Over 35 years ago when I launched a career in advocacy, I was a little dismayed to learn that one of my tasks was to monitor and analyze the state budget. For a young social worker intent on creating change, it seemed a dry and “wonky” pursuit.
I soon learned that control over the state’s purse strings is one of the greatest powers lawmakers have, and that a high level of civic and community engagement is necessary for real change to occur. And, I found a home in the Michigan League for Public Policy—an organization that is focused like a laser on racial and economic justice and understands that the state budget is a potent tool for achieving it.
Next week Governor Rick Snyder will release his budget for 2019, and the Michigan Legislature will begin to craft its own. The League will be in the Capitol during every step of the process, and will be sharing that information with you. We will be advocating for our priorities—steps we believe the state must take to achieve racial equity and ensure that all children and families thrive in Michigan. More importantly, we want to be a resource to you as you communicate with your elected officials about what you, your family and your community need.
Together, we have a long way to go. The data are clear and well-documented in the League’s Kids Count reports. Families and children of color are being held back from many of the traditional pathways to economic opportunity and security. Michigan, like the rest of the country, is growing in diversity and its economy rests on the ability to make sure that all children have what it takes to move the state forward.
At the heart of racial and ethnic disparities is a long history of systemic barriers including the historical impact of redlining on homeownership, segregation in public schools, differences in educational quality and opportunity, racial discrimination in the workplace, and inequities in the ability to accumulate assets and build wealth.
Those inequities persist today in part because of state budgets and other public policies that do not recognize the extra resources required to overcome the cumulative effects of racism and discrimination. State budgets are not “colorblind”—even if their disproportionate impact is unintended. For example, despite the reality that children of color are two to three times more likely to live in poverty, state funding for programs to ensure that children’s basic needs are met has plummeted—largely because of state policies that restrict eligibility.
As a first step, the League is calling on state lawmakers to incorporate an analysis of the racial, ethnic and social justice impact of budget decisions they are making. We believe that a concerted effort to face racial and ethnic inequities head-on is required or they will continue to be perpetuated.
Please join us in advocating for a state budget that creates better equity for children and families. Check out our resources including tips for influencing the state budget, fact sheets on our budget priorities for 2019, and an analysis of the current state budget’s impact on children and families of color. By joining forces we can make change.
— Pat Sorenson