I am glad to write to you once more as your state representative. This continues to be a difficult time for too many Michiganders. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you or your family. If you are having issues with any part of the unemployment insurance application process, please fill out this form on my website so I can reach out to the UIA on your behalf and try to resolve them.
In order to represent you and your priorities, I rely on feedback from constituents. You can get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on my website, rabhi.housedems.com. I will keep you updated on developments in Lansing with this monthly e-newsletter. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at email@example.com.
I look forward to working together to move Michigan forward.
I hold two “Yousef and You” forums each month where anyone in our district can come to get an update on legislative issues, ask questions, and participate in open discussion. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, these forums are being held virtually. I am hosting virtual Yousef and You discussions on the 2nd Monday and 4th Saturday of every month. I hope many of you will be able to join me. Please see the details below to learn how to sign up for these discussions for the rest of the year!
Zoom Registration links: We are conducting our discussions over Zoom until further notice. Please use the following links to register for the Monday or Saturday discussions. You only need to register one time for each.
Saturday, August 22 @ 10 a.m.
Monday, Sept. 14 @ 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 26 @ 10 a.m.
Monday, Oct. 12 @ 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 @ 10 a.m.
Monday, Nov. 9 @ 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 21 @ 10 a.m. (held on 3rd Saturday to accommodate the Thanksgiving holiday)
Monday, Dec. 14 @ 6 p.m. (last discussion of the year)
Back to School
As the back-to-school season approaches, I have heard from many constituents concerned about how we can ensure students get the education they need while keeping everyone safe. Clearly the most important way to make schools safe is to suppress community transmission of the coronavirus, with the ultimate goal of eliminating new cases in our area. Public health measures have succeeded in bringing down coronavirus transmission in southeast Michigan from the levels we had this spring, but the virus unfortunately still poses a risk for in-person schooling.
Ann Arbor Public Schools has decided to offer only remote learning for at least the first nine weeks of the school year. Students and families have been asked to opt into one of three remote learning programs. The remote learning plan will be difficult for many students, particularly students who rely on school lunches, students with disabilities, students who don’t have good internet access and young students whose parents work outside the home. AAPS is working to address the needs of these students through small support groups called Connections+. For more information, please visit the AAPS ReImagine Learning 2020-21 page.
The Michigan House recently passed a four-bill package (HB 5910-5913) that would undermine public schools under the guise of dealing with schooling during the pandemic. After reviewing the bills and listening to the many teachers and parents who contacted me, I voted against all four bills. The legislation would financially penalize K-5 schools that decide the best choice for their community is to start the school year with only remote instruction, and it would limit the number of days of remote instruction that count towards a district’s minimum. It would do nothing to eliminate high-stakes standardized testing that is even more inappropriate under these circumstances. I also oppose the provision allowing outsourced contracts for non-certified virtual teachers, potentially compromising instruction quality and putting current teachers’ jobs at stake. These bills narrowly passed the House and will next move to the Senate. They would require the governor’s signature to become law.
Governor Whitmer also released a “MI Safe Schools” framework for the school year, developed with a panel of experts in education and public health. It provides guidance for what measures schools should implement based on how prevalent the virus is. Because Michigan’s state school funding is allocated per pupil, changes in enrollment could have disastrous and lasting effects on schools. The state education superintendent has recommended that the state use last year’s enrollment numbers for per-pupil funding to districts this year. I think this would be sensible given the current disruption.
School funding will be a critical issue moving forward, as schools have had to spend more money than usual in order to adapt to the coronavirus. The Legislature has opted to use federal relief funds and the state rainy day fund to cover costs in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. School districts still face deep uncertainty about funding for the rest of the school year as local and state revenues have been hit hard by the crisis.
The School Aid Fund is facing a $1.1 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year. Cuts will likely be proposed, but I believe we should instead increase state revenue and seek further federal aid. As we continue to deal with this crisis, my most important goal is to ensure the safety of our educators, students, and community as a whole. We cannot achieve that by cutting school resources. I have heard from more constituents about education than perhaps any other issue facing the Legislature right now, and I hope you will keep letting me know your views on how we should best move forward.
Adapting the Budget for Coronavirus
The Michigan Legislature passed a plan to help remedy the $2.2 billion deficit in the current year’s state budget caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the governor signed it. The funding comes from $1.3 billion dollars of federal aid provided by the CARES Act and $350 million taken from the state’s rainy day fund. I voted in favor of this measure because our schools and local governments are in desperate need of financial support. Schools will get a net increase of $175 in per-pupil funding as they adapt their operations for the pandemic.
