Days of Action, Advocacy and Accountability

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

January 15th is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the day at our Solid Ground Sand Point Housing Campus meeting with our Residential Staff as we worked to identify and problem solve barriers and challenges that constrain how we serve the 175 families who live in our housing at Sand Point. It was an intense day when we consider the lived experiences of our families and our commitment to strengthening their lives.

Yesterday, the national holiday in honor of Dr. King was a day of Action, Advocacy and Accountability. Dr. King reminds us:

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.”

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

We do have the right to vote, and electing responsible leaders is an important first step. Holding our leaders accountable for the laws they enact or fail to enact is action that is still needed, especially for our residents who are trapped by poverty and oppression.

This is why I was in Olympia with Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network on MLK Lobby Day 2015. I hope during this Legislative Session, you will advocate for equity and justice, and support our advocacy efforts.

An effective way is to contact your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline, 1.800.562.6000. Join in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Take action to advocate on behalf of our Solid Ground program participants and residents, and in doing so, help hold our electeds accountable.

“The Mountaintop”: Reflections on Dr. King’s Legacy

April 3, 1968 was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, and much like an artist whose work is only truly seen after they’ve passed, so began the career of one of America’s greatest leaders. The groundwork for what would become Dr. King’s legacy had already been clearly laid in Montgomery with the bus boycotts, in the Selma voting rights movement to his famed march on Washington in 1963 where he delivered his “I Have a Dream”  speech. But truly great leaders have ways of speaking to the human condition both in life and most especially in death. They find ways to push us to wrestle with our collective conscience, they get us to see that our individual worlds are far bigger than we imagine, and they ask us to look beyond the present to a future that could be if we just believed.

1989_MLK-edited

Dr. King conjured a reality firm in his understanding but fanciful in ours. He saw the civil rights struggle in its totality, its ebbs and flows, its setbacks and ultimate victory. But isn’t that what “prophets” do? They stand in the present looking into some other world yet to come? They try to persuade us to hold on and assure us that what we’re seeing isn’t all there is, that it’ll get better.

In his “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King takes his audience on a journey through history as uniquely seen by him.

From his final speech:

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the Promised Land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.”

Dr. King used religious imagery to describe how he viewed history, its eventual arc towards justice and how he would more than likely not see it with us. (Prophets seldom bask in their accolades, they speak their truth and then they fade so their words can live on.) But these lines are particularly striking as we see a man moving fluidly through history to a point of its uncertainty to eventual justice:

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his 95 theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but ‘fear itself.’ But I wouldn’t stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the 20th century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”

Although Dr. King’s appearance at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) was in support of local sanitation workers, the effect of the moment leaped out and across history’s pages. He saw the Promised Land as clearly as we see the here and now. It was all real to him then because he knew that sustained intelligent and humane resistance moves mountains. People can’t just look at the world and sigh, they have to be willing to give up some of the cynicism and believe a better world is possible.

It is the fate of some to walk along history’s periphery as it moves outward, where events swirl like an unpredictable vortex as they did in the ‘60s, and their full implications are impossible to fathom. It is here along these folds of probabilities not yet fully conceived of or realized that Dr. King walked freely. That’s part of King’s magic: He was able to help us as a society conceive of something reality clearly didn’t lend itself to in ‘68. He saw beyond the water cannons, biting dogs, and threat to life and limb to the “better angels of our natures.”

The last lines of his speech:

And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!!”

With those words ended the “Mountaintop” speech on the last day in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but they also opened a window into a man who was resolved to allow events to occur even though the outcome surely meant his death.

Dr. King’s dream is like humanity’s relentless quest for perfection: We strive and continue towards it, even though we may never attain it, but it’s in the striving we become better people.

Solid Ground endorses Prop 1B for Universal Pre-K

quality-preschool-logoRecognizing the importance of providing equitable access to quality affordable early childhood education, Solid Ground’s Board of Directors endorses the City of Seattle Preschool Program Initiative, Proposition 1B, on Seattle’s November 2014 ballot (as proposed by the Seattle City Council and endorsed by the Mayor of Seattle). Solid Ground acknowledges the importance of childcare workers being trained, fairly compensated and having ongoing access to professional development opportunities.

Through more than 40 developing community responses to poverty, Solid Ground seeks to identify and work on root, or structural, causes of poverty. Identifying effective strategies to undo generational poverty, we are increasingly focused on the education achievement gap and equity issues.

Today’s best research says that early childhood education is one of the cornerstones of future educational and life success. All children in our community should have the opportunity to begin their schooling with a high-quality education that is delivered by well-trained, well-paid educators in a sustainable system with long-term capacity.

The measure being promoted by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council will create a pilot program for affordable pre-K that ramps up over time, emphasizes educational quality, and is priced on a sliding scale for low- and middle-income families. It will be funded by a property tax levy. Solid Ground supports this initiative and looks forward to working with the newly-forming City Department of Education & Early Learning.

While we are endorsing the City proposal, we are sensitive to concerns raised by the competing Initiative. The high cost of early childhood education has created class barriers to access. And the typical low-paying salaries belie the critical role early childhood professionals play in growing healthy communities. The bottom line: All children in Seattle should have equal access to high-quality early childhood education.

Amicus brief to State Supreme Court: New revenue needed to McCleary

Last Monday, August 4, Pacifica Law Group filed an amicus brief with the Washington State Supreme Court on behalf Five-year-old-girl at the library.of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center (WSBPC), making it clear that legislators cannot responsibly address the requirements of the McCleary decision to fully fund education without raising new revenue.

Joining WSBPC as co-signers on the brief are Centerstone, Equity in Education Coalition, Eldercare Alliance, Solid Ground, Statewide Poverty Action Network and students from the University of Washington.

The amicus brief argues that the math doesn’t pencil out when you try to fully fund basic education without new revenue. It details the devastating impact of potential budget cuts on students, low-income families, communities of color, supports for older adults and children, and more.

More than two years after the court’s McCleary ruling was issued, the legislature has largely relied on unsustainable funding to make additional investments in basic education and remains behind schedule in adequately funding education.

For over forty years, Solid Ground has worked to end poverty through delivery of direct services, working to strengthen communities and advocating for public policies to address the causes and impacts of poverty. Every day at Solid Ground, we serve hundreds of families with children. We see firsthand that children need housing, food, medical care, counseling and more in order to achieve in school. When these basic needs go unmet, children have a difficult time staying in school, much less succeeding in school.

The amicus brief recommends that the court encourages the legislature to raise additional revenue that is stable and dependable in order to fully fund basic education. Failing to raise revenue to meet our education funding needs would result in cuts to other areas of the state budget that kids need to thrive. Without stable housing, access to health care and nutritious food, and other supports that create long-term economic security, we simply won’t create better outcomes for all kids in Washington. And isn’t that what McCleary is all about?

Legislative Update: Human trafficking

By Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D)

guest columnThroughout the years I have spent in the Legislature, tackling the issues of affordable housing and human trafficking has been of particular importance to me. It is clear why these issues are each important to address, but it is often overlooked how they are so intrinsically linked. Back in 2002, thanks to the leadership of former Rep. Velma Veloria and the Asian & Pacific Islander Women & Family Safety Center, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass specific legislation related to human trafficking, and in 2003 enacted the first state law creating crimes of human trafficking. In all, we have passed 36 bills to mitigate this terrible problem and have established ourselves as a leader in anti-trafficking law both nationally and internationally.

By confronting the barriers people face when applying for housing, Washington has also made progress with regard to fair and affordable housing policies. Most recently, we passed two bills to address problems with tenant screening practices, but there is still a lot of work to do. In 2012, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6315, requiring landlords to provide screening criteria in writing for prospective renters, and listing all of the requirements that will be used to determine eligibility for tenancy. And in 2013, SB 5568 added protections for domestic violence survivors in the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act with regard to screening practices.

What keeps many of our most vulnerable community members without having stable housing is a combination of screening practices for rental applications, rising rent prices, and the lack of funding for supportive services and community organizations that work to provide critical services to survivors of human trafficking.

capitol building, capitol building in olympia

Capitol building in Olympia, WA

Access to affordable, safe and stable housing is key to combating trafficking. According to the King County Committee to End Homelessness, “Young people experiencing homelessness are vulnerable to being coerced into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.” Approximately 5,000 minors experience homelessness in King County every year, with about 500 working in the sex trade any given night. This is deeply alarming, as individuals without a stable, safe and affordable home are not only more likely to be victims of trafficking, but also are more likely to be re-victimized by their abusers if they are unable to secure safe and stable accommodations. And even though my bill, SB 5482, became law in 2011 (authorizing local governments to use affordable housing funds to provide housing assistance to victims of human trafficking and their families), we did not provide any state funds to meet the additional need.

How screening practices impact survivors of human trafficking

When landlords screen a prospective tenant for a rental application, they generally perform a background criminal records check, credit check and public records check. As a result of a system that treats victims like offenders, many trafficking survivors have criminal records – typically related to prostitution – that can inhibit their ability to retain housing, even if the conviction was many years ago. While the Legislature passed House Bill 1292 in the 2014 session – to vacate prostitution records for trafficking survivors – there are still concerns regarding tenant screening, especially related to criminal and civil records that are easily accessible and cause tenants to be wrongfully denied housing.

What housing affordability means for struggling individuals and families

Housing affordability is a serious concern for many in our community. It is increasingly problematic for seniors on a fixed income, foster youth aging out of the system, immigrants, refugees and the mentally ill. For trafficking survivors who are working to gain new life skills and employment training, housing affordability is also critical. Oftentimes, if an individual has been forced into labor, she or he has not been allowed to attend school – sometimes for decades – and has not had opportunities for work training.

Why isn’t there more funding for services that support trafficking survivors?

With an international land border, being the closest state in mainland U.S., and having numerous large ports to which people are brought from Asia, Washington continually fights an uphill battle to eliminate human trafficking. Protecting human services funding has been ever more difficult in a divided state Legislature still working its way out of the Great Recession – and it has been very challenging to reach agreement on increasing the dollars directed to critical services that prevent and abate human trafficking.

In part due to these challenges, grassroots organizations in our state – particularly ones that provide direct services and support to survivors – are a lifeline for those trying to escape sexual or labor exploitation. And even though anti-trafficking is an issue that is far less partisan than most, the underground nature of the problem and significant budget restraints mean we still struggle to bring much-needed relief to survivors at the state level.

Where we go from here

Legislative efforts to combat trafficking are increasingly turning toward supporting survivors and holding abusers accountable for propagating such crimes. For example, HB 1791 passed this year, adding sex trafficking to the existing definition of sex crimes, and was amended with language from a bill of mine (SB 6017) to allow local law enforcement to recoup costs of investigating crimes related to prostitution and sexual exploitation of minors. Another bill, SB 6339, introduced by my colleague Sen. Karen Fraser, created the crime of ‘coercion of involuntary servitude’ – including the withholding of documentation of a person’s immigration status – and established this crime as a felony.

These are important measures, but it is clear there is still a great amount of work to be done. I am continuing to work on finding solutions to these problems throughout this summer and fall and into the next legislative session.

If you have questions, concerns or ideas you’d like to share, I encourage you to contact me at jeanne.kohl-welles@leg.wa.gov or 206.281.6854. You may also visit my office at 3131 Western Avenue, Suite 421, Seattle, WA 98121.

Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D) represents the 36th Legislative District (including the Queen Anne, Interbay, Ballard, Magnolia, Belltown, and parts of the Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods). She has been the sponsor of many affordable housing and anti-trafficking bills in the Washington State Senate, helping make us the leading state in the country in efforts to eliminate human trafficking. Senator Kohl-Welles received Seattle Against Slavery’s 2010 Lincoln Freedom Award for her anti-trafficking legislative efforts, February 2013 Legislator of the Week, and the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Housing Hero Award from the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance and Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. She has served in the Washington State Senate since 1994, following three years in the state House of Representatives.

Statewide Poverty Action Network’s 2014 Voter Guide

You’ve been seeing commercials, hearing ads on the radio, and receiving mail from candidates and initiative campaigns. It is clearly time to vote in our state’s primary election!

If you’ve received your ballot in the mail recently, you may see some old familiars and some new unknowns on there. It can be overwhelming trying to find resources on the right information about where these candidates stand on the issues facing your community. With so many pressing matters facing our communities, your participation in this election is critical.

Every election season, Statewide Poverty Action Network Poverty Action Voter Guide(SPAN) takes to the streets to register and mobilize voters, AND we talk to the people running for elected office across the state. We sent all running candidates in Washington state a questionnaire on topics ranging from health care to predatory lending to institutional racism, and then published their responses verbatim in this VOTER GUIDE. Over the next few weeks, we’ll add even more information about folks running for U.S. Congress and our positions on the statewide initiatives, too!

Our guide provides the tools you need to help ensure all families have the rights, recognition, and resources needed to thrive. We need great leaders in Olympia to help us forward our legislative agenda to change laws and correct injustices. Now is the time to have a say about the issues facing your community and making sure everyone can meet their basic needs.

These candidates will have substantial impacts on our everyday lives. Don’t let this election pass you by. Read our online voter guide to make informed decisions before mailing your ballot or putting it in a local drop box by 8pm on Tuesday, August 5!

SPAN and Solid Ground are nonpartisan, nonprofit (501c3) organizations that do not support any candidate or political party.

Legislative Update: Fair Tenant Screening Act

This is the first of a series of legislative updates highlighting some of the issues presented before the Washington State Legislature in the 2014 session, focusing on some of the most important bills impacting housing and other issues that directly affect the communities Solid Ground serves. Several bills and other topics will be explained to simplify the complicated legislative process, and emphasize the importance of preparing to advocate for these critical issues in the 2015 legislative session.

SB 6291: Fair Tenant Screening Act (Part III) – An important bill that died in the 2014 session and what this means for Washington renters:

capitol building, capitol building in olympia

Capitol building in Olympia, WA

Arguably one of the most underrated bills to be considered by the Washington State Legislature, the Fair Tenant Screening Act addresses some of the most critical needs for housing accessibility in our state. This bill makes the difference between a family being able to move into safe and affordable housing, or having to remain living in substandard and potentially unhealthy housing. In conjunction with rent increases and lack of affordable housing, application fees and screening criteria are some of the main reasons homelessness continues to be a reality for so many individuals and families across Washington State.

SB 6291, also known as Part III of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, would address rental application screening costs for thousands of tenants. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass in the 2014 session. However, both Part I and II of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, which address access to housing for domestic violence survivors and require the screening criteria in writing, passed in the 2012 and 2013 sessions, respectively. Information on both bills can be accessed in previous Solid Ground Blog posts about the Fair Tenant Screening Act (see Tenant Tip: New law prevents housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence and Tenant Tip: Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!).

What this bill would have changed:

This bill would have made the housing search fair and affordable. It would have continued to improve housing accessibility by adding a third component to the two mentioned above, thus strengthening the Fair Tenant Screening Act and making affordability a reality for renters seeking housing in our state.

Specifically, SB 6291 would have amended the repeated screening fees that tenants have to pay each time they apply to a new rental by requiring that the tenant pay one fee for a 30-day period. During this 30-day period, any landlord to whom a prospective tenant is applying for housing can access the tenant’s comprehensive report (which can include a credit and criminal background check, eviction and other civil records, rental references, etc.) without passing additional charges to the tenant. A landlord can choose to accept the report provided by the tenant or choose to pay for another report at their own cost, without passing the cost on to the tenant.

Why this bill is important:

Currently a prospective tenant in Washington looking for a new place to rent spends between $30-$375 in application fees, depending on the number of times they are denied by a landlord. Each rental application can cost between $30-$75 (and up) per person, and regardless of whether the information accessed for a background check is the same, the tenant is asked to pay for each application filled out. This bill would save hundreds of thousands of dollars which could then be spent on other housing costs. Currently, rental screening companies in Washington collect millions of dollars from this business practice, while the average renter spends more than half of their income – often three quarters of it – on rent.

3 steps you can take before the next legislative session to address this issue:

  1. Contact your legislator and schedule a 15-minute appointment or coffee with them during interim. They will have more time to sit down and talk with you in the summer and fall. Don’t wait until session.
  2. Bring this bill and other concerns you have. Tell them about how this issue impacts you.
  3. Join an advocacy group, such as the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, to stay up to date on advocacy efforts and learn more about issues that might impact your community.

For more information on this particular bill, this 1/23/14 Senate Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance Committee meeting video (104:58) provides testimony from housing advocates explaining why this bill is important.

Poverty Action at the Capitol

On Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2014, Statewide Poverty Action Network members and volunteers took their fight for social justice to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Over 200 members joined us for a day of action, and together, our network covered the Capitol in ‘Poverty Action Purple’ and made our voices heard, visiting nearly every member of the Washington State Legislature.

We stood for increasing support for basic needs programs, housing, health care, fighting predatory debt practices, and increasing educational opportunities for all Washingtonians. Thank you to all who participated in this inspiring day; without your support this could not have been possible!

For more information about Poverty Action or to become a member, visit: www.povertyaction.org.

Meeting legislators makes Olympia feel less remote

Editor’s note: Anthony Bencivengo is a senior at Nathan Hale High School. For his Senior Project, he is working with Solid Ground and the Statewide Poverty Action Network to engage his peers in the state political process. Here, Anthony reports on lobbying in Olympia with other youth on Martin Luther King, Jr. Lobby Day.

January 20, 2014 –

The inside of the People’s House of the Washington State Capitol wasn’t quite as majestic as its facade. The corridors of the John L. O’Brien Building, where state Representatives have their offices, were hot, crowded with people, and had the slowest elevators ever. But as my group squeezed its way through, I was so excited that I hardly noticed.

part of the Hales H.S. crew in Olympia l to r: Robert Mercer, Francis Britschgi, Naomi Price-Lazarus and Jasmine Shirey. Photo by Anthony Bencivengo.

Part of the Nathan Hale H.S. crew in Olympia, l to r: Robert Mercer, Francis Britschgi, Naomi Price-Lazarus and Jasmine Shirey (Photo by Anthony Bencivengo)

This was a day I’d been looking forward to for awhile. As part of my Senior Project, I organized a group of my fellow Nathan Hale High School students to join Statewide Poverty Action Network’s annual MLK Day legislative lobbying session. We, along with over 100 other volunteers, split into groups by legislative district and spread out to meet personally with our state legislators.

The issues we raised ranged widely, from the unfairness of large Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) to preserving welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). And the people in our groups ranged widely, too. Experienced legislative advocates (who seemed to know everyone in Olympia) helped the rest of us navigate the process. People with mental illnesses told horror stories about the drastically underfunded state agencies they turned to for help. Homeless single mothers shared their equally bad experiences with the unresponsive state welfare system. And high school students like us spoke up, too.

Part of the 46th District team, l to r: Robert Mercer, Sarajane Siegfriedt, Jesse Kleinman. Photo by Anthony Bencivengo.

Part of the 46th District team, l to r: Robert Mercer, Sarajane Siegfriedt, Jesse Kleinman (Photo by Anthony Bencivengo)

We learned a lot from the people in our groups, particularly those with personal experiences of homelessness.

“I sort of had this image in my head of what homeless people were like,” admits Naomi Price-Lazarus. That image was changed by the actual homeless people she met. “Their strength was really surprising,” she recalls. “They keep pushing and trying to overcome all the obstacles they’re facing, and even when they keep failing, they don’t give up.”

“This was definitely an eye-opener for me,” adds Francis Britschgi. “Before, poverty was just kind of something that happened, and it was too bad. But the stories I heard today were almost tear-moving.”

The legislators we talked to seemed to be affected in the same way. “They seemed genuinely interested,” observes Robert Mercer. “The one I talked to was really supportive and enthusiastic,” agrees Naomi. They were already well-informed about many of the issues, shared most of our concerns, and pledged to work to fix the problems we had mentioned.

This experience really humanized our state legislators for us. Upon seeing a teddy bear on the desk of a state Representative, Jasmine Shirey exclaimed, “They’re like people!”

“They were really easy to talk to,” adds Naomi. “It wasn’t super formal or anything.”

It turns out our legislators have their quirks, too (who knew Gerry Pollet had a Lord of the Rings Pez collection?). Francis saw a sign on one Representative’s door that said, ‘Tax the rich or kill the poor.’ “I was surprised,” he says. “It seemed kind of inflammatory.” But it was also a sign that these legislators chose to enter politics not for money or power but because, like us, they are passionate about economic justice. And with our state facing problems that will take a lot of passion and hard work to solve, that was encouraging.

We left Olympia feeling hopeful. Our state legislature, which had felt very remote only the day before, now seemed much more accessible. “I feel like I could go into their office if I needed to,” Robert says. “Or call or email them,” adds Francis. “It feels much more open.”

With this sense that our legislators are listening comes a renewed determination to send them a message. “All these legislators were so great and make such a good impression,” reflects Francis. “But our state’s still [in trouble]. So what’s up?”

What’s up is the difficulty of getting meaningful reform passed in a legislature where infighting and special-interest influence encourage inaction. That’s why we have to sustain the pressure on Olympia that we began to create today. This event was not a panacea. It was only the beginning of a long fight for change. But now, we feel much more empowered to make a difference in this fight.

“It’s really easy to get involved in politics,” replies Naomi when asked what she takes away from the event. “It was a really great experience,” concludes Francis. “Would recommend. 10 out of 10.”

Editor’s note: Read Anthony’s earlier post on recruiting teens to come lobby, Teens going to Olympia to change the conversation, Anthony Bencivengo, 1/20/14.

Teens going to Olympia to change the conversation

Editor’s note: Anthony Bencivengo is senior at Nathan Hale High School. For his Senior Project he is working with Solid Ground and the Statewide Poverty Action Network to engage his peers in the state political process. In this, the first of his reports, Anthony talks about recruiting youth to join him for today’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Lobby Day in Olympia.

January 17, 2014 – Robert Mercer has wanted to make his voice heard for a long time. His mother works at a psychiatric clinic that serves homeless and low-income people, and she has never shied away from discussing the obstacles they face. “Ever since I was a kid she was always grubbing about some legislation or another,” Robert recalls. “I guess it kind of rubbed off on me.” Robert is worried about homeless people who suffer from mental issues but can’t afford treatment. He fears that access to mental health services is becoming increasingly scarce as state funds dry up in an era of budget cuts. The result, far too often, has been homeless people suffering from psychotic breaks he believes could have been prevented if they had somewhere to turn for help.  “They’re in really bad situations,” Robert says, “That more state funding could have prevented.”

Anthony (l) talks to sophmore Tanner O'Donnell about Lobby Day

Anthony talks to sophmore Tanner O’Donnell about Lobby Day

I feel it’s extremely important for our politicians to hear about these issues. That’s why, as my senior project, I’m organizing a group of my fellow Nathan Hale High School students (Robert included) into a youth contingent that will join the Statewide Poverty Action Network (a social-justice advocacy organization closely linked to Solid Ground) in its annual MLK Day legislative lobbying session in Olympia. In a few days, we’ll be meeting with our state legislators to discuss issues facing our state’s homeless and low-income communities.

For me, this is an exciting opportunity. I’ve always been deeply involved with social justice – volunteering at food banks, participating in rallies and frequently writing to newspapers and my state legislators. I feel political discourse at the state level has been overly focused on cutting safety-net programs just as the Great Recession makes them more needed than ever. I hope that by speaking personally to our legislators, my fellow students and I can help change the conversation.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. The group I’ve organized is filled with a wide variety of students who each bring in different perspectives and experiences. The common thread is their passion for social justice.

Nolan Wolf, who recently completed a stint as a state legislature page serving some of the very legislators we’ll be lobbying, is coming because, as a person with arthrogryposis (a physical disability limiting his range of arm motion), he understands what it’s like not to be expected to succeed. People, he says, sometimes see him “as a disability, instead of as a person with a disability.”

Grace Jones’s youth group has hosted middle-schoolers from low-income housing development Yesler Terrace to speak about the documentaries they’re making about the ongoing remodel of their complex to meet safety standards. Aedan Roberts has used his status as an editor for the school paper to publish the personal stories of homeless immigrants. And the list goes on. Conventional wisdom goes that teens are lazy and disengaged, but this dedicated group of student activists is anything but.

All of us are excited to go to Olympia, for a variety of reasons. Besides the chance to make a difference, students in my group see this as a chance to learn more about state government, social justice, and the views of their representatives. Most of us are optimistic that our lobbying will make a difference. “I think it’s important for people to see a large youth presence in groups working for change,” says Grace. “Teens care, we have ideas, and we want to learn more.”

“Maybe, in a year or so,” Robert adds hopefully, “A politician will vote in a different way on something because I swayed them.”

Many of us are nervous, of course. Speaking face to face with experienced politicians can be intimidating for high-school seniors barely old enough to vote. Many of us are afraid of sounding uninformed, inarticulate or timid. But from my conversations with the students I’m going with, I can tell that they have more than enough eloquence, passion and knowledge. We must always first face down our fears in order to face down injustice. That’s another change I hope will be affected on MLK Day – that we will become confident in our own strength and power to create change. Some of us already have. “I don’t really have any fears,” answers Tanner O’Donnell when asked whether the event makes him nervous. “Except for bears. They’re scary.”

To make sure you catch the next report in Anthony’s series, please sign up to have this blog’s posts emailed directly to you!

Early learning: key to life success

Solid Ground is joining the Children’s Alliance and other members of the Equity in Education Coalition in asking Washington State’s congressional delegation and the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to incorporate the needs and strengths of Dual Language Learners into proposed high-quality early learning initiatives.

“Brains are like buildings – they start with a foundation. Birth through age five is a crucial time to give children the kinds of enriching experiences and environments they need to build a foundation for success – both in school and in life,” states the Early Learning Action Alliance, convened by the Children’s Alliance.

Congress is considering a state/national partnership that would expand access to high-quality early learning for kids ages birth through five.

“As our nation moves toward the promise of providing quality early learning for every child who needs it, we must ensure that programs are tailored to meet the needs of dual language learners who are the fastest-growing segment of young children,” stated Tony Lee, Solid Ground Advocacy Director.

iis-logoThe proposal would:

  • Provide high-quality preschool. A new state/federal partnership would invest $75 billion over 10 years to provide all four-year-olds living in families with low and moderate incomes access to high-quality preschool.
  • Grow the supply of effective early learning opportunities for young children. In the years before preschool, a new $1.4 billion Early Head Start/Child Care partnership would support communities with expanding the availability of Early Head Start and child care providers that can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers.
  • Extend and expand evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs. Home visiting programs enhance children’s cognitive, language and learning skills, improve maternal and child health in the early years and leave long-lasting positive impacts on parenting skills. The proposal calls for $15 billion over 10 years for these important services.

Under the current proposal, in the first year alone, Washington is estimated to receive:

  • $61 million for participation in voluntary Preschool for All, helping serve 7,451 children from families with low and moderate incomes.
  • $8 million for evidence-based voluntary home visiting Early Head Start/Child Care partnerships that would help provide 18,723 children ages 0-3 with high-quality early care and education.

Watch this Early Learning Matters: Invest in Us video for more information.

As the proposal moves forward, Solid Ground is proud to stand with the Children’s Alliance and these partners in our community:

Community members are urged to contact their Members of Congress and urge them to support strong investment in early learning. For more information, or to get involved, contact Melissa Bailey at the Children’s Alliance: Melissa@childrensalliance.org.

We’re hitting the road: Poverty Action Listening Sessions begin July 23

Summer is in full swing here in Washington State. That means it is Listening Session season at the Statewide Poverty Action Network! We will hit the road to meet our members and gather our network’s priorities for the upcoming year. We’ll also host advocacy trainings in a town near you!

Over the next few months, we will head to Tacoma, Seattle, Pasco/Tri-Cities, Spokane, Everett, Kent and more. We are also pairing each Listening Session with one of our Advocacy Trainings to make each stop on the Listening Session Tour double as an opportunity to tell your story directly to your legislators!

Protect WA State FamiliesPoverty Action Listening Sessions 2013:

  • SEATTLE: July 23-24
  • TACOMA: Aug. 9-10
  • KENT: Aug. 27-29
  • EVERETT: Sept. 10-12
  • TRI-CITIES/PASCO: Sept. 25-27
  • SPOKANE: October 8-10

Our first Listening Session is in Seattle on Tuesday, July 23 (from 2:30-4:30pm at the 2100 Building, 2100 24th Ave S, Seattle, WA). It will focus on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and State Family Assistance (SFA). We’re especially in need of members with the following experiences:

  1. Do you currently receive TANF or SFA?
  2. Have you received TANF/SFA in the past three years?
  3. Do you have ideas about how to improve TANF/SFA to make it a better program for families?
  4. Are you looking to share your experience using these programs with lawmakers?

If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, we want to hear from you! Please call 1.866.789.7726 to learn more or to RSVP. You will receive $20 for travel expenses; please RSVP for childcare.

Come and share your story and help shape our legislative agenda, then join us on day two for a roundtable discussion with lawmakers on the issues you care about! Spots are limited for these sessions, so don’t delay – reserve your space today!

We need to hear from you!
There is no better time than now to get your story heard. Check back with the Poverty Action website soon for more information about upcoming Listening Sessions near you. And if you are interested in attending any of the dates above, give us a call TODAY at 1.866.789.7726 or email gwen@povertyaction.org to reserve your place at a Listening Session, Advocacy Training or both! We hope to see you on our Listening Session Tour!

Mixed bag budget not good governance

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground’s President & CEO

“Yesterday, the legislature agreed to a budget with just days to spare before a state government shutdown was to take effect. This budget is a mixed bag. There are some points to celebrate, like a $1.03 billion investment in K-12 education, and the budget holds the line of safety net funding.

“However, there are a number of missed opportunities in the budget that fail to raise adequate revenue to address the long-term needs of our state,” said Solid Ground’s organizing arm, Statewide Poverty Action Network, in the budget analysis it released last week.

Indeed, for people living on low incomes in Washington State, there are some clear successes:

  • No major cuts were made to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and a proposed cap on the number of children in TANF families who could receive benefits was defeated.
  • The state will fully implement Medicaid expansion, giving health insurance to about 250,000 people living on low incomes starting in 2014.
  • Adult dental health coverage was fully restored!
  • $70 million was invested in the Housing Trust Fund.
  • Disability Lifeline programs, ABD and HEN, were protected, supporting people with disabilities in meeting their basic needs.
  • State Food Assistance was restored to 75% (from 50%) of the federal SNAP benefit, helping immigrant families afford enough food to eat.

Stepping back from the specific gains and losses of this budget, we must address the two special session/double overtime governing.

Solid Ground clients and families living on low incomes across our state were filled with angst and uncertainty as they wondered whether they would receive their much-needed state assistance, or whether the government would shut down. They worried whether they would be able to pay rent on time or put food on their tables.

For vulnerable people across the state, this is what is at stake when legislators can’t reach a budget agreement.

Our state deserves strong leadership. By refusing to raise revenue and delaying the passage of a compassionate budget for ideological reasons, some members of the legislature put the needs of our communities at risk and, in the process, practiced incredibly bad governance.

We appreciate that the government did not shut down. We appreciate that the legislature preserved and protected our state’s safety net. And we appreciate that the state made a down payment on our paramount duty to educate our young people.

But, we expect better from our leaders. We expect leaders to rise to the occasion, to boldly address our state’s long-term problems, and to address inequities by raising much-needed revenue. And we will engage our legislators with the goal of holding them to the high standard that civic leadership requires.

Changing lives & systems through advocacy

Advocacy has always been a central watchword for Solid Ground. Throughout our 39 years of providing for people’s basic needs, we have also addressed the political realities that create barriers for people to thrive.

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

The more than 50,000 people who come to us each year are the true experts on poverty in our community. Their lives revolve around the challenges of living on less in an increasingly class-divided world. Twenty five years ago, low-income communities organized across Washington State through our Fair Budget Action Campaign and the Welfare Reform Coalition. Both were instrumental in passing the Seattle Housing Levy, creating the Molar Majority to fund adult dental care, and other groundbreaking efforts that get more people to solid ground in our community.Fair Budget eventually became the Statewide Poverty Action Network, bringing together leadership from low-income communities around the state to articulate a community-based agenda and run impactful organizing campaigns. Poverty Action and allied coalitions and agencies have been instrumental in protecting lifeline benefits, passing the Foreclosure Fairness Act, grading legislators on the racial justice impact of their work, and giving previously incarcerated people, teens and other marginalized populations training and support to reclaim their political power.

This approach creates tremendous synergy. The personal becomes political as our advocacy in Olympia is strengthened by decades of direct service and the individual voices of people most impacted by policies. Case managers help identify trends and stories among program participants that seed efforts to make laws more responsive to the needs of people living on low incomes.

At Solid Ground, we believe education is foundational to a better future. In addition to our partnerships to support literacy, skill building and leadership development in Seattle/King County schools, we actively work to close the opportunity gap between wealthier white students and those with lower incomes and students of color.

Disenfranchised people – those experiencing homelessness, immigrants with limited English proficiency, and those who lack education or job experience – can all achieve their dreams if they have access to equal opportunity and resources. By bringing their testimony into the political process, Poverty Action and allies influence laws, policies and practices and set the stage for transformative, generational success.

At Solid Ground, we believe our community can move beyond poverty and oppression to a place where all people have access to quality housing, nutritious food, equal justice and opportunities to thrive. We believe strong advocacy is a vital component of interrupting generational cycles of poverty. We believe effective advocacy starts in the personal narratives of our community.

And we believe that successful advocacy secures long-term, positive changes in our society.

Innovation Center proposal co-locates community college, services at Pacific Tower

The future of the historic Pacific Tower building is at an important juncture as the Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority is considering a proposal to create The Beacon Community Health College & Innovation Center at Pacific Tower.

The PDA will accept written comments on the Innovation Center and another proposal that is believed to be from a private developer to convert the historic medical campus into high-end residential units.

Please address comments to:

PDA Executive Director Rosemary Aragon
Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority
1200 12th Avenue S, Quarters 2
Seattle, WA 98144

Jacqueline 1The Innovation Center proposal calls for “bringing new life to an iconic building for vital public purposes, including critically needed training programs in nursing, dental hygiene and other health care professions, cross-cultural health care training programs, community meeting facilities and space for nonprofit organizations that share the goal of building stronger, healthier communities for generations to come.”

The Center would be anchored in Seattle Community College programs that are designed to create the skilled workforce needed to meet Medicaid expansion and supported by an array of community agencies that share the goal of building community through services and innovation.

Among the organizations that have expressed interest in co-locating services:

The co-location is based on the model pioneered at the Opportunity Center for Employment and Education at North Seattle Community College.

Solid Ground, along with many other community groups and agencies, supports the proposal.

Again, to submit written support of the proposal, please address comments to:

PDA Executive Director Rosemary Aragon
Pacific Hospital Preservation & Development Authority
1200 12th Avenue S, Quarters 2
Seattle, WA 98144

Or email your comments to: r.aragon@phpda.org.

A public hearing will be scheduled soon! We’ll update this post as we hear about the date and time!

 

Urgent: call your Senators about the Farm Bill

Clean radishes

Clean radishes

Here’s a breaking news update on the Senate Farm Bill and the latest message (from the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition) to deliver to our Senators. Please pick up a phone to call Senators Cantwell and Murray.

Please share this information with your networks:

Farm Bill Process
The Senate began their debate of amendments to the Farm Bill yesterday morning. Unfortunately, they missed their biggest and best opportunity to help hungry families and seniors by rejecting the Gillibrand amendment that would have eliminated the $4.1 billion cut to SNAP. Senator Murray co-sponsored the amendment and Senator Cantwell voted for the amendment. But in the end, the amendment failed to get 50 votes on the Senate floor, ultimately defeated by a vote of 26 yeas to 70 nays.

If there’s a bright side to this, the Senate also defeated a number of even more damaging amendments proposed by Senator Roberts that would have tried to instill many of the cuts proposed in the House Bill, including an amendment that would have greatly restricted Categorical Eligibility and eliminated Heat and Eat entirely.

Additionally, Senator Brown has introduced an amendment that will be debated on the floor that would add $10 million to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program as well as add funds to other programs that help farmers markets and increase access to nutritious, locally sourced produce. This is an effort that we support since the Senior FMNP helps low-income seniors have access to the fresh produce that they need to stay healthy in body and mind, but $10 million will be a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the cut to SNAP — our first-line defense against hunger.

Even if this amendment is added to the bill, the Senate will be voting on a final package as soon as tonight, or possibly tomorrow morning, that will cut SNAP by over $4 billion — a cut that will take $90 per month out of the SNAP benefits for 232,000 households in Washington.

Tell Senators: Support the Brown Amendment but Vote NO on the Final Farm Bill
Call Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray now and ask them to support the Brown amendment. Let them know that we support adding funding to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, because if the cuts to SNAP proposed in this Farm Bill take effect, then we need to make sure that seniors have all the assistance they can get to have access to nutritious food that they can’t otherwise afford on a fixed income.

We need this amendment to get the final Farm Bill package in the best shape in can be should it pass the rest of the Senate, but in the end, we still need our Senators to vote NO to the final Farm Bill package, because the proposed cuts to SNAP are unconscionable. No Farm Bill this year is better than living with the consequences of a Farm Bill that slashes SNAP and as a result, increases poverty for hungry families with children and seniors. The Senate can always go back to the drawing board and save their yes vote for a Farm Bill that does not make unconscionable cuts to SNAP.

Senator Murray: 1.866.481.9186
Senator Cantwell: 1.202.224.3441

•    Vote YES on the Brown amendment to increase funding for Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
•    Even if that amendment passes, vote NO on the final Farm Bill because of the unconscionable cut to SNAP — our first line of defense against hunger.

Fully fund Washington State’s smart response to childhood hunger

A young child makes a peanut butter and Jelly sandwichState Food Assistance (SFA) is a food stamp look-alike program founded by the Washington State legislature and Governor Gary Locke in 1997 to provide continued food assistance to legal, documented immigrants when Congress terminated their eligibility for food stamps. The program has been a tremendous success but is at dire risk.

We need your help TODAY to preserve this important program!

Call the legislative hotline at 1.800.562.6000 or email your reps and senator to ask for full funding for the State Food Assistance Program!

Background
Since 1997, Congress has restored federal food stamps for several categories of immigrants (like refugees and asylees). There are three main groups receiving State Food Assistance in Washington:

  • Immigrants with green cards who are in their first five years of residence in the US.
  • “People Living Under Color of the Law,” a variety of immigration status that allows people to continue to live in the US.
  • Citizens of countries with Compacts of Free Association with the US (Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands) who may live and work in the US but are ineligible for most assistance.

More than 10,000 households received SFA in November 2012. Unfortunately, legislators have repeatedly tried to slash SFA benefits that help thousands of children growing up in immigrant families.

Efforts began in late 2010 to eliminate the program completely. The 2011 and 2012 budgets cut the benefits in half, reducing the average benefit per household from $159.05 to just $78.23. This benefit level is just one-third of the resources needed to be “food secure,” according to the US Department of Agriculture.

A coalition of anti-hunger advocates and allies is asking the Legislature to fully fund SFA. The Children’s Alliance, the Faith Action Network, the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition, OneAmerica, Northwest Harvest, the Washington Food Coalition and others strongly encourage the 2013 Legislature to restore State Food Assistance benefits to 100% of the food stamp benefits received by more than 1 million Washingtonians. The cost of maintaining SFA benefits at 50% in the next biennium is estimated to be $21 million; the cost of restoring benefits to 100% is an additional $21 million. Proposed changes made in the food stamp program at the federal level by Congress could reduce the cost to the state.

Solid Ground has joined 60 community organizations in supporting the SFA. A letter to the legislature signed by all of the organizations states:

For more than 15 years, Washington has strategically leveraged national resources to make sure that food stamps reach families in need. …

But now our food security network isn’t working like it should. During the recession, Washington legislators slashed State Food Assistance benefits for thousands of children growing up in immigrant families, nearly all of whom are children of color. At a time when an estimated one in four Washington children live in food insecure households, the cut to State Food Assistance deepens racial and economic inequality. …

(H)unger is a roadblock to opportunity. Hungry children can’t learn. The ties between hunger, poor health and learning are well understood. If we continue to send children to school without the fuel they need for academic success, we continue to let the opportunity gap swallow up our future.

As the legislative Special Session gets underway in Olympia today, our representatives and senators need to hear that we support the full funding for the State Food Assistance program. Please call the legislative hotline today at 1.800.562.6000 to leave a message, or email your legislators.

Your input needed at Fair Housing Equity Forums!

The Puget Sound Regional Council, in tandem with the Fair Housing Center of Washington, is gathering information on barriers to equal housing opportunities with a special focus on the major transportation corridors in Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties. This Fair Housing Equity Assessment is part of the Growing Transit Communities’ three-year project to ensure equity along transit lines. We need your help!

They are holding three forums to discuss a broad range of topics to include:

  • Are we perpetuating segregation today?
  • Are there attitudes about Section 8, low-income housing, group homes or the homeless that impede integrated housing patterns?
  • Is affordable housing only being built in diverse or low-income neighborhoods?
  • Can government and private investment in transportation increase housing opportunities for low-income families?

See flyer for meeting locations and times.

Fair Housing Equity Forum Flier Final

Hope you can make it!

 

Fair Tenant Screening Act Passes in the Senate and Moves to House Judiciary

Solid Ground celebrates a great victory for renters in Washington: On Monday, March 11, 2013, the Washington State Senate moved one step closer to making landlord-tenant laws more fair and just for tenants. The Senate voted on the Fair Tenant Screening Act, and with true bipartisan support they passed SB 5568 with a vote of 46-3. This is a huge step toward making sure that domestic violence survivors are not discriminated against or denied housing based on a protection order or their history of domestic violence.

SenJeanne_Kohl-WellesTo hear senators Hobbs, Kohl-Welles and Frockt’s moving testimony on the Senate floor, visit the TVW website for March 11, 2013 Senate coverage, and scroll to 21:30 minutes to watch the 6 ½-minute video coverage.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done! Please send an email to thank Senator Hobbs (steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov), Senator Kohl-Welles (Jeanne.Kohl-Welles@leg.wa.gov) and Senator Frockt (David.Frockt@leg.wa.gov) for their ongoing support and leadership for the Fair Tenant Screening Act.

Thanks to everyone who offered their support of this critical bill by writing emails and letters and making calls. Also, special thanks and congratulations to the advocates who stood strong on this issue and made this victory possible: Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Tenants Union, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project.

Join us for Hunger Action Day in Olympia on February 22!

Your voice is needed to end hunger in Washington!Hunger Action Day logo

Join Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center for the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition‘s HUNGER ACTION DAY at the Washington State Capitol, Friday, February 22!

This Lobby Day allows the Coalition and supporters to highlight current issues affecting families facing hunger and bring forward priorities to reduce food insecurity in Washington State. Through the collective voice of a coalition, legislators hear the struggles of Washington State residents, food banks, farmers and service providers and are asked to make policy decisions that will end hunger in our communities.

Over the years, this coalition has successfully brought hunger advocates to Olympia to promote strategic policy and state appropriations that maximize federal nutrition programs, reinforce our community-based emergency food assistance system, and link local farmers with the needs of the hungry.

The Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s priorities this year are:

  1. Restore full benefits for families on the State Food Assistance Program.
  2. An increase to WSDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  3. Restore WSDA’s Farm to School and Small Farms programs.
  4. Create a balanced and sustainable state budget that includes new sources of revenue.

Let your legislators hear your voice and encourage them to support a food secure Washington. Visit the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s website to register.

Individuals who are not able to come to Olympia can participate in the Coalition’s online Lobby Day. Click here to join an online petition. This petition asks lawmakers to ensure that Washington families don’t go hungry in these tough times.

If you have any questions about Hunger Action Day 2013, please contact Elsa Ferguson at elsaf@withinreachwa.org.

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