Michigan

Over the course of the next year Michigan Watch, the investigative/accountability unit of Michigan Radio, and Bridge Magazine, the online magazine put together by the Center for Michigan, will be collaborating on coverage of Michigan families who were dropped from cash assistance welfare.

A federal judge has stopped a major round of cuts in cash benefits for Michigan welfare recipients, saying the notices were deficient.

It's a significant decision. Republicans who control the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder had approved a stricter four-year cap on cash payments, effective Oct. 1.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued a restraining order today that prevents people from being cut from the program. He says the Michigan Department of Human Services did not meet the requirements under law when it sent notices to thousands of people.

The judge ordered new notices, which would give people the right to a hearing to determine if they would lose cash assistance from the state.

A lot of people are worried about what’s been going on in the stock market. I guess I should be, too.  To the extent I have any retirement savings, they are tied up in stock-heavy mutual funds.

But what bothers me much more is what’s going on with poverty in this state. A week from today, we are ending cash welfare assistance to something close to twelve thousand families.

That means close to thirty thousand children will suddenly be utterly dependent on the kindness of strangers. And their numbers will grow, every month.

user: Ed Yourdon / flicker

Gov. Rick Snyder outlined his plan for making Michigan a healthier state. The plan includes the utilization of technology to help track health statistics and to guide people into making healthier choices.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks with Victor Strecher, Professor at the University of Michigan’s Center for Communications Health Research. Strecher has been working with Gov. Snyder on developing the new health initiative and talks about health issues in Michigan and changes residents can make to improve their health and well-being.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers are considering eliminating the Personal Property Tax.  That’s a tax businesses pay on equipment.  The money goes directly to local units of government.  Businesses say it’s a complicated tax that punishes them for investing in equipment.  Cities, townships, counties and schools say if the tax is eliminated, that revenue has to be replaced. 

The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives

This Friday many of us head into a three day weekend that marks the unofficial end of summer. We might mark Labor Day with a family picnic, one last summer visit to the beach, or maybe with a mad scramble to get that last bit of school preparation done. But what is Labor Day really for? Joining us to take a look is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst, Jack Lessenberry.

Robbie Howell / Flickr

The Michigan legislature is considering bills to end the state’s mandatory no-fault auto insurance.  Its supporters say it will give consumers more choices and help reduce cost of auto insurance.  Opponents say it’s a misguided effort that will have very little effect on insurance rates and could mean people who suffer injuries won’t get the help they need to fully recover. 

Kristin Howard was driving, taking an interstate to work on a summer day in 2006 when her life was changed forever.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Part 3 of 3 part series -

Salmon fishing has meant a lot of tourism dollars for cities along the coasts.  But, changes in Lake Huron have caused a collapse of salmon.  But, what if other Great Lakes lose their salmon?

Fishing for salmon on some parts of Lake Huron is still a big deal.

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Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Part 2 of a 3 part series -

Fishing in the Great Lakes would not be what it is today without stocking Pacific salmon in the lakes.  But it costs a lot of money.  Michigan fisheries managers say it’s worth every dime.  In the second report of the series 'The Collapse of the Salmon Economy," we look at the economic benefits of subsidizing salmon fishing in the Great Lakes.

In the 1960s, the state of Michigan first put salmon into the Great Lakes.  It was a gamble to create world-class recreational fishing. 

Michigan spends about $8-million a year stocking salmon and other types of fish.  But the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t really know how many fish we’re catching for those millions of dollars.

Gary Whelan is in charge of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fish hatcheries. 

“I wouldn’t say we have no idea.  I think we have a ballpark.  We don’t have a great estimate.  We would like to have a lot better estimates than we have now.  I would absolutely agree with that.”

A Michigan Watch analysis found the cost for each fish caught in Michigan waters ranges from a couple of dollars to $150 per fish caught, depending on species and depending on year.  We use catch estimates used by some other Great Lakes states.

The Michigan DNR’s Gary Whelan questions those estimates and our calculations.

And… he says besides, we’re looking at it all wrong.  It’s not about the cost per hatchery-raised fish caught; it’s about what those salmon mean to Michigan’s economy. 

“You have lots of people, for example, who are catch-and-release fishermen who will never take fish home.  But, they’re spending a lot of money to go fishing for this fish or the opportunity to fish for them.”

And stocking Pacific salmon does attract anglers from all over.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

To understand why salmon are so important to the Great Lakes and the Michigan economy, you first have to understand some history.

It used to be the lake trout was the fish to catch.  It was big.  It was tasty.  But, by the late 1950s, that fish and others had been severely over-fished.  And, an eel-like, blood-sucking parasite called the sea lamprey further reduced lake trout numbers.

Those weren’t even the worst problems for lake trout.  A fish called the alewife invaded the Great Lakes through manmade canals.  Lake trout starting feeding on alewives.  But  alewives caused a thiamine deficiency in lake trout.  A lack of vitamin B-1.

Mark Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

“The thiamine deficiency that the alewives cause is one of the top reasons why natural reproduction has been very slow to occur over the decades in the Great Lakes of these species.”

Catching a lake trout became rare.

A new federal mandate could make it easier for families to budget for college. Net price calculators will be required by all colleges and universities starting October 29th. At a minimum, net costs are based on a student’s income, how big their family is and their dependency status.

Keith Williams works in the financial aid office at Michigan State University. He says MSU’s net price calculator has been around for several years.

"It just allows a student to make a real, realistic comparison as to what the net price will be at one school versus another school," Williams said.

Margaret Rodriguez works in the financial aid office at the University of Michigan. She says the mandate is a good thing.

"The more information that we can make available to families about the availability of financial aid, the better it is," she said.

Schools can use their own system or the generic calculator provided by the federal government.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

cmich.edu / Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University classes may not start as planned on August 22nd. The faculty and administration have been fighting tooth and nail in contract talks since April. The two sides have not met since last month. Union members are expected to talk about informational picketing or a strike in a meeting 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Jeffrey Weinstock is a professor at CMU. He says he feels as if the faculty is being strong-armed by the administration.

"We have never not had an extension of the current contract during bargaining and we’ve never struck and nobody really wants to but … I get the sense we’re really being backed into a corner and being dared," Weinstock said.

The administration released a statement today welcoming students back for the start of school. The statement says students are moving in and freshmen are attending orientation activities to prepare for next week.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Ben Rollman / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers want legislation in place to improve parental involvement in schools. The lack of involvement is seen as one cause of Michigan’s low education scores.

Representative Bob Genetski of Saugatuck is a Republican. He says welfare reform is necessary for education reform.

“I believe much more in workfare than in welfare,” Genetski said. “I think that we need to instill in our kids that nothing comes free and that you earn everything you get.”

Representative Tim Melton of Auburn Hills is a Democrat. He says Child Protective Services should be involved if younger children don’t come to school every day.

“These kids are going to end up in the system either way,” Melton said. “If they’re not showing up at school, that’s an early warning sign of child neglect.”

Melton says Child Protective Services has said they don’t have the resources to take this project on.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Kevin Dooley / Flickr

Lake Michigan gets an overall ‘C’ grade on a new report card from the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. Beach water quality and lake water levels got ‘D’ grades, scoring lowest on the report card. Superfund cleanup efforts got a ‘B’ and the fight against invasive species like Asian carp got a ‘C.’

Matt Doss is with the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission. He says the poor grades will help the state.

“It’s going to help hold us all accountable for improving these grades moving forward,” he said. “We can do better and we need to do better.”

The Great Lakes Commission works to improve the health of all five Great Lakes.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Michael Tam / Flickr

The legal battle between Lansing-based law and some of its former students has deepened. Cooley Law School has been sued by four of its former students for claiming false job placement statistics. They say Cooley is misrepresenting data to improve the school’s image and get more students. Cooley sued the law firm representing the students last month for defamation. Kurzon Strauss law firm in New York had several online advertisements looking for information about Cooley and other law schools misrepresenting job placement numbers.

Jesse Strauss is a lawyer at Kurzon Strauss. He says their posts requesting information about Cooley were not defamatory.

“We regard the Thomas Cooley suit as a pure intimidation tactic – to sort of make us go away and stuff our investigation,” he said. “The whole suit is about our investigation. The postings that they point out were made when this firm was seriously contemplating litigation against them. We believe they are well aware of that.”

James Thelen is an associate dean at Cooley. He says in an email that the students’ allegations are “completely baseless.”

“We will vigorously defend this lawsuit and continue to pursue the defamation and other legal claims we filed against the Kurzon Strauss firm last month," Thelen said.

A similar lawsuit has been filed against New York Law School by three former students with Kurzon Strauss.

- Amelia Carpenter – Michigan Radio Newsroom

Andrew Magill / Flickr

About 13-thousand Michigan families will stop getting money from the state on October 1st. That’s when the families will reach their five-year federal lifetime limit for cash assistance. The cash assistance program is designed to support low-income families with pregnant women or children until they find jobs.

Sheryl Thompson is with the Department of Human Services. She says people with no income who have children will no longer be able to extend the limit for cash assistance.

"This was never meant to be a long-term solution," she said. "It was always supposed to be a short-term solution as a safety net."

Thompson says Michigan will save about 77-million-dollars this year. Other services including job placement and food assistance are available for people who qualify.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Central Michigan University

Classes at Central Michigan University may be delayed because of contract disputes between the faculty union and administration. Without a contract, faculty may not show for class August 22. The two groups are at a standstill on a number of issues including salary increases, health care or who is allowed to be a union member.

Tim Connors is the former president of the faculty union at the university. He says the union is ready to get back to the table.

Focus: HOPE

Focus: HOPE’s co-founder Eleanor Josaitis died of cancer Tuesday morning. Focus: HOPE provides vocational training and food assistance. Josaitis and her partner Reverend William Cunningham founded the social services organization in the aftermath of the Detroit riots. Cunningham died in 1997.

Tim Duperron is the chief operating officer at Focus: HOPE who worked with Josaitis for 13 years. He says she had strong ties and loyalty with many people.

daisybush / Flickr

Since April, about 30,000 college students were dropped from Michigan’s food assistance program. The Department of Human Services’ new eligibility requirements knocked off more than expected.

Brian Rooney is with DHS. He says Michigan’s rules did not align with the rest of the country.

"If you were going to college then we would count that as an employment-in-training program and you didn’t have to be working part-time, you didn’t have to be a single parent, you could be a single, average college-aged student going to school full-time and qualify for food assistance," Rooney said.

Sydney Watts is a full-time student at Central Michigan University. She says she and her roommates are concerned about losing their benefits.

"It’s hard. It’s very, very hard. I will occasionally eat out with friends and stuff, but other than that it’s Ramen noodles or just crap food because we can’t afford anything. So when all my roommates move back and everything, I don’t know what we’ll do," Watts said.

Rooney says one in five Michiganders is receiving food assistance. He says more people will be cut in October when qualifications are asset-based rather than income-based.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Amelia Carpenter / Michigan Radio Newsroom

An Islamic group is no closer to building a new school in Pittsfield Township after a long and controversial meeting last night. The Michigan Islamic Academy owns a residential property in the township and wants it rezoned. The township turned the Academy down after hearing from about 50 people on both sides of the issue.

Stu Collins lives close to the Academy’s property. He says he was pleased with the outcome.

“I welcome them somewhere else just not at that site. I think most people who were opposed to it can concur with what I’ve just said here,” Collins said.

Tarek Nahlawi is with the Academy. He says they are going to keep fighting.

"We are disappointed," he said. "I wouldn't expect this. We came into this with full hope that they would look at things in an objective way - not in a subjective way."

The Academy has said the Justice Department will get involved if the property is not rezoned. The board of trustees for the township still has to vote on the issue.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Amelia Carpenter / Michigan Radio Newsroom

University of Michigan nurses say the quality of patient care will suffer if they can’t reach an agreement in contract talks with management. Some nurses say they will leave their jobs. The two sides are debating financial issues including pay increases, health insurance and benefits in contract talks that resume today (Wednesday). The union representatives have added to an existing complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission charging management with bad faith bargaining and making one-sided changes to some nurses’ working conditions. The union says the university made an assignment change without consulting them first.

Jeff Breslin is President of the Michigan Nurses Association. He says one of the key issues in hospitals is retaining staff.

"You get the expertise – you have nurses that can walk into a situation , assess it and know what needs to be done at the drop of a hat where new nurses – they will get to that point but they need the skill, they need the experience and they need the expertise from the people who have been there to pass that on to them," Breslin said.

The university health system said in a release they do not agree patient care will be affected with the new contract.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

s_falkow / Flickr

A Michigan law school has sued a law firm and a handful of bloggers for defamation. The Thomas M. Cooley Law School says four anonymous bloggers and individuals from Kurzon Strauss law firm in New York are hurting its reputation online. One blog questions the academic quality at Cooley, noting that many graduates do not find jobs. The law firm posted several advertisements naming Cooley as a law school that manipulates post-graduate student data. The firm has posted a retraction on at least one website.

Jim Thelen is an associate dean at Cooley. He says the statements cross the line.

"People using the internet and doing so anonymously - it appears to embolden some people to say more than what they would say if they had to put their name to it," Thelen said.

Thelen says he knows they can’t police the internet, but wants the posts taken down. A partner at Kurzon Strauss declined to comment.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Shannon Muskopf / Flickr

A number of Michigan public school teachers are feeling pressured to cheat. A recent Detroit Free Press survey shows one-third of Michigan educators feel pressure to cheat on standardized tests and adjust students’ grades. The problem has surfaced in public schools across the country.

Emily Richmond is with the National Education Writers Association. She says measuring teacher performance and political pressures are the reason.

"Teachers are feeling a lot of pressure – I think a lot of them are feeling threatened and I think they feel their job security is on the line," she said.

About 3-hundred public schools in the country have recently faced suspicions, claims or cases of cheating to improve test scores.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

The debt ceiling debate is still getting attention in Michigan. Many are voicing their opinions to government officials. One congressman says calls to his office are running about 50-50. Many support raising the debt ceiling and others want to reduce future debt by making cuts.

Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga is a Republican from Zeeland. He says his concern is that the debt ceiling could double in the next ten years.

"All we need to do is have a slight hiccup in our interest rates – something that just even brings us back to historical averages of the last ten years and our spending on interest is going to explode. We’ve got to get this under control," Huizenga said.

The deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling from the current 14-trillion-dollars must be found by next week, or the nation could default on its debt.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Shelly T. / Flickr

UPDATE: 4:15 p.m. July 28, 2011

DuPont says its herbicide called Imprelis is responsible for tree injuries primarily on Norway spruce and white pines. They are addressing problems on a case by case basis.

ORIGINAL POST: 3:31 July 25, 2011

Three Michigan companies are suing DuPont for damages to trees on their property. It’s the first of at least four lawsuits against the chemical company. Damages linked to a DuPont-manufactured herbicide called Imprelis have been linked to dead and dying trees across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the chemical in 2010. Lawn care professionals say they’ve received complaints despite using Imprelis as directed. The EPA and DuPont are investigating claims.

Amy Frankmann is with the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association. She says not only are trees suffering – so are the reputations of landscapers.

"The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has gone out and investigated the claims that we’ve heard about and our members have done nothing wrong. So they’ve applied it according to label and our concern is that the industry is getting a black eye when they didn’t do anything wrong," Frankmann said.

Repairs for damages nationwide are projected to be in the millions of dollars.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

mdprovost ~ Prosper in 2011 / Flickr

Michigan ranks seventh worst in air pollution on a list the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the “Toxic 20.” The NRDC study found almost half of all toxic air pollution comes from coal and oil-fired power plants. Detroit Edison’s Monroe Power Plant ranks fourth among power plant polluters in the country. Ohio took first before Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says Michigan is on its way to less toxic energy usage.

"We’re on sort of the verge of a new era where we’re going to use as much renewables as we possibly can, we’re going to look at efficiency because that provides power to about one tenth the cost of a new coal plant and we’re going to maximize those two efforts," McDiarmid said.

McDiarmid says Michigan’s rank on the “Toxic 20” is an opportunity to work toward less harmful energy use in the future.

The "Toxic 20" are:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa 

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Jerry Wong / Flickr

A new airport shuttle between East Lansing and Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Interstate 96 will make twice the number of trips this fall. The new Michigan Flyer route will stop in East Lansing, Brighton/Howell, Ann Arbor and both airport terminals. If the federal government awards Michigan Flyer with the 1-point-5 million dollars it asked for, the route will be self-sustaining after the first year.

Ody Norkin is vice president of Michigan Flyer. He says the goal is for airport shuttles to run hourly.

"People come home to Detroit Metro Airport they don’t want to wait two hours especially if they’re in Washtenaw or Livingston only a half-hour or 45 minutes away from the airport," he said. "They’re not going to wait for the shuttle if we are operating only two to two-and-a-half hours."

Norkin says the new route will be successful based on current usage.

"We have a very high end product with brand new motor coaches that are attracting not only those who can’t drive or can’t afford to drive but also those who own vehicles and choose to set them aside either for environmental reasons or just because we’re so convenient.," Norkin said.

Prices on the new route will likely be the same as their southern route along I-94.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Andrew Magill / Flickr

Michigan Smartzones and Ann Arbor SPARK helped eight high-tech start-up companies get money to help accelerate their businesses. The Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund program matched 1-point-8-million-dollars in outside investments with hopes that the companies create jobs and stimulate the economy. They have invested more than 13-point-4-million-dollars in 62 Michigan companies to date.

Skipp Simms manages the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund at SPARK. He says the program has made great use of state capital.

"It’s 21st century jobs fund money and we think that it certainly is one of the programs that is already delivering some pretty significant returns to the state on this economic development type investment," Simms said.

The Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund is in its third year.

The eight companies getting funding are:

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Steven Depolo / Flickr

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Genesee County Parks over petitioning restrictions. A woman was kicked out of Linden County Park last month while gathering signatures for the Committee to Recall Governor Snyder. When she asked why, the parks said their new policy does not allow petitioning in the park without a permit. Petitioners with permits were given an isolated 9-square-foot spot in the 135-acre park.

Michael Steinberg is with the ACLU in Michigan. He says barring petitioning except for a tiny spot in a park is especially shocking under the First Amendment.

"This problem of restricting petitioners is not isolated to Genesee County. We’ve been getting calls from people all across the state," Steinberg said.

Steinberg says he hopes the lawsuit will be an example for all Michigan officials.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Marlana Shipley / Flickr

The extremely hot weather has caused some electrical outages in metro Detroit. High temperatures and storms last month contributed to power outages across the state. The National Weather Service expects southern Michigan’s heat wave to continue through the weekend.

Scott Simon is with Detroit Edison. He says the electric grid is in good shape and should be able to handle the increased need for power.

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