Capitol and Community Update

Feb. 1, 2019
Friday, February 1, 2019
Dear Friend,
 
Welcome to my latest e-newsletter! Read on for legislative updates and things to do this month, along with other community information.
 
So many questions, and a little bit of hope…
 
As you may know, before my election to the state House, I dedicated my life to public education. I’ve worked at every level — from an administrator in K-12 to still teaching a few classes at UM-Flint. I have negotiated contracts as both a teacher and as an administrator, and I know what it means to have to stretch limited school resources. I have scrutinized budgets, counted the contract honors for full-time equivalency, created programs, and made tough choices. These experiences have made me well-versed in practical school funding at the district level, so I was thrilled to be placed on the House Appropriations Committee so I could finally see the larger picture of how school funding decisions are made.
 
As I expected, it’s not a pretty one. A recently released study from Michigan State University, in collaboration with the C.S. Mott and Kellogg foundations, Michigan’s public schools are woefully underfunded. This downward trend in funding began long before I was elected to office and has remained unchanged.
 
In order to better understand the challenges we’re up against when it comes to adequately funding our schools, I made it a goal to thoroughly study the “Revised School Code.” This is the piece of legislation that outlines funding, education mandates, teacher tenure and evaluation, as well as other elements of our educational system. What increasingly became evident to me is how backward our approach to school funding has been in general.
 
Much to my surprise, the code doesn’t say things like “All 3rd graders need to read at grade level, which will cost $XX to accomplish and that funding will be made available.” Instead it says, “All 3rd graders need to read at grade level, but schools will have to do their best to accomplish this with only leftover resources.” Of course, when we don’t achieve the desired outcome, the narrative becomes “our schools are failing.”
 
I am hopeful that finally this trend will finally be poised for a turn around. We have a new governor who supports public education and, importantly, a business community who wants to see things change as well. I am beyond thrilled to bring my experience to the table as we discuss public school funding and I am excited that members of the business community are reaching out to be part of the solution.
 
I believe you learn what a person or organization truly values by where they put their resources. I’m hopeful that Michigan is finally ready to truly value public education.
 
 
Black History Month Celebration
 
The beginning of February brings with it the beginning of Black History Month. This annual celebration is our opportunity to recognize incredible achievements, contributions and the oft-forgotten yet central role African Americans played in the history of our nation.
 
In the spirit of this rich tradition, I want to take time in each of my newsletters this month to recognize the life and work of remarkable individuals from the African-American community.
 
This week, I would like highlight William Ferguson, the first African-American legislator elected in Michigan. Born in Detroit on May 22, 1857, Ferguson was the first African-American graduate of the Detroit Medical College. After a successful career in printing and real estate, Ferguson went on to become a lawyer. All of Ferguson’s achievements, however, did not come easily.
 
In 1890, Ferguson was expelled from Gies’ European Hotel Restaurant after refusing to eat in the “colored” section. Unsatisfied with the status quo, Ferguson launched one of the first-of-its-kind lawsuits in the nation against Gies and their practice of racial segregation. In a case that ended up before the Michigan Supreme Court, Ferguson proved victorious as the court found that separation by race in public places was unconstitutional under Michigan law.
 
Following this monumental case, Ferguson was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1893 and again in 1895.
 
Though Rep. Ferguson passed away over 100 years ago, his legacy of fighting for racial equality still resonates with all of us today.
 
Tax Foreclosure Postponement Help
 
The Genesee County Treasurer, Deborah L. Cherry, has established a Hardship Policy for a one-year foreclosure postponement. This policy allows homeowners who are undergoing a “substantial financial hardship,” such as, but not limited to, governmental assistance, low income, a reduction in income, or an increase in expenses, an opportunity to apply for a one-year extension on property foreclosure. Genesee County requires that any person applying for the postponement on a property must own, reside, and have a 100 percent PRE (Principal Residential Exemption, formerly homestead), or be the legal guardian, conservator, or have power of attorney over the owner/resident.
 
