October 22, 2018

Monday, October 22, 2018

MI Bridges Receives National Recognition for Removing Barriers to Access State Benefits

MI Bridges, the new, streamlined website where Michigan residents can apply for state benefits and connect with community resources, has been recognized with state and national awards.

The state recently announced MI Bridges has garnered a national honor for excellence in health and human services technology, along with a state award for providing the best people-centered user experience.

As CMF has reported, MI Bridges launched statewide in April as part of a multi-year project by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to streamline the system for Michiganders who apply for benefits such as food assistance, child development and care, the Healthy Michigan plan, Medicaid and other critical services.

In one of the two briefings in the past two years, MDHHS shared with the Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL) and CMF members how the old system unintentionally created barriers for those it serves, with a person facing an application of more than 60 pages and more than 1,000 questions as well as a separate application process for each benefit.

MDHHS said Michigan’s previous application was the longest assistance application of all 50 states.

The department estimated as many as 75 percent of Michiganders seeking benefits were denied due to barriers in the complex application process.

That’s why the state, Michigan Association of United Ways, OFL, CMF and several of our members worked to support the effort to integrate service delivery under the new MI Bridges model, to make the process more user-friendly and timelier, unlocking state-funded benefits for those in need.

MDHHS worked with Civilla, a nonprofit organization, to create a more human-centered design for its application, using a “holistic, proactive, and preventative approach focused on outcomes.”

Now that MI Bridges has been underway statewide for six months, MDHHS joined CMF members at CMF’s 46th Annual Conference to walk us through the changes, provide an update and share a demonstration of the new model.

MDHHS shared the latest data on the new and improved platform:

  • The average application time is now 17 minutes.

  • There are more than 487,000 registered users.

  • More than 394,000 applications have been submitted.

  • Users have checked their benefits through the online platform more than 723,000 times, which MDHHS says has reduced the number of calls to caseworkers.

  • There are more than 2,500 community partner users registered with the system that make it possible for individuals to find access to government and non-government programs within one system.

MI Bridges now has a call center so individuals don't have to reach a specific case worker if they have a question or concern about their case. 

At the conference, MDHHS shared how foundations can help scale use of the system by connecting their grantees with MI Bridges.

For instance, MDHHS is looking for community partners who can promote MI Bridges by displaying promotional materials, provide a computer or mobile device for residents to access MI Bridges and/or serve as a referral partner so they can receive referrals on their MI Bridges dashboard and connect with the client directly.

MDHHS shared these additional ideas for funders who want to be involved:

  • Ask your grantees to register their services with Michigan 2-1-1.

  • Utilize your community leadership and convening role to recruit partners.

  • Support MI Bridges community partners who have technology needs to ensure they can connect users with the system.

  • Support community partners to help them integrate MI Bridges into their business processes.

Now in the second phase of development, MI Bridges is working toward a stronger 2-1-1 partnership; Great Start to Quality childcare database integration; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) integration and assistance from Legal Services of Michigan as part of increasing its person-centered network.

Anyone can check out the new platform and Michigan residents don’t need an existing MDHHS case to use the new website, they can connect with resources throughout the state.

If you’d like more information on MI Bridges or want to learn more about supporting this model with your grantees, please connect with Stephen Arellano, foundation coordinator, OFL.

Want more?

Connect with MI Bridges.

View the MI Bridges promotional video.

Check out the slides from MDHHS’ presentation at CMF’s 46th Annual Conference.







Seeking Innovative Affordable Housing Solutions

Affordable, or attainable, housing continues to be a growing concern in Michigan communities, especially as housing and rental prices continue to rise.

The median home value in Michigan has increased by 6.8 percent within the past year and Zillow estimates home values will continue to rise 8.9 percent through 2019. As for renters, the median rent in our state is currently at $1,101 per month.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s data shows an individual would need to earn nearly $17 an hour in a full-time position to afford a two-bedroom rental home in Michigan. That means someone earning minimum wage would need to work 73 hours in one week to afford such a rental.

As CMF has reported, 25 percent of Michigan’s households that are working, live above the federal poverty line therefore often aren’t eligible for aid yet still can’t afford the basics such as housing. Those individuals are considered ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed).

The most recent data from the Michigan Association of United Way ALICE Report shows over the past decade, there’s been a 14 percent increase in basic monthly housing costs for Michigan’s ALICE households.

Frey Foundation, a CMF member, is currently seeking innovative ideas to relieve the cost burden of housing for ALICE families in Kent County.

The foundation is hosting an open call for ideas from an agency or partnership that has an innovative, actionable plan, concept or collaboration that can reduce the number of ALICE families spending more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing.

“I think when we look at all of the great things going on in Grand Rapids and all of the amazing investment downtown and in Kent County, it’s up to us to make sure our ALICE population is able to be a more active participant in the community at all levels,” Holly Johnson, president, Frey Foundation told the Grand Rapids Business Journal (GRBJ).

The foundation shared that 25 percent of Kent County’s population is considered ALICE.

Lynne Ferrell, program director, Frey Foundation and CMF board trustee, shared with GRBJ some of the challenges facing ALICE families.

“Low supply and high housing costs are just the start,” Ferrell said. “Beyond basic supply and demand, stagnant wages, illness or unanticipated household expenses can hinder a family’s ability to afford rent or a mortgage payment. This can snowball into an eviction or damaged credit and present an entirely new set of challenges.”

The foundation is accepting Call for Housing Innovation proposals until October 29; the selected idea will be announced by the end of the year.

Also in Grand Rapids, MLive reports the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Wege Foundation are supporting the Harrison Park apartments development on Grand Rapids’ west side.

