Welcome to my latest e-newsletter! Read on for things to do this month, along with other community information.
I have recently co-sponsored the School Freedom, Accountability, Choice and Transparency Act, or School FACT Act. This package of bills, the result of several workgroups that came together over the past year, aims to increase disclosure requirements and accountability standards for education management organizations that run charter schools. Charter school legislation first passed in 1993 with the first school opening in Michigan in 1994. Today, there are 297 charter schools in Michigan with about 150,000, or nearly 10 percent, of all Michigan students attending a charter school funded by taxpayer dollars. Since 1994, 132 charter schools have closed in the state. Unlike a traditional school district, which is run by a locally elected school board, charter schools are run by an appointed board of directors. Charter school boards, more often than not, contract out all operational services, up to and including direct instructional services (i.e., teachers) to an educational management organization (EMO). While both traditional and charter schools are held to the same disclosure standards, detailed financial information is often lacking. This is because EMOs who are contracted to run all aspects of the school are private companies and are not required to publically provide the same level of financial detail despite receiving taxpayer dollars. In addition, there are limited systems in place to demand accountability from the EMO or the charter school authorizer. This package of bills aims to remedy these concerns and create a level playing field to help empower parents and make informed decisions for their family.
Help Available for Those in Need during Michigan Winter
As freezing temperatures start to settle in across Michigan, Consumers Energy is reminding Michigan families, seniors and those in need that now is the time to reach out for help with winter heating costs. Consumers Energy is working to connect eligible customers with nonprofit organizations in communities across Michigan that will provide more than $45 million in state dollars to help with heating costs. Consumers Energy encourages anyone who is looking for available assistance in their community to start by calling 2-1-1, a free service that can refer people to local assistance programs, or by visiting www.ConsumersEnergy.com/assistance. In November, Consumers Energy customers are also receiving information regarding assistance programs along with their bills. The information describes company payment plan options, as well as outside help such as the nonprofit agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services State Emergency Relief program, the Michigan Home Heating Credit and more.
Treasury Warns Taxpayers of Fraudulent Phone Calls
The Michigan Department of Treasury is warning taxpayers of aggressive and threatening phone calls made by criminals impersonating state tax officials. Within the last couple of days, the state Treasury Department has observed a surge in scam phone calls where scammers are claiming to be state tax officials and asking for cash through a wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card. Victims are told they owe money and will face arrest, legal action or suspension of business if not paid promptly. Scammers are also altering caller ID numbers to make it look like Treasury is calling. The callers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.
Treasury will never:
- Initiate a phone call to ask for personal information.
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, Treasury will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for a PIN, password or access codes to your bank accounts or credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Taxpayers who don’t owe taxes or don’t think they owe taxes should hang up immediately if they receive one of these calls. For individuals who owe taxes or think they do, they can call (517) 636-5265 to find out their account balance information.
Taxpayers who have received a call from a scammer should report the case to the IRS online or by calling (800) 366-4484.
Wear One Campaign
In recent years, Genesee County has seen an increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The most recent statewide data (2015) indicate that Genesee County is ranked third highest in gonorrhea, fourth in chlamydia, and fifth in syphilis. In efforts to decrease the high STI rates in Genesee County, the Genesee County Health Department (GCHD) is implementing a condom campaign called Wear One, which will begin on Dec. 1. Wear One was developed to increase free condom availability, create awareness and promote acceptance of condom use. The campaign focuses on providing discreet packages containing condoms, lubricant and educational materials that will be accessible free of charge in bars, salons and barber shops, tattoo parlors, and many other locations. Beginning on Dec. 1, a list of participating partners will be located on GCHD’s website, https://gchd.us/get-help/hiv-std-testing/. If you are a local business or organization in Genesee County that would like to participate or have questions, please contact Kate Stevens at (810) 257-3194.
November is Michigan’s Scholarship Month
The Michigan Department of Treasury reminds students and their families about various scholarships provided by the state of Michigan. Most state of Michigan scholarships are restricted to tuition and mandatory fees, and awards are paid directly to the institution on the student’s behalf. Programs include:
- Children of Veterans Tuition Grant (CVTG) – The CVTG provides undergraduate tuition assistance to the children of Michigan veterans who are totally and permanently disabled, missing in action or who have died while serving. Students may receive scholarship assistance for up to four academic years for a total of up to $11,200.