Applications became available at the Genesee County Treasurer’s Office on Wednesday, Jan. 2. Postponement arrangements must be made, and approved, annually by the Genesee County Treasurer’s Office.  Failure to make arrangements every year could result in foreclosure and loss of property.
 
For more information, please call (810) 257-3025 or go to click here.
 
Home Heating Help May be Available
 
With the winter heating season in full swing, some households may struggle to pay their winter heating bills. I want to remind area families that help with home heating bills may be available.
 
First, if you are unable to pay your bills, please contact the utility company ASAP and explain the situation. Being proactive could help keep the heat on and save your life. The Winter Protection Plan safeguards seniors and low-income customers from service shutoffs. It allows eligible customers to avoid shutoffs while paying nothing or just a small percentage of their annual bill during the protection period. To apply, residents should contact their natural gas or utility company.
 
This is a deferment plan, not a financial assistance program meant to ease the burden of high winter utility bills. However, there are state programs that offer resources to assist low-income families with energy costs, including the State Emergency Relief Program, Home Heating Credit, and Weatherization Assistance Program. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/heatingassistance or dial 2-1-1 from any phone to connect with a free statewide service that helps people find and use resources in their community, including help with utility costs.
 
Treasury: Resolve to Be Ready for Tax Scams in 2019
 
As the state of Michigan begins a new year and the state income tax filing season approaches, the Michigan Department of Treasury is asking taxpayers to resolve to be ready for tax scams in 2019.
 
Cybercriminals typically increase their activity in the first part of the year through phone scams and email phishing schemes. These scammers try to obtain personal information using different tricks and tactics so they can file income tax returns and claim refunds on behalf of unsuspecting taxpayers.
 
Some scammers may also allege a taxpayer owes taxes and aggressively demand payment for a quick payout.
 
Treasury will never:
Initiate a phone call or email to ask for personal information.
  • Call or email to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, Treasury will first send a bill through the U.S. mail to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Cybercriminals often alter caller ID numbers and emails to make it look like the state Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service or another official agency is contacting a taxpayer. Scammers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.
 
Taxpayers who are contacted by a scammer should immediately cease the call or delete the email.
 
To learn more about tax-related identity theft, go to www.michigan.gov/identitytheft.
 
Business Taxpayers Should Be On Alert for W-2 Phishing Scam
 
Business taxpayers should be extra alert for cybercriminals attempting to steal W-2 forms and other sensitive information through a phishing scam, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
 
In a typical scenario, cybercriminals impersonate persons of authority within a company and send an email to payroll personnel asking for copies of all employee W-2 forms. A W-2 form contains an employee’s name, address, Social Security number, income and withholdings. Cybercriminals use that information to file state income tax returns and steal refunds, or they post it for sale on the “dark web.”
 
The Internal Revenue Service reports the scam has affected all types of employers, from small and large businesses to public schools and universities, hospitals, tribal governments and charities. A common theme in this scam and other email scams is that the copy includes grammatical and spelling mistakes.
 
Business taxpayers who receive this type of email are asked to report the encounter to phishing@irs.gov.  To learn more about identity theft, go to www.michigan.gov/identitytheft.
 
Events in the 48th District
 
Personalized/Photo Coffee Mugs @ Montrose-Jennings
 
The Montrose-Jennings Library is hosting a personalized coffee mug craft event on Wednesday, Feb. 6 from 3-4 p.m. At this event, you can make a plastic coffee mug (limit one per person). Please bring a 4x6 photo or design you’d like to use. Scrapbook paper will be available. Ages 5 and up are welcome. For more information or to register, please visit the Genesee District Library website.
 
Groundhog Day Fun!
 
On Saturday, Feb. 2, from 1-4 p.m., For-Mar Nature Preserve and Arboretum is hosting a Ground Hog Day celebration. Stop in any time to find out if Punxsutawney For-Mar saw his shadow. There will be crafts, activities and groundhog tunnel forts. This event is for families, all ages and abilities. For more information, please visit the Genesee County Parks website.
 
I hope you found this information useful. Please feel free to contact my office if we can be of any assistance.
 
Sincerely,
 
State Rep. Sheryl Y. Kennedy, PhD
48th House District