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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


Breaking the “Starving Student” Myth: Understanding and Addressing Food Insecurity Needs on Campus

Food insecurity, a condition of limited or uncertain access to nutritious food, is a critical issue for students’ health, academic achievement, and future well-being. Recent studies, including one conducted at the University of Michigan in 2015, have shown unprecedented high levels of food insecurity on college campuses. This mixed-methods project will assess the current prevalence, risk factors, and consequences of food insecurity through an online survey representative of the U-M student body, and use in-depth interviews to qualitatively explore the lived experience of food-insecure students as well as innovative strategies to address food insecurity on campus. Results of this project will be disseminated to various campus stakeholders to inform the development of programs and policies that effectively alleviate food insecurity on campus.

Cindy Leung, ScD, MPH
Assistant Professor Department of Nutritional Sciences
School of Public Health

Alicia Cohen, MD MSc
Clinical Lecturer
Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine

Nicole Kasper, Ph.D.

Research Scientist
Department of Nutritional Sciences, School of Public Health

Food Finder Pilot Partnership

According to the USDA, 15.6 million households were food insecure at some point in 2016. For these households, sources of free food – like food banks, churches, and other nonprofit organizations – are critical to their day-to-day survival. Food Finder, a nonprofit organization, is already working to create the first fully verified database of free food sources for every community across the country. By individually verifying basic information about each site, it hopes to allow those who seek free food to access it quickly and easily. Poverty Solutions will partner with Food Finder to pilot a new verification process of all full-time emergency food assistance providers by leveraging the resources of the university. This database will connect food insecure families with trusted sources of free food near them, based only on their current location, and using technology they already have and use every day. The award winning mobile application, coupled with U-M’s research expertise, has the potential to have a real impact on hungry families across the country.

Poverty Solutions will then also have a robust source of data on these feeding sites. Where are they? How do they serve their communities? Researchers interested in food insecurity and the food provider landscape across the country will have access to this database.

Julia Weinert, Managing Director
Poverty Solutions

Lynn Griffin, Executive Director
Food Finders

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Bioretention Rain Gardens in Removing Pollutants Associated with Tire Dumping and Roadside Pollution

Environmental justice research has shown that low income neighborhoods and communities of color, such as those in Southwest Detroit, are more likely to experience higher levels of pollution. In the Southwest Detroit, residential and commercial areas are in close proximity to ongoing heavy industries and high-volume transportation corridors, increasing concerns about the local air and surface water quality. These challenges are further exacerbated by illegal dumping, with piles of garbage, particularly used tires, frequently dumped in this community. These dumping sites may be accumulating toxic levels of heavy metals that can cause serious health issues such as cancer.

This project aims to test the soil of illegal dumping sites and identify strategies to remove and transform these sites by constructing two bioretention areas. Bioretention rain gardens utilize physical, chemical, and biological removal mechanisms to improve stormwater quality before discharge into the environment.

This project not only increases our knowledge of rain gardens’ water quality impacts, but also contributes to better understanding the importance of bioretention in addressing poverty and environmental justice inequities through improving the quality of the local environment, reducing residents’ exposure to hazardous contaminants, and adding green space.

Larissa Larsen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning
U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Sarah J. Clark
Director of Programs Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision

Andrea R. McFarland, Ph.D. Candidate
U-M Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Nancy G. Love, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Overcoming the chilling effect: Identifying strategies for improving immigrant families’ acceptability and accessibility to health and social services that alleviate poverty

The project: In March 2017, a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by two physicians called for research on the potential “chilling effect” that increased immigration enforcement under the new presidential administration would have on immigrant’s willingness to seek healthcare or government services. Given that the timely receipt of health and social services can be a successful poverty-alleviation strategy, this barrier to health and social services for immigrant populations could exacerbate and prolong poverty. Because healthcare and access to other social services is critical for preventing and alleviating poverty, neighborhood Federally Qualified Health Centers are a vital resource for immigrants living in the surrounding community. This project aimed to identify new and promising strategies for how these health centers can provide healthcare and social services to undocumented immigrants and their families in this context of increased immigration enforcement.

The process: Investigators at Community Health and Social Service Center (CHASS) in Detroit, Washtenaw Health Plan in Ypsilanti, Packard Health in Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan conducted in-depth interviews with 28 frontline healthcare and social service providers in 2018 to better understand the barriers to and facilitators of healthcare for their immigrant clients.

Results: The researchers found undocumented clients encounter three phases of delay: delay in the decision to seek care, delay in identifying and traveling to healthcare facilities, and delay in receiving adequate and appropriate care at healthcare facilities. Given the current socio-political climate for immigrants, they recommend healthcare and social services organizations that serve undocumented clients should adapt existing services or introduce new services, including those that are not site-based like telemedicine, home visits by providers, and harnessing a workforce of community health workers.

More information: Barriers and facilitators to healthcare and social services among undocumented Latino(a)/Latinx immigrant clients: Perspectives from frontine service providers in Southeast Michigan

Paul J. Fleming, Ph.D., M.P.H., U-M Assistant Professor, Dept. of Health Behavior & Health Education, School of Public Health
William D. Lopez, Ph.D., M.P.H., U-M Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Health Behavior & Health Education, School of Public Health
Richard Bryce, D.O., Chief Medical Officer, Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS)

Eliminating the Path to Energy Poverty: A Multi-State Analysis of Equity in Energy Efficiency Investments

Energy poverty, or the gap in energy affordability, is a burden on low-income households amounting to millions of dollars in utility arrears. This burden negatively impacts a household’s long-term health, education, employment, and financial stability.

Energy efficiency offers an opportunity to address energy poverty through energy waste reduction measures such as LED lighting, energy-efficient HVAC systems, and insulation.

Current state policies requiring utility-managed energy efficiency programs, aimed at producing statewide reductions in energy demand, often distribute funding and program benefits disproportionately across socioeconomic groups, although a spectrum of policy measures exist that should steer policy investments and outcomes towards greater equity.

This study, evaluates the current state of equity in energy efficiency programs across state policies, and estimates the impact on the state’s home energy affordability gap if program investments were more equitable. Using a new metric called the equitable energy efficiency (E3) baseline, researchers will be able to measure the effectiveness of state policies at achieving equitable outcomes for low-income households.

The results will help guide state policy makers, regulatory agencies, utility decision makers, and energy affordability practitioners to create policies and programs that more equitably direct hundreds of millions of annual residential ratepayer-funded dollars toward the reduction of each state’s severe home energy affordability gap.

Tony G. Reames, Ph.D., P.E.
Assistant Professor
School for Environment and Sustainability

Ben Stacey
Graduate Research Assistant
School for Environment and Sustainability Taubman College of Urban & Regional Planning

The Politics of Technology for the Poor: Between India and the World

Technological innovation seems to have enormous potential to improve the lives of the poor, from improving sanitation to increasing access to education. But these interventions often have limited user interest and uptake. This project examines whether we can do a better job of leveraging technology for the poor, with a specific focus in India. This project investigates the politics that shape development of these technologies, both at the international level and within India. Understanding these politics is a key step towards transparency in policy making, and towards ensuring that technologies are chosen and implemented in ways that poor citizens want and need.

Shobita Parthasarathy, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Public Policy and Women’s Studies
Ford School of Public Policy

Helping Across Generations: An Exploratory Study of Blue Collar Workers’ Retirement Well-Being

With today’s young adults facing increasing financial pressures, it is parents that often come to the rescue. Older adults from working-class backgrounds often provide help to their adult children and extended families, which can affect family relationships, and their own economic well-being, particularly in retirement. This effort will explore the impacts of these arrangements.

While parents are important sources of assistance for adult children, labor market and demographic shifts may both increase the need for help among younger generations but also strain the resources of those who provide help, particularly more economically vulnerable workers.

Study findings may suggest needed reforms to the social safety net and to the ways we think about retirement so that poverty is both alleviated and prevented. These include reforms that would make it easier for families to access public benefits, putting less stress on the private safety net as well as reforms that do not penalize economically vulnerable retirees for providing assistance.

Kristin S. Seefeldt, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Social Work
School of Social Work
Assistant Professor of Public Policy
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Can Peer Support Specialists Deliver Technology-Based Job Interview Training for People with Psychiatric Disabilities? An Assessment of Community Needs and Priorities

People living with serious mental illness disproportionately live in chronic poverty; conversely, poverty is a risk factor for mental health problems. While 70% of people with serious mental illness want to work, only 10-15% are employed, in part because social and cognitive challenges may interfere with finding a job.

This project explores innovative ways that people with serious mental illness can obtain vocational support from Certified Peer Support Specialists (individuals with a lived experience of mental illness who have obtained training on how to serve others with similar experiences), and focuses on whether a virtual reality job interview training program (see can be effectively delivered by a Peer Support Specialist.

This project aims to inform best practices for job preparation programs for people with serious mental illness, and improve vocational and personal outcomes.

Adrienne Lapidos, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Scientist
School of Social Work
Treatment Innovation and Dissemination Lab (TIDL)

Matthew Smith, Ph.D., MSW, MPE, LCSW
Associate Professor
School of Social Work
Treatment Innovation and Dissemination Lab (TIDL)

Michele Heisler, MD, MPH
Professor Michigan Medicine
Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation faculty affiliate

How Does Unintended Pregnancy Affect the Outcomes of Older Children? Evidence from a New Randomized Control Trial

In the United States, nearly half of pregnancies are unintended, and unintended pregnancies occur five times more often among poor compared to affluent women. The consequences of unintended pregnancy for women’s education and earnings are substantial, and children born as a result of unintended pregnancy are much more likely to live in poverty compared to children whose births are intended.

The implications of unintended pregnancies for older siblings are comparatively understudied, but children born to women who subsequently have an unintended pregnancy are likely to be affected by her decreased income and by the need to distribute household resources across more children. This project lays the ground work for a novel study of the effects of unintended pregnancies on older children. Building upon a large randomized control trial in Michigan that increases the affordability of contraceptives for women, researchers examine the short and long-term outcomes for older children in terms of their schooling, juvenile delinquency, foster care, and participation in public transfer programs.

Martha J. Bailey, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics, and Research Professor
Institute for Social Research

Paula Fomby, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor
Institute for Social Research

Alfia Karimova, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Scientist
Institute for Social Research

Assessing the impact of intergenerational asset building programs on self‐efficacy, academic achievement and college going culture of low‐income Black and Latino girls

In the fall of 2015, Alternatives for Girls successfully piloted a new “Asset Building” model to encourage middle school girls and their families to academically prepare for high school, career and college, and to save for future post‐secondary education and training expenses.

The next phase of work will support up to 60 middle and high school girls and their families to prepare for success in school, career and college, and to save for future costs by matching funds saved by families for college costs.

Alternatives For Girls is focusing on enhancing program robustness, further engaging parents, and strengthening linkages to other college access resources in Detroit. Dr. Trina Shanks, of the University of Michigan School of Social Work, will assist AFG in identifying and implementing interventions that can strengthen the existing program to achieve more asset building and poverty alleviation results.

The partnership is committed to serving these girls on a long‐term basis, and aims that each participant will save $1,000 to $4,000 toward her education by high school completion. Each girl will graduate from high school and enter a post‐secondary education/training program, and will complete a post‐secondary training program, or at least the first two years of college.

Trina Shanks, University of Michigan School of Social Work
Melody Moore, Alternatives for Girls