Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Summer lunch program misses many children

Capital News Service

LANSING — For some of the hundreds of thousands of Michigan children who receive free or reduced school lunch, summer vacation may not be all fun and games.

According to a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services, in 2009, about 735, 000 students received free or reduced-price lunch, 26 percent more than in 2006.

The food service director for Mason County Central Schools, Mary Ann Nielsen, said the summer hunger gap is an increasing concern.

The number of low-income children who receive reduced-price lunch is rising, she said, and efforts such as the federally funded Summer Food Service Program attempt to reduce the problem.

“We have children that come in for breakfast in the morning and the last actual meal they had was lunch the day before,” she said.

“During the summer program, a lot kids come in where mom and dad both work and they’re grateful to come into our site in the summer and get lunch.”

The program is available to schools and nonprofit organizations in school districts where more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Participation is open to all children regardless of economic status or whether they live in that district.

In 2009, the program served more than 2 million meals in Michigan.

Gloria Zunker, a school nutrition and training consultant for the state Department of Education said that was almost a 50 percent increase from the number five years earlier.

With the growing number of low-income areas in the state that qualify for the program, Zunker said the need for sponsors has increased.

Last year, there were about 215 sponsors and 1,100 meal sites.

While the program expects at least 1,100 sites this year, she said she hopes for a 26 percent increase in the number of sponsors.

“I anticipate more sites because I’ve been receiving several calls from schools in intermediate school districts that are interested in helping their communities through this program,” she said.

The program added 37 sponsors in 2010, Zunker said.

According to the Education Department, only 17 percent of eligible low-income children were able to get free food at a site in their neighborhoods.

Nielson, who sponsors five meal sites that serve around 220 children a day, said transportation is a major reason eligible children cannot take advantage of summer meal programs.

“We get a lot of kids that walk and that’s great, but we are a rural area, so unfortunately those kids just don’t have the transportation,” she said.

Zunker noted that some low-income children who receive reduced-price lunch might not live in a designated program area, so they have no meal site available to them.

She said the department is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through a pilot program that explores alternative methods of providing meals to such children.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the study by the League for Human Services, said that the solution must be more extensive.

“It’s a critical issue in terms of building the capacity within communities to have local food banks or have local distribution systems for food that can get out to people so that kids don’t necessarily have to come to a special site or program to have access,” she said.

While most sponsors are schools across the state, a handful are nonprofit organizations, such as the Michigan Christian Youth Camp in Attica.

The camp’s executive director, Dana Eubank, said that organizations don’t participate in the program because they don’t know about it.

“It’s a lack of knowledge about how the program can benefit them or their program. If they’re not sure of how to go about it, they’re not going to do it,” he said.

Zunker said that since the department took over the program in 2004 from the USDA, it has focused on increasing outreach and public awareness.

“We’ve tried to make people aware of the program, so in doing that, a lot of schools and other organizations have come forward to offer free meals to kids and utilize the federal funds to do so,” she said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.




Filed under: Social Policy

Proposal would bar benefits to undocumented immigrants

Capital News Service

LANSING – A proposed constitutional amendment would ban undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance from the state.

Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, the sponsor of the proposal, said the main goal is to make sure state funds go to legal residents who receive assistance, not to people who are in the state illegally.

According to Hune, many public assistance programs, like the Food Assistance Program, don’t offer benefits to undocumented immigrants. He wants to make that a permanent mandate for all state-run programs.

“This is already being done by many programs but we want to tie it in to the state constitution,” Hune said.

Anika Fassia, policy analyst at the Michigan League for Human Services, said that the resolution would reduce an undocumented immigrant’s eligibility to receive emergency medical treatment, among other benefits.

Fassia said undocumented immigrants can receive assistance for emergency medical services through Medicaid.  Pregnant women can also receive outpatient prenatal care through the Maternity Outpatient Medical Services program.

Those programs don’t require verification of U.S. citizenship, which could change under the proposed amendment.

