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.

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It Gets Better with Disability Lifeline

Kytty

Editor’s Note:  This story is courtesy of the Statewide Poverty Action Network’s Network News. It’s an interesting follow up to the presentation Dan Savage made at our recent luncheon about the It Gets Better Project. Dan promotes personal outreach as an antidote to bullying of LGBTQ youth by peers in schools, families, etc. Kytty’s story chronicles political engagement to counter the way budget cuts to Disability Lifeline would be a kind of state-sponsored bullying of marginalized people.

Kytty, a 24-year-old former Disability Lifeline (DL) recipient and new Poverty Action member, shared her story with lawmakers and spoke out against budget cuts. After years of childhood abuse, Kytty was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, making it nearly impossible for her to hold down a job. Stressful working conditions, such as angry customers, sometimes triggered flashbacks of her abuse. Left without a source of income, Kytty survived three episodes of homelessness before learning she was eligible for DL.

The DL program provides a small monthly cash grant and medical coverage to people with very low incomes when they’re temporarily unable to work due to a mental illness or physical disability. This program has endured a 40% reduction since 2009. Now, the Senate has proposed the total elimination of the DL cash grant and a $51 million cut to DL’s medical coverage. If adopted, these cuts will take away the only source of income for over 20,000 individuals and cause 6,000 people living with disabilities to lose access to health care.

Kytty, who is transgender, describes her experience of homelessness as extremely stressful because she feared her identity would cause her to be targeted on the streets. “People discriminated against me and treated me like a second class citizen.” Having aged out of other transitional housing and homeless prevention services, DL provided the necessary support for Kytty and her partner to move off the streets and into a rented room. “I literally used every single penny on rent.” DL’s medical benefits provided Kytty with insurance and enabled her to access medications and counseling services. Kytty is currently working through her PTSD and dreams of earning a college degree in music technology and becoming a professional musician.

Kytty met with her lawmakers for the first time last month in Olympia through Poverty Action’s Lobby Tuesday program. She said that she felt like she made a difference and that the trip was fun and productive, “I felt like Harvey Milk – like an activist!” Her advice to first-time activists who have never shared their stories before is to “research your lawmakers as much as you can beforehand and know their names, districts, and what issues they care about. Speak with confidence, even if you’re nervous.” Kytty encourages other current and former DL recipients to speak out: “There is a huge need for this program – it prevents homelessness.”

Washington State legislators continue to wrangle over the state budget. To let them know how you feel about Disability Lifeline or other issues, use this handy online tool.

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

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