Women, Infants, and Children program marks 50 years

Women, Infants, and Children program marks 50 years

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Press Release


CONTACT: Lynn Sutfin, 517-241-2112, [email protected]

Women, Infants, and Children program marks 50 years of
providing special supplemental nutrition for Michigan families

LANSING, Mich. – For the last 50 years, the Michigan Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program has worked to positively affect pregnancy outcomes, child growth and development.

The U.S. Congress began  the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for women, infants and children in 1974 under the administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC began operating in Michigan that year, with the first clinic opening in the Delta-Menominee region of the Upper Peninsula, followed soon by one in Kalamazoo. Administered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), WIC serves low and moderate income pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

As part of the anniversary celebration, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a special tribute commemorating 50 years of distinguished service and support to WIC families in Michigan. Past and present Michigan WIC staff also recently gathered to share memories and celebrate the enormous strides made in the program over the past five decades.

The mission of WIC is to improve the health of pregnant and postpartum people, infants and children by providing client-centered services, nutritious foods, nutrition education and counseling, breastfeeding and chestfeeding education and support, health screenings and referrals to health care providers and other community resources.

“WIC has positively impacted the health and well-being of millions of Michigan families over the past five decades,” said Elizaeth Hertel, MDHHS director. “Each month, more than 200,000 moms, babies and children under age five receive nutritious foods from the Michigan WIC program, providing them with a healthy start.”

WIC has been shown to lessen the number of fetal deaths, reduce infant mortality, decrease low birth weight deliveries, lower the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia and increase immunization rates. It has also provided positive economic impacts to local communities as WIC food benefits are redeemed at local retail stores.

WIC 50th anniversary

Pictured (l. to r.) at the MDHHS WIC 50th anniversary celebration with a tribute issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are Brenda Jegede, director, MDHHS Bureau of Health and Wellness; Christina Herring, Michigan WIC director; Sarah Lyon-Callo, senior deputy director, MDHHS Public Health Administration; and Kristi Fox, branch chief, Supplemental Food Programs, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.


Michigan was one of the first adopters of Electronic Benefit Transfer issued benefits, moving away from paper coupons in 2007. While only a few options existed at the start of the program, WIC clients can now choose from around 2,200 products when shopping for their families. Vendors accepting WIC have grown to more than 1,400 locations, providing options and promoting a dignified shopping experience.

“We are so proud of the ways in which we have improved the WIC program in Michigan since its inception and look forward to continued modernization to make WIC even more accessible for those in need,” said Michigan WIC Director Christina Herring.

Learn more about the WIC program and its benefits at Michigan.gov/WIC.

MDHHS observes second anniversary of the 988 crisis line

MDHHS observes second anniversary of the 988 crisis line

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Press Release


CONTACT: Chelsea Wuth, 517-241-2112, [email protected]

MDHHS observes second anniversary of the 988 crisis line
More than 88,000 calls answered by specially-trained crisis staff in the past year

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is recognizing the past year’s success since launching the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in Michigan in 2022.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is a 24/7 toll-free nationwide hotline made up of a network of local call centers across the country that confidentially provide compassionate care for behavioral health issues or any other kind of emotional distress. The hotline accepts calls from anyone who needs support for a suicide, mental health and/or substance use crisis.

“Michigan’s 988 Lifeline receives as many as 9,000 calls per month, and the dedicated staff who answer these urgent calls are well-trained to help and connect those experiencing crisis with support and resources,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director. “Over 1.5 million adults in Michigan currently have a mental health condition, and strengthening crisis care and mental health services continues to be a top priority for MDHHS. We encourage anyone experiencing a crisis, whether personally or one of their family members, to use this resource whenever needed.”

Over the past year, more than 88,000 calls have been answered with approximately 19,000 hours spent on the phone with Michigan residents. Out of the highest volume states, Michigan had the quickest speed to answer calls (17 seconds). More than 48% of callers had high or overwhelming stress at the beginning of a call, which was reduced to 12% by the end of the call after speaking with a 988 specialist. The 988 Lifeline connects callers to behavioral health services, resources and referrals to follow-up care.

Anyone with concerns like these can call for support:

  • Mental health-related distress.
  • Thoughts of suicide.
  • Substance abuse crisis.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Help finding a behavioral health resource.

