Detroit News. March 27, 2021.

Editorial: State can’t delay guidance on graduations

Walking across the graduation stage and the formalities of that ceremony are an important gateway to adulthood. Last year, the pandemic threw those events awry and threaten to again, if the state’s restrictions stay in place.

Schools and universities have no clear guidance on what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her Health Department will allow, even though the end of the school year is only weeks away and plans must be made soon.

Commencement and other end-of-the-year activities are too important for high school and college students and their families to have to just play it by ear. The state must offer concrete guidelines on how to safely conduct commencements and other events that won’t run afoul of current edicts.

Yet the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which is currently setting epidemic orders impacting how residents gather and interact, doesn’t have that guidance ready to go. Instead, the department is pointing to current restrictions for indoor and outdoor gatherings, and that order expires April 19.

Those rules state that non-residential indoor gatherings with more than 25 people are “prohibited.” Outdoor gatherings are acceptable at non-residential venues “where 300 or fewer persons are gathered.”

And of course, social distancing and masking must still be followed.

“We are working with schools on guidance for end-of-the-year events,” Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Health Department, said in an email. “The presence of more infectious variants, such as the B 1.1.7 variant, threatens our progress in control of the epidemic and MDHHS will be monitoring data closely. Our goal is to reengage while reducing public health risk, which is why we move slowly to maintain progress and momentum with thoughtful public health measures.”

Yet Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, says his department hasn’t heard much from the MDHHS.

“To my knowledge, we have not received any specific guidance from DHHS on end-of-year school events,” he noted in an email. “There have just been the periodic updates to DHHS’s safety protocols on distancing and indoor and outdoor group size allowances.”

Other school leaders are in the dark, too, including Brian Broderick, the head of Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools. He says most of his member schools have been in-person during the school year, but he “hasn’t heard anything beyond the current gathering rules for indoor and outdoor functions.”

Broderick says private school officials are also wondering how they should handle activities like prom.

Similarly, the state’s public universities are approaching commencement ceremonies in a variety of ways, from canceling them to holding several smaller events instead of one larger one.

For instance, Michigan State University has said it will hold more than 50 outdoor ceremonies with limited attendance.

And the University of Michigan is sticking with an earlier decision to have a virtual ceremony, despite protests from parents and students who wanted an in-person ceremony.

With so much uncertainty about what the state will allow, however, you can’t blame schools for taking the safe route and doing away with the in-person events altogether.

The state needs to clarify what schools can do. These young people deserve a celebration with their family and friends for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. March 28, 2021.

Editorial: GT region workers at a turning point

We all know ALICE.

In the Grand Traverse region, ALICE lives across the street, works in our offices and on our jobsites, grows food on our farms and stocks our groceries. ALICE works in our manufacturing facilities, drives our school buses and cares for our elderly neighbors.

ALICE — an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — is a measuring stick that helps us understand the financial wellbeing of households in our state and region. It’s a project by the United Ways of Michigan that helps provide a clear county-by-county comparison between cost of living and wages. And the fourth iteration of the report shows, even based on data collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michiganders are struggling economically.

The latest report, released last week, shows 38 percent of Michigan residents struggle to cover basic household bills — rent/mortgage, utilities, day care, transportation, technology and food — on wages they earn. Those pre-pandemic numbers showed residents in the Grand Traverse region fared slightly better — about 35 percent fall below the ALICE threshold.

The fact that more than one-third of people who live and work in the Grand Traverse region struggle to make ends meet is a serious problem. And there is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic made life worse for many and likely drove more below the line separating getting by from not making it.

Folks who earn wages that once provided enough to survive in our region simply can’t make it anymore — $15 per hour doesn’t cover a $1,000 monthly rent payment, utilities, transportation, medical and dental care, groceries and a phone.

For months we have reported on increasing pressure on the region’s already booming housing and rental market. The surge in demand from hundreds, if not thousands, of new buyers and renters who suddenly can work from anywhere threatens to edge many out of our communities. Combined with an ongoing day care shortage and rising consumer prices, it seems inevitable we will see more local businesses forced to shutter for a lack of workers in the coming months.

These are not new problems. Local leaders have worked for years to address the disconnect between local cost of living and wages. But projects aimed at bringing reasonably priced housing to the market simply haven’t kept pace with the market that seems to be accelerating beyond the reach of most folks who work here.

The pandemic appears to have set the Grand Traverse region on an express train toward “Aspenization” — a term commonly used to describe Colorado mountain towns where workers have been priced into exile.

That’s a reality many have fought against for at least a half decade as we hope for balance against the side effects of the beauty and popularity of our home as a vacation and, now, a relocation destination.

There is plenty of reason to welcome new neighbors and friends to our streets, but we can’t allow our region’s working and middle class to be driven into oblivion in the process.

We’re talking about a complex problem that simply won’t be solved by ordinary market forces. We hope our government and business leaders come together to act quickly before it’s too late. We need incentives for landlords who keep affordable homes on the market, tax breaks for developers who prioritize workforce housing, and supportive programs to help people who work in our communities find homes.

The Grand Traverse region is at a crossroads.

We all remember the moniker about the value of a view of the bay — many of us settled for less pay in exchange for that vista.

But a view doesn’t buy groceries or gas. And it certainly doesn’t pay for rent.


(Marquette) Mining Journal. March 25, 2021.

Editorial: Michigan needs better child care, as soon as possible

Even during the COVID-19 crisis, child care remains a concern. It has ramifications for Michigan’s economy, child care providers and the working families on which they rely.

A recently released report from the Michigan League for Public Policy titled “Child Care Financing Reform: A Critical Next Step for Michigan Families and the Economy,” shows that the current financing system isn’t enough to support child care providers, parents or children.

The MLPP said the system isn’t funded by the state apart from what it calls “inadequate” subsidies for families with low wages.

“Child care is essential for parents to be able to work, but too many families around the state don’t have the financial resources necessary to afford it,” Gilda Z. Jacobs, MLPP president and CEO, said in a statement. “And at the same time, child care providers also have been struggling to make a living and support themselves — long before COVID-19 increased the strain on the industry.”

She believe policymakers need to look at ways to invest more in the supply and demand sides of child care.

The league’s Kids Count in Michigan project also released fact sheets on child care for the state and each of Michigan’s 83 counties. The fact sheets for each county include information on whether the county is a child care desert or has low capacity, plus the number of young children living in poverty in the county.

With high costs primarily put on parents, fewer options exist for families with low and middle incomes. Regarding children up to age 5 in Marquette County, 19% live below the poverty level. A total of 16% live between 100% and 200% of the poverty level, while 38% live between 200% and 400% of the poverty level. A total of 27% live above 400% of the poverty level.

An estimated 44% of Michiganders live in child care deserts, defined as when the ratio of children up to age 5 to the number of licensed child care spots is greater than three. Marquette County has 1.9 kids per spot.

The report also indicated that care is even harder to find for infants and toddlers. In 2020, only about two in three providers offered care for infants, with the average cost of care for infants and toddlers remaining high. In Marquette County, the average monthly cost for infant and toddler care was $813 and $748, respectively. This compares with the Michigan averages of $708 and $683, respectively.

Michigan Public/Private Partnerships collaborative 2022 state budget priorities for child care include new child care funding to communities with the greater need to expand high-quality care for infants and toddlers.

Another priority is to include increasing child care subsidy reimbursement rates for all providers and raising initial child care eligibility to 185% of poverty.

Other goals are to form staffed family child care networks and shared services solutions, support statewide socioemotional consultants to support child care providers and require a child care system financing plan to ensure all available state and federal funds are spent.

Each year in a child’s life is crucial, which means adequate care is necessary to help youngsters mature to mentally and physically healthy adults. An investment in child care now will go a long way to ensuring a more stable future for Michigan.