Issue 7

A white mid-century modern building sits in the snow while a traditional brick church with steeple stands behind it on Hope College's campus.
Winter arrives at Hope College. Photo by Holland Weekly.

From Catalyst To Activist

By Shanley Smith
Nov. 29, 2018

A few weeks ago I sat in Lubbers Hall, the humanities building of Hope College. My philosophy professor mused on the days when students participated in protests against the Vietnam War. He asked my peers and me if we’d heard of such rallies. Perhaps I should’ve been offended by such a question. But I wasn’t. His gentle tone projected sincerity rather than patronization. I understood why he felt the need to ask.

Last fall I sat in a classroom in which none of the students (including myself) could identify the year that World War II began. About a month ago another professor asked us to raise our hand if we knew the name “Kavanaugh.” Out of eighteen students, only mine went up.

Generalizations don’t interest me, but these are two snippets of how my generation and I choose to engage with our country. My beloved philosophy professor asked us how we intended to engage with our community. Were we engaging with our community?

The following week I received an invitation via Facebook to join a protest happening on Hope’s campus. Students organized the event to raise awareness for professors from the music department who had been fired or demoted this fall. At the protest my peers not only participated but took leadership.

What was it that made these Millennials and Gen X-ers defy the (semi-warranted) expectations of our elders? Here’s my theory: we found something we couldn’t help but care about.

Our rally pales in comparison to those of the late 60s, but I spot a common thread. During the 60s the young generation felt the tug of the draft. They took stances on the war because the government made it personal for them. Their own lives, their friends’ lives, their family members’ lives slipped into the narrative of the Vietnam War. On an infinitely more modest scale, Hope’s community was forced onto an unpredictable landscape this Fall. Students returned to a campus lacking the professors they expected. Also, the women’s choir had been cut completely. My college had changed. My response? To speak up. To gather. To protest.

A number of marches have been held in West Michigan over the past few years. Events similar to the music department protest likely peppered Holland before, but I didn’t notice them until the Fall of 2015 during my first year at Hope. Then came the November of 2016. The events surrounding the presidential election catalyzed my desire to participate in protests. The Grand Rapids Women’s March in January 2017 became the first I attended. Again, the thread surfaces: the Women’s March involved matters in which I already held personal stake. Why did my motivation require personalization? For most protests I need only walk a couple of blocks. Maybe in some circumstances I would hold a sign. Perhaps I’d join in some chanting.

A protest doesn’t take much intention beyond showing up. Nevertheless, when I received invitations to marches regarding the Flint Water Crisis or gun violence, I didn’t RSVP. My calendar became otherwise occupied. Why? Because these affairs didn’t touch me. They existed only in headlines and social media feeds. The emotional pull that might motivate my actions proved too short-lived.

Does anyone else remember learning about James-Lange theory in Psych 101? To boil it down to simple psychology, William James and Carl Lange believed that our physical responses led to our emotional responses.

Could this same rational be applied to protests? Perhaps if I gathered in support of the issues that don’t seemingly relate to me, I could personalize these issues through sheer physicalization. By walking down the streets. By holding a sign. By chanting. Would I maybe start caring? Could it lead to further action?

I’m proud of my peers. I’m proud of the entire Holland community. We’ve rallied together to raise awareness for our professors, women’s rights, and immigration policy. But I’m beginning to think it’s all too easy to stand up for the issues we already hold a stake in. Yes, it has been said we must pick our battles. But maybe we can pick a few more battles? Maybe we should not rely on emotions to kindle our actions. Maybe we could engage in action first. Not with the end goal of empathy, but in hopes that these actions might produce change for our community.


Young women in jean jacket laughing on hiking trail with hand over forehead.
Hope student and Hollander Shanley Smith. Photo by Grace Hulderman.

A born-and-raised Hollander, Shanley Smith has spent twenty-one years falling in love with the west coast of Michigan. She currently attends Hope College where she studies creative writing and classical studies.


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A sign at dusk with one bright light next to it.

A Closer Look At Michigan’s New Medicaid Work Requirements

By Kathleen Schenck
Nov. 29, 2018

At a time when life expectancy in the United States has declined due to suicide and drug overdose, Governor Snyder signed Senate Bill 897 on June 22, 2018. The bill, sponsored by state Senator Mike Shirkey (R), is now Public Act 208 of 2018. It requires some Medicaid recipients to work for their health care, or risk losing coverage altogether.

The new Medicaid work requirements are slated to begin January 1, 2020. Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer is opposed to the work requirements, but her options at this point are unknown given the bill is now statute.

Governor Snyder’s office explains the work requirements via email:

Under the adjusted requirements, beneficiaries will be required to have at least 80 hours per month at a part-time job, a postsecondary educational institution or high school equivalency test training, a job training program, volunteer work or community service, an internship, or substance abuse treatment. Those exempted from the requirements include anyone age 63 or older, disabled persons, pregnant women, full-time students, children, a parent of a dependent child younger than age 6, a recipient of unemployment benefits and anyone under age 21 who had previously been in foster care.

This explanation includes several false assumptions. One, that Medicaid recipients need more education, test training, or job training. Two, that they can afford more education, or test training, or job training. Three, that they are furthering their career goals by working for free as an intern or volunteer.

The emailed message included a link to an article on the work requirements titled “Q&A: How does SB 897 alter the Healthy Michigan Program?” with no author listed, though Governor Snyder is mentioned in third person, and a thumbnail picture of him along with his official government website address appear at the top of the page. The final point states, in devil’s advocate fashion, “In some states with work requirements for Medicaid, they have actually seen their costs go up. If the whole point is to save money, this bill doesn’t make any sense.” And the response given:

The state was required to re-apply for a Healthy Michigan waiver this year. While going through that process, the state is opting to add requirements for coverage that are more in line with the conditions for food and cash assistance. Lowered costs for taxpayers may be realized over time, but the ultimate aim of the bill was to ensure the standards of our program mirror those of similar programs and other states and make our waiver likely to be approved by the federal government so that the Healthy Michigan program can continue well into the future.

When the answer hedges that “lowered costs for taxpayers may be realized over time,” Michiganders deserve the fuller picture. The legislative analysis, or fiscal note, admits “there is not data with which to provide a more precise state fiscal impact.” Estimates range from 5 to 20 million in net savings per year, stemming from the projected number of Michiganders kicked off Medicaid. But the fact is we don’t know. The data simply isn’t there.

Where is the data on how well these work requirements are strengthening food stamp and cash assistance programs? And Michigan should be more like the handful of states experimenting with work requirements? More like Arkansas? They have neon snakes there. We don’t need to be more like Arkansas.

But it’s the last reason that is the most troubling: make our waiver likely to be approved by the federal government so that the Healthy Michigan program can continue well into the future. Translation: make Medicaid harder to get, harder to keep, thereby reducing the number of beneficiaries and purportedly pleasing the federal government enough to ensure the scaled-down version of the program will continue. It is a forgone conclusion that there will be no fighting on behalf of the well-being of Michiganders. The fact that the vote followed party lines (with one sole Republican joining all state Democrats in voting against it) speaks to the political motivations behind the bill.

Back to money. The fiscal note addresses the costs to the state for implementing such a program: “The other significant fiscal impact would be the added administrative casework and information technology updates required to verify hours worked, qualifying exemptions, and other casework each month for the approximately 670,000 Healthy Michigan Plan recipients. Other state fiscal estimates for added administrative costs have ranged from as low as $17.5 million to as high as $70.0 million.” That’s quite a range, and some hefty price tags. Where is the guarantee that kicking Michiganders off Medicaid will save our state money? It seems at best more like a hunch, or a “feeling.”

The bill, now Public Act, contains more problematic details, such as the need to “verify qualifiying work activities” by the tenth of each month to MiBridges. If you fail to do so, or if you fail to meet the requirements in the first place, you will lose health insurance. If you then meet the requirements in the future, you will still lose health insurance for the time you failed to meet the requirements plus an additional month as punishment.

Supporters of the work requirements will undoubtedly cry about those who “abuse the system.” Let’s take a look at a handy pie chart to view the Michiganders who stand to lose health care.

Pie chart lists only 3.2% as "the rest" of Medicaid recipients who the work requirements target.
Courtesy of healthinsurance.org.

6.9% are actively looking for work. Will they be exempt from the work requirements? 3.2% of recipients are, it could be argued, “taking advantage of the system.” If they’re not working and not in school, or church, or SAT prep, what could they possibly be doing? Driving new Altimas and eating whoopie pies?

The working poor will struggle even more under this new bill. What’s referred to as the “gig economy” is more accurately a “hustle economy.” Americans hustle to make ends meet. People who work a few months and then get laid off (whether or not the government deems it a layoff), such as farm workers, adjunct professors or freelancers, would stand to lose Medicaid under the new work requirements. Anyone who does not work a “typical” job is at risk of losing health care.

But all the factories and big-box stores and child care centers and schools offering low-paying jobs will have a bumper crop of involuntary employees. Remember who sponsored this bill: a senator with his own manufacturing company. From Ballotpedia: “His [Senator Mike Shirkey] professional experience includes working as the owner of Orbitform, an engineering company that manufactures forming, fastening, joining and assembly equipment.” Might he benefit from some $12/hour labor?

We are a country that prides itself on its Protestant work ethic. It is a closely-held belief that so very much can be solved by a good honest day’s work. But the work requirements for Medicaid do not provide work as much as take away health care. As Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D, Flint) explains, if Michigan wanted to improve its employment situation, “we’d put money toward daycare, we’d put money toward transportation, we’d make sure the talent programs we’re talking about funding were already in place.” Instead, the state will be taking away people’s health care, and blaming it on the people.

No adult should have to defend not having a job. For those folks who think they should, there are already built-in feelings of shame that many unemployed face. Searching for a job is a full-time job, but not one that is valued by society because no one’s bringing home a paycheck. Threatening to retract health insurance says you are only worth taking care of if you work. And there are reasons for not having a job that don’t fit neatly into a government box.

We keep hearing how unemployment is so low, and there are so many jobs available people aren’t even showing up to interviews. The fact is there are very few good jobs available, as can be seen by a quick search for jobs in Holland on indeed dot com. Of 6,499 jobs within a 20 mile radius, 5,624 of those jobs earn below $20,000 a year, and 5,559 are entry-level. (12 out of 6,499 jobs are senior level.) On one hand, an individual would have to earn less than $16.67/hour for 20 hours a week to still qualify for Medicaid. So there are plenty of those jobs to choose from. On the other hand, would you like to be an Overnight Stocker at Sam’s Club? Part-time, $11.50 an hour, from 9:30 p.m. till 6 a.m.? Or would you work normal school hours, Monday-Friday, as a paraprofessional for $10.25/hour, 9 a.m. till 3 p.m., making it difficult to work a second or third job, which you would need in order to make ends meet? Or would you care to work on a local assembly line, where each Friday afternoon your supervisor still hasn’t told you if you have to be back on the line at 6 a.m. Saturday morning. If you complain and encourage your coworkers to stand up for themselves, you’re fired for trying to “petition,” which along with “union” is a dirty word in Ottawa County. And you don’t have to dig too deep to see that jobs with low wages are often found in the worst industries for sexual harassment. A simple internet search yields study after study faster than you can say Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

So far here we’ve only discussed single individuals who do not have a second source of income. Families who qualify for Medicaid face myriad challenges with the new work regulations. Concerning the exemption for caring for a child under the age of 6, Democrats fought for the bill to allow a higher age than 6, and lost. This raises new questions for the Holland parent who home schools. Will that parent’s teaching qualify as work? Community service?

Work requirements and the monthly verification involved to provide proof that those requirements are being met would only turn more Michiganders away from the health care they need. This is counterproductive to the entire purpose of Medicaid. As reported by The New York Times, a Kentucky judge argued, “Limiting access to medical assistance does not promote the objectives of the Medicaid program.” Michigan is messing with a successful social program that has been around since the 60s, when President Johnson signed the bill.

Recipients of Medicaid already have an uphill battle when it comes to accessing care. Many health professionals do not accept Medicaid. The justification often given is Medicaid pays the doctor’s office less and results in more paperwork. Ask your doctor if she/he accepts Medicaid. Ask your dentist.

Finally, the timing could not be worse. The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, explains:

The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years. Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable. CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.

The bottom line is this: If you are low-income and need health insurance, do not be deterred. Apply and apply again. If you know of someone who needs help applying, help them apply. If Ottawa County DHS tries to deny or cancel you for reasons I’ve heard such as the ink used on the form was “too light” or because you started a part-time, temporary job that were it a permanent position would pay over the eligible salary of roughly $16,000 a year, do not give up. Do not give up due to these and more bureaucratic reasons for cancellation, which are really ways and means of intimidation. As is the Medicaid work requirement.

If you receive Medicaid and have a caseworker, email her or him instead of trying to call or walk in. You will then have a record of your communication. This is a good thing. Usually you can find your caseworker’s email address by adding “@michigan.gov” after your caseworker’s ID, as explained here at Health Care Counts.

Next, use your Medicaid. Find a primary care physician you can talk to. Build that relationship. Tell her/him every single thing about yourself, from feelings of sadness or hopelessness to that odd pain in your wrist. If you are using drugs or cigarettes or alcohol, say so. Ask for help, ask for guidance, ask for clarification.

To apply for Medicaid, go to this page  on michigan.gov and either click “Use MI Bridges to apply for assistance, check your eligibility status and manage your account” or click on the link to download and print form DCH-1426: “download the printable PDF version of the DCH-1426, Application for Health Coverage & Help Paying Costs.”

Do not be deterred.

Holland Weekly welcomes your letters to the editor: hollandweekly@gmail.com.


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A young man mail carrier bald with no hat wearing shorts on a snowy street.
We grow ’em tough here in West Michigan. Photo by Holland Weekly.
A series of sconces glow along an exterior corridor with mid-century modern design elements.
Hope College corridor. Photo by Holland Weekly.
A potted evergreen with three large white stars sticking up with snow all around the front stoop and stairs.
Holiday stoop. Photo by Audrianne Hill.
A float with a snowman lit by red lights stands atop a base of blue-green lights.
Holland’s Parade of Lights 2018. Photo by Holland Weekly.

Send your photos to hollandweekly@gmail.com.

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Pink blackberry smoothie in an off-white ceramic mug with no handle and an intentional brown crack down the middle, like a lightning bolt.
Blackberry smoothie in handmade mug. Photo by Holland Weekly.

Holland Weekly’s Recipe of the Week: Blackberry Smoothie

By Kathleen Schenck
Nov. 29, 2018

Growing up with a dietician, I learned how to eat right. This does not—I repeat—does not mean I always practice what was preached. But it does mean I can throw together something relatively healthy, which is especially handy this time of year, what with big roast beast suppers at 2:30 in the afternoon or sugar cookie snack attacks at 2:30 in the morning.

Here is a basic smoothie recipe. There are many, many variations on this theme. But here’s the blueprint for a healthy breakfast or snack that won’t weigh you down but will tide you over. It is not too sweet. Substituting juice for the milk will sweeten the deal.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Yield: Between 20 to 24 ounces, or just shy of 3 cups

Ingredients:

1 and 1/4 cups plain low fat yogurt

1/2 cup 1% milk

1 banana, fresh or frozen

Approximately 8 big blackberries

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a high-sided bowl or pitcher. Using an immersion blender (or you can opt to place all ingredients in a traditional blender), blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.


Madam puppy dog astrologer, Sylvia. Photo by Michael Tuccini.
Madam Sylvia. Photo by Michael Tuccini.

Sylvia Reads The Stars

Week of Nov. 29, 2018

Sagittarius Nov 22 – Dec 23

Move around. It always makes you happy, or at least stable. (Get it? I said “stable” cuz, you know, you’re part horse.) Don’t let the snow slow you down.

Capricorn Dec 23 – Jan 20

You are no doubt working diligently before winter vacation. Bring home a kitten that sicks its pin teeth in you each time you even think of thinking about work. Then play with her while singing Summer Nights. Repeat nighty till you have completed the entire soundtrack to Grease.

Aquarius Jan 20 – Feb 18

Little water bearer, you have no time for anything fun it seems. Make some time to at least get a little goofy during your day. Make faces as cars race past. Throw snowballs at the wall. Dance.

Pisces Feb 18 – Mar 20

My sweet fish. You are generous with your terms of affection. Come up with some new ones this week and say them to people you don’t usually coo to. Here are some freebies: Soda Pop Pie, Cheetah Monkey, Saucey Sauce.

Aries Mar 20 – Apr 20

Ram, get going on a new project. It could be something material, like paper snowflakes. But it could also be something a bit more cosmic.

Taurus Apr 20 – May 21

When you ask Madam Sylvia why she loves to nuzzle your feet, you have to accept her answer: I also roll in the remains of dead raccoons. I say this because you will hear some things that really go against your own beliefs. Accept. Don’t agree, but accept.

Gemini May 21 – Jun 21

Gemini, elope with yourself. Your twin ideologies could use some firmer emulsification. With a more together outlook, you never know who will notice.

Cancer Jun 21 – Jul 23

Creepy crab, keep your criticisms to yourself! You know how easy it is to let your feelings get away from you. Focus on the good, and comment on the weather. In other words, restraint of tongue and pen will keep you out of trouble.

Leo Jul 23 – Aug 23

Lioness, I know you want to rest in your den. But we need you, and you are happiest when you share your warm light with others. Maybe make a temporary den inside the home of a sick friend.

Virgo Aug 23 – Sep 23

Virgo, I don’t need to tell you to go to the library. It’s one of your favorite spots. But look up from the book you are reading. Who knows who you will see…

Libra Sep 23 – Oct 23

Libra, I have faith in you to steer a coming conversation away from icy ditches and back on the lightly snow-covered street. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back when you’ve accomplished this feat. G’head.

Scorpio Oct 23 – Nov 22

Scorpio, you’re doing the deal. Stay the course and no way can you go wrong. I predict you will make a new friend this week, and we’re never too old for that.


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