People worried about a loved one who may need support also can call 988. Additionally, there are specialized services available for veterans, LGBTQ+ individuals and other groups, that are available by selecting the corresponding option on the call menu.

Crisis center calling services are available in English and Spanish, plus Language Line Solutions provides translation services in more than 250 additional languages. Text and chat are currently available in English only.

TTY users will be served either through their preferred relay service or by dialing 711, then 800-273-8255.

For more information, visit the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and Michigan Crisis & Access Line.

Child welfare audit confirms major progress at MDHHS 

Child welfare audit confirms major progress at MDHHS 

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Press Release


CONTACT: Lynn Sutfin, 517-241-2112, [email protected]

Child welfare audit confirms major progress at MDHHS 

  • Findings document “significant and measurable progress” from scathing Snyder-era audit.
  • Hertel: “We’ll never stop transforming how we keep kids safe and families together.”
  • Agency calls OAG’s lack of focus on MDHHS reforms “a disservice to the people of Michigan.”

LANSING, Mich. – A new state audit shows “significant and measurable progress” in how the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) investigates child abuse allegations, Director Elizabeth Hertel said today in response to the Office of the Auditor General’s (OAG) formal update to a 2018 audit that uncovered serious issues during the Snyder administration.

Of the OAG’s 17 findings, auditors found that MDHHS had fully or partially complied in 15 of them, an 88% success rate. MDHHS strongly disagreed with one of only two findings labeled as non-compliant and questioned why auditors focused on process and paperwork rather than progress made by MDHHS since the Snyder audit.

“These findings confirm our focus and fuel our resolve,” Hertel said. “We welcome the opportunity and responsibility to work with the legislature, law enforcement, judges and other partners to transform Michigan’s child welfare system into a national model for competence and caring.”

The audit represents a bold pattern of reform at MDHHS: Independent monitors recently found nearly 100% compliance for the timeliness and staffing of child abuse investigations. As a result, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan signed a stipulated order to modify the Modified Implementation, Sustainability and Exit Plan (MISEP) that dramatically reduces the remaining requirements MDHHS must meet for the department to be released from court oversight.

Last Tuesday, at the most recent court conference, Edmunds determined that the state met the performance standards for six additional areas of oversight, moving these areas closer to the removal of court oversight, and praised MDHHS for making “tremendous progress.”

In 2018, the OAG issued a “scathing report” on Children’s Protective Services (CPS), a division of MDHHS, finding numerous and systemic deficiencies in the way child abuse investigations were conducted. Gov. Rick Snyder called the findings “unacceptable” and promised corrective action. A historically underfunded agency under federal court oversight since 2008, this was arguably the lowest point in the history of CPS and the broader child welfare system in Michigan.

Five years later, MDHHS is in a much stronger position, according to the audit and court oversight, thanks in part to the “Keep Kids Safe Action Agenda” shaped by Hertel after she was appointed in 2021.

Progress documented

The OAG’s report, which included agency responses, repeatedly shows progress from 2018 to 2023. According to the audit report, MDHHS:

  • Increased the frequency and effectiveness of supervisory reviews of CPS investigation activities. While the 2018 audit found 82% of investigations were reviewed within 14 days and 85% of cases documented a consultation prior to disposition, both numbers jumped in the new audit – to 94% and 98%, respectively.
  • Improved the agency’s use of a Central Registry clearance for people associated with CPS investigations, from 28% compliance to 86% compliance.
  • Improved how CPS conducts background reviews of family members, from 48% compliance to 73% compliance.
  • Improved documentation of communication with mandated reporters of child abuse, like police and teachers, from 31% compliance to 90% compliance.
  • Made face-to-face contact with alleged child victims within 24 to 72 hours for 95% of the cases reviewed by the OAG. At times, extenuating circumstances, such as the inability to locate youth after multiple attempts, impacted staff’s ability to make timely face-to-face contact 100% of the time.
  • Exceeded investigative performance standards required by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The OAG concluded that the department commenced 100% of required investigations within the required timeframes. MDHHS’ commencement policy requirements exceed best practices in other jurisdictions such as Washington, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

OAG focus flawed

Unfortunately, there are portions of the audit where the auditor focused on bureaucratic minutia rather than bottom-line results and improvements, the agency noted. In some cases, the auditor’s observations were agenda-driven and based on arbitrary standards, resulting in a biased report that attempts to mislead the public about the agency’s actual performance. Director Hertel also sent a letter to the OAG expressing her concerns with the audit process, highlighting these issues.

