Van Buren children deserve much better

Last week the crocuses popped up and Pure Michigan launched its new spring advertising campaign with Tim Allen’s soothing voice reminding us “...enjoying the journey is always pure Michigan.”

However, in Van Buren County the journey for many families is long, hard and pitted with poverty.

According to Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016, released last Monday by the Michigan League for Public Policy, 4,184 children between the ages of newborn to 17 live in poverty in our county. More than half of the school-age children qualify for free and reduced lunch in Van Buren County schools.

This reflects an increase from last year and a 7 percent increase from nine years ago. We rank 53rd (out of 83 counties) for child well-being. Clearly, we must do better.

In addition to growth in poverty, Van Buren County is also becoming known for its lack of prenatal care. More than 38 percent of pregnant women receive inadequate prenatal care, according to the report. This should come as no surprise since our county is one of 36 Michigan counties with no obstetrical services. That means some women must drive 40 miles for prenatal care and childbirth. Mothers who know the value of prenatal checkups may not be able to afford to put gas in the tank for the journey to the doctor’s office. Some women in Cass County, which also lacks obstetric services, may have to travel to Pure Indiana when they go into labor.

Prenatal care is directly linked to a decrease in infant mortality, can help improve school readiness, and may increase reading levels in the third grade.

Some see the solution to poverty as something as illusive as hunting for morel mushrooms. It’s actually not that difficult.

Important recommendations from the Michigan League for Public Policy include restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Michigan lawmakers slashed the EITC and called it a “hand-out.” In reality, it is a tax benefit for hard-working Michigan families. In 2013, about 7,000 Van Buren County families benefited from the EITC that brought almost $1 million in spending money to villages like South Haven, Hartford and Paw Paw.

Restoring revenue sharing to communities is another tool required to wipe out poverty. Since 2000, our state government has short-changed cities and towns $7 billion in revenue, according to Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League. Since 2002, Van Buren County alone lost more than $18.6 million. That is money that can fight poverty by supplying jobs, infrastructure and safe neighborhoods.

Lansing has gone beyond robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now our legislators are disinvesting in our communities, our families and our children. Our children are worth every tax dollar that keeps them safe, healthy and alive. An investment in them goes beyond politics. It is essential to our state’s long-term health, and to sustaining Pure Michigan for generations to come.

Annie Brown

Democratic candidate for 66th District State Rep.

This letter to the editor was originally published in the Herald-Palladium.