Whitmer creates poverty task force

Wednesday, January 8, 2020 - 9:44pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order on Dec. 18 creating the Michigan Poverty Task Force.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order on Dec. 18 creating the Michigan Poverty Task Force. Buy this photo
Annie Klusendorf/Daily

The Whitmer administration is looking to tackle poverty in the state.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order on Dec. 18 creating a task force within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) to focus on the impact of poverty on families and communities in Michigan. The Michigan Poverty Task Force will meet for the first time this month, working both to understand the impact of poverty in local communities and advise the governor on how best to uplift Michigan residents from poverty.

According to the 2019 United Way ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report, 43% of Michigan households struggle to afford necessities such as food, housing, child care and healthcare. The report cites the combination of increasing costs of living with low wages and reduced hours as a source of inequality in affordability of such necessities for working residents.

In a Dec. 18 statement, Whitmer emphasized the importance of prioritizing efforts to combat poverty.

"No parent should have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table for their families,” Whitmer said. “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 task force will include an advisory council of three state legislators, two represent urban areas and one represents a rural area and three residents who have experienced the impacts of poverty or work with those who do.

LEO Director Jeff Donofrio made a statement about the value of taking a collaborative approach towards this issue. 

“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,” Donofrio said. “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." 

Laura Rall, president of Affordable Michigan and School of Social Work student, believes Whitmer’s task force is a positive step in terms of validating low-income students.

“For students, like me, who come from low-income backgrounds, seeing poverty being addressed at the state level validates our experiences and can potentially change the stigma around being low-income, especially on a campus like (ours),” Rall said. “By having people express interest and initiative in the experiences those in poverty face, I think there's potential for a lot of good work to be done.”

Rall believes it is crucial for the state to make an effort to fully understand the needs of those living in poverty. 

“I do hope that the task force uses qualitative as well as quantitative measures in its evaluation, however, because I think it's important to hear directly from those experiencing poverty what impact it's had on their lives,” Rall said. “This task force is by no means going to solve the poverty crisis, but I do support the initiative Governor Whitmer's taking to fight for the alleviation of poverty.”

Rall expressed some concern about the advisory council’s ability to represent all communities of poverty, however.

“I do wish that the advisory council to the task force had more people on it, especially for a state as big as Michigan,” Rall said. “I am definitely biased here, coming from a rural low-income area, but I wish there would be more representation of rural poverty, especially because rural versus urban poverty can look very different.”