Susan Reed, lead attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, said that any hospital participating in Medicaid is obligated to provide emergency care under federal law.

According to Reed, hospitals receive around 30 percent of the funding for such care in the Emergency Services Only Medicaid program from the state, with the rest coming from the federal government.

Reed also said that the state is obligated to provide emergency medical service under the federal Social Security Act.

If the amendment passes it would create “serious legal uncertainty about hospitals’ ability to receive payment for these emergency services,” Reed said.

But medical care wouldn’t be the only programs affected.

Fassia said, “If this resolution outlaws all public assistance to undocumented immigrants, it could affect any program that receives money from the state.”

According to Fassia, that could prevent undocumented immigrants from using emergency meal programs and even shelters that get state funding.

Reed said, “Nobody knows who this would affect.”

She also said that if “public assistance” were to include shelters and soup kitchens, it could create “huge potential for racial profiling.

“Many of the people that use things like shelters have no identification regardless of immigration status,” Reed said.  “People could be turned away if they are even suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.”

Fassia said it’s hard to say what impact the amendment would have on the state economy but noted that “providing these services would allow these immigrants to work and contribute.”

Hune said that it is “hard to quantify” how much money undocumented immigrants have received through public assistance but said that he is confident the amendment would help the state’s economy and residents.

“If illegal aliens aren’t receiving public assistance, then there is more money going to the state and its citizens that are here legally,” Hune said.  “We need to make certain our citizens are catered to first.”

However according to Reed, the proposal would have little effect on the economy.

“Policies like this don’t save the state significant money and just send an unwelcoming message to all immigrants,” Reed said.

The resolution is pending in the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee.  It would need to pass both the Senate and the House and to win voter approval at a statewide election.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Snyder wants to lure well-educated immigrants


Capital News Service

LANSING—Michigan may have more well-educated immigrants in a couple of years.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the state should encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to work and live in Michigan.

Political controversies about immigrants last year raised fears among legal immigrants that the business climate would be unfavorable for them.

But this year the situation may be different.

Immigrants with advanced degrees, Snyder said in his State of the State address, “make a tremendous difference in creating a positive economic activity environment,” but he revealed no details about how Michigan might attract more of them.

Susan Reed, an attorney from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, said legislation that targets immigrants for enforcement creates an unwelcoming atmosphere.

Reed said, “Unfortunately, people’s discussion about immigration problems is always negative. There is little significant legislation about encouraging immigrants to come to Michigan. I hope Gov. Snyder will take a new approach to it.”

Reed said options to attract well-educated immigrants include preventing racial profiling, enhancing community policing efforts to decrease mistrust between immigrant and law enforcement and expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“To immigrants who lack or cannot afford insurance coverage, this is a welcoming policy,” Reed said.

A Global Detroit Study by David Egner, the executive director of New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan in Detroit, cites the advantages of attracting more well-educated immigrants.

The study found that immigrants predominate in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields that are critical to technologies, innovation and business that power “new economy” jobs and firms.

The U.S. Small Business Administration reported that immigrants started 15.8 percent of all Michigan businesses launched between 1996 and 2007.

Professor Wei-Chiao Huang, an expert on labor economics at Western Michigan University, said, “The well-educated immigrant will bring the state new economic recovery.

Huang said many immigrants with master’s degrees or Ph.D.s lead in engineering and science fields.

“These highly skilled immigrants certainly will help boost the economy. We need more additional highly skilled immigrants to come and live here,” Huang said.

If Snyder wants to attract more well-educated immigrants, the easiest way is to keep talented international students who study in Michigan, Huang said.

Wenbo Qiao, a PhD student at Michigan State University, said he “really likes to live in Michigan” because of the natural landscape and low cost of living.

“But Michigan doesn’t like me. There is no suitable job position here,” Qiao said.

He said if he has a chance to open his own business in Michigan, he would hire local residents, because they could help the company better communicate with customers and the media.

Qiao said that two things would encourage well-educated students to stay; cutting business taxes and shortening the time it takes to process applications for permanent residency.

