Above: Michigan State House Representative Betsy Coffia, during a visit to the Groundwork office.
Groundwork staff welcomed newly elected State House Representative Betsy Coffia to our office the other day for a two-way conversation about legislative priorities. Below is a brief edited summary of thoughts the representative shared, followed by a bullet point list of Groundwork ideas.
“First, my election would not have happened without the effort of countless folks in our region, and I am always so mindful of this. We had a swearing in earlier this week in Lansing, and 40 folks came down from northern Michigan, which was truly moving to me. This region very rightly sees this not so much as my win, but our win.
My priorities as a state representative are the same as my priorities have always been. Bottom line–I want to make this region a place where everyone is welcome and where everyone can thrive. For example on Day One of session, January 11, I signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that offers LGBTQ protection in Michigan. Also I co-sponsored a bill to repeal the 1930s abortion ban—I believe it is crucial we be a state where folks’ identities are respected and where we protect their right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions. And coming from a working class upbringing myself and knowing how hard our folks work to make ends meet, I was proud to co-sponsor repealing the unfair Pension Tax which will return around $1,000 a year to thousands of seniors. I also co-sponsored a bill restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, or “Working Families Tax Credit,” from 6% to 30%. This will put on average $3,000 back in working class families’ pockets. This will impact over 700,000 Michigan households and over a million Michigan kids. (the House and Senate has since overwhelmingly voted to pass the Pension Tax Repeal and the Working Families Tax Credit, and both are headed to the governor’s desk).
In shaping my policy priorities, I want to reflect what I heard when knocking on doors and my own personal experience. One thing we heard a lot about was the shortage of daycare. Here in Grand Traverse County, we currently have the longest waitlist of all 83 counties in Michigan. I am Majority Vice-Chair of the Families, Children and Seniors Committee looking into ways to address that urgent need.
Also housing. We knocked on 45,000 doors last year, and housing was the No. 1 issue I heard. Young people in particular are concerned about housing and being able to afford to make a life here. I remember in October a builder in Maple City told me he had three guys living in a campground as they build homes, because they could not find housing they themselves could afford.
I spoke with a top administrator at Munson who said he’d had many professionals accept jobs, and then they had to decline them because they couldn’t find affordable housing or daycare. I am on the Committee for Economic Development and Small Business, which will have a big focus on housing. Both housing and childcare are key economic issues for our region’s businesses and obviously critical for families as well.
Access to healthcare is another key focus. When I was a kid, my family worked hard but couldn’t afford health insurance, and we didn’t always get to access the care we needed. That is still a reality for a lot of people in this region. There are cost barriers, rural access issues, so I requested and have been named to the Health Policy Committee, where I can help create good policy where people can feel healthy and safe. Obviously a livable climate is paramount to being healthy and safe, and I am committed to working toward responsible stewardship of our air, land and water as well.
This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but these are some of the biggest issues I heard on doors and as a county commissioner. My responsibility is advancing public policy that truly lifts all boats and makes our lives better no matter where we live in our beautiful state.”
The five committees Rep. Coffia serves on are Families, Children, and Seniors (where she will serve as majority vice chair); Health Policy; Economic Development and Small Business; Agriculture; and Higher Education.
GROUNDWORK SUGGESTIONS FOR LEGISLATIVE ACTION
Exhibit A: A micro-grant from Groundwork helped Z&N Farm build this small enclosed farm store, significantly increasing sales and expanding community access to locally grown food. Groundwork is suggesting the state create a statewide funding source to make similarly small strategic investments throughout the Mitten to build local food economies, help family farms, and improve community health.
During the conversation with Rep. Coffia, Groundwork staff also offered a sampling of policy priorities that support the programs we and our supporters are focused on. Here’s a summary.
- Create a funding source that would provide micro-grants to a variety of businesses and organizations to expand infrastructure to increase access to locally grown food, in places like schools, food pantries, meal sites, farms and more.
- Continue funding 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms at $9.3 million annually to keep improving childhood health and supporting family farms.
- Pass legislation that would enable dietitians and others to be reimbursed by insurance companies for nutrition therapy.
- Require nutrition training to be provided in graduate-level medical education.
- Help meet the need for more nutrition staff by offering incentives such as education loan forgiveness.
- Nurture bi-partisan support for the north-south passenger rail project as it moves through the funding and approval stages needed to become a reality and benefit mid-Michigan towns all along the line.
- Promote measures to facilitate rapid installation of renewable energy to meet the governor’s goal of reducing carbon emissions to 52% of 2005 levels by 2030 and meaningfully help slow global warming.