“We aren’t perfect. We have more work to do. But it’s a disservice to the people of Michigan to hold MDHHS accountable to disconnected administrative standards rather than our ability to keep kids safe and families together,” Hertel said.

Agency reforms paying off

MDHHS is an agency devoted to an important and challenging mission: Keeping kids safe and families together. Caseworkers balance these goals 24/7, sometimes in difficult conditions, as they investigate nearly 70,000 child abuse allegations per year. A champion of systemic reform, Hertel’s agenda is broader than the limited scope of state auditors. It addresses issues raised in the audit – and many more. The agenda includes:


  • Investing millions of dollars to create more Family Resource Centers to work with families that are at-risk of abuse and neglect to meet their needs sooner. The investment allowed Michigan to become one of only five states to receive the Child Safety Forward grant from the federal Office of Victims of Crime. This project focused on reducing and preventing child deaths that result from crime.
  • Created Family Impact Teams that embed an MDHHS family resource specialist with the department’s children’s protective services staff so they can support families in applying for benefits and Medicaid and connect them to other economic supports.
  • Developed a firearm safety protocol to provide guidance for child welfare staff to talk with families about firearm safety. This includes creating a website with information about where families can get free trigger locks and appropriating $2 million to support initiatives related to misuse of guns, including gun locks and other available options.
  • Expanding home visits by nurses and other professionals to proactively identify and help families who may benefit from better parenting strategies and coping skills.
  • A vulnerable child protocol was implemented in August 2023 that provides additional safety reviews of cases in which the child that is injured is too young to fully speak for themselves.
  • Analyzing data in partnership with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to determine which families are most at risk so the department can provide services sooner for the well-being of children.
  • Continuing to invest in prevention services annually to better serve at-risk families.
  • Worked with the State Legislature to make it easier for caregivers to determine whether another caregiver for their child is on the state’s Central Registry for child abuse and neglect. A new law, referred to as Wyatt’s Law, was signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in May 2022.


  • Developed an intervention tool that requires regular communication with caseworkers and their supervisors during key points of an investigation.
  • Working with organizations and partners in the Legislature in supporting the child welfare system. MDHHS continues to identify policy changes to increase child safety. Some of these changes may include improved data sharing between behavioral health, substance use disorder service providers, domestic violence providers and the child welfare system.
  • Learning more from child deaths by participating in multi-disciplinary child death review teams that involve MDHHS, prosecutors, law enforcement, medical professionals and others.

“MDHHS is devoted to an important and challenging mission: Keeping kids safe and families together. We won’t be satisfied until Michigan is the best place in America to raise kids and build families,” Hertel said.


Read Director Hertel’s letter to the OAG.

Read MDHHS’ responses to the OAG’s findings. 

900,000 Michigan children receive food assistance this summer

900,000 Michigan children receive food assistance this summer

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Press Release


CONTACT: Chelsea Wuth, 517-241-2112, [email protected]

Nearly 900,000 Michigan children to receive
food assistance benefits this summer
MDHHS offers first-time Summer EBT program

LANSING, Mich. – To help ensure children are able to access healthy food this summer while school is out, eligible families will soon receive $120 per child through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (MDHHS) new Michigan Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service has approved Michigan’s plan for the Summer EBT program to help low-income families feed children over the summer months. Created by the U.S. Congress, the Summer EBT program is based on similar efforts used during the coronavirus pandemic to address food insecurity for students. MDHHS and the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) are working together to get these benefits to families across the state. Funds are being distributed ahead of the Friday, July 19 start date cited in the state’s plan.

“Summer should be a time when children can learn, grow and play without worrying about where their next meal will come from,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).  “I’m so proud that the Governor and the State Legislature have acted to make sure every Michigan child has access to healthy meals during the school year. My legislative victory is focused on making sure children have the same access to healthy meals in the summer regardless of where they live in Michigan. This is bringing us one step closer to ending childhood hunger.”

“Many Michigan children rely on breakfast and lunch provided at their school during the school year and we want to make sure they do not go hungry this summer while schools are on break,” said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS director. “The Summer EBT program increases family’s grocery-buying budgets and we are thrilled to get this funding out earlier than planned. We plan to get these benefits out even earlier next year.”

