CEDAM Blog

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Food Forward MI: Farm to School

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“Combating childhood obesity, diabetes and other nutrition related disease can start in the classroom and extend to the family as students are educated and then empowered to make healthy food choices.”

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school-1182584_1920Rewind to 2015’s Where Food Access and Community Development Merge post, we reiterate that a community food system isn’t just about connecting local growers to a farm market or boosting seasonal tourism. It’s about the triple bottom line and improving health, wealth and social impact. One way to build community through food system development begins with field (or even the playground) and ends on students’ forks. Over the last decade, there has been increasing acknowledgement of the connection between physical education and school lunch programs as an opportunity for a one-two health-economy punch. Combating childhood obesity, diabetes and other nutrition-related disease can start in the classroom and extend to the family as students are educated and then empowered to make healthy food choices. The key word being empowerment. Students must have the option of making healthy food choices along with education regarding their impact. Nationally, this connection is being drawn by Farm-to-School programs that are providing youth with healthy food access; encouraging lifelong healthy eating habits, supporting local farmers, reducing negative environmental impacts, preserving rural communities and promoting awareness of how empowered choices make impactful outcomes.

NFSN-Logo-Vertical-Full-ColorThe National Farm to School Network (NFSN) empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. NSFN provides vision, leadership and support at the state, regional and national levels to connect and expand the farm to school movement, which according to their data collection, has grown from “a handful of schools in the late 1990s to approximately 42,000 schools in all 50 states as of 2014.” Within the mitten, Michigan Farm to School (MFS) at the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) focuses statewide efforts to serve local foods in school, early childcare and education food programs. To learn about specific programs contact Farm to School Specialist Abigail Harper at harperab@anr.msu.edu.

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“Findings indicated that across the state, the top motivating factors for local procurement were supporting the local economy, helping MI farms, offering access to fresher food and that of higher quality, as well as increasing student consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

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In May of 2016, the CRFS released its report MI Farm to School Grant Program: The First Three Years noting influences and barriers to local food purchasing as well as product ranking, funding opportunity and advice for programming. Findings indicated that across the state, the top motivating factors for local procurement were supporting the local economy, helping MI farms, offering access to fresher food and that of higher quality, as well as increasing student consumption of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, findings also indicated that many cafeterias find sourcing seasonally a barrier, run into budget constraints, find federal and state procurement regulation to also be a barrier and lack enough local regional producers to meet demand.

For more information, please contact Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist at CEDAM or check out: http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/fid-guide

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About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

Proposed HUD Rule on FMRs

Written by Heidi Kurniawan, Policy Intern175px-US-DeptOfHUD-Seal.svg

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently published a proposed rule that aims to give low-income residents more choice by reworking the Section 8 housing-voucher program. The current program gives housing assistance through coupons that cover a portion of rents, and for a number of reasons, these vouchers are more frequently used in neighborhoods where poverty is the most prevalent and rent is the cheapest. The idea of using these vouchers for higher-rent communities—usually with better schools, less crime, and lower rates of poverty—is out of the question for many low-income tenants because it would mean covering extra housing expenses out of pocket. Instead, they stay in areas of concentrated poverty, exacerbating economic and racial segregation in many neighborhoods. In addition, many landlords in low-rent submarkets currently have the ability to collect subsidized rents greater than market rents.

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“The goal here is to expand the range of housing opportunities for low-income tenants who use the voucher program and enable them to move out of areas of concentrated poverty into communities with better opportunities.”

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This problem endures partly because current HUD policy determines vouchers using a formula that considers rent prices across an entire metro area—currently called 50th percentile Fair Market Rents (FMRs). Rents can vary widely within a city depending on what neighborhood you’re looking at, which is exactly why HUD’s new proposal plans to base its formula on rents across ZIP codes instead of cities—using what they call Small Area Fair Market Rents (Small Area FMRs). The goal here to is expand the range of housing opportunities for low-income tenants who use the voucher program and enable them to move out of areas of concentrated poverty into communities with better opportunities.

keys-1317391_1920These proposed changes have already been enacted in Dallas, Texas, as an experimental federal program in 2011. With staggered maximum subsidies depending on ZIP codes, the changes enacted did exactly what they aimed to do. In 2011, Dallas voucher recipients lived in 129 ZIP codes. Four years later, they spanned across 163 different ZIP codes. This has allowed families to access a wider variety of public education and neighborhood resources, among many other benefits. Additionally, the overall cost of the program did not increase.

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“While the goal is to give poor and working class families expanded access to opportunity, HUD also hopes to eliminate predatory landlords by reducing payments available to ZIP codes with lower rents.”

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HUD’s proposal to move to Small Area FMRs is limited to select metro areas across the country that have significant rent differentials. While the goal is to give poor and working class families expanded access to opportunity, HUD also hopes to eliminate predatory landlords by reducing payments available to ZIP codes with lower rents. However, subsidies in poorer neighborhoods would decrease—a move that many landlords and tenant groups warn could increase evictions or force lower-income families to pay more rent.

The proposed changes are not final and are still subject to final review. HUD is seeking public comment by August 15 on the proposed rule. You can access the full proposal here.

Membership Spotlight: H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County

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Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

sunset-954702_640Mackinac County: one piece of the larger puzzle that makes up the Upper Peninsula. Many tend  to think of this area as the land of vacations or trips up north, but what about the people who call this area home? Affordable houses are being snatched up by those looking for a summer vacation spot, leaving those who live in the area in a tough spot. Year-round work can be scarce, as most jobs tend to be seasonal with the summer months, and starting your own business can be tedious and difficult. Affording or maintaining housing in this area can become a major struggle. Plus, add to this that access to resources are limited. Internet for filling out applications to helpful services can be spotty, and jobs that may pay more can be miles away – something difficult for community members on a tight budget. This is where H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County comes in.

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“Their main goal is to serve low- to moderate-income homeowners and potential homeowners to allow them to obtain and/or sustain housing, as well as to get any other nonprofit assistance they may need.”

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While Mackinac County – specifically, Saint Ignace – is the base of the organization, H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County serves the entirety of the Upper Peninsula area. Created in the 1990’s as a grassroots effort, H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County aims to help create, provide council on and help community members obtain or maintain their housing. Lori Pieri, the Executive Director, says that the organization started through providing and building homes for low- to moderate-income families. During the housing crisis, H.O.M.E. was hit particularly hard, as now they were a housing nonprofit in a time when buying houses wasn’t on people’s mind. For this reason, they had to adapt and soon began working on foreclosure prevention in their area. Thanks to this, Pieri describes H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County as “experts” in foreclosure prevention, financial capability, homeownership education and counseling. Their main goal is to serve low- to moderate-income homeowners and potential homeowners to allow them to obtain and/or sustain housing, as well as to get any other nonprofit assistance they may need. Since the area they serve, particularly on foreclosure counseling, is so large, they primarily use phones from their small office to talk to community members all across the U.P.

Upper Peninsula community members face challenges that other Michiganders may not realize. As previously stated, jobs are also difficult to find year-round and may have a long commute – which when considering housing and other expenses, may not end up making sense in the long run. Pieri also highlights the remoteness of a number of areas in the U.P., making phone access and connectivity to the Internet difficult. “As many applications for food, heating assistance, etc. are online now, it can be extremely difficult for members of the community to even apply for the help they need when it comes to more than just housing” says Pieri. She goes on to say that AmeriCorps members that work there, as well as her, often spend time on the phone helping community members fill out forms online where Internet is not available.

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“The AmeriCorps members she has worked with have ‘[been able to] see the changing environment and the increasing demand on foreclosure information and counseling’.”

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Pieri explains that one of H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County’s most successful endeavors has been joining the AmeriCorps Program through CEDAM. The AmeriCorps members she has participated with have “[been able to] see the changing environment and the increasing demand on foreclosure information and counseling.” They are able to strategically plan around the needs to our community, and that means we are able to have an ‘ear to the ground’ and react to arising issues quickly”. Pieri also mentions that the AmeriCorps members that serve there have been able to expand their homeownership and homebuyers education, allowed them to have the first Show Me The Money Day in the U.P., and though AmeriCorps members, allows them to have statewide connections.

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“When we see them attain that affordable homeownership cost, that’s our success day-to-day, one household at a time.”

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Pieri says success at H.O.M.E. has nothing to do with the numbers – the bigger focus is “about each time we actually help someone have a reasonable solution. We have a lot of success with Step Forward Michigan, and to see people recover thorough that extra income or ability to pay their mortgage is rewarding. When we see them attain that affordable homeownership cost, that’s our success day-to-day, one household at a time.”

Learn more about H.O.M.E. of Mackinac County at https://homeofmackinac.wordpress.com, and follow them on Facebook.

memberspotlight-smallMembership Spotlight are blogs highlighting the great work that our member organizations do within their communities. If you are a CEDAM member and would like to be featured, please contact Lisa Assenmacher at lisa@cedam.info.