After drawing $350 million from the state fund that is set aside for crises such as this one, the rainy day fund will be left with $836 million. The plan accounts for an executive order Governor Whitmer issued to cut $667 million from the current state budget by reducing state agencies’ funding and implementing a hiring freeze, among other cuts. The plan increases school funding in order to help schools implement coronavirus response efforts and sets aside $53 million in hazard pay for teachers. According to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency analysis, although the budget cuts will reduce state funding for schools by $175 per student, federal relief funds of $350 per student will leave schools with a net increase of $175 per student. Similarly, the plan will reduce state tax revenue shared with local governments by $96.5 million, but allocates $150 million from the CARES Act federal funding to local governments for a net gain to partially offset lost local tax revenue.
This budget adjustment was urgently needed. But we still face a massive challenge meeting future needs with an expected shortfall of $3 billion for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. Unlike the federal government, state and local governments must balance their budgets every year, but tax revenues have fallen as the coronavirus has limited economic activity. The remaining federal CARES Act funds need to be spent before January because Congress designed the program to provide immediate relief, not ongoing funding.
In difficult times, government programs and services become even more important to support people in need and prevent further economic damage. Unfortunately, there is always strong political pressure to balance the budget through cuts rather than revenue increases. The lack of investment in infrastructure, education, and services shrink the economy further, so more cuts are proposed. Even if it were morally acceptable, it’s not possible to cut our way to prosperity at the expense of critical water and transportation systems, the health of the people of our state, and the education of a generation of schoolchildren.
Although politically difficult, the answer is not complex; we must require those who can afford it to contribute their fair share to increase revenue. As the jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” We don’t even need burdensome levels of taxation. If we simply went back to collecting the same proportion of the state economy as revenue that we did 20 years ago, we would have almost three times the amount needed to plug that $3 billion budget hole.
That’s why I have introduced House Bill 5254 to repeal the MEGA tax credits, which will otherwise drain more than $7 billion from the state budget over 10 years. I also support a proposal to get rid of Michigan’s unjust ban on progressive income taxes. We could raise $1 billion a year just by raising state income tax for higher earners so that they pay the same proportion of their income on combined state and local taxes that lower income households do. There is no shortage of specific plans like these that would raise revenue fairly so that we can invest in the public goods that are the foundation of a prosperous state. The task now is to muster the political will to implement them.
Bills to Improve Election Administration
When Michigan voters approved Proposal 3 in 2018, they could not have anticipated just how necessary the expansion of voting methods would become in the context of a public health crisis. I supported those measures at the time, and I believe further changes are now needed to adapt our election laws to the increase in absentee ballots.
I have joined a group of legislators working with the Secretary of State to remove roadblocks that can disenfranchise voters. For instance, absentee ballot applications and ballots themselves are sometimes rejected when the signature on them is missing or doesn’t match the voter registration file. This disproportionately affects voters who are older or disabled. My bill, House Bill 5991, would require clerks to try to notify voters and give them a chance to fix it. I have also introduced a bill, HB 5807, to require clerks to count absent voter ballots postmarked by Election Day, as mail delays are a growing concern.
Other bills in our legislative package (HBs 5985-5991) would enable people to sign up for a permanent absentee voter list, allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they get their driver’s licenses, reimburse local governments for postage if they pay ballot return postage, allow polling places (for instance, those at senior living centers) to be moved during a declared emergency, and extend petition signature gathering during a declared emergency.
Our democratic process depends on the principle that every vote counts. I am committed to ensuring that our election laws live up to that ideal.
Fight COVID — Answer the Phone
The Washtenaw County Health Department would like to remind everyone to answer their phone or call back if contacted by the county health department or the state MI COVID HELP line. Public Health contact tracers call people who have tested positive for coronavirus or who have been identified as being in close contact with a person who tested positive. The call may come from various numbers depending on which staffer is calling. If you do not answer, they will leave a voicemail if possible.
REAL CONTACT TRACERS WILL NEVER ASK FOR YOUR FINANCIAL INFORMATION OR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER. Scammers have been known to “spoof” or fake the caller ID information so their calls appear to be coming from the health department, so you should never give this type of information to a caller.
Contact tracing is vital to containing the virus before it spreads to another set of people. You can help out by limiting your close contacts (in an enclosed space unmasked or within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes), keeping track of whom you are in contact with, and sharing that information with contact tracers if they call. They will preserve your anonymity, and they can provide resources to enable you to get tested or to isolate as needed, such as food or temporary housing. The Washtenaw County Health Department has more information about contact tracing here.
Fill out the Census Online!
It is crucial to get everyone counted in the United States Census. Many programs allocate resources based on census data, and Michigan’s new nonpartisan redistricting commission will also rely on the Census to draw fair and accurate district lines. If you have not filled out your census form yet, please do so before the Sept. 30 deadline online at my2020census.gov.
City of Ann Arbor Switching to New Emergency Alert System
The City of Ann Arbor is switching to use Washtenaw County’s emergency notification system (Everbridge) as of Thursday, August 13. Even if you were previously signed up for City of Ann Arbor emergency alerts, you will need to register with the new system to receive them in the future. Please go to www.washtenaw.org/alerts and set up an account.