Sonya Campion celebrated

Sonya Campion (Campion Foundation photo)

Sonya Campion (photo courtesy of the Campion Foundation)

Sonya Campion and the Campion Foundation have long been among the most powerful champions of the role nonprofits play in moving public policy through advocacy. This summer they were recognized for their visionary leadership by being named to the Top 50 Power & Influence list published by the The NonProfit Times.

“Campion is a rare hybrid of talented fundraiser and shrewd funder,” writes the Times, a nationally recognized leader covering nonprofit management. “The social entrepreneurs in the Northwest also love her passion for new ideas and methods of ‘catalytic philanthropy’ and service. Now she’s collaborating to push board members to speak up for and advocate for organizational mission.”

Campion has long supported Solid Ground and our Statewide Poverty Action Network advocacy branch.

“Sonya Campion understands that the support of advocacy and systems change work is key to ending homelessness. Her understanding of the importance of strong nonprofit operations has benefited so many in our community,” states Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO of Solid Ground. “Campion’s work has encouraged nonprofits to work together and believe in the strength of collaboration when addressing issues that affect us all. Her leadership has allowed nonprofits, funders and the community to have substantive conversations on how to create significant change.”

“Solid Ground and our community are blessed to collaborate with Campion,” McHenry says. “Her personal and foundation support of our advocacy and our operations has been extremely important in helping us fulfill our mission to end poverty.”

Voting Rights Act: democracy’s umbrella


VOTE4Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

 -President Lyndon B. Johnson
March 15, 1965

These words preceded the historic August 6, 1965 signing of the Voting Rights Act. Today is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing, which celebrates the significant enfranchisement of voters but also reminds us of our responsibility to relentlessly protect this fundamental right of democracy.

In a special message, President Lyndon B. Johnson demanded that Congress pass the Voting Rights Act (VRA), protecting African Americans’ ability to vote. Until that point, southern states had imposed racist voting laws, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, specifically designed to create barriers for African American voters.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders previously pressured Johnson to pass voting rights legislation, but despite his sympathetic stance, Johnson could not reconcile the political landscape with his desire to aid the Civil Rights movement.  Johnson’s presidential opponent Senator Barry Goldwater was already gaining traction in southern states by questioning the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Bill.

Only after America witnessed police assaulting nonviolent Selma marchers did Johnson have the popular mandate to deliver his iconic speech. It was the fortunate collision of a forward-looking president, brave Alabama activism, and horrific police brutality that allowed a politically divided country to pass the VRA on this day in 1965.

On a state level, activists and organizers have worked to build on the impact of the VRA. In 2009, Solid Ground’s advocacy branch, the Statewide Poverty Action Network, joined with the ACLU of Washington to pass the Voting Rights Restoration Act, which restored voting rights to approximately 400,000 previously incarcerated people in our state.

VOTE3

Solid Ground staff & volunteers join CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. to help get out the vote.

Marcy Bowers, Poverty Action Director, said: “The legacy of the VRA is as important today as it was 50 years ago. Our country still struggles to make peace with its history of slavery and racism. We see this in the news daily: members of the African American and Latino communities dying at the hands of a militarized police force, brave activists demanding change, and a federal government struggling to find the political will to make the needed changes.

“Because of the disproportionate number of people of color in our criminal justice system, this law greatly expanded voting rights for many people of color in our state. Since 2009, Poverty Action’s election efforts have included a special focus on reaching and educating these voters about their rights, as well as registering and engaging them in voting. Through this outreach, we have reached thousands of voters, ensuring that they can access the promises of the national VRA.”

In the year 2013, the Supreme Court decided to strike down the preclearance provision of the VRA. The provision forced historically racist states to get federal approval for their voting procedures. Chief Justice Roberts gutted one of the most effective acts in American history on the basis that racism is not the problem it was 50 years ago. Following the decision, six of nine states announced plans to move forward with more restrictive voter ID laws.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

On this 50th anniversary of the VRA, we must renew the call to ensure that everyone can access the most basic, fundamental right of our democracy. If you’re interested in volunteering with Poverty Action to register voters this summer, please contact Davíd at david@povertyaction.org.

