The Policy Brief: October 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

In This Issue:


Welcome to CMF’s third edition of The Policy Brief

Dear Colleagues,

We are deeply grateful for the time, input and enthusiasm shared by so many of you at CMF’s 47th Annual Conference. It brought us great joy to see and hear from over 600 CMF members, partners and other thought leaders in Traverse City. We hope this year’s conference challenged everyone to deepen our understanding and commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Equity will continue to be a priority focus for CMF. We know the systems-level change you advocate for, and the work we strive to support you in cannot be fixed overnight. We hope you will continue engaging with us as we learn and grow in this work together. 

CMF Trustees and staff facilitated a new activity during this year’s Annual Conference that invited members to share their thoughts about the priorities we should focus on as an organization as we begin a year-long strategic planning process. Through table conversations and individual reflection, we deepened our understanding of where members believe we need to focus our work in the years ahead, including in policy and advocacy, among other key areas. This conversation will soon be opened to all members – we look forward to inviting your participation.

Much like our ongoing dialogue and understanding of DEI, advancing our strategic plan around public policy will take time. Broadly, our goals include: 

  • Creating clearer processes regarding policy work identified by affinity groups.

  • Ensuring we create meaningful impact at Foundations on the Hill and other engagement opportunities with policymakers.

  • Working in tandem with the Office of Foundation Liaison to achieve CMF’s public policy goals.

We were also glad to continue the tradition of inviting the state’s newly elected governor to Annual Conference. While we await a decision on the supplemental spending for the state budget, we suggest reading Bridge Magazine’s report, a synopsis of the line-item vetoes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made as part of finalizing the budget, avoiding a government shutdown.  

As always we look for your feedback and suggestions on how the Policy Brief can continue to give you the information and analysis you need to be thoroughly informed on policy impacting Michigan Philanthropy.

With gratitude,

Regina Bell, director of government relations and public policy 
Olivia Lewis, William C. Richardson public policy fellow


Charitable Sector Confronts Low Civic Engagement Through Census and Redistricting Work

Of the 7.8 million registered voters in Michigan, just over half participated in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

While not the lowest voter turnout rate on record (1986 had a low of 37 percent), representation from roughly half of the voting population does not accurately depict the needs of a democratic state. This should be of concern to Michigan philanthropists whose work supports local communities and civic engagement.

According to a 2018 Washington Post story, there are five key reasons eligible voters don’t participate in elections:

  • They believe the system is too gerrymandered and does not represent a true democratic process.

  • They don’t believe their vote will make a difference.

  • They didn’t register to vote in time.

  • They have a felonious record.

  • They don’t have time to get to the polls.

The lack of civic participation may also be due to a historical lack of access to voting and systemic barriers created through public policy that have shut out marginalized populations. In 1924 federal legislation acknowledged Indigenous people as citizens of the United States, however it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Native Americans and other people of color were given the right to vote due to previous exclusionary practices based on race.

Beyond voter turnout, census participation is a critical component of strong civic engagement. Michigan was the only state to lose a representative due to a census undercount in 2010, as hard-to-count populations elected to opt-out of filling out the form or had little to no information about the importance of a complete and accurate census count. That’s detrimental to the democratic process, given Michigan’s already low voter turnout.

In July 2018, Citizen’s Research Council reported Michigan was likely to lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives again, given the decrease in population in rural districts.

“A handful of tests show that Michigan’s maps are beyond the threshold for what is considered gerrymandering, and show other signs that would indicate gerrymandering occurred,” The Research Council said in its report, quantifying the level of gerrymandering in Michigan.

Local news reports, from Bridge Magazine to the Detroit News reported racially-based gerrymandering has influenced Michigan’s district lines, but due to Supreme Court decisions would likely not change the state’s current lines.

Last fall, CMF’s Board of Trustees approved policy resolutions to support two ballot initiatives aimed to increase voter access and create an independent redistricting commission. This action was recommended by CMF’s Public Policy Committee as part of philanthropy‘s support of good governance and equitable civic engagement opportunities for all Michigan residents. 

In November of the same year, voters supported the ballot proposal to increase access to voting. This year, the law will change to allow same-day voter registration and voting through absentee ballot without providing a reason. 

However, not everyone supports these changes. Michigan’s Republican Party filed two federal lawsuits this past summer to prevent the Citizen’s Redistricting Commission (CRC). Even though the Commission is required to have 13 registered voters that include four Democrats, four Republicans and five persons who do not represent either party, Michigan’s GOP argues that a self-identified Republican could join the commission but may not represent the party’s best interests.

The application process to join the CRC will begin in January 2020 and any registered voter, unless currently or within the past six years held a position related to the legislature, can apply. The Office of the Secretary of State (SoS) says it will begin outreach in fall 2019. As outreach begins for the application process, the philanthropic community could use this time to consider hosting and or supporting community conversations and engagement around the commission as it relates to advancing opportunity in Michigan.

In the past year, CMF staff have, as a request of CMF membership, lifted up access to voting as well as the 2020 census. An inaccurate 2020 census can lead to more than a decade of underrepresentation and underinvestment in communities. This means fewer opportunities for Michiganders to express their needs at the state and federal level, fewer public dollars to support Michigan families and fewer voices being heard to bring about substantive change.

The decennial census influences nearly every issue supported by Michigan philanthropy, including education, employment, veteran services, rural development and health care.

After federal funding decreased for census activities throughout the state, over 40 CMF members contributed to the Michigan Nonprofits Complete Count Campaign (NPCCC) led by the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) with support from CMF and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Eleven CMF member community foundations are serving or partnering within the 13 regional hubs by administering mini grants, helping coordinate outreach and supporting nonprofits in their efforts to engage hard-to-count populations in Michigan.

“The response from the philanthropic sector and nonprofits has exceeded all expectations,” Donna Murray-Brown, president and CEO of MNA told CMF.

In the past year, CMF members educated policy makers on the need for census support at Foundations on the Hill and CMF created a Census Learning Community for funders who contributed to the NPCCC. This group has met on a quarterly basis to learn from one another how their census work has progressed and how it connects to their individual foundations’ civic engagement work. Now, both CMF and MNA serve on the Governor’s complete count committee. 

Murray-Brown said a civically engaged community, is a healthy community. 

“Civic engagement is working to make a difference in communities by promoting a better quality of life for people,” Murray-Brown said in the email. “Nonprofit organizations are dedicated to the public good, and their work is critical to supporting vital, livable communities.

In October, MNA released the first round of its media campaign through billboard ads, radio and tv commercials, and pointed messaging in diverse news outlets. These ads will run through the Thanksgiving holiday. MNA and CMF are seeking feedback on the ads to make changes before another scheduled media blitz in the spring, just before the 2020 census is released. If you have feedback to share, please contact CMF’s Government Relations and Public Policy Team, Regina Bell or Olivia Lewis, directly.

While census and redistricting are just two ways philanthropic institutions have contributed to sustaining a democratic and more civically engaged society, there is still work to be done.


Bills We’re Watching

CMF and our affinity groups continue to learn about the broad concerns of Michigan’s communities and our members’ work to address those challenges. That information has helped to determine the focus and priorities of the Public Policy Committee (PPC) and CMF’s Board of Trustees as they identify what matters most in the policy landscape of the charitable sector.

During CMF’s 47th Annual Conference in Traverse City, the Board of Trustees approved the 2020 Government Relations Goals. These federal and state policies cover tax-related legislation like the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), charitable tax credits, reverse scholarships and Program Related Investments (PRIs). The full list of goals will be used to determine our priorities for Foundations on the Hill happening March 8-9th, 2020.

Based on those priorities and other pressing issues for Michigan philanthropy, CMF is tracking several bills at the state and federal level, including those highlighted below:


State tax bills

There are three charitable tax bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate that are of priority to Michigan’s philanthropic sector. Senate Bill 55 and House Bills 4992 and 4993 will restore the charitable tax credit which allows individuals to donate funds to charitable organizations, specifically community foundations, food banks and homeless shelters in turn for a tax “credit.” The credit was eliminated as part of tax reform in 2012. HB 4993 would restore the 50% credit of up to $100 for individuals, $200 for married couples and 10% of the taxpayer's tax liability for the year (before claiming any credits) or $5,000, whichever is less, for contributions made to endowment funds at community foundations (current language in HB 4993 does not restrict to endowed funds but will be amended in House Tax Policy Committee to do so). Restoring the credit for nonprofits providing basic food and shelter to people in need and for gifts for endowed funds at local community foundations is important to the financial sustainability of charities and the vitality of communities.

The pair of bills were introduced in September and are expected to go before the House Tax Policy Committee in the coming weeks.

What We’re Doing: CMF continues to advocate for passage of this legislation that would allow individuals and families to reap tax credit benefits from contributions to endowed funds at community foundations which helps spur giving (according to a study completed by the Johnson Center in 2013, the loss of the tax credit has resulted in a 27.5% drop in giving to the state's community foundations).

What You Can Do: Community Foundations, as public charities, can directly approach lawmakers and express support for this legislation. Contact your legislator explaining this issue as an important tool for advance giving in Michigan communities. If your community foundation would like to participate, please contact Regina Bell, directly. 

Census 2020: Governor Gretchen Whitmer included funds in her supplemental budget (SB 150) to support the statewide efforts of the Census 2020 Michigan Nonprofits Complete Count Campaign. Additionally, SB 576 would appropriate an additional $20 million to support the State Complete Count Committee created by Executive Order by the Governor.

What We’re Doing: CMF continues to advocate with MNA to encourage federal and state funding for the census. Both organizations are represented on the Governor’s Complete Count Committee.

What You Can Do: Continue to support the campaign and your local census hub. Have conversations with local policymakers regarding the importance of Census 2020 and how your organization uses census data. If you have feedback on the digital ad campaign, please contact Regina Bell.  

Earned Income Tax Credit/ SB 107: This bill would restore the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) with an incremental increase to its former level of 20 percent.

Why We’re Watching: A strong economy supports the charitable sector by decreasing poverty and strengthening local communities. EITC has been largely seen as a highly efficient financial resource for low-income working families.


HB 3157/ Working Families Tax Relief Act: Rep. Dan Kildee introduced this bill to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit for working families and to boost local economies.

Why We’re Watching: CMF’s Board of Trustees previously supported the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit in Michigan.

What We’re Doing: CMF has joined a coalition of almost a dozen organizations, including the Michigan League for Public Policy, that supports the expansion of the state tax credit to support low to moderate income households.

What You Can Do: Rep. Dan Kildee has requested personal organizational stories that help show the impact of the credit on Michigan’s families and local economy. To submit a story, please contact CMF public policy fellow Olivia Lewis.

Federal Bills on Immigration

Below are ways that CMF members are talking publicly on immigration issues and several bills that have been introduced that would have consequential impact on Michigan communities:

HR 3222 Public Charge: CMF recently reported on federal rulings on October 11 which put a halt to proposed public charge laws that would consider the amount of social services an immigrant and their family would likely require within the first year of emigrating to the United States in determining whether they should be granted entry into the country.

HR 891/ Nuclear Family Priority Act: This bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to reduce the number of family-sponsored immigrants.

SB 1103/ RAISE Act: Known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, this bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish a skills-based immigration points system, eliminate the Diversity Visa program and limit the number of refugees admitted to the United States.

What You Can Do: Reach out to your peers who have already said this is a priority to them to determine if and how you can learn and be a thought partner with them in their work.


Rethinking Michigan’s Safety Net

A contribution by Stephen Arellano on behalf of the Office of Foundation Liaison

Alleviating poverty and providing supports to children and families that create sustainable pathways out of poverty is one of philanthropy’s oldest and most intractable challenges.

Embedded in poverty is the historical residue of inequity, racism and ethnocentrism that has contributed to the current state of social, economic and policy systems in America.

Working with colleagues from McGregor Fund and Fremont Area Community Foundation, OFL is supporting a process to convene public and private partners to rethink the social safety net in Michigan. The process will begin with a day of collective learning from nationally renowned speakers regarding the safety net in Lansing on November 18th. The convening is designed to create a common background of knowledge on three critical safety net programs: TANF, the Childcare and Development Fund, or CCDF (formerly known as Childcare and Development Block Grant, or CCDBG) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Online registration is open now. If you are interested in learning more about this initiative, we invite you to contact OFL.

Michigan’s philanthropic community has dedicated significant resources to reducing systemic poverty through local and regional programs that support the health, wealth, education and well-being of poor and vulnerable populations. Local and regional efforts are admirable but only partially effective. A diverse set of stakeholders from government, business, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors are needed to develop an ecosystem that can improve and support economic mobility for the indigent and low-income families.

Michigan Talent Investment Agency reported there were over 204,000 available jobs during the fourth quarter of 2018 and the state’s unemployment rate was just 4 percent. Yet these optimistic data do not reflect the realities or the barriers to success faced by low-income Michiganders and those in poverty. Of the nearly 4 million households in our state, 43 percent cannot afford basic needs such as childcare, housing, food, transportation, health care and technology. While working families are struggling to survive, the situation is far more dire for the 1.4 million Michiganders living in deep poverty, the indigent and the homeless, who often lack the basic tools to apply for state supports.

Michigan cannot thrive with systems that trap individuals and families in poverty. While poverty is often associated with urban areas, the state’s rural households face similar conditions— over 12 percent of rural families rely on SNAP while almost 18 percent of all rural children live in poverty.

During recent economic downturns, policy decisions included reductions in the state Earned Income Tax Credit and shifted the utilization of federal dollars received through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). As a result, working families who receive government supports are essentially penalized for increasing their earnings, as a small raise can push a family past the threshold to receive assistance. This “cliff effect,” where families are unable to earn enough income to replace benefits lost through employment or pay increases, is among the most significant barriers to economic mobility.

However, positive changes could lift some residents into financial independence. Eligibility for childcare assistance has increased to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL) and families now continue to receive support until reaching the exit threshold of 240 percent FPL. These changes will mitigate the childcare barrier for some workers. Improvements in this benefit are helpful, but ensuring economic success requires an integrated systemic approach that is client centered.

OFL is working with state and national partners to identify top experts and inspiring minds to better understand how current safety net policies are administered and to stimulate bold ideas to uplift the most vulnerable populations.

Building on an encouraging collaboration between urban and rural voices in philanthropy, the “Rethinking Michigan’s Safety Net” event next month is an opportunity for the diversity of Michigan philanthropy to acknowledge the way poverty influences outcomes in all our work and develop forward-looking solutions in partnership with leaders that can make a difference for Michigan’s children and families.


Vocational Village Site Visit Reinforces Importance of Public-Private Partnerships

In August, the Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL) hosted a visit to the Vocational Village at the Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson. Over two dozen guests from the philanthropic community, state government and local police forces joined the tour.

The Jackson visit was the second Vocational Village site visit hosted by OFL in what looks to be a burgeoning interest in the philanthropic community for public-private partnerships to support better outcomes through the state’s criminal justice system.

This year’s visit followed OFL’s Learn, Align, Engage survey; results showed strong interest from foundations in learning more about Michigan’s criminal justice system. Some CMF members have been deeply involved in this work for many years, in some cases leading the way. The Hudson-Webber Foundation hosted a webinar earlier this year with Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist to gauge interest on the subject and has also convened funders to discuss safety and justice in Michigan. Hudson-Webber has since convened Michigan foundations and out-of-state partners to continue discussing how philanthropy could play a role in advancing criminal justice work in Michigan.

In 2016, OFL’s Vocational Village site visit inspired a public-private partnership between the Michigan Department of Corrections and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan for a Gender Informed Practice Assessment (GIPA) report.

If your foundation would like to join the conversation or is interested in a future site visit, please contact OFL.

“It is important for those of us who work in philanthropy to understand what our role(s) can be in the justice system and how we can best support all members of our communities,” said Surabhi Pandit, program officer, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Pandit was responsible for MDOC’s partnership with CFSEM that created the GIPA report.

Her hope is that the site visits can spark future opportunities.

“I would like to learn more about what resources it would take to scale these programs, so that more individuals who are interested can participate,” Pandit said.

The Vocational Village is part of the Michigan Offender Success Model, whose mission is to reduce crimes by implementing services, supervision and opportunities with a goal of employment and self-sufficiency.

The program assists prisoners by giving them a chance to reenter society with more education and skills training than when they entered prison. The skilled trades training program features 10 classes from tree trimming to automotive technology. The career and technical training classrooms look similar to what you would find at a high school level CTE program throughout the state with new equipment and technology that reflects tools used in the field today.

Parnall is the second Vocational Village site in Michigan, the other is at Ionia. MDOC Director Heidi Washington says she has hopes for a third site at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.

Students receive full days of instruction and training in the classroom each day and many can earn a certification within their field. The students involved in the program also live together at the facility due to their common goal of improving their lives through education. According to facility officials, most of the men leave prison with a job opportunity awaiting. The more impressive result: reduced recidivism rates.

Director Washington was the only director to continue working in the governor’s office during the transition from Rick Snyder to Gretchen Whitmer. Her strategic plan for the corrections department from January 2019 to 2022 is a multi-step process that includes trainings and support for corrections officers and better alignment of department resources with offender needs.

In an email following the visit, Director Washington said that by working together, it makes a difference in the lives of returning citizens.

“Through programs like the Vocational Village, we are not only helping people become productive citizens, but we are also helping employers fill critical positions otherwise going unfilled. In addition, while the prisoners are focused on doing something positive, we are also seeing a change in the prison culture for the better with a corresponding decrease in violence,” she wrote.


Reviewing the State Budget Through a Philanthropic Lens

On March 5th, Governor Gretchen Whitmer proposed her first executive budget to the Michigan state legislature. The Governor’s original budget proposal reflects her deep commitment to fixing the roads and improving education. CMF has followed the seven-month budget process and will monitor the ongoing political process until the budget is approved.

While there are still possibilities of budget changes to come, this is a brief status update on this highly complex issue, followed by our report. CMF doesn’t typically engage in budget issues, but this uncommon finance process has highlighted the critical impact budget changes can have on the charitable sector.

The governor’s strong use of line item veto was unprecedented as using the State Administrative Board (Ad Board) to transfer departmental funds from one program to another had not been done in 28 years. Governor Whitmer is the second in her position to use this strategy.

Transfers usually occur after the administration makes a request of the legislature, following approval from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Given the polarized budget process these past few months, CMF staff saw this maneuver as strategic and nonpartisan – aimed at drawing the legislature to the negotiating table. Media coverage has been extensive including comprehensive analyses and impact stories, some of which have been linked in the report.

Several bills have been introduced that would reverse some of the decisions made by the legislature, Governor and Ad Board process. CMF continues to monitor those actions. Below is a high-level overview of where things currently stand:

  • Governor Whitmer proposed a $60.2 billion budget, which was rejected by the legislature who in turn approved $59.9 billion in spending

  • The approved budget incorporated $400 million in one-time spending for roads but failed to include a long-term solution.  In response, the governor struck nearly $1 billion from the budget by issuing an unheard-of 147-line item vetoes, declaring 72 budget provisions constitutionally unenforceable.

  • Governor Whitmer utilized the State Ad Board* process to approve 13 interdepartmental transfers which shifted $625 million in funding. Of those transfers, $406 million were within the Attorney General and Education departments. While not a direct impact to programming, this loosens full-funding hurdles previously placed on those departments.

  • Supplemental bills have been introduced and require all parties negotiate the remaining $1 billion.  

  • Between the House and Senate just 14 session days remain in November and December for legislative action to occur. Legislators will likely delegate within their districts while listening to constituents.

  • Of the $128 million in line item vetoes offered by the Governor in the school aid budget, approximately $34 million came from 26 programs that were either new to the budget or continued from previous years that benefited non-government entities. Funding for Square One, a Southfield-based company that provides STEM professional development, workshops and enables high school students to design a variety of complex vehicles is an example.

By understanding the budget CMF staff can have deeper conversations with the administration and state agencies about priorities, gaps and intersections with philanthropy.  CMF staff will continue to uplift budget implications in the coming months by highlighting key issues that have been identified by membership. Members with questions regarding the report or other budget actions, should contact Regina Bell.


*Per P.A. 2 of 1921, the State Administrative Board has general supervisory control over the administrative activities of all state departments and agencies, including, but not limited to, the approval of contracts and leases, oversight of the state capitol outlay process and the settlement of claims against the State under $1,000.00. The State Administrative Board functions through three standing committees that make recommendations to the Board. The State Administrative Board members are the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Director of the Department of Transportation. The Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) designates a Secretary to the State Administrative Board and provides staff support.


Read May 2019 Policy Brief

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