Whitmer creates state task force on poverty

43% of Michigan households struggle to afford necessities

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With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an  executive order to create the Michigan Poverty Task Force within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).

“No parent should have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table for their families,” said Whitmer during the announcement, which took place at Eastside Community Network in Detroit, a leading human services agency. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Casey Hull

“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.”

Whitmer said that the body will be composed of directors or the directors’ designees from several state departments and agencies. The panel will be charged with making recommendations to the governor on how to best coordinate and activate efforts within state government to lift Michigan families out of poverty and help them get on a “a path to opportunity,” Whitmer said.

The task force chair will establish an advisory council made up of three state legislators, including two representing urban areas and one representing a rural area impacted by poverty. In addition, another three members will be people who have been impacted by poverty or are working with impacted communities.

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“For too long, systemic poverty has perpetuated unfavorable outcomes and barriers for families throughout Michigan, in both urban and rural communities,” said state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit). “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.”

Forty-three percent of Michigan households struggle to afford necessities like housing, childcare, food, technology, health care and transportation, according to the United Way. Another 2018 study has shown that one in five Michigan children live in poverty.

“This is a big step for Michigan families who need real leadership in Lansing to help them get ahead,” said state Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), Michigan Legislative Black Caucus chair.

The task force will convene its first meeting next month. It is expected to report to Whitmer on its findings and activities. 

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“Poverty has many, many limbs and we are going to have to address them all collectively and put in good, hard work,” said Donna Givens, Eastside Community Network president and CEO.

Gilda Jacobs, Michigan League for Public Policy president and CEO added that the organization is “encouraged” by the task force and “intentional coordination among state departments to address the many factors that contribute to poverty. It’s not just any one thing and it’s important to understand how many different factors, such as housing, health care, child care and transportation can impact poverty.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.