Session is officially over: The dust has settled!

After 176 days and edging into a 3rd special session, Washington state’s 2015 legislative session ended in the second week of July. The final budget includes $185 million in new revenue from closing several tax loopholes and increasing some fees. It takes key steps to strengthen our state safety net; invest in early learning, K-12 and college education; provide emergency mental health services; and more.

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Working closely with our communities, we are happy to report that our advocacy led to important wins for equity in Washington state. Here is how our main campaigns fared:

Basic Needs
After years of cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), we saw a 9% increase in the cash grant! This increase also benefits immigrant families who rely on State Family Assistance to meet their basic needs. State Food Assistance was funded fully at 100% (instead of 75%) of the federal SNAP benefit, assisting immigrant families living on low incomes in buying enough food for their families. And Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) now has a 12-month eligibility assessment, which means that a parent won’t lose help with childcare if their income increases slightly due to extra hours or overtime from one month to another.

Unfortunately state funding for Washington Telephone Assistance Program (WTAP), including Community Voice Mail (CVM), was eliminated. CVM provides a stable, secure way for people facing homelessness or who are in crisis to stay connected to critical resources – such as housing and employment opportunities – and accomplish their goals.

Roadblocks to Re-Entry (for previously incarcerated people)
All three of our main campaign priorities – Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP), and Ban the Box – gained positive momentum this year though none were passed into law. The LFO bill was voted out of the House almost unanimously and was moving through the Senate before an amended version died on the floor. We are excited to build on this momentum next session!

Consumer Protections
Due to a groundswell of opposition from all across the state, including a lot of media attention, we prevented “small installment loans” (the new payday loan) from being passed. We also prevented passage of several other laws that would weaken our debt protections. We’ll most likely have to keep fighting this fight in the years to come, but it’s worth it. The strong consumer protections you passed in 2009 have saved Washington consumers nearly half a billion dollars in fines and fees.

Your emails, phone calls, stories, and letters supporting revenue and investments in equity in our state made a real difference! Thank you for all the ways you made your voice heard this legislative session to generate revenue and invest in all families in our state. Visit the Statewide Poverty Action Network website for more information.

We have a lot to be proud of: Seattle Pride 2015

 This post was contributed by Lara Sim, Senior Public Policy Campaign Manager, Statewide Poverty Action Network and Debbie Carlsen, Executive Director, LGBTQ Allyship.

Anchored in the iconic Seattle Pride Parade along 4th Avenue, this year’s Seattle Pride showcased the dynamic community in which we live. Following our victories for marriage equality in Washington state, dismantling the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and advances in transgender rights in Washington, the events this year had a certain electric element.

Dominating the celebration was the jubilant feeling that accompanied Friday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality: It is now legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love. The decision is a historic victory for LGBTQ rights activists who have fought for years in the lower courts. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality. The remaining 13 states had banned these unions, even as public support has reached record levels nationwide. What a victory for equity and human dignity!

PrideHands

Pride parades began as a result of years of repression by the government. This year’s 41st Seattle Pride celebrated the progress we have made in equality and social justice and put a spotlight on the work still ahead of us. That work includes addressing barriers, such as laws on the books that still legalize discrimination.

In his welcome, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray shared some harrowing numbers and reminded us that “in 76 countries, it is still illegal to be LGBTQ and in 10 countries, the punishment is life in prison or death. We know these laws are on the wrong side of history.” During Pride and beyond, we saw our community and our allies come together to make the call for equality and non-discrimination. At Pride, this was the call to action, and we intend to take up the mantle.

The parade itself was humid, rowdy and loud. And it was filled with glitter and love. Over 200 groups pranced, waved and blew kisses from Union StPrideBeadsreet to Denny Way. We found the 2½ hours of revelry grounded in respect, courage and commitment. Organizers reminded us that Seattle’s Pride Parade is one of the top five parades in the country and that the head count was upwards of a half a million people! As the parade wound down, the crowd made its way to the Seattle Center. To see so many rolling around in the International Fountain after the drizzle of rain earlier in the morning was the perfect blend of silly, celebratory and quintessential Seattle.

Alongside all the merriment, State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu reminded us the fight isn’t over. From her published bio, Justice Yu is the state’s first out lesbian Justice, the first Asian-American Justice, the first Latina Justice, and the 11th woman to ever serve on the Washington Supreme Court. She prompted us to get involved:

For so many of us, acceptance and subsequent success came from an adult or mentor who reached out during a critical time in our lives. You too can be that beacon of hope or voice of comfort for a young person struggling through one of their toughest periods of life. Together we can assist and empower our youth to embrace their identity as they strive for self-sufficiency.”

She is right, of course: The fight isn’t over. For 40 years, in the long arc of struggle for acceptance, we see history changing at breakneck speed. As more LGBTQ individuals pick up the mantle of advocacy, they will help create a world our community never dreamed possible.

Demand fair revenue!

Protester calls for fair revenue in OlympiaFair revenue means asking everyone to pay their fair share and ending the perpetual cycle of revenue crises, while creating a state where everyone can meet their needs. Tell your Washington state lawmakers that it is time to raise fair revenue!

Our state has the most unfair tax system in the nation. Low-income and middle-income people in our state pay seven times more taxes – as a proportion of income – than our state’s wealthiest folks.

Only a few cents of every dollar the state spends on its constitutional obligations (education, highway patrol, etc.) were generated by Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes. Worse still, these business taxes were paid almost entirely by small businesses! Last year, five of our biggest industries combined – aerospace, high-tech, agriculture, timber and mining – contributed only 4% of all the B&O taxes collected. That’s right: Altogether they paid a fraction of a cent on every dollar of taxes collected. Now that is unfair revenue!

Unsurprisingly, this upside-down tax system disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families the most.

Fair revenue allows us to use our dollars effectively. For example, it allows us to fund both education and social services, instead of pretending that you can gut one to fund the other and call it a “solution.” The good news is that real solutions abound. These solutions are:

  • Fair: Ensuring the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share by creating a state capital gains tax. This would tax profits from the sale of corporate stocks and other luxury financial assets.
  • Accountable: Eliminating wasteful tax breaks by closing tax loopholes for banks, oil refineries, and many others.
  • Sufficient: Raising needed revenue for education through putting a price on carbon pollution.

It’s time for our lawmakers to stop wasting our tax dollars by ignoring the solutions in front of them that support our basic needs, fully fund education, and help small businesses grow. By raising fair revenue, we can ensure that we are treating all our residents justly, regardless of race and class. But equally important, we also ensure that our growing economy supports a state where everyone prospers – rather than a state of haves and have-nots.

New Special Session means a new action! Email your lawmakers and ask them to support the fair revenue solutions put forth in the latest House budget proposal. The House budget takes a step in the right direction by making sure our wealthiest residents are held responsible for their fair share through a capital gains tax, and by increasing accountability through closing tax breaks for large profitable corporations.

Share your story: ‘It’s the most powerful thing you can do’

Poverty Action Member, Nacol, and her kids at 2014 MLK Lobby Day

Statewide Poverty Action Network member, Nacol, & her kids at 2014 MLK Lobby Day

Statewide Poverty Action Network member Nacol shares her powerful story. You, too, can make your voice heard through the Sharing Personal Experience As Knowledge (SPEAK) campaign.

“Five years ago, I fled a domestic violence situation with my two-year-old twin daughters – and one suitcase. I spent two years living in shelters while I searched for resources. One of my biggest barriers to stability continues to be the lack of resources for one of my daughters, who lives with a disability. Because of this disability, I am always on call to pick up my daughter from school and cannot afford childcare. It is hard to find a job that is flexible enough to fit the needs of my children.

I want to work and want the best for my daughters.

I receive $478 per month through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for myself and my family. While this money helps a great deal, it is not enough.

I am forced to choose between school supplies and clothes for my children, and paying our rent and utility bills.

TANF is really important though. Because I receive TANF, I was able to more easily obtain transitional housing, and TANF’s emergency assistance program helped me when I needed it.

I would like to see improvements to TANF, such as increasing the asset limits for TANF recipients. The few times I had any money to save, I didn’t do it because I was worried that I would lose my TANF benefits. I shouldn’t have to choose between saving for my family’s future and accessing resources to meet our basic needs now.