“If the new governor provides more work opportunities to me, I will stay here,” Qiao said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

More sex offenders released on parole

Capital News Service

LANSING – A recent increase in paroled sex offenders is expected to continue into next year, Department of Corrections officials say.

Parole approval rates for sex offenders jumped from 21 percent in 2008 to 52.8 percent last year, according to Corrections.

The Parole Board is now looking at prisoners’ risk to the public rather than the crime they committed to determine eligibility for release, which means that more people were being released who previously weren’t, said Corrections Director Patricia Caruso.

Analyzing parole based on risk instead of the underlying crime should mean that approval continues to grow for inmates who normally wouldn’t receive parole, such as sex offenders, she said.

Elizabeth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, said inmates who had already served at least 120 percent of their minimum sentence had a higher chance of parole, regardless of the crime.

The group seeks to improve the effectiveness of policies and systems aimed at crime prevention and control.

She said the Parole Board should look at prisoners individually and their behavior behind bars to determine eligibility, she said.

Most defendants go to prison as the result of a plea agreement, in which a judge and prosecutor agree on an appropriate minimum sentence, Arnovits continued.

She said the Parole Board seemed to be sentencing these inmates a second time by keeping them past their minimum term.

Caruso said a large number of prisoners could be safely paroled, but until recently “no one wanted to parole a sex offender.”

“When people return, oftentimes they’re not very welcomed,” said Rebecca Stieg, Central Michigan coordinator for the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI) and a part of Michigan Works!. Her office serves eight counties, including Ionia, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo.

MPRI works with other organizations, such as Michigan Works!, to help prisoners with access to local resources so that they can successfully reintegrate into their community.

“Stigma is a problem, especially with individuals who have committed sex offenses in the past,” said Stieg, who is based in Big Rapids. “I think communities have a lot of misunderstandings around sex offenders in general.”

Public fear and concern surround the issue of parolees returning home, said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

“It’s certainly a concern for local law enforcement,” he said. “The numbers of parolees generate the conceivable possibility that these people will commit further crimes.”

But Stieg emphasized statistics show that “sex offenders are actually the least likely to reoffend.”

“Over 90 percent of those people who serve time return to their communities. That has not changed,” Stieg said. “As communities, we have a responsibility to bring those folks back into the fold and to help them succeed.”

Genny Wolfrum, the Harrison-based Northeast Michigan coordinator for MPRI, said, “People fear the unknown.” Her office serves 14 counties, including Alpena, Cheboygan, Clare, Gladwin, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Roscommon.

“It’s important to remove the fear and the stigma,” Wolfrum said. Just because a neighbor may have a felony “doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re in any kind of danger.”

Whenever sex offenders or violent offenders are placed, the agency informs law enforcement and “we all work together,” she said.

Wolfrum encourages people to talk to each other and interact with parolees.

“You might be surprised how many people you associate with that have a felony. They want to return to communities and give back,” she said.

Arnovits said the number of paroled inmates who return to prison is dropping, even though the number of parolees is increasing.

“We’ve reduced return-to-prison rates by 36 percent in three years,” she said. “Communities were better prepared to receive these folks,” and more programs exist to connect parolees to community resources and employment opportunities.

Crime rates throughout the state have also dropped despite the rise in parole, Arnovits added.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Activists push to outlaw bias in sexual orientation

Capital News Service

LANSING—For the past decade, activists have failed to persuade the Legislature to outlaw sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the state’s Civil Rights Act.

Now they plan to launch an educational campaign to finally get action.

August Gitschlag, field director for Unity Michigan, said he believes once the public is better educated, the fight will be easier to win.

Most people don’t know it’s legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, he said.

Unity Michigan is a coalition of five organizations – Triangle Foundation, Equality Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Sistahs Providing Intelligence Creativity and Empowerment and Affirmations.

“People are shocked when they hear this,” Gitschlag said. “When I first heard this just a few months ago, I thought we were past this.”

