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Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan

Joan and Sanford Weill hall
Suite 5100
735 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091


Poverty Solutions partners with 4 Detroit organizations to fund, evaluate economic mobility projects

DETROIT—Four Detroit organizations will receive funding and support from the University of Michigan to enhance the economic stability of affordable housing residents, improve the accessibility of mental health services, teach youth wealth-building strategies, and scale on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

Poverty Solutions at U-M, an initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research, will provide technical assistance as well as grants of $10,000 to support economic mobility projects led by Church of Messiah Housing Corporation, Journey to Healing, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. 

The projects build on findings from “Investing in Us: Resident Priorities for Economic Mobility in Detroit,” a report released by Poverty Solutions in 2020. The report includes analysis of hundreds of sources of information that captured the voices of Detroit residents over 10 years. It then draws on these perspectives to identify common priorities, note progress made in decreasing poverty, and identify opportunities for action to increase economic mobility. The research, and the economic mobility grants, are supported by the Ballmer Group. 

Related: New U-M report lifts up Detroit residents’ priorities for economic mobility

“‘Investing in Us’ highlighted residents’ priorities for improving economic mobility, and the grants support the implementation of some of those ideas,” said Afton Branche-Wilson, assistant director of community initiatives at Poverty Solutions and lead author of Investing in Us. “Poverty Solutions is excited to work alongside these Detroit organizations to help them design and evaluate their services, so other service providers and anti-poverty organizations can learn from their efforts.” 

Here’s a closer look at the economic mobility projects: 

Church of Messiah Housing Corporation’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Initiative

Since 1978, Church of Messiah Housing Corporation (CMHC) has renovated and constructed more than 200 units of affordable housing in Detroit’s lower east side Islandview Village neighborhood. In 2020, the corporation received a grant from Enterprise Community Partners to launch an Economic Self-Sufficiency Initiative, and the economic support services largely took the form of helping residents in the housing corporation’s five housing developments apply for rent assistance during the pandemic. 

Now, CMHC wants to focus on assessing residents’ other needs and helping them prepare Individual Action Plans to address them. The grant will help fund the program, and the technical assistance will consist of assessing program impacts, making program adjustments as needed to improve participant outcomes, and preparing a funding strategy to expand the program and serve more community residents in need. 

“Messiah Housing Corp. is deeply grateful to have the opportunity to work with Poverty Solutions to help it incorporate best practices to improve resident economic stability outcomes and expand the program to serve more community residents. This is much needed to help reduce the wealth gap for households of color in Detroit,” said Richard Cannon, executive director of Church of the Messiah Housing Corp.

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Economic Stability – Low Incomes, High Costs

Journey to Healing’s redesign of art therapy materials and case management system

Journey to Healing is a nonprofit dedicated to serving families who have experienced trauma related to grief and loss by connecting them with mental health support systems. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Journey to Healing developed new tools to assist community members, including the development of a virtual hub that provides telehealth and Zoom services and shipping free art therapy materials to families. This year, the organization has served more than 275 youth and adults with low incomes in Wayne County. 

Based on client surveys and other feedback, Journey to Healing wants to improve the design and delivery of materials for the art therapy kits as well as client intake forms and marketing and educational materials. Journey to Healing plans to use its grant and technical assistance to develop a new case management tool, hold focus groups on how to make materials more accessible, and hire community residents to help design new materials. 

“We are delighted to be selected as a recipient of the Poverty Solutions economic mobility project,” said Shardaya Fuquay, founding executive director of Journey to Healing. “We believe that everyone deserves high-quality mental health services to better support their health and wellness needs. Our organization is dedicated to providing holistic services through art, play, and drama therapy methodologies. As a recipient of this grant, we will expand our reach to serve more families in the Detroit and Wayne metropolitan area.”

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Resident Power – Centering Community Voices, Investing in Valued Communities – Health Care

Urban Neighborhood Initiatives’ youth workforce development curricula 

Urban Neighborhood Initiatives has 24 years of youth development experience, working with Southwest Detroit’s Springwells neighborhood. The initiative aims to create a safe and thriving environment for the 5,000 youth ages 14 to 24 who reside in Springwells.

Support from Poverty Solutions will enhance Urban Neighborhood Initiatives’ youth workforce development and summer employment programs by exploring options for wealth-building curricula, identifying training resources so staff can implement the curricula, identifying target outcomes and data collection methods to measure the impact of the new curricula, and supporting a pilot of the new curricula with a small group of youth.

“We are honored to have been selected to partner with Poverty Solutions to continue to improve economic mobility strategies for youth in the Springwells neighborhood of Southwest Detroit,” said Christine Bell, executive director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. “We believe that all people deserve to live in a healthy, beautiful place, filled with opportunities. Opportunities to become financially secure are critical to a thriving people and neighborhood. We are grateful and excited to learn together!”

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Economic Stability – Education Drives Success

Wayne Metro’s evaluation of workforce development programs

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Wayne Metro) provides more than 70 programs aimed at eliminating poverty and empowering Wayne County residents to be strong, healthy, and thriving. The agency’s workforce development programming includes paid apprenticeships and on-the-job training opportunities in the areas of early childhood education, green jobs (such as energy efficiency and water conservation), and various other employment pipelines within the agency such as tax preparation and community resource navigation. All workforce development programs include coaching, soft skills training, digital literacy training, asset building, and wraparound supportive services for the entire family.

With support from Poverty Solutions, Wayne Metro plans to design a program evaluation system, collect data, and evaluate the value of its different workforce development training programs. The grant will be used to compensate participants in the on-the-job training program with Wayne Metro and the apprenticeship program. 

“Wayne Metro uses human-centered design and data to innovate programs to best serve families,” said Sitara Govender, innovative programs director at Wayne Metro, whose team is leading the economic mobility project. “Partnering with Poverty Solutions as we launch our workforce development initiatives means that we’ll be able to evaluate our programming as we go along, identifying barriers and implementing solutions, and making design changes that best meet the needs of participants.”

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Economic Stability – “We Need Jobs”: Employment and Training


Poverty Solutions Director Luke Shaefer to give inaugural Kohn lecture on using evidence to fight poverty

ANN ARBOR Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer will discuss lessons in using evidence to fight poverty at the inaugural Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professorship in Social Policy and Social Justice Lecture on Nov. 3.

The lecture will take place at 4 p.m. at Weill Hall. The in-person event held in room 1120 is open only to current U-M students, faculty, and staff; doors open at 3:30 p.m., and advance registration is required. The public is welcome to watch via livestream on the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s website.

Shaefer is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, an endowed professorship supported by the Kohn Collaborative for Social Policy that Harold and Carol Kohn established at the Ford School to catalyze interdisciplinary research on policy that promotes social equity and inclusion for all U.S. residents. Shaefer also is a professor of social work, the Ford School’s assistant dean of research and policy engagement, and the founding director of Poverty Solutions, a five-year-old, university-wide presidential initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.

In his lecture, Shaefer will share case studies in the use of data and evidence to address poverty, making the case that applied research should inform real change. He will discuss both the persistence of disadvantage over many generations in United States and the moments where dramatic change has occurred for the better.

New website answers Michiganders’ questions about expanded Child Tax Credit

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027,

ANN ARBOR — A new website from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan offers step-by-step guidance for parents to ensure they receive the expanded Child Tax Credit, which is worth up to $3,600 per child, per year. 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 increased the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 per year for children under 6 years old and $3,000 per year for children 6-17 years old. That means a single parent with a 4 year old and 7 year old would receive $6,600. The tax credit does not count as additional income that could affect eligibility for public assistance. The expanded Child Tax Credit will be paid out in regular payments rather than once a year, with monthly payments from the IRS of $250-$300 per child expected to start in July. 

The first step to receive the tax credit is to file taxes for 2020, and the tax filing deadline is extended to May 17 this year. Parents of children under 18 may be eligible to receive this money, even if they have not previously filed taxes and have low or no earnings. Visit the Child Tax Credit: What You Need to Know website to learn more about eligibility for the expanded tax credit and see answers to frequently asked questions. 

A recent survey of more than 10,000 households with low incomes, fielded by Propel in partnership with Poverty Solutions, shows the need for user-focused information on how to access the expanded Child Tax Credit. Propel runs a smartphone application used by people who receive food assistance, and less than half of those surveyed know about the Child Tax Credit and feel like they understand it. Families who are aware of it and understand it call it life changing. 

“The expanded Child Tax Credit provides significant support for families and promises to lift millions of children out of poverty. The Child Tax Credit: What You Need to Know website aims to provide clear information that parents and service providers can use to make sure families receive this money,” said Afton Branche-Wilson, assistant director of community initiatives at Poverty Solutions at U-M.

This new model for the Child Tax Credit moves the U.S. closer to a universal child allowance, similar to what is offered in the United Kingdom and Canada. A universal child allowance provides monthly cash support to all families with children, whereas the Child Tax Credit previously used in the U.S. was paid in an annual lump sum and families with no earnings were not eligible. 

“Raising kids is expensive. We know that many families face challenges covering the costs of rent, utilities, child care, and food on a monthly basis, and the flexibility that a child benefit like this provides can enable them to use the money in the ways they view as most important in raising their families,” said Poverty Solutions Faculty Director H. Luke Shaefer, who is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and associate dean for research and policy engagement at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. 

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Luke Shaefer explains the Child Tax Credit in President Biden’s stimulus plan and how the University of Michigan is helping families navigate the process through the Poverty Solutions presidential initiative.

Shaefer is among a group of poverty scholars who have contributed significant research on the potential for an expanded child tax credit that follows the design of a child allowance to reduce child poverty rates in the U.S. Recent estimates from Columbia University’s poverty center find that this expanded Child Tax Credit will reduce child poverty by 45% overall, by 52% among Black children, by 62% among Native American children, and effectively eliminate the most extreme forms of child poverty, such as Shaefer wrote about in his book co-authored with Kathryn Edin, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

“The American Rescue Plan is the boldest vision for fighting child poverty in the U.S. in at least 50 years,” Shaefer said. “Research shows if we can intervene while kids are young, it’s going to pay dividends in terms of higher academic performance, lower engagement with the criminal justice system, and higher earnings over a lifetime.” 

However, this expansion of the Child Tax Credit is temporary; the American Rescue Plan puts it in effect for one year. Shaefer said it is important to document and analyze how the expanded Child Tax Credit affects families’ experience of material hardship in the coming year in order to inform debates about permanently offering the benefit. 

“A permanent child allowance would provide a base level of support for middle-class and low-income families to rely on, and it would create a stronger safety net for our country,” Shaefer said. “We are better off as a society if we invest in our kids.”


Child Tax Credit: What You Need to Know factsheet (also in Arabic, Bengali and Spanish)

Listening to SNAP Participants to Improve Access to Expanded Child Tax Credit (policy brief)

Coronavirus Stimulus Payments website

Material Hardship and Mental Health Following the COVID-19 Relief Bill and American Rescue Plan Act (policy brief)

U-M research on material hardship in 2020 offers guidance for next economic relief package

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027,

ANN ARBOR—Material hardship in the United States rose significantly in the final months of 2020 and was particularly high for households with children, according to new research from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. 

The rise in hardship occurred at a time when the income supports from the first COVID-19 relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, had largely expired and the months-long economic recovery had stalled. Adults with children reported food insecurity and housing hardship at a rate 70% to 100% higher than adults without children, according to the research, which is outlined in a policy brief titled “Trends in Hardship and Mental Health in the United States at the End of 2020.”

These findings can help to inform the scope and scale of the next COVID-19 relief effort currently being debated in Congress. The authors—Patrick Cooney and H. Luke Shaefer—argue that based on the success of the CARES Act, Congress should expand and extend unemployment assistance and target support directly to households with children by expanding and making fully refundable the Child Tax Credit.

Shaefer, who is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and director of Poverty Solutions, and a number of other leading poverty scholars have proposed expanding the existing Child Tax Credit and transforming it into a monthly child allowance. The Biden administration and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) are now advancing similar proposals. Estimates suggest the Biden administration’s proposed expansion of the Child Tax Credit would reduce child poverty by 45%.

“Expanding the existing Child Tax Credit, making it fully refundable, and dispersing it on a monthly basis would bring immediate support to families struggling during the COVID-19 crisis and dramatically reduce child poverty over the long-term,” Shaefer said. “Children have long been among the poorest in our country. Now is the time to do something transformational for struggling families.”

This is the second brief from Poverty Solutions tracking hardship through the pandemic. The research includes reported food insecurity, housing hardship, financial instability and mental health symptoms from August 2020 to January 2021, through the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, a nationally representative survey deployed regularly since early in the pandemic.

The authors found hardship increased steeply beginning in November 2020, as COVID-19 cases rose, the economic recovery slowed, and CARES Act income supports may have been depleted. By December 2020, the unemployment rate had plateaued at 6.7%, there were still roughly 9 million fewer Americans working than in February 2020, and the number of long-term unemployed continued to rise, suggesting many were still unable to find work.

Household Pulse data from January suggests the relatively modest COVID-19 economic relief bill passed in late December 2020 may have provided a necessary lifeline for many households, though it is unclear if it will be enough to significantly reduce hardship. 

“This data is consistent with other analyses that found monthly poverty rates have increased in recent months, after we initially saw poverty drop and hardship stabilize after the CARES Act,” said Cooney, assistant director of economic mobility at Poverty Solutions. “It’s possible those initial supports were able to sustain struggling households for awhile, but by late fall, it appears that money had been exhausted for many who still could not find employment.”

Read the full policy brief


Expanding the Child Tax Credit in the age of COVID-19

Hardship and Well-being in the United States after the CARES Act (July 2020)