial playbook of a shadowy organization called ALEC. ALEC is a political action committee that is dominated and funded by large national and international business interests. Slashing funds allocated to human services and reallocating those funds to tax breaks for business is a play straight out of the ALEC book of model legislation.

Are Governor Rick Snyder and the state’s Republican legislators alone in spearheading draconian cuts to public services at a time when children and families need those services more than ever before? According to a recent piece posted to the ABC News web site titled, “Hunger Hurts: Millions of American Kids Go Hungry”:

The proposed House budget for 2012 includes substantial cuts to food aid programs in the 2012 budget cycle. The cuts could affect up to 350,000 recipients of the WIC program alone. The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides agricultural products to food banks to pass on to the poor, is also facing a proposed $50 million cut, representing one fifth of the budget for this program.

Vicki Escarra is the president and CEO of Feeding America, the institute that conducted the study. She said, ”The consequences and costs of child hunger make addressing this issue an economic and societal imperative, in addition to an obvious moral obligation.”

Those words have fallen on deaf ears in Michigan’s capitol. Escarra went on to say, “As we deal with all the financial issues facing our nation, we can’t balance our budget on the backs of poor and hungry children.”

However, as Republican Governor Rick Snyder has said often, “Michigan! Yes, we can.”