Many of us, at the start of each new year, take up new plans or envision new dreams, and it is no different at the state Capitol, which begins each year with two crucial, agenda-setting events: The governor’s annual State of the State address, followed by the start of the annual state budget-setting process.
Between the speech and the first presentation of the next budget, it is the time of year to put forth big ideas and set a vision for the future. As the policy voice for the Catholic Church in this state, we take the opportunity to do the same by reiterating that public policy — from new legislation to spending priorities — should be aimed at lifting up families, the cornerstone of society.
Amidst the challenges in the economy and the constant financial pressures afflicting families of all kinds, public policies and budget proposals should provide economic relief to benefit low-income workers and families now and into the future. It may be the start of an election year, but every politician should know that tackling so-called “kitchen-table” issues that help families can win favor with voters and get bipartisan support any year.
There are several measures already out there that would help pave a long-term path of stability for men and women working low- and middle-income jobs while caring for themselves and their children.
One such measure would support working parents of young children through a new, means-based Working Parents Tax Credit. The policy proposes a $5,000 refundable tax credit for Earned Income Tax Credit-qualifying parents of any child under the age of three, and a $2,500 credit per child between ages three and five. Such a proposal would bolster the support going to the working families who need it the most to support themselves.
Another way to support parents and their newborn children with financial and well-being services is by expanding the Rx Kids program, which is already operating in Flint. This novel concept allows expecting mothers in Flint to apply for and receive cash to help set themselves and their children up for financial stability.
Lawmakers should also consider providing financial assistance or tax relief to parents who would otherwise struggle to afford the costs of adopting a child. Financial incentives and grants should also be made accessible to assist people who provide health and wellness care to the disabled and the elderly. More must be done to recognize the challenge low-income families face to secure basic human needs by increasing access to affordable housing across the state.
These spending priorities and tax policies do not come free. But policymakers should know the state budget is a moral statement, one that places people first and ensures low-income workers and families benefit from funding priorities and economic decisions in the years to come.
The upcoming state budget process is the time to address economic challenges for struggling families. A concerted and successful effort to put families first through the budget process would help grow the economy, resuscitate the state’s upside-down birth rate, and lift the standard of living for low- and middle-income families, thereby contributing to the state’s overall population and prosperity.
The Michigan Catholic Conference will continue to work with lawmakers from both parties this year and beyond to support life-affirming policies that stabilize financial security for working families and their children, so that the cornerstone of society can stand strong.
Paul A. Long is president and CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.