League in the ’70s: ‘A force to be reckoned with’
At the beginning of the 1970s, the Michigan Welfare League had firmly established itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit entity dedicated to advocating for individuals and families in the state that needed the most help.
Research, education, advocacy, legislative monitoring, and consensus building became a regular part of the League’s operation, and in 1971 it took on a new name: the Michigan League for Human Services.
A name change had been suggested on multiple occasions during the previous decade, and this new name would “encompass the wide range of services required to address basic and supplemental needs of the state’s vulnerable citizens.” The League had expanded its reach beyond just welfare, and the name reflected that growth.
During this time, many of the “radical” ideas from the ’60s became mainstream parts of American life and culture. Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, and the United States withdrew from Vietnam even as the war continued to polarize the country. Both a vice president and a president, facing impeachment, resigned from office. Immigration rates rose, disillusionment of government became widespread, and feminismgrew as women expanded their involvement in politics. Women, minorities, and gays fought for equal rights and the city of Detroit elected its first African-American mayor.
The environmentalist movement increased during the ’70s and NASA, due to heavy budget cutbacks, stopped lunar missions in 1972 and focused on the building of the first space shuttle. That same year, a state lottery was established in Michigan to increase revenue for education, welfare, and other government services. Rising fuel costs drove American automakers to produce smaller, more energy-efficient vehicles and foreign cars came into play for the first time in a significant way.
The 1970s brought another nationwide recession. With an increase in international markets, the domestic automobile industry was flailing, and the federal government bailed out Chrysler in 1979, authorizing $1.5 billion in loan guarantees.
Inflation and high energy costs provided an example of both the widening range of issues and the flexibility of the League in addressing them. Energy and the Poor, researched by the League’s Public Affairs Committee, was published in 1979 and made a strong case for equity for those hardest hit by spiraling costs in this area of basic need. By the end of the decade, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation.
Lt. Gov. William G. Milliken became governor in 1969. The League already had established ties with Milliken under the Romney administration, and when the new governor created a Welfare Study Commission, he appointed a League past president as chairman and several past presidents and board members as members of the commission. The commission’s reports made recommendations on restructuring the state’s welfare system to “break the cycle of poverty, dependency, and social deprivation.” The League was also active with the Bureau of Social Services Citizens Advisory Committee, the Michigan Coalition on Nutrition, and the Task Force on Medicaid and Health Care Costs during this period.
The League continued to advocate for welfare reform, children’s health and well-being, minority issues, housing, health care, and worker’s rights through research and the publication of reports. It also urged state funding for civil rights activities. Annual legislative forums continued as a way of connecting citizens and legislators to discuss vital human service issues, and the League provided non-partisan opinions at the request of state lawmakers on specific human service legislation. Gov. Milliken did not overlook this important commitment, stating: “I want to commend you for your work as I have in the past. The League has been in the forefront of the fight for social justice, which is the most important struggle of our time.”
The League’s welfare visitation project from the ’60s continued, spreading across Michigan and into other states as a way to improve welfare programs and help recipients become “self-respecting, taxpaying citizens.” As part of a kit distributed to other human service agencies, the description of the project stated: “As a result of their (policymakers) participation in a visitation project, their future decisions on public welfare may become more ‘people-oriented’ and less purely ‘dollar-oriented.’” Despite the popularity of this project, public assistance was still a hot issue in Michigan as the government struggled with how to address increasing need with limited resources.
How to best address public need while balancing the state budget is a timeless debate, and the League continues to advocate for the same populations now as it did in the ’70s. Speaker of the House Bobby Crim was quoted in 1978: “The League’s distinguished tradition of citizen intervention in public policymaking, its active dedication to the principle that sound public policy can only emerge when voluntary commitments set the terms and the tenor of official public debate, have made it a force to be reckoned with here in Lansing.”
— Sara Metz