The apartments will be reserved for those who make 60 percent of the area’s median income and give priority to families whose children are in the Challenge Scholars program, which provides free college for students living on the city’s west side. This is an effort to ensure families who may benefit from the community foundation’s Challenge Scholars program aren’t priced out of the neighborhood due to rising rent.

Last week, WOOD-TV reported that the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) purchased 28 properties in the Grand Rapids area, in addition to the 177 it bought last year, reserving them for affordable housing and to promote neighborhood stabilization. The most recent purchase was supported by the Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation.

However, lack of affordable housing isn’t unique to Grand Rapids; it’s an issue in communities statewide and Michigan philanthropy continues to seek solutions.







Advancing Green Infrastructure

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) recently released its Green Infrastructure Policy Analysis: Addressing Barriers to Implementation, as part of the GLC’s Green Infrastructure Champions project, funded by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. The brief provides a look at the opportunities for green infrastructure (GI) and recommendations for Michigan to further expand this practice.

As the policy brief explains, GI helps to manage stormwater runoff by decreasing the amount of water going into sewers and streams and improves water quality by trapping sediment and nutrients.

GI is a broad category that may include many different types of projects including rain gardens and green rooftops.

We’re taking a look at where Michigan stands with this practice and how funders and communities can move it forward.

Highlights of the policy brief:

  • As people continue to move into cities, aging infrastructure and increased developments can lead to more surface level water flow after rain events.

  • This can lead to localized flooding and push pollutants into our waterways, which directly affects our water quality.

  • GI projects can restore natural stormwater management, especially in heavily developed urban areas.

  • GLC states that communities’ capacity to develop GI is heavily influenced by local, state and federal policies and can create unintended barriers to implementation or lack incentives to develop GI projects.

  • A major barrier to GI work is the lack of familiarity and knowledge about the practice and the impact it can have on communities.

  • In Michigan, we have county drain commissioners who provide one component of watershed management. GI thrives in areas where the drain commissioner is particularly interested in advancing GI and lacks in counties where they aren’t as interested.

  • Michigan lacks explicit language around GI in the permit requirements, limits water volume management performance standards to certain areas and has barriers to establishing stormwater utilities. If resolved, all would help to advance GI.

The brief identifies that increasing awareness of GI practices and boosting education about its performance, financing options and impact on communities would help to advance this work and lead to supportive policies.

The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation has been working to raise awareness about GI. The foundation announced earlier this month that it has granted more than $700,000 to GI projects on residential lots and in urban farms in Detroit and in select mid-level municipalities throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

The foundation provides funding to the GLC to help accelerate GI work and policies throughout the Great Lakes Basin as well as funding the Great Lakes Green Infrastructure Champions Pilot Program and GLC’s stormwater technology sharing collaborative. 

GLC shares that with the foundation’s support they “will enable communities with green infrastructure experience to share successes and mentor emerging practitioners in communities that would like to utilize green infrastructure but lack the capacity to do so.”

On the local level in Detroit, the foundation supports Friends of the Rogue’s Rain Gardens to the Rescue Program, which educates people about GI and how they can help by creating their own rain gardens. In two years, the program has engaged nearly 400 people in the installation of rain gardens and installed 50 rain gardens in the metro Detroit area that treat more than 15,000 gallons of rain per rain event.

The foundation shared in their announcement, “Sustainability harmonizes economic, environmental, and social interests, and these projects are designed to achieve community development as well as water quality goals.”

Want more?

Read GLC’s full brief.

Check out Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation’s work.

Connect with the Green and Blue Network.







Fremont Area Community Foundation’s Strategic Framework Featured in The Foundation Review

The Fremont Area Community Foundation sponsored open access to The Foundation Review article, so their story and road map are available for other funders and partners. Content excerpted and adapted from the article. Read the full article here.

The Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF) is featured in The Foundation Review, a peer-reviewed journal of philanthropy produced by the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, for its journey from charitable giving to the implementation of a strategic impact framework.

In the article, Carla Roberts, president and CEO, shares how the community foundation launched a community investment strategy in 2011, focused on education, poverty and economic development that created the framework to guide their grantmaking to increase their impact in rural Newaygo County.

Highlights include:

  • The community foundation launched a strategic framework in 2011, informed by community surveys, focus groups and internal planning.

  • To implement their strategic framework, FACF funded graduate fellows to examine historical approaches to its grantmaking and its impact. The fellows also researched best practices across the country.

  • In 2011, FACF became the first community foundation to commit to Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025, which is focused on moving the needle on postsecondary attainment to 60 percent by the year 2025.

  • FACF focused on three goals: Increase the proportion of local residents who hold college degrees, credentials, or certificates to 60 percent; reduce the local poverty rate to fall at or below the national average; maintain the local unemployment rate at or below the national average.

  • FACF created committees for the three goals and shared their grantmaking frameworks with grantees. The three frameworks identified the outcome targets and suggested the types of projects that would be most competitive for grants.

Roberts writes in part, “The groundwork for most of our activities was laid with a relatively small financial investment from the foundation. We believe our investments of time and thought leadership have been the most important elements to date. We have changed not only how we are funding, but what we are funding, in order to achieve the greatest impact for our community investments; and we have provided tools to monitor impact. We have also invested significantly to promote collective action among grantees around the critical issues in our service area. For the most part, the foundation’s goals have become a shared community agenda.”

The article states, “As the foundation moves ahead with its second five-year strategic plan, it is being guided through a continued process of change by research and learning, community feedback, results from key grantee surveys, and evidence of where the work has contributed to positive outcomes for the population it serves.”

Want more?

Read the full article from The Foundation Review.

Learn more about FACF.

Connect with CMF’s Rural Philanthropy Affinity Group.

News type: