Politics and Prejudices: Michigan's child-care system is an utter disgrace — and it’s only getting worse 

Half a century ago, I went to a poor, blue-collar public school system where many of the daddies worked in the plants. College degrees of any kind were a rarity. Layoffs were not. Yet so far as I can remember, virtually every time the school board asked voters for a millage, they said yes.

Not that anyone wanted to pay more taxes on their tiny little homes. No, our parents, by and large, wanted us to have a better life than they did. Those were the good old days.

Today, we, or at least our lawmakers, don't seem to care. We've slashed aid to education, especially higher education, right when young people need it more than ever. We've eliminated scholarship money and forced colleges to jack up their tuition, pricing many kids out of the market.

Today, it costs more than $100,000 for even a Michigan resident to get bachelor's degree at either the University of Michigan or Michigan State, a truly obscene figure.

None of this is exactly a secret. But here's something you might not have known: Our child-care system is an utter disgrace — and it's only getting worse. We live in a world now where pretty much everybody has to work, even if they have young children.

Right-wingers are especially rigid about this. They especially don't think anybody should be getting "welfare" instead of working, and if a young mother does something awful like stay home with her baby, plenty of politicians would gleefully cut off their benefits as soon as they can.

We demand they work, as soon as possible after the baby's umbilical cord is cut. Which means they need child care. Yet bizarrely, hypocritically, our lawmakers have made it harder and harder to get, especially for the working poor.

Last week, the nonpartisan Michigan League for Public Policy released a new report on child care in our state, and its findings were enough to shame a snake. During the past decade, we've eliminated most funds for state-subsidized child care.

The league's Judy Putnam says we are "far behind other states in offering child care reimbursements that are designed to help working parents with very low incomes stay in the job and off public assistance," i.e., welfare.

The numbers tell the tale. Back in 2005, before the Great Recession killed many jobs forever, Michigan budgeted about $479 million for child care. Now, that's a mere $136 million.

To qualify for any meager assistance, Michiganders must have lower incomes than almost anywhere else.

What about those of us who can afford child care while we work? Can we at least be confident that the state is making sure the place is clean and safe? Good luck with that.

Federal guidelines say you should have at least one inspector for every 50 cases. Michigan inspectors are saddled with three times as many cases. Can they do an adequate job?

You know the answer. What's more baffling is lawmakers' eager willingness to make the lives of the poor as difficult as possible, even when that isn't in the ruling class's best interests.

After all, you need reasonably healthy serfs. But instead, during the last few years the legislature has slashed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was of great help to the working poor. They refused to adjust to new federal rules on the food stamp program, meaning recipients will lose $76 a month.

That's something that could've been avoided had we given them a mere $20 in heating assistance once a year.

We love to screw the poor, even when it means screwing ourselves in the long run. The Michigan League for Public Policy's report noted that not only is child care something working parents need, it's "a key ingredient in the state's recipe for economic growth. Access to safe, stable and high-quality child care reduces employee absenteeism and turnover and improves businesses' bottom line."

Not only that; for any of those bleeding hearts who might care about future generations, the report notes that good child care programs are where "children are developing the basic language, cognitive and emotional skills needed to succeed."

Ironically, few people remember this now, but this would never have happened if it hadn't been for our old friend Richard Nixon. Way back in 1971, Congress overwhelmingly passed a law calling for a federally funded system of child care centers.

They would've been open to all. Nixon nearly signed it, too, but Pat Buchanan persuaded him to veto it, and got Nixon to say that child care centers were bad because they undermined families in favor of "communal approaches to child rearing."

That was stupid then and is even stupider now, and it kicked the problem back to the states. Which means Michigan gets to kick around children and the poor. Actually, you might think anyone would want smarter future employees. But evidently not.

What might be most depressing is that the release of the Michigan League's report caused nary an eyebrow to go up in the legislature, which for the first time in months was actually in session. The lawmakers were far too busy trying to figure out which committee should consider taxation rules for e-cigarettes.

I can't imagine why people think Lansing is irrelevant.

Hospital Corruption

Back in earlier times, we had vast wars between steel, oil, and railroad magnates trying to wipe each other out and establish monopolies.

Today, we have hospital system wars. But while we've been fixated on the efforts of Beaumont, Henry Ford, and St. John' s to gobble each other up, McLaren Health Care of Flint has been marching across the state like a flock of white-coated locusts, gobbling up community hospitals.

Their CEO, one Phil Incarnati, may be the most arrogant man in the state. Michigan has a process by which you must have a Certificate of Need (CON) before you can open a new hospital. This was designed to keep costs down and ensure that everyone has access to care. But McLaren doesn't care about that.

Incarnati wants to open a new hospital in affluent Clarkston, which doesn't need one, and transfer beds from Pontiac, where most people are poor. Michigan's Department of Community Health has refused to give them a CON.

Enraged, McLaren went to the courts, which also said no. So has the legislature — twice. But McLaren won't take no for an answer. Somehow, it has now enlisted the help of Senate majority leader Randy Richardville to try to ram a bill through.

This would be outrageous. Businesses in the area think allowing McLaren to expand would be a terrible idea.

If this bill makes it, Gov. Rick Snyder would either have to veto it, or be revealed as an utter hypocrite. After all, he has steadfastly opposed special deals and "picking winners and losers," the reason he gave for ending the film credit and essentially killing the movie industry in Michigan.

As for Richardville, you have to wonder if he has an ulterior motive. He'll be out of a job in three months, and he ought to vow right now that he won't go to work for McLaren.

After all, his buddy Paul Opsommer did all he could as head of the House Transportation Committee to block a new bridge across the Detroit River.

Last year, he left office, and immediately went to work for Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. As they say in Lansing, "Ethics? We don't need no stinking ethics." — mt

More by Jack Lessenberry

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