|This week, Governor Rick Snyder presented his recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget (October 2017-September 2018). His proposal calls for $56.27 billion in spending, a 2.5 percent increase from the current year, with $14.3 billion directed to the state's School Aid budget. Michigan Catholic Conference was pleased to see within these recommendations the inclusion of funding for a number of items for which the Conference has previously supported:
- Heat and Eat program, which helps low-income residents receive additional food assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The policy allows residents to show that they receive federal energy assistance (LIHEAP), instead of providing copies of monthly utility bills, to qualify for additional food assistance. This provision is especially helpful to Michigan residents whose heating costs are bundled in with their rent payments. The governor's proposal includes $6.8 million to fund the program, through which approximately 338,000 Michigan families will receive an average of $75 more a month in food assistance benefits.
- Children's Clothing Allowance, which helps low-income families purchase clothing for the school year. After expanding the program last year to allow more children to become eligible, Governor Snyder is proposing an additional $2.7 million increase in the amount of the allowance from $140 per child per year to $200 per child per year.
- Tuition Grant Program, which assists low-income Michigan residents attend an independent college or university, including those that function in the Catholic tradition. The governor proposes $38 million in funding for this program, an increase of $3 million.
- Tuition Incentive Program, which helps Medicaid recipients attend a public or independent college. The governor proposed a $5.3 million increase in funding for this program in his budget recommendations, which would bring the total funding for the program up to $58.3 million.
- Healthy Michigan, or expanded Medicaid program, which offers access to health care for those with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The funding recommended by the governor maintains the plan, which covers over 600,000 Michigan residents. The future of this program still remains in question, however, and will be impacted by discussions at the federal level related to health care reform.
Continued work remains, however, as staff remain concerned about several other items of importance. Michigan Catholic Conference will advocate for lawmakers to include funding for shared time services, without a cap proposed by the governor. This cap limits funds for programs that serve nonpublic and homeschool students to $60 million, when the actual costs are approximately $115 million. These services, which allow nonpublic school students to access non-core classes, such as gym, art, music, or foreign language from the local public school district, provide important benefits to both public and nonpublic schools alike. Another priority this budget cycle will be maintaining funding that reimburses nonpublic schools for the completion of general health, safety and welfare requirements from the State. Last year's state budget included $2.5 million for this purpose, demonstrating that all kids, regardless of where they attend school, deserve to be cared for and kept safe. Michigan Catholic Conference will also work with lawmakers to provide continued funding for the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program, which provides support to women in crisis pregnancies and promotes alternatives to abortion, and to allow all schools to access grants for robotics programs.
With the Governor having proposed his budget recommendations, both the Senate and House of Representatives will now build their own departmental budgets and negotiate differences between each chamber and what the governor has recommended. Much of this work will be done through each chamber's appropriations committee and their respective subcommittees. In recent years the legislature has completed the coming fiscal year's budget by early June.
Michigan Catholic Conference will continue to provide budget updates as developments take place in the weeks ahead.