Sen. Schuitmaker, Rep. O’Brien introduce resolutions calling on fed to include white potatoes in WIC program eligibility

For Immediate Release:
April 30, 2014

Contact: Derek Sova

LANSING, Mich.—On Wednesday, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rep. Margaret O'Brien, along with a number of other legislative co-sponsors, introduced resolutions urging the president and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reverse their decision to exclude fresh white potatoes from Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program eligibility.

WIC is an assistance program designed to provide food to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women; infants; and young children to prevent nutrition-related health problems.  The USDA establishes a list of certain foods that are eligible to be purchased with WIC program funds.

This year, the USDA officially excluded fresh white potatoes from the WIC program based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and USDA. However, in 2010, new DGA recommendations were developed calling for an increase of starchy vegetable consumption for women and children including fresh white potatoes.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, women in the U.S. are under-consuming starchy vegetables and WIC participants consume less than their non-WIC peers. We have an obligation to ensure that all fresh fruits and vegetables are available to WIC families and that they have a choice to eat the foods that are best for them,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton.

“Allowing the purchase of a variety of fresh, white potatoes in the WIC vouchers would allow for an additional good source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, some of the essential nutrients noted as concerns in the American diets,” added Lori Yelton, a registered dietitian with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. “Instead of eliminating a vegetable, providing WIC recipients with educational tools and recipes on ways to cook healthy white potato dishes may be more advisable.”

The USDA’s own 2010 data reflects the need for an increase of two cups of starchy vegetables per day for women. The USDA excludes the most economical source of dietary fiber from the WIC program: potatoes. At $0.19 per one cup serving, white potatoes are one of the most cost-efficient vegetables or fruits that provide women with an entire day’s recommended intake of vital nutrients. 

“Struggling families in southwest Michigan and around the state want to provide for their families in a responsible way,” said O’Brien, R-Portage. “Including white potatoes for WIC eligibility will better utilize taxpayer dollars and allow families to purchase food with high nutritional content at a lower cost.”

Since white potatoes are less expensive than most other vegetables per unit of nutrition delivered, WIC participants should be allowed to supply nutrients to themselves and their young children in a way that maximizes their WIC vouchers and the efficiency of government expenditures, said Schuitmaker.

Senate Resolution 138 was referred to the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors, and Human Services. House Concurrent Resolution 27 was referred to the House Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors.


Column: Join Us in Michigan’s Fight Against Human Trafficking

By Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton

As we commemorate National Crime Victims' Rights Week across the country, we reflect on the many victims in Michigan and their families in their suffering. One of the largest and yet often overlooked classes of crime victims are the women, men, and children who have been enslaved in the bonds of human trafficking. Although significant progress has been made, there is much to be done in the Great Lakes State to combat this fast-growing crime.  

Experts estimate 27 million people are trafficked worldwide annually, reaping $32 billion in illegal profits, making it the fastest-growing black market in the world.

And it is not just a phenomenon happening in far-away places or isolated to major cities like Detroit or Flint. Human trafficking happens here in Southwest Michigan. The Manasseh Project in Grand Rapids helps victims of trafficking get back on their feet. Local groups including the Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition and the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Taskforce are working to shine a light on this cruel crime by promoting public awareness in our communities.

In a recent Michigan case, a man nicknamed “Gruesome” truly lived up to his name. He enslaved two teenage runaways, forcing them to work as prostitutes on the streets of Detroit. When they resisted, the girls were brutally abused, both physically and sexually.

Many victims are enslaved in our own neighborhoods, and many are either unable to escape their captors or too afraid to ask for help. Approximately 40 percent of human trafficking cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child. In the U.S., it is estimated that nearly 300,000 children are trafficked for sex every year.

Right now hundreds of innocent people, mostly women and children, are being forced to work as laborers and sex workers in modern-day slavery. These are our daughters, sons, neighbors and friends being sold by thugs for money through force, fraud, and coercion.

Human trafficking is a pervasive problem we must tackle aggressively. That is why the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking was launched to work with legislators, law enforcement, and activists to assess the threat human trafficking poses to Michigan and develop policy recommendations to promote its exposure and prevention.

In its 2013 Report, the Commission made several important recommendations including: developing a standardized human trafficking victim assessment tool; establishing more dedicated housing facilities for human trafficking victims; increasing availability of legal, medical, and translation services; developing specialized victim-centered, trauma-informed training; enhancing communication networks among service providers and first responders; and implementing the Human Trafficking of Children Protocol.

We are already moving to implement those recommendations by introducing new legislation to strengthen our existing human trafficking laws and develop victim-centered protections. Working together, we are moving full-throttle to crack down on traffickers and give law enforcement better tools to take these predators off the streets.

In addition to bringing human traffickers to justice, it is equally important we commit to providing traumatized victims the support and services they so desperately need to overcome the injustices perpetrated against them.

Legislators and law enforcement can't do this alone. We need your help. The first step is to educate yourself by visiting the human trafficking section of Attorney General Schuette’s website,, to be able to recognize the signs of traffickers and to identify victims. Your tips will help law enforcement bring traffickers to justice.

Please join us and speak up. Talk about human trafficking with your family, friends and neighbors. In recent years, public discussion about the realities of crimes like drunken driving and domestic violence opened the eyes of many Americans and inspired real change.

Michigan is no place for men like “Gruesome,” who exploit and abuse our children. This is a fight worth fighting, and together we can make a difference to end modern day slavery.

The annual Crime Victims Vigil will take place on April 23 at the state Capitol in Lansing. Victims and the families of victims will gather to remember and honor those who have suffered or been lost to crime. We are continuing the fight to take back the power from those who would victimize innocent people, and we esteem the incredible accomplishments of those who have overcome human trafficking and taken back control of their lives.

Bill Schuette is Michigan’s Attorney General.

Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) represents all of Kalamazoo county plus Paw Paw and Antwerp Townships in Van Buren county.

Represenative Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) represents the city of Portage as well as the townships of Oshtemo, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft and Texas.

Legislation protecting patients and increasing transparency at oversight boards signed into law

For Immediate Release
April 4, 2014

Sen. Rick Jones: 517-410-9495               
Derek Sova: 517-373-0793 (Schuitmaker)                                              

LANSING— Legislation that will better protect patients by increasing oversight and transparency at the state’s boards of health professions has been signed into law by Lt. Gov Brian Calley.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Sen. Rick Jones introduced the legislation last year in response to evidence that a former Board of Medicine chairman dismissed serious allegations against a Muskegon abortion provider, Dr. Robert Alexander, without investigation and without disclosing their prior relationship.

“The great majority of our health care providers are caring and committed professionals, but unfortunately there are some bad actors that abuse their patients’ trust,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “We will now have the tools in place to effectively hold those people accountable and make sure that they do not pose any more danger to the public.”

Public Act 95 of 2014 requires a minimum of three board members to review every allegation brought to the boards. Prior to this act, a board chairperson had the power to make decisions without consulting other members. It further prohibits the practice of board members testifying as paid expert witnesses in malpractice suits over allegations that may later come before the board to investigate.

PA 96 of 2014 requires board members to disclose any conflict of interest that might exist between them and the health care providers they are investigating.

PA 97 of 2014 automatically revokes a health professional’s license if they are found guilty of criminal sexual conduct against a patient while acting in their capacity as a health professional.

PA 98 of 2014 makes revisions to the law governing decisions of disciplinary subcommittees.

Jones commented on an experience from his time as a sheriff.

“Years ago the victim of a rape in Macomb County came to me and asked for help. She had been drugged and raped by her dentist. She said that she knew I was a former sheriff and would fight for justice,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Her rapist had spent only one year in jail and was given his license back. The lieutenant governor signed a package of bills that will guarantee a licensed medical provider will lose their license forever if convicted of raping a patient. We also ensure that when a complaint is made on a medical professional that one person who is a friend cannot tear it up and hide it. With these laws on the books, Michigan will become a safer place to be a patient.”

Schuitmaker added that “Patients rely on the state’s oversight boards to ensure that their health care providers are practicing safely and responsibly. This legislation will restore the public’s confidence in those boards."

In 2009, allegations were brought against Dr. Robert Alexander by another doctor who treated one of Alexander’s patients. Dr. George Shade, then chairman of the board, singlehandedly dismissed the allegations without investigating. In 2012, Alexander’s clinic in Muskegon was shut down for multiple health and safety violations. 

Further information showed that Alexander lost his license and served time in prison in the 1980s and 1990s. When Alexander applied to have his license reinstated, Shade served as Alexander’s mentor.