How a Good Health Creates a Vibrant Community

Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

doctor-563428_1920From time to time, every person has to deal with a health issue. It could be something as simple as the common cold, or it could be something more serious that requires medical attention. In any case, though, it is most people’s goal to feel healthy again. What does “health” really encompass though? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is not simply the “absence of illness; it is also the ability of people to develop their potential during their entire lives.” When you think about health in this way, it becomes easier to see how health is so much larger than just one person. In fact, it could affect one’s entire community and how it operates.

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“…how can the community work at full capacity if a number of members in their community aren’t able to participate?”

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Illness of almost any kind can often keep people from the things they want to or need to do – jobs, school and community events are just a few examples. When these hinderances occur, the community’s economic development can be stalled. Jobs that need to be performed for the community to work go undone. Students are forced to miss important lessons and social experiences. A community event may have missed a great opportunity or opinion in that sick person being there. All these things help show why maintaining good health is so important – how can the community work at full capacity if a number of members in their community aren’t able to participate?

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“Traditionally, those with a lower socioeconomic status have less access to information on their health, and therefore fall ill in cases where it may be avoidable.”

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Another issue is teaching members of the community how to help better maintain their health. It has been shown in many studies and articles that socioeconomic status also plays into community member’s health. Traditionally, those with a lower socioeconomic status have less access to information on their health, and therefore fall ill in cases where it may be avoidable. It makes sense for community economic development groups to reach out to these families in need and also be a resource on health information.

At the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Association’s (NACEDA) upcoming Annual Summit, they want to link health and community economic development, and help people understand how the health of each individual can determine the vibrancy of their community.

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“The symposium will start at the beginning with the basics of the social determinants of health, describe concrete examples of successful local community development models and identify strategies and opportunities that can leverage both policy and partnerships to influence place-based strategies for improving health and wellness.”

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nacedalogo416x120Community Development and the Determinants of Health Symposium is a one day event happening during their annual summit intends to do just that. The event is designed for both public health officials and community economic development leaders. The symposium will start at the beginning with the basics of the social determinants of health, describe concrete examples of successful local community development models and identify strategies and opportunities that can leverage both policy and partnerships to influence place-based strategies for improving health and wellness.

Community Development and the Determinants of Health Symposium will take place August 30, 2016, from 9am to 5pm in Cleveland, Ohio. For more information on registration, the event itself or the agenda, click here.

Food Forward MI: Agriculture Workforce Development

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Written by Mary ZumBrunnen, CEO of One-Community Consulting

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“…the gap between available talent and labor needed is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Once again, Michigan is at a crossroads of opportunity.”

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field-196173_1920Michigan is currently seeing a decline in small and mid-sized farms across the state. This trend has negatively impacted the state’s cultural heritage, economic stability and overall food security. These small and mid-sized farms play an important role in Michigan’s diversified food system. However, many areas of Michigan, both rural and urban, actually have the potential to be food secure by relying on their own regional food systems, given that the proper supports were developed and in place. Interestingly, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation also identifies agri-business as one of Michigan’s top growth industries, but according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the gap between available talent and labor needed is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Once again, Michigan is at the crossroads of opportunity.

In Montcalm County, Rob Spohr, the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Montcalm Community College, is trying to address this issue by expanding curriculum through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Strategic Growth Initiative funding. He says: “The agriculture industry is competing for the same workers that are being hired by the manufacturing industry. The agricultural industry needs to define those skills that will translate to different companies cross sector so that we can create programming around those skill sets.”

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“The industry often can’t afford competitive wages, making it hard to keep workers.”

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cherry-88403_1920On the employer end, there are also lingering stigmas around the field of agriculture. Potential talent often views agricultural work as low-paying and “dirty” work, as identified through discussion with the Michigan Works! Association and other employment agencies. Organizations such as Michigan Works! can also be misinterpreted by employers as placement firms for those that are “difficult” or “unemployable.” From the eastern side of Michigan, Jessica Billiau, GST Michigan Works! Director of Communications, says: “Small farmers are looking for flexibility and experience and trust in their employees. The jobs they are offering are usually seasonal making it hard to build that trust in a short period of time. The industry often can’t afford competitive wages, making it hard to keep workers. I (do) see opportunity in the future. 200 jobs were just announced last month for Cass City. MichiganWorks! is looking to support this expansion with food training programs, basic computer and tech literacy programs and other scholarships to fill the available roles.”

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“Along with formal career days, employers and government entities may also jointly work together to develop representative employer councils that offer growth-oriented internship rotations across major industry positions.”

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Agri-business re-branding and more communication outreach are necessary by both government and businesses. While the disconnect between talent in Michigan and agricultural employer needs exists, there are pilot programs in development that may bridge the gap. One successful way that employers in Clinton County attracted future talent began with a career expo day geared toward eighth grade exploratory learning and business tours. Along with formal career days, employers and government entities may also jointly work together to develop representative employer councils that offer growth-oriented internship rotations across major industry positions. For more information about pilot programming or to learn more about the agri-workforce development, please read the extended blog here or connect with Jessica AcMoody at acmoody@cedam.info today.

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About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

CFPB’s New Rule

Written by Heidi Kurniawan, Policy Intern

trouser-pockets-1439412_1920In Michigan, there are more payday loan stores than there are McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s franchises combined. Advertisements for these loans make them seem like a fast and easy way to get cash when you’re in a financial bind. What they don’t tell you, however, is that four out of five payday loans are rolled over or reborrowed. In Michigan alone, 90% of borrowers take out another loan within 60 days of repaying their last one. With an average APR of nearly 400%, these loans extract billions of dollars from low-income borrowers, and lead to financial consequences like bank penalty fees, lost accounts, delinquency on other bills and even bankruptcy. This represents the debt trap that payday lenders encourage many borrowers to fall into.

CFPB_LogoOn June 2, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a proposed rule addressing payday lending. The rule includes provisions that restrict the number of short-term rollover loans borrowers can take in succession and requires borrowers to be notified when a lender plans to deduct funds from their bank account. This would rein in a lender’s ability to repeatedly attempt to deduct said funds, and prevent a string of overdraft fees that could generate if the account does not contain enough money.

Additionally, the proposed rule establishes an ability-to-repay principle that would require lenders to determine whether a borrower can afford the full amount of each payment while still meeting “basic living expenses” and “major financial obligations” (both of which are specifically defined in the full report). Lenders would also have to go through another review of borrowers’ finances if the borrower seeks to renew or extend the loan. While an ability-to-repay principle is a long-standing tenant of responsible lending, abusive lenders who deliberately target communities of color and low-income workers often ignore it.

The CFPB rule is a start. It does contain loopholes such as exceptions to the ability-to-repay principle for both short- and long-term loans, and inadequate protections against loan flipping – putting borrowers into one unaffordable loan after another. Tougher rules with fewer loopholes are needed to protect vulnerable families from predatory lending practices.

Membership Spotlight: PNC’s Community Development Banking

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Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

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“We help low- to moderate-income community members access the bank and work with those servicing the community through financial education, specialized products, access to business capital and providing grant and sponsorship dollars.”

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Jason Paulateer

Jason Paulateer, PNC Bank

When most people hear PNC Bank, they probably think of a bank that offers financial services and financial products for people and companies. While this is in general what PNC Bank is all about, they also have a division that focuses on local communities they serve: PNC’s Community Development Banking. Jason Paulateer, Vice President and Market Manager of Michigan’s PNC Community Development Banking, explains that the Community Development Banking division “focuses on providing access to financial services to the entire community and focusing on the low-income community. We help low- to moderate-income community members access the bank and work with those servicing the community through financial education, specialized products, access to business capital and providing grant and sponsorship dollars.”

dollar-941246_640PNC’s Community Development Banking in Michigan focuses on leveraging bank resources in order to make them more accessible and understandable to the community members they serve. Two main focuses on how they do this is through human resources and economic development. On the human resources side, PNC Community Development Banking members provide and promote financial education, work with organizations who promote education and leverage other team members to participate and advocate the bank to the community. With economic development, these members often work with local nonprofits to provide capital debt and equity to construct affordable housing projects, promote community revitalization and community stabilization efforts. They do this through loan, investment and grant dollars to groups looking to help low- to moderate-income people improve their conditions.

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In the field, day-to-day battle against things happening in Michigan, it’s important that we tell the truth of the story that people are facing on a local level.”

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When asked if Michigan faced any unique issues, Paulateer said that the answer was no. Many of the issues Michigan communities face are not unique – what Paulateer says is unique is that the issues in Michigan communities tends to end up on a bigger stage. “In the field, day-to-day battle against things happening in Michigan, it’s important that we tell the truth of the story that people are facing on a local level. Our problems aren’t unique […]” Issues from financial challenges and budgeting, affordable housing and water crises are happening all across this country, but Michigan is taking the main stage and representing them on a larger scale. Since this is the case, Michigan communities’ supports must approach these issues while knowing that many others are watching.

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“Paulateer says he wants to make sure the people he’s helping see ‘low-income housing as a stepping stone rather than a landing place,’ and wants to help see them into homes where families can build a life in.”

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beach-1011162_640Paulateer also mentions that he feels it is so important for large corporations to support the communities that they are serving, and how on each level the needs and passions are different, yet complimentary. When speaking on PNC, Paulateer says that their largest focuses are on early childhood development and economic development. Through these initiatives, PNC has created the Grow Up Great program, which has put millions of dollars into helping young children get prepared for kindergarten, as well as supporting their parents through developing the communities they grow up in. Michigan’s PNC Community Development Banking division shares this goal, and in particular want to “support the parents of those kids that would be directly impacted by this statistic.” This means economic development through financial services that the bank could offer these families, such as banking services, a loan for a home or helping them start a business. Then, there is Paulateer’s personal goal in serving the community – graduating people out of affordable or low-income housing and into homes for a lifetime. Paulateer says he wants to make sure the people he’s helping see “low-income housing as a stepping stone rather than a landing place,” and wants to help see them into homes where families can build a life in.

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“In our industry, I think that reducing or decreasing the unbanked and underbanked population is our ultimate goal. We want people to feel comfortable using the bank, working with the bank and accessing the bank that might not have done so otherwise.”

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Paulateer expresses that he believes success in this particular industry is based on how many people they are able to serve, as well as what the impact of that service is. “In our industry, I think that reducing or decreasing the unbanked and underbanked population is our ultimate goal. We want people to feel comfortable using the bank, working with the bank and accessing the bank that might not have done so otherwise.” There are reports stating that the unbanked don’t have access to banks, they believe they don’t have access to banks or they are uncomfortable turning to the bank for help. “We try to break down those barriers,” says Paulateer, and they try to help as many community members as possible in the process.

Learn more about PNC’s Community Development Banking divisions at www.pnc/communitydevelopment or contact Jason Paulateer at jason.paulateer@pnc.com.

Memmemberspotlight-smallbership Spotlight are blogs highlighting the great work that our member organizations do within their communities. If you are a CEDAM member and would like to be featured, please contact Lisa Assenmacher at lisa@cedam.info.

The Municipal Effect

Written by Megan KursikCoordinator of the Michigan Communities for Financial Empowerment

In 2013, the City of Lansing was one of five cities competitively selected to launch a Financial  Empowerment Center to seamlessly integrate free, professional financial counseling with core city and nonprofit services. It’s now more than three years later and the cities came together last week to discuss lessons learned, as well as ways to push the municipal financial empowerment movement forward. This municipal effect is a model that is working across the nation, and CEDAM is grateful to participate in regular convening to share best practices and identify new solutions. Last week, I was able to travel to Philadelphia and attend the Financial Empowerment Centers meeting.

My greatest takeaways included:

  1. The Financial Empowerment Center model works! Altogether, the Centers in Denver, Lansing, Nashville, Philadelphia and San Antonio helped nearly 24,000 residents improve their finances through one-on-one financial counseling. These sessions led to quantified results–more than $25 million in client debt reduced and $2.9 million saved across the five sites.
  2. Local government leadership is critical to scale and sustainability. While specificmichigan-1191024_1920 integration points for referrals to financial counseling varied across the sites, each city government leveraged partnerships with other city agencies and nonprofits to reach a significant percentage of clients receiving services. Additionally, all five cities secured public funds to continue service delivery beyond the three year private grant period. Establishing the precedent that financial counseling should be a publicly funded service is a critical step forward in the municipal financial empowerment movement.
  3. We need you! (and you, and you and you). While the municipal financial empowerment movement has grown rapidly over the past few years, we’re still far from reaching critical mass. CEDAM has supported several cities and counties across the state to help residents facing financial challenges – like property tax delinquency – connect to quality financial counseling services. But we need to continue to spread this strategy across Michigan.

MCFE-logoSo, we’re challenging our members to help us root this approach in many more communities across our great state! And we’re connecting you with the tools to do so at a full day Municipal Financial Empowerment Bootcamp on August 2 in Detroit. It will be held in conjunction with our annual Michigan Financial Empowerment Summit. The Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund will lead the training, designed for city, county, nonprofit and neighborhood leaders to learn more about strategies to address financial instability in their communities.

To learn more about the Bootcamp and the Summit, visit http://mcfe.cedam.info/annual-summit/.