- Fostering Futures Scholarship (FFS) – The FFS provides scholarships to young adults who have experienced foster care in Michigan. Awards are paid directly to the students’ institution to assist with unmet needs in tuition, fees, room, board, books or supplies.
- Michigan Competitive Scholarship (MCS) – The MCS program is available to undergraduate students pursuing their first degrees at an approved Michigan postsecondary institution. Students must demonstrate both financial need and merit based on a qualifying SAT score.
- Michigan Tuition Grant (MTG) – The MTG is available to undergraduate students and is based on financial need for use at independent, nonprofit degree-granting colleges and universities in Michigan.
- Police Officer’s and Firefighter’s Survivor Tuition Grant (STG) – The STG provides for a waiver of tuition at state public institutions of higher education for children and surviving spouses of Michigan police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
- Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) – The TIP encourages eligible students to complete high school by providing tuition assistance for the first two years of college and beyond. Students must meet a Medicaid eligibility history requirement and apply prior to high school graduation.
The very first step to take when applying for scholarships and other forms of financial assistance is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Individuals should complete their FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1, even if they don’t believe they qualify for any state aid.
Priority consideration for state aid programs is given to students whose FAFSA is received at the federal processor on or before March 1.
“In most cases, the FAFSA is the gateway to financial assistance for many students,” said Anne Wohlfert, director the Treasury’s Student Financial Services Bureau. “Michigan students and their families shouldn’t wait to complete this very important form. It can be done online and typically takes about an hour to complete for the first time.”
Before completing the online FAFSA, the student and at least one parent must obtain a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) at www.fafsa.gov. This ID serves as a legal signature and confirms an applicant’s identity when accessing financial aid information through certain U.S. Department of Education websites.
“Remember, the first ‘F’ in FAFSA means ‘Free,’” Wohlfert said. “There is no reason to pay to submit the FAFSA.”
To get started with FAFSA, go to www.fafsa.gov. To learn more about state of Michigan scholarships and other financial assistance programs, go to MI Student Aid’s website at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid or follow @MIStudentAid on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat.*
Volunteer campground host applications being accepted for 2018 season
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking volunteer campground hosts in Michigan state parks, recreation areas and rustic state forest campgrounds for the 2018 camping season. In exchange for 30 hours of service per week, including duties such as helping campers find their campsites, answering camper questions, planning campground activities and performing light park maintenance duties, campground hosts enjoy waived camping fees.
Both individuals and couples may apply for volunteer positions that begin as early as April and last through October. Volunteer hosts must be 18 years of age and provide their own camping equipment, food and other personal items.
Interested volunteers can click on “campground host” at www.michigan.gov/dnrvolunteers to learn more about the volunteer host campground program, download an application and waiver and view a vacancy host campground report, which is updated regularly and indicates when and where hosts are needed in specific parks.
For information, contact Miguel Rodriguez at (517) 284-6127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
911 Emergency Text Message Option Now Available
Residents of Genesee County now have the option to send emergency text messages to 911. Sending a text message to 911 would be appropriate when someone is unable to speak because of an emergency such as a home invasion or an abusive partner. Users should send brief messages without using abbreviations or slang, be prepared to communicate your exact location and be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 dispatcher. The service also is intended to aid people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability. Parents are urged to educate their children about the 911 texting option and remind them that it is for emergencies only.
FREE DENTAL HEALTH CLEANINGS FOR SENIORS!
Valley Area Agency on Aging and Mott Community College are partnering to offer free dental health cleanings to Genesee County seniors! Care is provided by MCC dental hygiene students, under the direct supervision of licensed dental hygienists and dentists. Seniors who qualify are those who are 60 years of age and older. Appointments are being scheduled ALL DAY Monday through Friday; call today to schedule an appointment: (810) 762-0493.
"Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together.”
I hope you found this information useful. Please feel free to contact my office if we can be of any assistance.
State Representative Pam Faris
48th House District
* The Michigan House of Representatives is responsible only for content submitted with House resources and in accordance with the law and House policy. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.