Gitschlag said he was asked at a job interview whether he is gay and became furious, not only because he isn’t gay, but because the question was asked.

Gitschlag said a plan to pass the legislation will be hashed out after getting an idea how incoming House and Senate members feel about it.

It will be Gitschlag’s job to lead education efforts based on findings about legislators’ views.

“We’re going to start visiting different organizations statewide, starting with ground-level community centers,” he said.

Jay Kaplan, an attorney for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) project at the ACLU in Detroit, said legislation to amend the anti-discrimination law has been brought up in committees but hasn’t made it any further.

Michigan is one of 29 states where it’s legal to discriminate in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identification, according to the ACLU.

Currently, the law prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, nationality, age, sex, height, weight, family status and marital status.

Gitschlag said 18 cities have adopted rights ordinances banning gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. They include East Lansing, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saugatuck, Traverse City and Grand Ledge.

“With the exception of Ann Arbor, none of them give the right to sue over them,” said Kaplan.

Nusrat Ventimiglia, director of victim services at Equality Michigan in Detroit, said there is in underreporting of incidents, but 40 percent of complaints her organization received claimed employment discrimination.

Harold Core, director of public affairs at the Department of Civil Rights said, “A particular group has been singled out to not be protected by our state’s laws.”

“Our position is that this is a protection that our state law should offer,” he said.

Kaplan said the state’s conservative political climate will make it tough to broaden civil rights protection.

“It’s going to take more than just gay people to try to get this passed,” said Kaplan. “It’s going to have to be a coalition.”

Gitschlag also noted that no federal law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Bicyclists band together for safer riding


Capital News Service

LANSING — Competing in a Halloween-themed bicycle race and teaching other cyclists how to maintain their bikes are only two of the duties shared by members of the Mount Pleasant Bike Cooperative.

credit: Emily Lawler

“I live without a car, so I bike almost everywhere,” said Colin Hodo, the co-op’s unofficial shop manager. “My life is generally more fun, slightly more dangerous, healthier and far cheaper than it would be with a car.”

The co-op has a basement workshop at Justice Records in the city’s downtown. It’s littered with shattered records from the store above it, bike grease, tools, tires and the sweat of members striving to make biking more affordable and accessible.

Hundreds of similar cooperatives exist across the nation, although many community residents are unaware of them. These nonprofit groups provide affordable access to cycling and to tools to repair and maintain members’ bikes. They also host seminars and workshops, surviving through donations, grants and fundraisers.

Cooperatives are often based in larger cities or college towns, including Lansing, which last year became the first Michigan city to pass a pro-bike “Complete Streets” ordinance. Lansing’s action was followed by statewide Complete Streets law that established a Michigan transportation fund to support additional bike lanes and overall roadway safety.

Michigan was the fifth state in the Great Lakes region to pass statewide legislation. Illinois was first in 2007, followed by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Such legislation aims to provide safe, comprehensive streets for all types of transit.

The increasing popularity of cycling could escalate the growth of bicycle cooperatives, according to the Complete Streets Coalition, a national organization dedicated to safe access to streets for all users, including bicyclists.

Among the other Michigan co-ops are Back Alley Bikes in Detroit, MSU Bikes in East Lansing and Boston Square Community Bikes in Grand Rapids, according to the International Bicycle Fund.

“Communities tend to pass Complete Streets ordinances before a state does. It is sort of a trickle-up effect,” said Rory Neuner, who manages the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s network for Michigan and nine other states..

Like many bike co-ops, the one in Mount Pleasant hosts free workshops and events to educate area residents and raise funds. For example, a seminar in August showed attendees how to create bike seat locks using old drive chains and inner tubes.

Joe Roggenbuck, who was among the group’s founders in 2009, said, “We try to reuse everything in one way or another.

“Whole bikes can be given to someone, and parts can be used to upgrade or replace broken parts on someone’s bike. Broken parts can be repurposed and turned into art, or the scrap metal can be sold,” Roggenbuck said.

(Brendan McGaughey writes for Great Lakes Echo.)

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Teen smoking declines but remains a concern

Capital News Service

LANSING—Since the early 1990s, teenage smoking has declined nationally, and one expert attributes the trend to rising prices and changing social norms.

In 1991, the percentage of high school students who ever smoked cigarettes was 70.1 and decreased to 46.3 in 2009, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The portion of high school students who were frequent cigarette users dropped from 12.7 percent in 1991 to 7.3 percent last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2009 in Michigan, 18.8 percent of high school students smoked at least occasionally, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Kenneth Warner, dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said, “The single most important manipulable variable is price.”

He said he expected teen smoking would drop in 2009 because of a 61-cent federal tax increase per pack of 20 cigarettes.

The next key variable, Warner said, is the anti-smoking “truth campaign” run by the American Legacy Foundation. It was created under an agreement with the tobacco companies to help teens change their thinking about tobacco.

“The truth campaign worked,” Warner said. “The campaign was oriented to target younger teens, 13 to 15, not looking to those 18 to 19, but it did reach them.” The legal smoking age in Michigan  is 18.

One principle was to never lecture but to have teens understand how the tobacco industry was trying to use them, said Warner.

“It’s a matter of changing the norms,” Warner said. “The truth campaign was like advertisements of other products, like soft drinks or sneakers, but instead of a product, it advertised an idea of not smoking.”

Funding for the truth campaign from the tobacco industry ended after five years.

Tobacco companies are still under scrutiny, Warner said.

“Tobacco advertising is watched very closely.  The ‘Joe Camel’ campaign was targeted to kids and young teens — they used to call them ‘young adults,’ but really they were kids.  In the late ‘90s, they were forced to stop ‘Joe Camel’ ads,” which also contributed to the decline in teen smoking, said Warner.

Janet Olsen, program leader with Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development, focuses on health and nutrition and improving social and emotional development for youth.

Her organization offers an anti-smoking curriculum for youth groups and for online use called “Life’s A Kick! Don’t Start Tobacco.”

“When it was developing there were funds for it to be like an anti-tobacco campaign” but it’s now a curriculum, said Olsen.

“After-school programs would have used it with 4-H groups around the state,” said Olsen.

“When it was developing, there was implementation.  When the funding was readily available, staff was piloting it around the state,” she said.

“It’s not that we are not interested in anti-tobacco issues — if other 4-H volunteers are interested in using the curriculum, then absolutely! But it just hasn’t been a dedicated focus.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Social Policy

Medicaid caseload up, but services not easy to find

Capital News Service

LANSING—Many Medicaid recipients in Michigan are wondering whether there are enough health care providers to help them, experts say.

That’s important because as the economy struggles, many people are losing their health benefits as they lose their jobs.

Sharon Parks, director of the Michigan League of Human Services, said the use of Medicaid is increasing statewide, including the northern Lower Peninsula. The league is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization that advocates on behalf of low-income residents.

The number of recipients rose from 1,296,600 in the second quarter of 2009 to 1, 421, 939 in the same period in 2010, Parks said.

In Cheboygan County, the number rose from 4,726 to 4,916. In Grand Traverse County, it rose from 11,689 to 12,318.

Meanwhile, reimbursement rates for health providers have dropped and many don’t accept Medicaid patients, Parks added.

She said cutbacks in public services are playing out in a lot of ways.

Tracey Shepard, public relations coordinator of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, sees a drop in the availability of participating health care providers.

Shepard said, “Funding for Medicaid hospital patient care has been slashed by nearly $978 million since 1996.”

In 2008, Medicaid payment shortfalls to hospitals totaled $706 million, largely because of the program’s skyrocketing caseload, Shepard said.

She said while the caseload has increased by 60 percent since 1999, it is expected to grow even more rapidly as the state’s economy continues to falter.

Shepard said the number of uninsured patients is rising, with more than 1.15 million, or nearly 12 percent, of residents without health insurance.

Because Medicaid doesn’t cover the full cost of care and many physicians say that they can no longer afford to treat the program’s recipients, most uninsured and Medicaid patients turn to the most expensive way possible–through the doors of hospital emergency rooms, Shepard said.

“The current program is underfunded and unsustainable, leaving some physicians having to make difficult choices about keeping their doors open,” said Sheri Greenhoe, director of marketing communications and media at the Michigan State Medical Society.

Shepard said hospitals continue to fulfill commitments to their communities, despite the fact that uncompensated care is rising while reimbursements plunge.

Greenhoe said the growth of the program will continue to make Medicaid a central component of state government spending. The caseload is anticipated to exceed two million recipients within the next two years.

Greenhoe said Medical Society physicians are ready to work with policymakers to find sustainable solutions.

How many physicians accept these patients?

“There is not a set number of physicians that are willing to accept Medicaid patients. People are required to have a Medicaid HMO which assists them in finding physicians to help them,” said James McCurtis, public information officer at the Department of Community Health.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.









Filed under: Social Policy

Community groups, state, fight homelessness


Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan had more homeless people in 2009 than a year before but communities are making strides in helping them find a place to live, experts say.

The state’s more than 100,000 homeless people last year represented a 10.8 percent jump from 2008, according to the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness.

The primary reasons were unemployment and poverty.

Southwest Michigan had 12,309 homeless people in 2009, and its 24.8 percent increase was the highest in the state. The number in Southeast Michigan increased by 1.1 percent, but with 35,109 homeless people, the area still had the most.

Programs across the state are working on the problems, including shelters in Holland and Royal Oak.

“It’s not really surprising when you consider what has happened with the economy here in Michigan,” said Karen Holcomb-Merill, the state fiscal project director at Michigan League for Human Services.

She said many residents lost jobs and their homes were foreclosed because of the distressed economy.

Barb Ritter, the project manager at Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, said that despite increased joblessness and poverty, the state’s homeless rate rose about 7 percent less than the national average in the past two years.

“We are holding the line as best as we can,” she said.

Both Ritter and Holcomb-Merill said the Campaign to End Homelessness has helped many residents.

Sally Harrison, director of the Office of Rental Development and Homeless Initiatives at the state Housing Development Authority, said the campaign is a collaborative effort among major state agencies, such as departments of Human Services, Community Health and Corrections, and local groups.

Their goal is to end homelessness in 10 years.

“We want to ensure that every person in Michigan has a safe, stable and affordable place to live,” Harrison said.

She said Michigan was the first state to develop a 10-year plan for ending homelessness.

Launched in 2006, the campaign has developed strategies to get resources to people in need and has helped more than 10,000 households.

Harrison said the homeless population includes military veterans, single mothers, people with disabilities and families living in their cars.

More than half are adults and children in families, most of which are headed by single mothers, statistics show.

That’s the case with the South Oakland Shelter in Royal Oak, which served 213 clients in 2009, of whom 113 were women and children, according to Austin Kralisz, a community relations officer at the shelter.

But more two-parent families than single mothers sought assistance from the Holland Rescue Mission last year.

The mission is a Holland-based organization that serves primarily Ottawa and Allegan counties.

Janet Ewing, director of its Family Hope Ministry, said the organization served 997 homeless people in 2009, fewer than in previous years.

Single women and two-parent families are a growing proportion of its clients, Ewing said.

Harrison said the campaign helps people to pay for housing by themselves.

For example, she said, homeless people may be eligible for apartments at a rent of less than 3 percent of their income. Meanwhile, they get other services that help them get back on their own feet.

“In 2009, 81 percent of the people we assisted are still housed after six months, which is pretty good,” Harrison said.

Local organizations also help homeless people gain skills.

For example, the South Oakland Shelter has programs to encourage self-sufficiency, such as job placement, budget management and computer training.

Ewing said the Holland Rescue Mission offers vocational tracks to help people get certificates and develop a career.

Harrison said she’s pleased with what the campaign has achieved but worries that a lack of resources may slow the progress.

