Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. July 28, 2021.

Editorial: Close loophole that’s flooding Whitmer with cash

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has become adept at finding legal loopholes to work around the state Legislature on budget matters and COVID-19 restrictions. Now she’s found one she can slip through to sidestep campaign finance laws and raise millions of additional dollars for her reelection campaign.

The Detroit News reports the Democratic governor is claiming an exemption from the state law capping campaign donations under an obscure 1984 ruling that allows a governor facing recall to raise unlimited funds.

While numerous recall threats have been targeted at Whitmer, no group has submitted petition signatures to the state Board of Canvassers.

Numerous recall threats have been targeted at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but no group has submitted petition signatures to the state Board of Canvassers.

“There are some serious questions whether a recall is actively being sought here,” Eric Doster, a campaign finance attorney, told The News.

There’s no evidence that an active recall campaign is underway, or that signatures are being gathered.

Claiming to be a recall target has enabled her to add an additional $3.4 million to her campaign fund from dozens of donors, both in state and out, who blew past the $7,150 individual limit per election cycle to give her as much as a quarter million dollars each.

That influx of unlimited contributions has pushed Whitmer’s 2022 war chest to a record $10.74 million.

It’s a neat little trick and one that will give Whitmer a huge advantage over her Republican challengers, who will have to comply with the donation limit while she’s getting money through a fire hose from super wealthy supporters.

It highlights the need for Michigan to toughen its embarrassingly weak campaign finance laws, something that also was driven home earlier in the week by the revelation that state Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, spent $221 from his campaign account at a strip club.

Jones’ defense that he didn’t realize he was in a strip club is no more disingenuous than Whitmer’s claim to be facing recall.

The ruling on which her fraud is built came in 1984 from then-Secretary of State Richard Austin, who cited the unfairness of holding a candidate battling a recall to donation caps while the recall proponents could collect money without limits.

But the money Whitmer is raising won’t be spent to fend off a recall; it will be used to hold at bay her GOP challengers who must abide by the caps. Austin’s ruling was never intended to be applied in that manner.

Instead of creating a level field, it builds one that gives the governor a powerful financial advantage and insults the purpose of contribution limits, which is to guard against influence peddling.

Since there is no recall election scheduled, her scheme would seem to violate the intent of campaign finance law.

It at least merits an investigation by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Also, Austin’s ruling must be clarified by the Legislature so that the limits come off only when there’s a recall election, and not during a normal election cycle.

While they’re at it, lawmakers must set specific guidelines for what constitutes a campaign expense. Certainly whooping it up with your pals at a strip joint shouldn’t qualify.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. July 30, 2021.

Editorial: Eviction meets lack of affordable housing

Last month renters facing eviction got a breather in the form of a one-month extension of the federal moratorium.

The eviction moratorium was put in place to keep people and families out of emergency housing in the wake of COVID-19-related layoffs and closures. Done by way of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a means to keep crowding (and contagion) out of shelters, it stopped landlords from removing tenants who couldn’t pay rent.

Michigan evictions slowed considerably — an Associated Press explainer this week found about 1,500 eviction cases filed between March and May last year, compared to roughly 43,000 cases in the courts during the same three months the year prior.

Actual evictions between this year and the last plummeted from 40,905 to 7,230.

It’s hard to know what happens when the moratorium lifts on Saturday (besides predictable court backlogs) but eviction notices tacked to front doors don’t set anyone at ease — especially given what’s on the other side of them.

Low-income renters face a grim housing picture.

About 86,000 Michiganders said they may face eviction or foreclosure, according to a June/July Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.

If evicted, their options are scant — in some markets, worse than the already tight pre-COVID days.

The state’s shortfall is at about 200,000 affordable housing units, found a National Low Income Housing Coalition analysis, reported by Bridge Michigan.

Worse, wages are so out of whack with rents that people who are on the lowest end of our income spectrum would need to clock 77 hours a week — or two full-time jobs — to afford the average two-bedroom apartment.

Not a single county in Michigan offers fair market rents attainable by someone who works full time for minimum wage. And while markets has forced wages over minimum wage for most open positions throughout Michigan, inflation that we all face has made higher pay feel more like minimum wage for many.

