Gov. Whitmer launches plan to combat poverty with a task force

Dec 18, 2019 at 10:42 am
click to enlarge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. - Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a plan Wednesday to combat poverty in a state where she said 43 percent of households struggle to pay for basic expenses like rent, food, health care, and transportation.

The new Michigan Poverty Task Force is tasked with identifying the scope of the problem and coming up with solutions.

The task force will be made up of leaders of state departments and agencies. About one in five children live in poverty. About a third of children in Detroit are impoverished.

"No parent should have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table for their families,” Whitmer said in a news release. “That's why I've charged this task force with identifying more ways we can lift families up and ensure they can build a good life for themselves here in Michigan. I plan to work very closely with this team to ensure that every parent can feed their families with healthy, nutritious food, put a roof over their heads, and keep them warm in the winter.” 

The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) is charged with overseeing the task force.

“There’s no one solution to solve poverty, it’s going to take all of us, putting our shoulders to the wheel, to make real progress,” LEO Director Jeff Donofrio said in a news release. “The Task Force gives us the chance to do collectively what none of us could accomplish on our own. Bringing together state departments, philanthropy, community organizations, and local leaders, we’ll be better able to identify and tackle the root causes of poverty and bring opportunity to more Michiganders."    

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, applauded the governor’s plan, saying she plans to take part “to ensure this process run smoothly.”

“For too long, ‘systemic poverty,’ has perpetuated unfavorable outcomes and barriers for families throughout Michigan, in both urban and rural communities,” Gay-Dagnogo said in a news release. “Our state is much better than that, and I see this as an opportunity to work with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to change the trajectory for all families! Our Governor has the ability to convene a meaningful commission that will advance optimal outcomes for our children, seniors, and those facing disadvantages in education, housing, and public services.”

In Michigan, a disproportionate number of Black people are living in poverty as the result of decades of systemic racism, from redlining to a lack of access to the quality of government services afforded to the suburbs. Some Black leaders have expressed frustration with Whitmer's first year in office.

Sen. Marshall Bullock, chairman of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said the task force is an important step in addressing those longstanding inequities.

"This is a big step for Michigan families who need real leadership in Lansing to help them get ahead,” Bullock said in a news release. “It shows that this administration is serious about helping families in every community break the cycle of generational poverty. This is a great start, and I’m ready to help the Michigan Poverty Task Force in any way I can to ensure every family has the tangible support and resources they need.” 

According to a news release, “The Michigan Poverty Task Force is charged with ensuring that state government is bringing the full force of its efforts and resources to the fight against poverty. That includes researching, identifying, recommending, and implementing strategies for reducing poverty in Michigan; recommending changes in Michigan law and policy-related changes to fight poverty in Michigan; and connecting and collaborating with the public and key stakeholders in carrying out this important work. The task force will convene its first meeting in January of 2020 and will report regularly to the governor on its findings and activities.”

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.