Bipartisan legislation saves millions by investing in families

August 20, 2012
| By Rick Baker |
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It is always refreshing to see our elected leaders put politics aside and work across the aisle to pass laws that are common-sense solutions to some of our most vexing issues. On Aug. 1, Gov. Rick Snyder signed Public Act 291 into law. This act, which sets strong standards for Michigan home visitation programs, is a win for the families participating in the programs, the state agencies that oversee them, the business community and all taxpayers.

Introduced and championed by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, the measure won approval because of crucial leadership from a bipartisan team of Reps. Ken Kurtz, R-Coldwater, and Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, and Senators Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield.

Voluntary, early childhood home visiting — a little-known but incredibly important program — provides information and coaching to new mothers and fathers during pregnancy and through their baby’s early years. These programs help parents get answers to the numerous questions that accompany a baby — in the privacy of their homes from trained professionals. Topics include proper nutrition, interactions that stimulate brain development and how to avoid potential health risks.

The need is great: Michigan's infant mortality rate is 7.1 deaths for every 1,000 births, well above the national average. Low birth-weight infants account for more than half of these deaths. Sadly, the percentage of children living in poverty in Michigan rose from 14 percent in 2000 to 23 percent, and child abuse and neglect increased 34 percent over the last decade. These statistics are costly for individuals, families and businesses throughout the state.

The good news is that voluntary home visiting is a proven strategy to address these challenges. PA 291 creates one of the strongest systems in the country to make sure that Michigan’s investments in home visiting go to proven programs with a record of success; that sought-after outcomes like fewer pre-term births, reduction in child abuse, improved family self-sufficiency and increased school readiness are measured and tracked; and that the agencies responsible for administering the programs collaborate and share data.

The successful businesses that are part of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce make their decisions with both head and heart. They focus on both the right things to do and the things that will provide the strongest return on investment. That guiding philosophy is also why we, at the Grand Rapids Chamber, are champions of home visiting. It is the right thing to do — help at-risk children and families get off to the best start possible. But it’s also smart policy.

As a state, we are investing in a stronger work force, and we save significant money down the road by ensuring our future entrepreneurs and employees are well cared for today. Quality home visiting programs have been shown to save states nearly six future dollars for every dollar invested by preventing costly problems like poor health and academic failure later in life. When well designed and administered, home visiting helps families thrive — improving the likelihood that both parent and child will make positive contributions to Michigan’s economy. But these outcomes only happen if we invest in programs that are proven to work — programs that continue to track performance with appropriate levels of oversight.

Businesses in Michigan need a 21st century work force to compete and prosper. We also need a state government that spends our tax dollars wisely on cost-effective programs. The facts are clear in the case of creating standards for home visiting, and we are thrilled to see bipartisan support did not let politics get in the way of passing good policy. That’s why Gov. Snyder, Rep. Lyons and the rest of the legislative leaders supporting this bill deserve our gratitude for a job well done.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

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