Being evicted narrows options further in the potential stain (and its associated back rent and court costs) brings to a rental history.

Landlords are having problems, too. Billions of federal dollars have been pushed at the problem, a point landlords made as they struggled to pay their own bills without rental income and which eventually hit the mark in the plea to end the eviction moratorium.

The money was impressive — by summer 2020, 530 rental assistance programs were launched nation-wide to a tune of at least $4.3 billion, AP reports.

Unfortunately, that’s where the momentum slowed or branched off.

In a Center for Public Integrity survey of about 70 state and local recipients of 2020 rent help, $1 out of every $6 of that $2.6 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund money diverted to other COVID-19-related expenses like protective equipment, law enforcement salaries and small-business loans. Some states took big bites for administration.

Michigan needs the housing, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week as she announced a plan to use $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to create 2,000 new affordable rental homes, and bulk up incentives for development and rent/security deposit help.

It’s a good step, but the government infrastructure must step with it.

But both landlords and tenant are navigating a horrifically slow bureaucratic churn.

In the first $2.6 billion in CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Funding — freed up for rent relief more than a year ago — more than $425 million, or 16 percent, still hasn’t reached eligible tenants and landlords because of slow disbursements, AP reported Thursday.

Housing advocates recommend tenants “communicate” with their landlords in the interim, even as the moratorium lifts. But for too many, communication will be a notice on the door, and frighteningly few options outside of them.

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The (Marquette) Mining Journal. July 31, 2021.

Editorial: Winter heating challenges foremost in minds of many

While home heating might be the last thing many area residents are thinking of in the middle of the summer season, the cooler months and associated heating needs are fast approaching. Many people may take for granted a warm, cozy home as the cold weather descends upon the area, but that’s not the case for all Upper Peninsula residents, especially some of area’s the most vulnerable community members.

It turns out that access to firewood for home heating can be a challenge for some local senior citizens, according to the Ishpeming and Negaunee Senior centers and the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.

Due to this, the entities are working to address the situation and ensure that older adults in the area have access to the resources they need to stay warm during the bitter winter months.

Through a Better Together Initiative funded partly by the West End Health Foundation, the three organizations are conducting a study on home heating in relation to seniors.

“We know a warm home during long Upper Peninsula winters is essential to seniors’ health, well-being and ability to live independently,” said Leslie Bek, program coordinator of Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly’s Marquette office, in a news release.

The entities are now in the process of conducting surveys to gauge the extent of need for firewood in the homes of seniors, along with the resources that are available to determine a solution.

Two online surveys are available, with one posing the primary question of “Do you need assistance obtaining firewood to heat your home?”

The second survey is geared for those who provide services to seniors and asks “How many households do they know of are in need of firewood assistance and how could you help with a solution?”

While the surveys are meant to provide a general idea of how much need there is for firewood in west end communities, organizers picture a large-scale program in the future.

“We envision a potential program that provides donated firewood during the winter months to year-round residents of the West End who are age 60 or older,” said Elyse Bertucci, director of the Ishpeming Senior Center, in the release. “Those who heat their home solely or partially with wood and due to cost and other concerns do not have a way to get the wood they need. This would be a fuel assistance program that includes cutting, splitting of wood and its delivery and storage. The program would not provide wood heat for the entire heating season but augment a senior’s supply to help with costs. This type of a program would be highly dependent upon volunteers and collaboration with township offices and local organizations such as senior centers, that assist seniors.”

We commend organizers for recognizing and addressing a need for a critical resource in a vulnerable population — no one wants our elders to face the bitter winter months without the home heating supplies they need. We encourage area residents to do their part by filling out the survey that best applies to their situation — if they are in need or may be able to provide assistance — as community participation and feedback is critical to the success of such a program.

Each survey is available online and takes less than five minutes to complete.

The senior survey can be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/TVKXWCF and will remain open through Aug. 15.

The service providers survey can be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/WSK66LJ and will remain open through Sept. 1.

For more information, contact the Ishpeming Senior Center at 906-485-5527, the Negaunee Senior Center at 906-475-6626 or Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly at 906-273-2575.

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