“In a poor economy where jobs are rarely available, people need longer assistance and resources aren’t enough to go around to help everybody who needs help,” she said. “That is probably one of the greatest challenges.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Social Policy

No rush yet for Medicaid dental care

Capital News Service

LANSING – With Medicaid coverage of adult dental care restored as of Oct. 1, Upper Peninsula dentists who accept Medicaid are thankful but haven’t seen an influx of patients yet.

Michigan eliminated dental coverage for people 21 and older in July 2009 for budget reasons and patients are slowly finding out that their care is covered once again, said Donna Jaksic, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Association of Rural Health Services in Marquette.

The rural health association is a federally funded nonprofit community health center that serves rural areas throughout the U.P. Dental care is available at its clinics in Ewen, Spalding, Crystal Falls, Menominee, Engadine and Gwinn, some of which offer medical services, too.

“We expected calls Oct. 2 like mad, but people are just realizing now,” Jaksic said. “It really surprised us, but we’re extremely grateful it’s back.”

Jaksic said some private dentists accept Medicaid patients, but the region is considered underserved because not all of them do.

The legislature approved $19.7 million for the adult dental program, according to the Department of Community Health.

Statewide, 20 percent of dentists accept Medicaid, said Tom Kochheiser, director of public information for the Michigan Dental Association.

“I’m surprised to hear the news hasn’t traveled,” he said. “It had a big impact because without that safety net, some clinics and providers were taken out of the grid.”

Sandy Cittadino of the Michigan Community Dental Clinic in Marquette said once Medicaid coverage was eliminated, the clinic reduced its operation from five days a week to four.

“We didn’t have as much patient load,” she said. “The word is starting to get out there.”

To make patients aware of the change, her clinic plans to put up fliers in physicians’ offices and emergency rooms.

Before dental coverage was eliminated, an average of 25 to 50 percent of the association’s patients were uninsured. When coverage was disapproved, up to 75 percent were uninsured, Jaksic said.

To aid the uninsured, the association used a $930,000 federal grant to run a sliding fee program that adjusted charges for uninsured patients, depending on their financial status.

“It’s an expensive item no matter how you do it. Those who don’t have insurance often put off coming,” Jaksic said.

Now that Medicaid coverage is available, the association wants patients to schedule appointments and pick up where they left off.

Also, coverage restoration allows the health system’s clinics to offer denture work again.

“If we had tried to do full-range service, we’d have run out of money. We don’t do anything for the insured that we don’t do for the uninsured,” Jaksic said, noting that the clinic still offered emergency work, cleanings and fillings.

Lois Abramson, the manager of its medical clinic in Ewen, said many of the area’s Medicaid-covered patients still don’t know their benefits were restored and many need extensive work.

“It’s really a mess now. Their dental work is even worse. A lot of people just let their teeth go and now need extractions,” she said.

Abramson said that neglected dental work impairs patients’ overall health, which can lead to medical, and sometimes emergency, care. To prepare for the return of Medicaid patients, she is cross-training staff to do both medical and dental work.

“I hope that patients get taken care of. A lot of people are really suffering,” she said.
Barb Taylor, an assistant and part-time dentist at the clinic in Engadine, said she just learned that Medicaid coverage was restored.

“There’s been a little bit of traffic,” she said of Medicaid patients aware of the change.
The association is opening a Hancock location in the next few months and is looking to expand to Marquette.

Jaksic said additional clinics will reduce the driving time for many patients who seek Medicaid coverage, who sometimes travel up to 70 miles for dental care and are “desperately asking when the clinics will open.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Social Policy

About CNS

CNS reporters cover state government — issues and personalities.

Covering stories of meaning to their member papers, they come in contact with the important newsmakers of the day, from the Supreme Court justices and the governor to members of the Legislature and the people who run the state government departments, to lobbyists and public-interest organizations.

Then they also talk with “real people” — the individual citizens and businesses in communities to get their reactions to what’s happening in Lansing.

In addition to weekly news stories, CNS students write in-depth articles on issues facing state government and their impact on taxpayers.