As a person who has life experience, I think sharing my story is so important. Step up and let someone know how you feel. Go down and talk to your representatives. I think it’s the most powerful thing you can do.”

Nacol, Member
Statewide Poverty Action Network

By stepping up and telling her story, Nacol, along with other members of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, were powerful enough to prevent $87.8 million in cuts to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs. To learn more or share your story, visit povertyaction.org.

MLK Lobby Day: Making our voices heard

In late 2005, Marcy Bowers, now Director of Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network, was hired as a Community Organizer to support their first-ever MLK Lobby Day event. Ten years later, this large gathering of people from all over Washington state is still going strong, mobilizing hundreds of people living on low incomes and their allies to come together in Olympia on MLK Day to advocate with their state senators and representatives, and to promote change during the legislative session.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

In keeping with the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lobby Day is scheduled on his day of honor in hopes of stimulating action for social, racial and economic justice. Since it is a legal holiday, a greater number of working adults can attend than might on a typical work day.

Lobby Day is comprised of about six hours of speeches, advocacy training, and an “Activist Space”/photobooth where people can share their stories through photos and postcard writing. In the afternoon, participants fan out on the Capitol Campus for meetings with their own district legislators. This year, roughly 200 attendees participated in 90 meetings, with about 30 of Washington’s 49 districts represented. Community Organizer Davíd Reyes scheduled these meetings in advance of the event so that participants had the chance to make their voices heard with decision makers in their home districts.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

Before Lobby Day, the Poverty Action Board – comprised of a majority of people of color and people living on low incomes from all over the state – hosts listening sessions with members from across the state to establish the themes they will primarily advocate for throughout the legislative session. This year’s priorities included:

  • criminal justice reform through reduction or elimination of Legal Financial Obligations
  • a greater Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant
  • consumer protections against predatory lending and debt services

Lobby Day connects the public policies that shape the framework of our society and the individuals affected by it. Citizens who advocate for change on Lobby Day bring a personal face and story to the issues that most affect them – and by meeting with their lawmakers, they can see firsthand how their voice can make a significant impact, which can result in real changes. The event creates an indescribable sense of solidarity as individuals bond together as a community for the day.

Community Relations & Development Manager Roshni Sampath has been involved in Lobby Day activities for several years. Through the photographs staged in the Activist Space, she has watched families returning with their children growing older and more passionate as time passes on. Other moments captured this year are shown in the slideshow below.

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After Lobby Day, participants can continue to make their voices heard through the SPEAK project, as well as attending hearings in Olympia. It is important to not let the feeling of empowerment that Lobby Day imparts on attendees and supporters alike fade. Rather, we should build upon the energy from the legislative meetings, positive interactions and comradery between the districts to effect both immediate and long-term changes for Washington state’s low-income families and communities.

For more information about current issues, see Poverty Action’s 2015 Legislative Agenda online. And throughout the legislative session, you can stay in touch with legislative priority progress by signing up to receive their Network News, following their social media on Facebook and Twitter, or via their website.

Days of Action, Advocacy and Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take action for meaningful change on MLK Lobby Day, 1/19/15!

Greta Carlson is a Communications Intern with Solid Ground.

People of all ages and backgrounds can have a voice in Olympia on MLK Lobby Day!

People of all ages and backgrounds can have a voice in Olympia on MLK Lobby Day!

Traveling to Olympia with the Statewide Poverty Action Network on Monday, 1/19/15 for their annual Martin Luther King Lobby Day is sure to be a powerful and enriching experience. We encourage as many people to attend as possible to help advocate for legislation that will make a positive impact on low-income families in Washington state.

MLK Lobby Day facilitates people in meeting with their lawmakers to share their stories, which promotes the protection of resources necessary for thousands of people to meet basic daily needs. 

How to register:

Visit Poverty Action’s website today to fill out our short registration form. We’ll send you a confirmation email, and you’ll be set to go!

Plan of the day:

On MLK Day, Solid Ground will provide free transportation both to and from Olympia. Shuttles will depart at 7:30am on 1/19/15 from the headquarters building (1501 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103) and return in the afternoon after the events have concluded. There will also be a bus available leaving from Kent and a van leaving from Yakima.

Additionally, complimentary breakfast and lunch will be served with Vegetarian & Non-Vegetarian options available. (If you have any additional dietary needs, please bring your own food along to the event.) Childcare and language interpretation services are also provided for attendees as needed. And you can engage even further with the Poverty Action team as a volunteer to help with extra support needs for the event.

How to talk to your legislators:

During the morning, Poverty Action staff will provide an engaging, in-depth 1½-hour training session for all attendees on how to talk with legislators. After practicing, attendees will be divided into small groups by your home legislative districts and head out together for meetings with your legislators. Most districts will have three, 15-minute sessions scheduled with their state representatives and support staff. These meetings have an influence on our lawmakers, and their support of policies deeply impacts our local communities.

Top talking points:

There are three main issues that Poverty Action members have identified as top legislative agenda priorities this year: 1) Legal Financial Obligation (LFO) reform, 2) a greater TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) grant, and 3) consumer protections. These major topics affect many people living on low incomes across Washington state. MLK Lobby Day is an opportunity to tell your own stories and/or advocate for others in need of change and improvements at the state legislative level.

After all of the speeches, discussions and conversations that fuel MLK Lobby Day, the Poverty Action team will follow up with attendees via email about any progress made on the issues and topics brought up during their meetings with legislators.

The Martin Luther King Day holiday is a day off for most employees and students, however we hope you’ll consider coming and joining people all across the state to ensure that people have access to the basic resources and fair policies needed to reduce poverty in Washington state. Instead of taking the day OFF, join us for a powerful day ON: In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, let’s take action for meaningful change!

Poverty Action’s 2014 election positions

VOTE FOR A CHANGE imageOn Tuesday, November 4, you have the opportunity to cast your vote and weigh in on issues important to you and your community. The Statewide Poverty Action Network has taken a position on some of this year’s main ballot initiatives to help you consider their impacts. To avoid confusion on this year’s LOOOOOOONG ballot, we’ve listed our positions in the order in which they appear on the ballot.

Initiatives 591 & 594: Background checks for gun sales
Everyone in Washington state should be able to live in safe communities. Background checks provide an important tool in curbing gun violence. We need stronger, not weaker, background checks on gun sales.

Vote NO on Initiative 591
Vote NO buttonI-591 would weaken background checks and make gun sales less safe. Right now, federal background check laws are weaker than our laws here in Washington state. This initiative would roll back our state’s existing – and already inadequate – background check laws to conform to the weaker federal standards. For example, I-591 would repeal state law that prevents individuals with restraining orders against them from possessing a gun. Also, instead of closing unsafe gun show and internet loopholes, this initiative expands them. This is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Vote NO on I-591.

Vote YES on Initiative 594
Vote YES buttonI-594 would strengthen background checks and make gun sales safer. Currently in Washington state, not all gun sales require a background check. Licensed gun dealers use a background check, while gun shows and the internet take advantage of a loophole that allows them to avoid this safety measure. I-594 would eliminate this loophole and require every gun buyer in Washington state to pass the same background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from. Vote YES on I-594.

Seattle’s Proposition 1: Funding for transportation
If you live in Seattle, you have the opportunity to vote for Proposition 1. Affordable public transportation is the lifeblood of a growing city and region. Our friends, neighbors, and family members rely on the bus to get to work, school, and medical appointments. There are a number of Seattle Propositions and Measures with “1” in their titles – you’ll know this one because it is the very last measure on the Seattle ballot.

Vote YES on City of Seattle Proposition 1
Vote YES buttonCommunities of color, students, seniors, and working families will be affected by bus cuts if Seattle Proposition 1 doesn’t pass. This measure funds access to transit for riders living on low incomes and offers a low-income tax rebate on car tabs for working families. Vote YES on Proposition 1 in Seattle.

Still have questions about this year’s election?
Visit Poverty Action’s online Voter Guide to learn where the candidates stand on the issues you care most about.

Poverty Action Voter Guide now online

VotePoverty Action focuses on changing laws in Olympia, correcting injustices, and ensuring that every single person in our state can have their basic needs met and access to equal opportunity.

One of the best ways to make progress on our issues is by exercising the power to vote and electing political representatives who listen to the voices of people living on low incomes. This is why it is crucial that we understand each candidate’s stance on the issues that disproportionately impact low-income families and people of color, as well as our community at large.

Poverty Action asked candidates eight questions on topics ranging from health care to predatory lending, the safety net to institutional racism. Each election, we publish the candidate responses so that you can understand candidates’ positions on these vital issues.

The Poverty Action Voter Guide is now available online.

We hope you will use the guide to help you make informed decisions. You can expect your general election ballot in the mail this week. Ballots are due on Tuesday, November 4.

This election is critical to the well-being of our communities. These candidates will have substantial impacts on our everyday lives. Don’t let this election pass you by!

Mail in your ballot or put it in a local drop box by 8pm on Tuesday, November 4, 2014Lists of drop boxes can be found here:

For more information on Poverty Action and how to become a member, visit our website!

State’s leading anti-poverty advocate retires

If you’ve spent much time in the corridors of power around Olympia, you’ve no doubt heard The Laugh. It is disarmingly loud, boisterous and endearing. When Tony Lee unleashes, his laughter cascades over and through everything in its way. Perhaps it’s a secret to his success.

Tony!

Tony!

For nearly three decades, the last 19 years as Advocacy Director at Solid Ground, Tony has been the state’s leading lobbyist on issues impacting poor people. With his retirement this week, he steps out of the limelight to spend more time with his family.

Well known for his affable manner, keen analytical mind, and passionate commitment, Tony has had his hand in the creation and protection of many state policies that promote equity and equal opportunity for people living on low incomes in Washington State.

For instance, he was a driving force behind the creation of the state’s Food Assistance Program, which extended food benefits to tens of thousands of legal immigrants who were excluded from food stamp eligibility.

“Tony Lee is a really special human being, with a huge laugh, and huge heart and brains to go along with it, all of which are put to the service of improving and saving the lives of the most vulnerable people in our state,” says Diane Narasaki, Executive Director, Asian Counseling and Referral Service.

An immigrant who earned a law degree, Tony abandoned the practice of  law to spend the bulk of his career as an advocate, working to make laws more just.

“Everyday people of color face discrimination in the housing market, in lending practices, in our school system,” Tony says. “Not intentional perhaps, but the impacts are there. That is really one of the big reasons I’ve done what I’ve done.”

“Tony Lee is the conscience of Washington State when it comes to helping poor people,” says Frank Chopp, Speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives.

Tony defers, crediting the people he represents: “I speak with more credibility when I can say ‘our agency sees people in need and here are the needs we see.’ ”

Through his work with Evergreen Legal Services, the Washington Association of Churches and Solid Ground, Tony has been a leader in multi-racial organizing and advocacy that resulted in progress on issues spanning welfare reform, food security, housing and the achievement gap in education. He worked as Solid Ground’s Advocacy Director from August 1995 through September 2014. Tony was a founding member of the Statewide Poverty Action Network in 1996 and played an essential role in its development and direction.

Tony will continue to serve as Solid Ground’s Advocacy Senior Fellow, supporting Solid Ground’s Board, CEO, Advocacy Department and the Statewide Poverty Action Network on public policy issues pertaining to education, basic needs programs, and funding for health and human services, including programs serving refugees and immigrants.

Tony, thanks for your commitment, your passion and your laugh. The world is a better place because of you.

For more on what Tony Is

 

 

Statewide Poverty Action Network’s 2014 Voter Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It’s a broken system that’s not working’: Proposed new youth jail will increase incarceration of youth of color

In 2012, King County, WA voters passed a levy initiative to fund the construction of a new Children and Family Justice Center. Given the fact that 100% of taxpayer money will be used for the construction of the facility – not for maintaining or creating services – it’s hard to think of this facility as anything other than a reinforcement of the school-to-prison pipeline, a widespread pattern in the US of pushing students, especially those already at a disadvantage, out of school and into our criminal justice system.

In King County, African-American and white youth commit crime at the same rates, yet about 40% of detained youth are African American, and they are twice as likely to be arrested and referred to court as white youth. Incarcerating youth without providing diversion or reintegration programs increases the chances of recidivism, thus continuing the revolving door of our criminal justice system – statewide and nationally.

“It’s by design to start that process off early,” says Ardell Shaw, intern for Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network. He describes how this affects kids later in life: “A person has a felony on their record. Now they may repeat this cycle, and when they get out, they have huge amounts of fines to pay. The system creates enough stress where they perpetuate recidivism and keep that cycle going.”

New Youth Jail, King County, institutional racism, african american incarceration, king county juvenile infographic

Infographic created by Solid Ground

Now that we’ve gone over some statistics, imagine how these numbers will change after the jail is built. The county is going to have to justify spending a quarter of a billion dollars on this project somehow. Their justification will come in the form of incarcerating more youth, especially targeting youth of color.

“The purpose for building it isn’t about the renovations, it’s to put more bodies in it. Particularly African-American bodies,” says Ardell. “When it first came out they tried to glamorize it as a ‘family center’ instead of calling it what it actually was.” A youth jail.

What can you do about it?

1)     “Make calls. Support us when we have meetings.” Ardell is referring to the No New Youth Jail campaign, which is strongly backed by Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, The People’s Institute Northwest, and the Black Prisoners’ Caucus among other organizations, including Solid Ground.

2)     Call King County and City of Seattle council members Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Kathy Lambert and Dow Constantine to say you support the demands to defer this money elsewhere.

3)     Also, Ardell encourages us to talk about it. “Make people aware that it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. That money could be spent other ways. The juvenile system is broken and they DON’T fix problems in the current system.”

“You have to deal with what the issue is, why they got into trouble in the first place,” explains Ardell. “They’re not just committing crimes to commit crimes. There are other factors … So if we can get to the base root of what that is, then we stand a better chance. Then we let the kids know there is a possibility. They need to find a way to correct their system and really offer these kids help. Not just probation, but help.”

It was 40 years ago…

Come meet founders, myths and urban legends at:

VOICES of COMMUNITY, Thursday May 8, 7-9pm
The Fremont Abbey Arts Center (4272 Fremont Ave N)

Hear from the horse’s mouth, or at least from the dog on Waiting for the Interurban, about  40+ years of innovation, partnership, hell-raising and action to end poverty.

Thanks to Fremont Brewing Company for creating a special 40th Anniversary Ale that will be on sale!

Sgt. Pepper cover with FPA faces

 

WA Exchange reports strong Obamacare enrollment; Medicaid enrollment stays open

1985_Health CareGreat news on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) front!

The big enrollment numbers are in and they are looking good:

  • 146,500 people signed up for private insurance on the WA exchange, including 8,000 on March 31, the last day to sign up.
  • 268,164 newly eligible people signed up for Medicaid (called Washington Apple Health in our state) – that’s TWICE the state’s goal!
  • All told, approximately 958,000 people in our state signed up for or renewed their health insurance through wahealthplanfinder.org over the past six months.
  • Numbers are coming soon that outline breakdown by age, as well as new vs. renew – stay tuned.

A few important reminders:

  • Medicaid has open enrollment all the time – it is not impacted by Monday’s deadline. Many in our community are Medicaid-eligible (up to 138% of federal poverty level). If folks are unsure whether or not they qualify, they can call our ACA Hotline at 206.694.6714).
  • People can sign up for private insurance at any time during the year IF they have had a major life event, such as a marriage, divorce, job loss, birth or adoption of a child, or move to/from another state.
  • Wahealthplanfinder.org is the online portal to sign up for both Medicaid and private insurance. People can still use the website to sign up for insurance in either of the above situations.
  • If people tried to buy private insurance on Monday, but got cut off by computer issues, or if they are dealing with a natural disaster, domestic violence, or a few other issues, they can request an extension by calling 1.855.923.4633 or emailing customersupport@wahbexchange.org.
  • Have additional questions about any of my reminders? Check out the FAQ from the WA Health Exchange Board.

This has been a tremendous effort – from all the way back in 2009/2010 when we marched together in the streets to pass the Affordable Health Act, through all the political wrangling, and into implementation and sign up. Congratulations to everyone who advocated for passage of the Act and is helping to get the word out in the community. Let’s keep it up and ensure that we continue investing in the health and well-being of our communities!

Marcy Bowers is Solid Ground’s Advocacy Deputy Director and the Director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.

The Human Dignity Support Project: Building bridges between services & recipients

Juanita Maestas, HDSP founder, and Lee, HDSP tech expert and volunteer

Juanita Maestas, HDSP founder, and Lee, HDSP tech expert and volunteer

After nearly abandoning her own battle for government assistance, Juanita Maestas – founder of the Human Dignity Support Project (HDSP) and a Statewide Poverty Action Network board member – took up the fight for others desperately striving to overcome the cycle of denial that runs unchecked through the government assistance application and receipt process.

Unsure of how to continue after being denied once again – this time for failing to fill out forms properly – Juanita just sat in the DSHS (Department of Social & Health Services) lobby and watched people plod out after their own appointments with caseworkers. Applicant after applicant shuffled by muttering similar accounts: “They’re going to deny me again,” or “I didn’t turn this in in time.”

Juanita saw a pattern that was invisible when looking only at her own experience. “I listened to everyone’s story and I thought, ‘They need help.’ That’s why I started the Human Dignity Support Project.”

A system of hurdles & barriers

Many assistance program acceptance practices are bound by strict rules and policies designed to prevent abuse and fraud. More than anything, however, this system makes it incredibly difficult for those needing help to receive the benefits they are entitled to. A cycle of denial is the usual outcome – a constant refusal of services based on mundane mistakes and misunderstandings that leave applicants and recipients feeling defeated and hopeless. In addition, they experience disrespectful interactions with staff, misinformation, long wait times, and inability to contact caseworkers in understaffed offices.

“When you’ve been denied, it’s frustrating and heartbreaking,” Juanita disclosed, “because these people are trying their best, but employees don’t take the time to help them. They don’t take them aside and say, ‘Hey, you forgot to get this,’ or ‘You didn’t sign that.’ They don’t explain anything to them. They just automatically deny them and force them to start the whole process over again.”

Witnessing as an antidote to gatekeeping

HDSP is a volunteer-operated project that works to overcome the barriers of the application and receipt process by providing motivation and moral encouragement, reducing isolation, and accompanying the applicants and recipients to appointments to act as witnesses.

At an initial meeting, HDSP volunteers explain the process and go over all the necessary documentation, making sure everything needed is accounted for and signed properly so they have no reason to be denied.

“Runners” act as witnesses at the appointments by recording information and interactions that can be used later in cases of disrespectful behavior or to refute baseless denials. If applicants or recipients are denied or lose benefits, HDSP volunteers provide guidance on overcoming such barriers even if that means looking into other options.

Advocates for self-advocacy

Support extends beyond cultivating an atmosphere of respect at appointments and ensuring the participants receive assistance. “We’re here for the participants to be sure they have someone to fall back on,” Juanita emphasized. “It’s important to act as a bridge between services. My participants know there are other sources of help out there. We show them how to take the initiative and to call around even though they’ve been told by DSHS that there’s no help for them.”

HDSP encourages confidence by nurturing potential and guiding participants towards self-reliance, independence and capability. Participants learn to take an active role in their well-being, and through this process, develop a sense of dignity and self-respect.

Volunteers urge participants to use their experience and knowledge about the system by acting as witnesses for future applicants. According to Juanita, participants are eager to “keep it going.” Moreover, participants are encouraged to share their stories with legislators to make changes to the system and give back to the community.

The Human Dignity Support Project is operated by volunteers who donate their time and resources to the project. Your donations are greatly appreciated and help the project pay for office supplies, travel and other expenses.

If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information, please visit our website at www.hdsp.org, leave a voice mail with a return number at 206.388.5000, or email humandignitysp2013@gmail.com.

Poverty Action at the Capitol

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

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

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

Meeting legislators makes Olympia feel less remote

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

January 20, 2014 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teens going to Olympia to change the conversation

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

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

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

Anthony talks to sophmore Tanner O’Donnell about Lobby Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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