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.

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.

Advocacy Alert: Tell WA legislators we want a balanced approach to the budget

Editor’s Note: This report is from Solid Ground’s advocacy experts at the Statewide Poverty Action Network.

Yesterday, Governor Gregoire released an outline of how she would close the state’s $2 billion budget deficit. Her proposal deeply cuts essential services for low-income families, children, immigrants, seniors and people living with disabilities. If implemented, these cuts would eliminate public safety net programs that thousands of Washingtonians rely on to survive, cost our state thousands of jobs, and set back our economic recovery.

Contact your lawmakers and demand that they take a more balanced approach to the budget by raising revenue instead of eliminating crucial public services!

Our communities have already endured $10 billion in cuts over the past three years. At a time when safety net programs are needed more than ever, the Governor has proposed to drastically cut and eliminate healthcare coverage, dental care, housing and food assistance, subsidized childcare, and income supports for thousands of people living on low incomes. These proposed cuts come at a time when communities across the state are just beginning to feel the deep impacts of the over $4 billion in cuts still rolling out from the 2011 Legislative Session. It is unfathomable to think that our families, friends and communities can handle more cuts to vital services during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

It is irresponsible to continue to cut programs our communities depend on while Wall Street Banks profit from unfair tax breaks. In Washington State, nearly 890,000 people now live below the federal poverty line. We need to get our priorities straight: End unfair tax breaks to fund essential services and create jobs.

Legislators can do right by our state by closing unfair tax loopholes and raising needed revenue during November’s special legislative session. And if they can’t reach a two-thirds majority in the legislature, they should let the people decide with a referendum.

Tell your lawmakers to end unfair tax breaks and raise needed revenue. New budget cuts to programs people depend on are too much for families living on low incomes to bear.

Tenant Tip: Changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act

Washington State capitol building

Washington State capitol building

Several sections of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) recently changed and took effect as of July 22, 2011. The changes to these sections of the law came about through a consensus-based process between landlord groups and tenant advocates working with state legislators in passing this bill. Because of the consensus process, there are many more changes that tenant advocates would like to see made to the RLTA, however many of those changes did not take effect during the last legislative session.

The next several tenant tips will discuss these changes, give a brief overview of what they mean for tenants, and describe how they may be different from the laws prior to this bill passing.

Because the tenant tip is not legal advice and cannot be regarded as such, this general information can be used for tenants to learn about the law changes and understand how they may affect someone’s particular situation as well as what steps to take in asserting renters’ rights based on the law.

The law changes include:

  • new sections added to the RLTA .
  • language that was removed or added to existing sections.
  • clarifications to some definitions.

While several tenant tips to follow in the next few months will address each change and give more detailed information, tenants can access the state’s legislature website to read on Substitute House Bill 1266, which includes the changes to the RLTA.

The information contained in these Tenant Tips or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Stand up for your rights!

Statewide Poverty Action Network and concerned citizens around the state are joining together to make sure that Washington State does not balance its budget on the backs of its most vulnerable citizens. Here’s a little video call to action:

Join Poverty Action for Lobby Tuesdays, Phone Bank Thursdays and Members in Action Nights.

Call 866.789.7726 or email Senait Brown to get involved.

Poverty Action members at the 2011 MLK Day Rally in Olympia

I’m in!

Seahawks tap the "I'm In" sign on their way to the field

I'm in! Seattle Seahawks players tap this sign on the way from locker room to practice field as a reminder of the commitment it takes to succeed.

At Solid Ground we talk a lot about the importance of advocacy. We work to get you involved in the political process. We lobby for funding and initiatives that strengthen our community by providing equal opportunities to people living on low incomes.

We’ve cajoled you online and in our newsletters. We phone bank you and blast emails to get you to sign petitions, send cards to the legislature and phone the Governor. And our Statewide Poverty Action Network has supported folks with low incomes around the state in claiming their political voice and building their power in Olympia.

As Solid Ground’s Communications Manager, I’ve personally reached out to thousands of you to engage you in the political system. And while I’ve made my share of phone calls to elected officials and written and signed many petitions, I need to own up to something here. I’ve never made the trip to Olympia to meet one-on-one with the people who represent me in the Washington State Legislature.

But this year, I’m in! And you need to be in, too.

We’ve all heard about the crisis in the state budget. You can bet that corporate interests will be well represented in the state capitol, protecting their slice of the pie.

Like the much maligned Seattle Seahawks, folks who care about the fate of working class people in our communities are huge underdogs. We really need to fully commit to the cause this year. We need to commit our hearts and souls, our phone calls, letters and visits, if we are to to protect the very fabric of our community— the ability to protect and provide for the most vulnerable among us. To keep our Hawks metaphor alive: We need to Always Compete and put it all out on the field, if we are to have any chance to succeed.

Poverty Action members rally on the steps of the Capitol

People power!

So, Monday, January 17, I am celebrating Martin Luther King Day by tapping the “I’m In” touchstone and joining hundreds of other people in Olympia to lobby the Washington State Legislature to strengthen our communities by:

  • Protecting people from foreclosure by implementing a foreclosure mediation process in the state. Foreclosure mediation would give homeowners an opportunity to sit down with their lender to discuss alternatives before losing their home and most valuable asset. Twenty-three other jurisdictions — state and municipalities — have some sort of mediation process to seek foreclosure alternatives. These programs have found that 60% of people participating in mediation avoid losing their homes.
  • Supporting programs that will help people with low incomes build up their assets and create opportunities to prosper.
  • Ensuring access to TANF, Disability Lifeline and other programs that help people maintain their dignity.

Join Poverty Action on the Capitol for MLK Day to advocate for the issues important to you and your community.

For more information or to reserve your spot, please contact Kate.

Transportation, breakfast & lunch, & interpretation are available. Children are welcome to join.

I’m in! Are you?

Keeping Perspective after a Tough Election

(Editor’s Note: Marcy Bowers is the Membership and Communications Coordinator for the Statewide Poverty Action Network, a program of Solid Ground that works to build grassroots power to end the root causes of poverty and create opportunities for everyone to prosper.)

Volunteer canvassers in Tacoma

I confess. I’m an eternal optimist. I believe in crazy notions like “things will always get better,” and “there is always something gained, even when things go wrong.” I think this is what drove me to choose a career in organizing, what has kept me in this field for the past eight years, and what allows me to keep going in the face of devastating election losses.

This year in Washington, voters faced a record seven statewide ballot measures. Of those seven measures, three (I-1098, I-1053, and I-1107) will directly impact our state’s ability to balance the budget without making drastic cuts to the programs and services that people depend on to survive.

Reflecting a national wave of anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric, those three measures decidedly “went wrong:”

• I-1098 would have created a limited income tax on Washington’s wealthiest 1%, bringing in over $2 billion a year for healthcare and education. It failed, 65% to 35%.

• I-1053, this year’s Tim Eyman disaster, will require a two-thirds vote in the legislature or a vote of the people to raise taxes or close corporate tax loopholes. In this economy, this measure will surely mean more budget cuts. It passed, 65% to 35%

• I-1107 repealed a small tax on soda, bottled water, candy and gum that Poverty Action and other advocates passed during last year’s legislative session. These taxes would have brought in $300 million a year for schools, kids’ health care, domestic violence and sexual assault services, and many other basic services. It passed, 62% to 38%.

So, let’s get back to that optimism thing. How in the world can I possibly be optimistic when Washington is facing another $4.5 billion budget deficit and voters just repealed taxes and made it nearly impossible to raise revenue in 2011? How can I possibly be hopeful knowing that, as a result, Washington State is poised to be the first state to cut prescription drug benefits for people on Medicaid?

Canvassers' toolkit: clipboard and educational materials

To be honest, there’s not a lot of hope to be found if I only look at those daunting questions. For me, it’s about taking a wider view of election organizing and remembering that elections are only partly about the issues on the ballot. I became an organizer to help build political power in low-income communities, not just to pass or defeat ballot measures. The work of building political power is simply too big and too important to achieve in just one election season. It’s about the process of building trust and community, engaging new and infrequent voters, registering voters whose right to vote was recently restored, and talking to people about why their vote matters and how issues on the ballot will impact their communities.

Even with devastating election losses, I can still be proud of the work Poverty Action did this year to register over 1,200 new voters. I can still find hope in the knowledge that we reached out to 12,000 voters in low-income communities and communities of color and talked about the real impact of this year’s ballot measures on their communities. I will be encouraged when I remember that the building blocks to real political power are found in the countless conversations we had at transitional housing facilities, in food bank lines, and at resource fairs this summer and fall.

And those numbers and conversations matter. In a state where gubernatorial elections have been decided by just 133 votes (Gregoire in 2004), 1,200 newly registered voters, armed with knowledge and ownership of their role in state politics, can easily decide the outcome of future statewide elections in Washington. From my perspective, it’s hard to not feel optimistic about that!

Are we seriously talking about cutting GAU again?

We all hope that if we face a job loss or become disabled, we will have the support we need and the opportunity for a good quality of life. Strong public systems like General Assistance for the Unemployable (GAU), which is in the process of being renamed the Disability Lifeline, ensure all people can meet their basic needs when times are tough, as well as lay the foundation for economic recovery.No More Cuts

GAU/Disability Lifeline is more than just a social service program for people unable to work due to physical and mental disability. It is the assurance that, if something terrible happens that inhibits your ability to work, you will have some support. The $339 monthly cash grant and medical coverage that this program provides is often the difference between housing and homelessness, between a meal and going hungry. Currently, 21,000 people rely on GAU/Disability Lifeline to pay rent, cover critical medications, and pay for basic needs. Despite all of this, both the Governor and the Senate have proposed to drastically cut this much-needed program.

In their proposals, both the Governor and the Senate limit the amount of time a person can receive GAU, and the Senate reduces the already small monthly grant to a $50 stipend. This is outrageous. Now is not the time to make such drastic reductions to this crucial program. With less than one week left in the legislative session and legislators debating their budget proposals as I type, we must act NOW! We must urge our legislators to raise more revenue to protect GAU and the other critical programs that help people meet their basic needs.

At Poverty Action, we combed through the budget proposals so you wouldn’t have to. Check out our analysis of all three budget proposals.

Email your lawmakers or call them toll-free at 1-800-562-6000 and urge them to raise more revenue to protect the Disability Lifeline, formerly GAU, and other crucial programs. If you or someone close to you would be personally affected by the elimination of GAU or any other crucial program, please include that in your message.

Thanks for taking action to provide economic security for people with disabilities!

What’s up with the legislators supporting banks instead of homeowners?

Several weeks ago the bill SB 6648 was turned down by the Washington State House. This bill would have given homeowners a second chance to avoid foreclosure. Lenders would have been required to participate in a mediation to evaluate if there is an affordable and sustainable means to keeping the home, as opposed to selling the home at an auction sale. Reasonable criteria would have been established and lenders would have been required to implement modifications under the current FDIC programs. Moreover, banks would have been mandated to create a fair and open process that would have benefited both, the lenders and homeowners.

Bank balancing on the rotunda of the Capitol in OlympiaIn other words, homeowners currently in foreclosure and heading into foreclosure sale would have been given a second chance to keep their homes. The lenders, on the other hand, would have been able to get an expedited process to help mitigate their losses in addition to mitigating expenses related to foreclosure which can amount up to $70,000 in fees per foreclosure sale. Banks end up buying these properties and selling them at a discounted price, which translates into more losses for the investor and a trickle down effect on the value of properties around neighborhoods. Continue reading

Washington can’t afford another all-cuts budget

Our communities thrive when all people can meet their basic needs and have opportunities to prosper. Our state has invested in our shared future by providing health care for kids, ensuring support for seniors and disabled adults, and increasing access to education. Last year, facing a $9 billion budget deficit, the legislature made devastating cuts to the public systems that help people meet their basic needs and provide for the health of our communities. These cuts caused 40,000 people to lose their health care, thousands of people with disabilities to lose their only source of income, and halved funding for affordable housing.
Washington citizens rally in Olympia in favor of increasing state revenue through taxes

Citizens rally for revenue, thanks to Fuse WA for the photo.

We can’t afford another all-cuts budget. It is time for our state to raise revenue. This Presidents’ Day,  February 15, an estimated 6,000 people rallied at the Capitol to call on our lawmakers to raise revenue to protect these investments and prevent another round of painful budget cuts. Newspapers, TV and radio across the state covered the rally that Poverty Action activist, Solid Ground staff, and Long Term Care Ombudsman Rose Floyd (wow – what a rockstar!) described as “diverse in every way possible, spirited, and optimistic.” She added that “it was a joy to be there. I think it was encouraging to those lawmakers who want to lead on increased revenue.”

These numbers are more evidence that Washingtonians overwhelmingly want a responsible state budget that protects our economic future by closing tax loopholes and raising new revenue. Demonstrators showed their strong opposition to more devastating cuts to health care, education, seniors and the environment.

We can’t let up now! Your state lawmakers need to hear from you TODAY. Send them an email and urge them to raise revenue to protect the public systems that help families meet their basic needs and have opportunities to prosper.

Honor the Presidents by getting involved!

What better way to celebrate President’s Day than with meaningful civic engagement?!

Rally to protect our economic future, THIS MONDAY FEBRUARY 15th.

Revenue rally posterOur communities thrive when all people can meet their basic needs and have opportunities to prosper. During the worst economic crisis in modern history, our state should continue to provide resources for Washington families as they struggle to weather the recession.

Last year, the Washington State legislature passed a devastating all-cuts budget that left 40,000 new people without healthcare, cut services for seniors and people with disabilities, and caused tuition hikes to our state’s community colleges and universities.

We can’t afford another all-cuts budget. Your lawmakers must hear from you! They need to hear that YOU want them to explore revenue options to help us create jobs and opportunities, protect our most vulnerable and build a secure economic future for our state.

Join Poverty Action and Solid Ground for a rally at NOON in Olympia on Monday, February 15. We must protect our economic future!

Another take on lobbying in Olympia

Check out this great article in Real Change. Kudos to the Statewide Poverty Action Network for organizing a great day of rallying, skill building and lobbying on MLK Day!

Nancy Amidei training folks to lobby

Nancy Amidei, patron saint of citizen lobbyists!

Their side had lawyers, we had humans

In the last week and a half, Peter Zimmerman has gone to Olympia three times to advocate and lobby on behalf of people who are homeless or struggling to get by on low incomes.  

Capt. Z. takes on Olympia

He has handed petitions to the Governor and legislative leaders calling on a budget that enhances revenues to protect vital programs, helped members of the Spokane Tribe of Indians to meet with their legislators, and testified in support of a bill that would create a common application fee for renters, easing a financial burden on what is a serious barrier to housing for low income folks.  

Advocacy in Olympia can seem intimidating to folks who have not done it. While Peter has only been speaking up publically on these issues for a year and a half or so, he has gained great insight and experience that can help us all do a better job jumping into the public policy pool. 

In the coming weeks and months Peter will share firsthand on this blog some of his experiences and reactions to the legislative session. But for now, please consider some excerpts from a recent conversation, which I’ll call: 

 Peter’s Top 10 Tips for Citizen Lobbyists Continue reading

Tenant Screening: a Housing Barrier for the 21st Century

For those not familiar with the tenant screening industry, or what tenant screening is, be prepared for a rude awakening.

Currently residents in Washington State are hit with repeated fees in background checks for housing applications, often paying hundreds of dollars for screening reports that can contain misleading or inaccurate information with no recourse to dispute their record. People are denied housing time and again for reasons they are never told from reports they never get to see. The hardest hit are the people already struggling with significant barriers to housing, such as domestic violence survivors, renters evicted from foreclosure, and homeless families.

In the next few days the state legislature will be voting on whether to keep a proposed bill (HB 2622) alive that would remedy many of the outrageous practices of this industry. The only hope the bill has is if Washington state residents call the legislative committee members to demand this bill be kept alive. The next few days are a crucial time: to learn how you can help go to Solid Ground’s Tenant Services Blog.

Continue reading

Peter Zimmerman rocks Olympia

Solid Ground Advisory Council member Peter Zimmerman had more than his Warholian share of fame this week, garnering coverage on radio, TV and the web as a representative of the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition

Peter, repping Seattle, courtesy Hella Bus

Peter and 20,000 friends, courtesy Washington Bus

Kudos to Peter for keeping his cool under the media glare and delivering 20,000 signatures to Governor Gregoire and our lawmakers, calling on revenue enhancements to help save Washington’s fiscal bacon without taking it all out on cuts to the programs that serve hardworking low-income folks.  

Peter, & Governor Gregoire, from Hella Bus

Peter and Governor Gregoire, courtesy Washington Bus

You can read all about it on this post at our good friends Hella Bus, the blog o’ Washington Bus. 

KUOW 94.9 in Seattle carried this story about the movement to increase revenue in the state. 

Peter will be reporting in a future post here about his experiences lobbying in Olympia this coming week!

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