Michigan Senator’s Plan Aimed at Poor Children Prompts Internet Outcry

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April 25, 2011; Source: NPR | A plan to limit Michigan children in need to purchasing clothing only at thrift stores has been nixed – or at least amended – thanks to a huge Internet outcry.

Senator Bruce Caswell’s initial proposal called for children in foster care and poor children to get $79 “gift cards” that could be used for clothing only at Goodwill, Salvation Army or other thrift stores. He wanted to insure that the money was used for clothing and not other purchases available at larger retail stores. There isn’t a cost savings to the state under this proposal.

“I never had anything new,” Caswell says. “I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad – he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army. Once you’re out of the store and you walk down the road, no one knows where you bought the clothes.”

Gilda Jacobs, CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services, disagrees. “I think there is a whole issue of dignity. You are saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes,” she said. “You know, foster kids already have so much stacked against them.”

If Internet buzz is any indication many people agreed with Jacobs. The story first aired on NPR on April 15 and was picked up by the Michigan Messenger, a news site published by The American Independent News Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

The local public radio station received over 270 comments during the 3-day weekend. And as of today, over 410 people commented through Michigan PBS. Due to this overwhelming response, Caswell announced on his website on April 18 that he changed the proposal to expand usage of the gift card to any retailer for clothing purchases. Now parents and children eligible for the card can shop in any store and purchase the clothes that they want – just like their classmates.

A new pair of shoes does more to a foster care child’s self-esteem than one can imagine. Thanks to the Internet, former foster children, and other child advocates for bringing this to the attention of Sen. Caswell.—Nancy Knoche