Benefits will come in the form of EBT cards that families can use to buy groceries. Families who already have a Bridge card will have a one-time payment of $120 per eligible child, the standard benefit amount set by the USDA for the 2024 program year, added to their existing card. Those who don’t already have a card will be sent a pre-loaded card in the mail. Eligible families will receive a letter about the program.

“Providing nutritious meals to Michigan children – during the school year and during the summer – helps meet Goal 3 of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan, to improve the health, safety and wellness of all learners,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice. “We need to support children nutritionally in the summer as we do in the school year, and this partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and MDHHS helps children and families.”

Most families eligible for these benefits will receive them automatically thanks to state agencies collaborating to identify kids who qualify based on their participation in other benefit programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the free or reduced-price meal programs at their school.

A child is eligible for Summer EBT if they are:

  • Household participants, between the ages of 6 to 18, who receive Food Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Distribution Program on Indian reservations or eligible Medical Assistance households at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.
  • Students of any age certified as eligible to receive free or reduced-priced lunch through the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program.
  • Approved through the Summer EBT application process.

Additional programs designed to feed children during the summer months include the MDE-administered program like the Summer Food Service Program, also known as Meet Up and Eat Up in Michigan, and the Rural Non-Congregate Summer Food Service Program.

For more information, visit the Summer EBT page on the MDHHS website.

Registration open for MDHH Suicide Prevention Commission

Registration open for MDHH Suicide Prevention Commission

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Press Release


CONTACT: Chelsea Wuth, 517-241-2112, [email protected]

Registration open for MDHHS Michigan Suicide Prevention
Commission Summit to be held in August

LANSING, Mich. –The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission is opening registration for the Suicide Prevention Commission Summit taking place Aug. 6-7 at the Lansing Center, located in downtown Lansing.

This event will bring together professionals, researchers, policymakers, advocates and community members dedicated to advancing suicide prevention efforts across Michigan.

Attendees will have the opportunity to:

  • Learn about the latest evidence-based strategies and interventions in suicide prevention.
  • Network with peers and experts from diverse fields to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Gain practical skills and tools to implement effective suicide prevention practices in their communities.
  • Explore the future of suicide prevention in Michigan and contribute to shaping its direction.

The Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission was established in 2019 through Public Act 177 in response to the urgent need for coordinated state efforts in suicide prevention. Since then, the commission has made significant strides in raising awareness, mobilizing resources and developing comprehensive strategies aimed at reducing Michigan’s suicide rates.

This summit represents a crucial step in the mission to continue developing a comprehensive and statewide approach to suicide prevention.

Registration for the event is free, but please note that space is limited. Interested individuals should register now to secure entry.

For additional information about the conference, email James Bell III, DSW.

MDHHS hotline for migrant and seasonal farmworkers

MDHHS hotline for migrant and seasonal farmworkers

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Press Release


CONTACT: Chelsea Wuth, 517-241-2112, [email protected]

MDHHS hotline for migrant and seasonal farmworkers provides bilingual information about influenza A (H5N1) in three languages

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services farmworker hotline for seasonal farmworkers, 833-SIAYUDA (833-742-9832), is expanding to include resources and services that assist farmworkers impacted by influenza A (H5N1).

The MDHHS Farmworker Outreach Services Division launched the toll-free SIAYUDA hotline number in February 2023 to provide information and other service referrals in a farmworker’s primary language. Two-thirds of Michigan’s seasonal farmworker population speak only Spanish. The hotline provides English, Spanish and Haitian-Creole translation.

Michigan previously reported two human cases of influenza A (H5N1) in dairy farmworkers, and MDHHS is reminding Michigan residents about the bilingual SIAYUDA hotline that continues to provide prompts and culturally appropriate education to keep Michiganders healthy and safe.

“Immediate bilingual services like translations of safety, well-being and emergency press releases and more are available to seasonal farmworkers through the MDHHS Farmworker Hotline,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director. “MDHHS is proactively providing resources about health topics like influenza A (H5N1) for seasonal farmworkers in Michigan to ensure the health of all residents.”

A translation service is also available for farmworker calls in languages other than English and Spanish. MDHHS contracts with translation service industry professionals to provide quality health care to Michigan residents.

MDHHS continues to provide bilingual residents with tools to prevent disease, improve health outcomes and increase well-being.

For more information visit: