Flint, MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state’s fiscal year 2024 (FY 2024) education and general budgets in late July, solidifying millions of dollars in financing for a new program to address child poverty and health equity in Flint, a new dorm for the Michigan School for the Deaf and further endowment funds for Flint’s coming state park.
Flint Beat spoke with some of the officials who helped secure those dollars. Here’s what they said were the biggest wins for Flint in each budget:
Rx Kids is a new program to address early economic insecurity through cash allowances for pregnant moms and their babies. It received $16.5 million through the state budget this year.
The program, led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, will provide Flint moms with a $1,500 payment during their pregnancy, followed by $500 per month for the first year of their child’s life. The goal being, Hanna-Attisha explained, to combat a root cause of many later life inequities: childhood poverty.
“We have kind of presented this new vision of how to, essentially, care for each other and, as cheesy as it sounds, love each other,” Hanna-Attisha said of the program, which will launch in January 2024.
“I’m super excited about this,” said Sen. John Cherry, whose 27th District includes the city of Flint. “The hope is what we do in Flint is not only going to help the kids in Flint, but it has the potential to help kids across the state and across the country.”
Cherry explained that the $16.5 million he helped secure for Rx Kids comes from a pool of state funding called “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” or TANF.
“Those dollars are supposed to be used to reduce poverty, and I think there’s a very legitimate argument that the states are not really utilizing those dollars for purposes that actually do reduce poverty,” he said. “Well, this is a program that actually will.”
Cherry noted that if Rx Kids can show success, Flint can serve as a model to other states on how to best use their TANF dollars.
“[It] is a model that not only can be used across the state, but really can be used across the nation to directly attack poverty the way that TANF was supposed to attack,” he said.
Both the state’s education and general budget also include wins for local students, officials told Flint Beat.
Cherry highlighted a $40 million allocation for the Michigan School for the Deaf on Flint’s west side to build a new dorm and $2.6 million for the Latinx Technology Center’s buildout of a new education space to increase Flint’s capacity to support young, bilingual learners.
For his part, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II focused on the promise of free pre-K for all in the near future and food for children in the state’s public schools now.
“So about 5,600 students across the state will have access to free pre-K this year, but before the governor and I finish this term that will be for everybody in Michigan, including every child in and around Flint,” Gilchrist said.
The budget also makes breakfast and lunch free for all public school students, saving families an average of $850 per school year, according to estimates from Whitmer’s office.
Gilchrist added, “Broadly speaking, when it comes to school funding … we’re providing the highest ever amount of resources on a per-student basis that have ever been provided — more than $9,600 per student from the state.”
In Flint, it’s estimated that nearly 28% of families are living below the federal poverty level and roughly 53.5% of youth ages 5 and younger are living below the poverty level.
The lieutenant governor noted that on top of the state’s roughly $9,600 per pupil spending, it’s also employing an “opportunity index” which, he said, “takes into account factors like whether you’re living in a community where a lot of people are fighting poverty, or you have other sort of extraordinary needs” to determine if more resources should be added to a district.
“We think this is going to make a difference for the education experience for young people and education professionals in Flint,” Gilchrist said. “And I’m excited to see what the kids do with it.”
Flint State Park
In the summer of 2021, Whitmer came to Flint to announce that the city would become home to Genesee County’s first state park. Since then, the project has received millions of dollars in state support, early site plans have been shared with the Flint community, and city council approved a lease for the park’s designated land.
But housing a state park requires maintenance beyond the land’s initial buildout, which is where the state’s FY 2024 general budget comes in.
“There’s $23 million specifically for the long-term operation and maintenance of Flint State Park,” Cherry said.
The sum adds to an $18 million endowment fund for the “perpetual care” of the park, promised by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in 2022.
Flint State Park is currently in the development design and bidding phase, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Flint PD, Nonprofits
The newly signed budget also includes various smaller grants to Flint organizations.
Under the “community enhancement grants” section of the general budget, the state awarded Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flint $300,000 for mental health services and $500,000 to Flint nonprofit 100K Ideas “to support a microbusiness resource center to support local innovators and entrepreneurs, manage co-working space for local entrepreneurs, and relaunch shops in the city.”
100K Ideas hosted the grand opening of its new resource center, called the 100K Ideas Startup Hub, and the reopening of Shops on Saginaw in July.
In the FY 2024 budget’s public safety category, the Flint Police Department received $2.75 million “to support the partial replacement of the city’s police cruiser fleet.”
Berston Field House also received $18,000, plus a partial match to bring the total to $24,500, to support property acquisition around the recreation and community center. The funding comes from the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund.