June 2013 Groundviews newsletter: Finding her voice

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our June 2013 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Renee K. Jones (center front, in a red coat) at the MLK Day 2013 rally on the capitol steps In Olympia, WA

Renee K. Jones (center front, in a red coat) at the MLK Day 2013 rally on the capitol steps In Olympia, WA

Renee K. Jones is a busy woman. She’s a single mom of two preschool-age girls. She’s in college full time, working toward a BA in Social Work at the University of Washington, having graduated with honors from Highline Community College. She also works 20 hours a week and volunteers at a domestic violence agency one day a week. On top of it all, she frequently speaks publically: to her legislators in Olympia, WA, to groups learning about the impacts of domestic violence – even delivering Highline’s 2012 commencement speech.  

But in the fall of 2011, Renee didn’t yet know the power of her voice. At the time, domestic violence had left her and her daughters homeless, living in transitional housing, and struggling to make ends meet. Then, through the Statewide Poverty Action Network’s advocacy training, Renee found that not only does her story matter, she has access to all the tools she needs to express it.

As Renee puts it, “I had escaped my violent situation, and through the housing program, Poverty Action came and spoke about advocacy training – how to be your own advocate and speak out on behalf of issues. I am a TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] recipient, and I rely on Working Connections Childcare and a lot of things that the state was looking to cut.”

At the advocacy training, Renee found out about the annual Poverty Action at the Capitol event in Olympia, bringing together people struggling to get by on low incomes along with their allies to learn about issues impacting people living in poverty, then guiding them to frame their stories and share them with their legislators, face to face.

Renee says, “I was very excited for the first time to be able to participate in that, because I knew that the potential budget cuts would really impact my life. In Olympia, I raised my hand and shared a little bit of my story. And the staff from Poverty Action pulled me to the side and asked if I could go and speak to some of the legislative representatives. And that’s what I did, the first time! I just jumped right on board.”

Renee speaks with Q13 Fox News political analyst C.R. Douglas after sharing her story at a legislative press conference to save TANF.

Renee speaks with Q13 Fox News political analyst C.R. Douglas after sharing her story at a legislative press conference to save TANF.

Since her initial experience in Olympia, Renee has been an advocate on fire. In March 2012, she published her story in an Op-Ed in the Tacoma News Tribune and also testified at a Washington State legislative hearing. Thanks to her actions and those of other activists, no new cuts were made to TANF, and some funds were restored to Working Connections Childcare.

“The first time I went down – to be very, very honest – I was sitting here thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this millions of dollars that they’re looking to cut from low-income families, there’s no way that my voice will make a difference.’” But, she says, “To have the support and direction of the Poverty Action staff – to take my story and not alter it, but empower it to explain it to others, and for that to be the pivotal reason why things were not cut – is an amazing feeling. Beyond amazing; I can’t even explain it. It made me feel like I have a voice.”

Here’s an excerpt from Renee’s testimony:

    … As I worked 40-hours per week in a minimum wage position, I struggled to afford paying for basic necessities including rent, utilities, food, childcare, diapers and basic hygiene items. When my meager checks would arrive, I was forced to decide what we had to be without that month. Sometimes that meant no diapers, sometimes that meant no toilet paper or shampoo, sometimes it meant I wouldn’t be able to do laundry that month. Every cent was spent monthly, and I still wasn’t able to afford what it took to survive.
“… It has taken me four years, but I am finally at a point where I have begun to reach stability. Living off of $348 per month, I have had to be very creative with finances. We certainly still struggle, but through accessing state assistance, I have been able to attend school and will be graduating with honors this spring – an education that is critical to getting a better paying job, gaining full self-sufficiency and keeping my family from reverting back to dependence on the system. … TANF isn’t about luxuries, it’s about necessities.”

Renee says speaking to her legislators is “nerve-wracking, but phenomenal. It’s so wonderful to be on this journey and be able to advocate, not just for myself, but for 60,000 other people in Washington State who really rely on this. There’s a lot of stigma behind welfare recipients and a lot of the things that happen within the system. So I wanted to explain how this program does help. Cutting this would not help anybody, it would just create a bigger problem.

“This is how my experience has shaped this – and I know that other people are going through it – and I want to help other people come through this as well. And to know that my voice does make a difference is an incredible feeling.”

For more information about the Statewide Poverty Action Network, visit www.povertyaction.org or email info@povertyaction.org.

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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.

Zombie Debt: Help stop the haunting!

Marcy Bowers is Director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.

After building on Poverty Action’s successes passing landmark consumer protection bills, we are mobilizing our network to support HB 1069, which will help regulate an alarming new predatory industry called “Zombie Debt.”

Here’s a quick look at what we’re fighting against:
The Zombie Debt industry is largely unregulated and profits off deceptive practices that intimidate people into paying on old debt or “debt” that they might not even owe. Like a zombie coming back from the dead, old debt comes back to haunt consumers. We urgently need your help to pass this bill which regulates Zombie Debt and the predatory practices of debt buyers.

Check out this video to see how you can help stop Zombie Debt:

TAKE ACTION!

More on the ghoulishness of Zombie Debt:
Zombie Debt occurs when companies sell their old debts for pennies on the dollar to third-party debt buyers. Debt buyers then try to collect on old debts or debts that have already been paid (and sometimes never even owed in the first place). Many times, the information is out of date, has already been paid in full, or is assigned to the wrong person entirely.

Everyone is at risk to be targeted by debt buyers’ search for profit by using the courts and financial system against the public. Debt buying is one of the nation’s fastest growing industries. It is largely financed by Wall Street and is exploiting the lack of industry regulation to extract billions of dollars from people all over the US.

Debt buyers are flooding our court systems:
Debt buyers are increasingly taking advantage of state courts by filing lawsuits to collect on the debt they purchase. Unfortunately, these predatory debt buyers are exploiting our courts by using default judgments against Washingtonians when they might not even owe the debt. Debt buyers don’t even know if they have the right person, the right amount, or any real evidence, but they are able to obtain judgments due to antiquated state laws that don’t protect people from deceptive financial industries.

Low- and moderate-income consumers are disproportionately affected:
One study found that 95% of people with default judgments entered against them lived in low- and moderate-income communities. At a time when struggling families need every penny to survive, Zombie Debt is threatening Washingtonians’ well-being and economic security.

TAKE ACTION: WE NEED YOU!

  • Send your legislators this message: “Washington needs to regulate debt buyers and protect consumers from unfair debt practices. SUPPORT HB 1069.”
  • Have experience with debt buyers attempting to collect on debt you don’t owe or never incurred? Have you paid high fees to a debt settlement company only to end up in a worse situation than when you started? Give us a call to share your story! Call 1.866.789.7726 or email danielle@povertyaction.org.

Poverty Action at the Capitol

Poverty Action members march & rally in Olympia in 2012

Poverty Action members march & rally in Olympia in 2012

Join the Statewide Poverty Action Network in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 21. Speak out about the importance of basic needs services, fair housing, racial equality, healthcare and other issues impacting the lives of people across Washington State.

Poverty Action’s annual lobby day brings together hundreds of people from across Washington State. It supports issues brought forward by people from across our state through face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, direct actions, and trainings to take our movement back to our hometowns.

This is a great opportunity for both seasoned activists and people who have never expressed their opinions to our lawmakers. Students are especially encouraged to join us and bring the perspective and power of the next generation to the state political process!

WHAT: 
Poverty Action Day at the Capitol – A day of community building, advocacy trainings and exercising political power!

The Washington State Capitol, where YOU have the power!

The Washington State Capitol, where YOU have the power!

WHEN:
Monday, 1/21/13,
9:30am – 3:30pm (bus leaves Seattle 7:30am, returns about 5pm)

WHERE: 
Temple Beth Hatfiloh
201 8th Avenue SE
Olympia, WA 98501

HOW: 
Register online or call 206.694.6794
(toll-free at 1.866.789.7726).

Poverty Action has planned a morning of issue and advocacy briefings in preparation for the 1pm rally at the Capitol and group meetings with lawmakers.

This session, Poverty Action will focus on:

  • Saving safety net programs by protecting them from budget cuts.
  • Fortifying recent changes in payday lending laws that protect consumers, but are under fire from the industry.
  • Tightening up consumer protections against debt collectors and Zombie Debt.

There is free transportation from Seattle to Poverty Action Day at the Capitol (the bus leaves Solid Ground, 1501 N 45th Street in Wallingford, at 7:30am). Breakfast and lunch are provided. Childcare and interpretation services are available upon request.

You can register online or call 206.694.6794 (toll-free at 1.866.789.7726). And for more information, visit the Poverty Action website.

Advocacy works! 2012 Legislative wrap up

Poverty Action members lobby in Olympia for foreclosure fairness

Poverty Action members lobby in Olympia for foreclosure fairness

This legislative session, Statewide Poverty Action Network members worked hard to achieve substantial wins amidst one of the most difficult political climates in recent memory. From holding the line on funding Washington State’s safety net to passing significant consumer protections, we have a full slate of accomplishments we are proud to share. This work is possible because our members took a stand against further attacks on low-income families.

This session, Poverty Action successfully passed the following consumer protection bills:

HB 1552 – Garnishment
This bill allows consumers to keep more money to live on after a wage garnishment. These new protections may allow an individual worker to keep approximately $120 more per month, providing much-needed financial relief. This new law also clarifies that pension funds will continue to be exempt from garnishment, ensuring that seniors and people living with disabilities will be able to use their pensions to meet their basic needs, even during a garnishment. HB 1552 provides much-needed updates to Washington’s garnishment laws, better reflecting the realities of struggling families.

HB 2614 – Foreclosure Prevention
Last year, Washington led the way in ensuring that families facing foreclosure would have the right to a mediation process with their lenders. The Foreclosure Fairness Act, which passed in 2011, brought homeowners, lenders and a third-party mediator together to discuss alternatives to foreclosure. HB 2614 builds on the strength of last year’s law by streamlining the mediation process and providing added protections for mediators, as well as for homeowners while they work toward saving their homes and most valuable assets.

SB 6155 – Debt Adjusters
This bill puts reasonable and fair regulations on for-profit debt adjusters (sometimes called debt settlement), helping to prevent deceptive practices that hurt families who are attempting to regain their financial stability. For-profit debt adjustment is a fringe financial service that has seen rapid growth and change over the last several years. Debt adjusters reach out to people living with debt and offer bold “miracle cures” to help eliminate their debt, but often leave families in financial ruin. Because this industry is growing fast and the impacts in our state are still widely unknown, SB 6155 includes reporting requirements to gain information on the impacts to Washington consumers.

We also stood strong and protected vital public programs:

SB 6411 – Take Back the (TANF) Box
This bill increases transparency and accountability in our state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by allowing legislators to make decisions on how TANF is administered. Previously, the Governor’s office made all of the decisions about TANF (also called the TANF “box”), allowing the public few opportunities to provide input on the program or its funding. By moving control of the TANF box to the 149 members of the legislature, SB 6411 provides Poverty Action members 149 opportunities to influence how TANF is managed.

Defending Our Safety Net & Restoring Cuts
Last fall, we launched an aggressive campaign to maintain the integrity of our state’s safety net. Together, our advocacy, paired with real stories from our members, prevented new cuts to TANF, Disability Lifeline Medical, State Food Assistance, State Family Assistance, and the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program.

And finally, we were able to restore a 2011 cut to Working Connections Child Care. By restoring eligibility to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) from 175% FPL, we were able to bring back 1,000 subsidized childcare slots for working parents. Furthermore, the TANF large family cap was restored to the 2011 level, returning full benefits to nearly 2,000 families, including many refugee families.

These wins are a direct result of Olympia hearing from our network and could not have happened without their hard work. Thank you to all Poverty Action members for helping thousands of families across Washington State.

In Solidarity,
Your Poverty Action Network Staff
Marcy, Tony, Danielle, Senait, Kate, Julia and E.J.

For more information about the Statewide Poverty Action Network, contact us at info@povertyaction.org. Or click here to join our network!

Poverty Action members march & rally on MLK Day 2 (Presidents' Day 2012, as the MLK Day events were snowed out)

Poverty Action members march & rally on MLK Day 2 (Presidents' Day 2012, as the MLK Day events were snowed out)

Have they no shame?

 “If you are a poor woman, let me just say, tonight is not your night.”
– Senator Brown

These words from Senator Brown came shortly before 1am on Saturday morning after Senate Republicans, with the assistance of three Democrats, took over the Senate floor using an arcane parliamentary procedure and passed a shameful all-cuts budget.

The budget passed early Saturday morning is, indeed, incredibly harmful to low-income women across the state. The Senate’s budget makes $202 million in cuts to our state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This includes an additional 2% grant cut, lowering the lifetime limit to 48 months, and a loss of 4,000 child care slots.

Knowing that the public supports a safety net for our state’s most vulnerable, these lawmakers kept their budget proposal quiet, held no hearings on it, and forced a vote before most lawmakers even had a chance to read the proposal. Now that we can actually read this budget, here are the details on the over $350 million in cuts to the state’s safety net:

•    It cuts funding for our state’s struggling families, those who are on TANF, by $202 million.
•    It eliminates the Disability Lifeline Medical program for 15,000 low-income disabled adults.
•    It eliminates the State Food Assistance Program, which provides food to 12,000 immigrant families each month.
•    It cuts more than $40 million from the Housing and Essential Needs program.

This is unacceptable. This is an attack on our state’s commitment to care for all Washingtonians, regardless of income. As if that’s not enough, the budget passed by the Senate on Saturday morning directly contradicts the public testimony and presence of thousands of citizens who came to Olympia or contacted legislators urging them to protect the safety net.

We still have a chance to make a difference. This budget, while shameful, still needs to go to the House for concurrence. Your lawmakers in both the House and the Senate need to hear from you today.

Lawmakers must see these messages everywhere they look: in their inboxes, in their voicemails, and in their local papers. Please take these three actions now!

1.    Send them an email and urge them to stand strong for our state’s safety net.
2.    Call them at 1.800.562.6000 and tell them that you support a budget for all Washingtonians.
3.    Use our template to send a letter to the editor of your paper in support of low-income women and children, in support of people with disabilities, and in support of our immigrant and refugee communities.

Marcy Bowers is Director of Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network, which builds grassroots power to end causes of poverty and create opportunities for everyone to prosper.

Poverty Action members inspire at Lobby Day 2012

Although I have been a Statewide Poverty Action Network member for many years, I had yet to experience one of the most fun and important events they hold every year: the annual Lobby Day at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Traditionally held on MLK Day as a day of service, this year’s originally scheduled event was cancelled due to the Puget Sound area’s Snowpocalypse 2012 – so Poverty Action rescheduled for Presidents’ Day.

Justin & Timothy at rally, Lobby Day 2012

New and longtime Poverty Action members come together to help "Save Our Safety Net"

Lobby Day is an inspiring combination of community mobilization, education/awareness about the most pressing legislative issues currently affecting people living on low incomes in WashingtonState, and group action. As event photographer (see slideshow below), I got to experience the day in solidarity with people who had some truly moving stories to share – and I participated alongside them as we made our voices heard with our legislators.

Building momentum, setting the stage
The day started with a gathering at the Women’s Club of Olympia. The room was packed with both longtime and new Poverty Action members. Poverty Action is guided by a Board comprised mostly of people living on low incomes from around Washington State. Board member Ligia Velázquez of Lynnwood and Board Chair David Northover of the Yakama Nation co-MCed the morning’s events, which gave us all a wealth of information from Poverty Action staff and members. Ligia seamlessly interpreted in Spanish as needed to keep the large number of Spanish-speaking attendees in the loop.

Executive Director Marcy Bowers fired us up first thing with her State of the Movement Address, giving us a sense of the power of our collective voice. Then Legislative Coordinator Kate Baber gave a “Save Our Safety Net” Briefing, providing background info to help us understand the importance of saving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and DL (Disability Lifeline) benefits.

To put a human face to how people who rely on TANF and DL will be impacted if funding for these vital programs is not restored, member Adrienne Karls graciously shared her personal story. A former medical worker who made a decent living, she lost everything to hospital bills following a bad car accident. Disability Lifeline was truly the lifeline that pulled her out of homelessness and helped her regain her dignity. She brought home the reality that any of us might someday need that safety net intact.

Throughout the morning, other individual members’ stories grounded our purpose. One young single mom described how she had to give up her job when she had a child, because after paying for childcare, she couldn’t afford rent. Thanks to TANF, she has been able to support herself and her daughter and is two months away from completing her AA degree, which will help her qualify for a living wage job.

Community Organizer Senait Brown also gave us a Racial Equity Briefing, describing how the proposed TANF/DL cuts disproportionately affect people of color. One Latina member, who had organized a large group of family and friends to attend Lobby Day, stood up and shared how people in her community are suffering from the TANF/DL cuts as well.

Finally, a performance by member James King gave everyone a chance to sit back and absorb the meaning of this information. James read an essay in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which he had originally prepared to read on MLK Day) and then led us all in an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Members Peter Zimmerman & Adrienne Karls in front of the Capitol building

Lobbying 101
Next came the beginning of the real action: We broke into groups by our legislative districts, and Campaign Manager Danielle Friedman gave us a quick and dirty training on lobbying. The Spanish-speaking members caucused as well. We shared our personal stories (or those of people we care about) around the importance of saving our safety net, and we crafted talking points to bring up when we met with lawmakers’ legislative aides. We also wrote heartfelt letters and postcards to lawmakers, to be hand delivered later.

Fueled by members’ inspiring stories (and lunch), we marched en masse toward the Capitol in our purple “Save Our Safety Net” T-shirts, stopping for a rally at Trivoli Fountain. Our numbers grew as coalition partner groups joined us from all directions, carrying banners and signs reflecting our shared priorities. Undaunted by the misty rain and soggy grass, Poverty Action members and partners danced and chanted and connected in solidarity, pumping each other up for meeting with our lawmakers.

Taking action!
The day’s events culminated in an additional short march to the sundial across from the Capitol building, and then legislative district teams set off to drop off letters and postcards at our lawmakers’ offices. Many of us had the chance to deliver our messages directly, using the power of speech and conviction, via face-to-face meetings with legislative aides.

Even though I’m very familiar with Poverty Action’s work, the impact of what they do really hit home when I met some of their newest members. One guy who had been brought to the events by a friend confessed to me in the morning that previously, he had no interest in politics. He honestly believed it wouldn’t make a difference if he voted, and despite salt and pepper hair giving away his years, he had never even registered to vote. By the end of this Lobby Day 2012, he had led chants while marching, written letters to his lawmakers, talked with a legislative aide, signed up to be a Poverty Action member – and was scrambling to find out how to register to vote as soon as possible.

 Now THAT’S showing people their voices matter. That’s Poverty Action IN ACTION. 

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The Statewide Poverty Action Network is part of Solid Ground’s Advocacy Department. Poverty Action builds grassroots power to end causes of poverty and create opportunities for everyone to prosper. They envision a state where people of all income levels fully promote and participate in building the fabric of socially, politically, and economically just communities. For more info and to get involved, visit www.povertyaction.org.

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