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

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