Food Forward MI: Food Innovation Districts

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“Michigan has tremendous opportunity to grow our health and economy while maintaining ecological diversity and cultural heritage.”

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“A food innovation district is a geographic concentration of food-oriented businesses, services and community activities that local governments support through planning and economic development initiatives in order to promote a positive business environment, spur regional food system development and increase access to local food,” according to Patty Cantrell of Regional Food Systems Solutions, LLC. The idea of a food innovation district comes out of the Michigan Good Food Charter (see April 2016’s Food Policy blog) a statewide policy platform laying a roadmap to source 20 percent of Michigan’s food from Michigan markets by 2020, thereby increasing residents’ access to locally grown healthy foods. Why is this important? Michigan has tremendous opportunity to grow our health and economy while maintaining ecological diversity and cultural heritage.

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“Within Michigan several food innovation districts are represented across: Eastside Neighborhood, Lansing; Eastern Market, Detroit; Grand Traverse Regional Market, Traverse City; Marquette Food Co-op and Hub, and; Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Grand Rapids.”

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berry-197078_1280Across Michigan, several food innovation districts are already in full swing having semi-organically developed and in other municipalities local government is actively working with and across grassroots organizations, food retail and supporting organizations as well as academic and philanthropic agencies to plan and implement a designated space to cultivate such food aggregation, distribution, processing and retail operations. Within Michigan these areas are represented across: Eastside Neighborhood, Lansing; Eastern Market, Detroit; Grand Traverse Regional Market, Traverse City; Marquette Food Co-op and Hub, Marquette, and; Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Grand Rapids. What is unique across each of these areas is the origins and anchoring partners. For example, on the eastside of Lansing the local non-profit Allen Neighborhood Center has led the push forward with local health, academic and governmental partners. In Grand Rapids, the City is actively seeking more opportunity for water and waste water clientele with potential for food business innovation district overlap. Further west, the City of Muskegon is in discussion about using such a planning tool to help connect diverse populations.

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“Perhaps the best example of work to date on this type of urban planning tool comes from the 2012 publication Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool created in partnership with Regional Food Solutions, LLC, MSU CRFS, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, and the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction.”

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Supporting this work across the state, Michigan State University Center Regional Food Systems (MSUCRFS) has worked extensively to congregate tools and supporting resources for innovation district development. Perhaps the best example of work to date on this type of urban planning tool comes from the 2012 publication Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool created in partnership with Regional Food Solutions, LLC, MSU CRFS, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, and the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction. While no study has been conducted (as of yet) on the overall impact of such a clustering of related food business, it should be noted that among economic benefits, a “breaking down of silos” and facilitation of new relationships and partnering has taken place from grassroots to government, public and private entities.

For more information, please contact Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist at CEDAM or check out: http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/fid-guide

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Glasses2About the author:
Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

Michigan’s Home Heating Credit – Are you eligible?

Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition

snow-1269449_640After a cold winter that seemed to drag on, warmer temperatures are here to stay…at least for a couple of months. Time to soak up the sun, enjoy the warmth and relax.

So why am I ruining everyone’s enjoyment of this wonderful summer weather with reminders of a distant cold? Well, because as someone familiar with Michigan’s Home Heating Credit, I know that far too many eligible taxpayers have not claimed their home heating credit, leaving millions of dollars floating in Lansing, instead of helping people to cover their utility expenses.

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Michigan’s Home Heating Credit goes to help offset a lower-income taxpayer’s heating costs. To claim it, a person doesn’t have to file a state income tax return, but they must file a MI1040CR-7 by September 30, 2016.

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Unfortunately, too many people don’t apply for the Michigan Home Heating Credit and therefore miss out on assistance that can either reimburse them for the money they spent on fuel, heating oil or wood last year during the colder months or go directly to their gas utility provider and reduce any current or future bill. Even though we have summer heat now, the credit will help provide a smoother path into colder weather this fall.

dollar-941246_640It is also important to note that while the Home Heating Credit pays for heating costs, access to other energy assistance programs and resources tend to dry up in the summer, making this valuable credit a critical year-round resource for eligible folks who need help with their utility bills. Even though you’re not heating your home now, you can access the credit now if you paid for heat this past winter and your total household income falls within the guidelines.

To apply, either go to the Michigan Department of Treasury’s website and type in “Home Heating Credit” to download the instructions and form, visit MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org, or dial 2-1-1 (if available) or 1-888-636-4211 and to see if there is a free site near you to help you file the credit for free.  Don’t wait until it’s too late! Act now, get ALL the benefits available to you this summer and coast into fall.