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Whitmer signs order to fight poverty in Michigan

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday she has formed a task force to combat poverty across the state.

Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday to create the task force within the state's Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. The order is the governor's 19th executive order of 2019.

"This really is a starting point," she said. "The task force is going to ensure we're doing everything we can to help families get the support they need. This isn't Wayne County alone. It's Oakland County and Lake County. This is a statewide problem that we are going to address."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs an executive order Wednesday in Detroit to form a statewide task force to combat poverty.

The governor signed the order at an 8:45 a.m. news conference held at the Eastside Community Network on Conner near Mack in Detroit. She was joined by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Jeff Donofrio, the department of Labor and Economic Opportunity's director, and Eastside Community Network officials and people the group has helped.

"I know there are organizations across the state dedicated to helping people thrive," said Loretta Powell, one of the Eastside Community Network's success stories. "These organizations need help. They need leaders who make sure they continue to provide resources to people like me and that's why Gov. Whitmer's announcement today is so important."

Formerly known as the Warren/Conner Development Coalition, the Eastside Community Network has been leading community development in Detroit for 30 years.

Powell said she participated in the organization's Chandler Park Healthy Neighborhood Initiative and lost more than 30 pounds with the program. She also got help from the group with her finances. 

"We haven't had a governor in Michigan who has focused on poverty in a long time," she said. "Her work will lead people to programs in their neighborhood that can lift them out of poverty. I know this task force will work with community partners and people impacted by poverty to make real, meaningful change. I'm proud to stand here and support Gov. Whitmer." 

The new poverty task force will be made up of representatives from 19 state agencies, including the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, as well as municipal governments and local community groups, officials said.

"Today's action of signing this executive order for a poverty task force means we are working together with community leaders, people impacted by generational poverty and with partners inside and outside of state government to identify additional, concrete steps we can take together to make meaningful change for families in Michigan," Whitmer said. 

The task force will hold its first meeting in January and will report its findings to the governor regularly, she said. It will also have an advisory council made up of three state lawmakers, two of whom represent urban areas impacted by poverty and one who represents a rural area impacted by poverty, and three Michigan residents affected by poverty. 

Whitmer said too many Michigan families are falling behind. She pointed to studies that say 43% of Michigan households struggle to pay for the fundamentals, put food on the table or pay for health care and transportation.

"Michigan is not going to be a successful state until the people of Michigan are successful," the governor said. "Every parent should be able to feed their kids a healthy dinner, ... (feel confident) they're getting the education they need to be successful and go to a good paying job and put their heads on their pillows when they get home at night and know they're in a safe, clean home. 

"This task force is going to take us a step closer to achieve that goal," she said. "It's one of a number of actions we're taking in state government to help Michigan families get ahead."

Some of the actions Whitmer has already taken to fight poverty include a push in October to raise asset test limits, which enables families to afford necessities like food, rent, utilities and warm clothing, and an effort to expand the right to overtime pay to more Michigan workers.  

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez