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.

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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.

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!

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

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

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

Protect WA State FamiliesPoverty Action Listening Sessions 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixed bag budget not good governance

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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