Living on a low income in Washington State? Poverty Action wants to hear from you!

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Help Poverty Action create change in our state!

Poverty Action is committed to making the voice of everyday citizens stronger in the Washington State capitol – especially people living on low incomes who have all too often been ignored in halls of power.

Together, we’re working to eliminate the root causes of poverty by advocating for statewide legislative policies that help people meet their basic needs and have opportunities to prosper.

Every year, Poverty Action goes around the state to listen carefully to people living on low incomes. We want to learn what issues you are facing and enlist your help to advocate for policy solutions that will address the root causes of poverty and provide equal opportunities for everyone.

To make this happen, we need your input. The information you give us informs our requests to lawmakers. Your stories show our elected representatives a more realistic picture of what it means to be living on a low income.

Please join us for an upcoming Listening Session and share your wisdom and stories. You will receive a $20 stipend for your time. Onsite childcare and dinner provided. Registration is required.

We also support you in telling your lawmakers what you told us. After the listening session, we will have a free advocacy training to give you the tools you need to effectively share your story with lawmakers in order to create change. Local state lawmakers have been invited. Now we just need you!

Poverty Action Listening Sessions 2013:

KENT: Aug. 28-29

EVERETT: Sept. 11-12

TRI-CITIES/PASCO: Sept. 25-26

SPOKANE: October 9-10

For more information, visit www.povertyaction.org. To register for a listening session or free advocacy training, contact Mallori at 1.866.789.7726 or email mallori@povertyaction.org.

Changing lives & systems through advocacy

Advocacy has always been a central watchword for Solid Ground. Throughout our 39 years of providing for people’s basic needs, we have also addressed the political realities that create barriers for people to thrive.

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

The more than 50,000 people who come to us each year are the true experts on poverty in our community. Their lives revolve around the challenges of living on less in an increasingly class-divided world. Twenty five years ago, low-income communities organized across Washington State through our Fair Budget Action Campaign and the Welfare Reform Coalition. Both were instrumental in passing the Seattle Housing Levy, creating the Molar Majority to fund adult dental care, and other groundbreaking efforts that get more people to solid ground in our community.Fair Budget eventually became the Statewide Poverty Action Network, bringing together leadership from low-income communities around the state to articulate a community-based agenda and run impactful organizing campaigns. Poverty Action and allied coalitions and agencies have been instrumental in protecting lifeline benefits, passing the Foreclosure Fairness Act, grading legislators on the racial justice impact of their work, and giving previously incarcerated people, teens and other marginalized populations training and support to reclaim their political power.

This approach creates tremendous synergy. The personal becomes political as our advocacy in Olympia is strengthened by decades of direct service and the individual voices of people most impacted by policies. Case managers help identify trends and stories among program participants that seed efforts to make laws more responsive to the needs of people living on low incomes.

At Solid Ground, we believe education is foundational to a better future. In addition to our partnerships to support literacy, skill building and leadership development in Seattle/King County schools, we actively work to close the opportunity gap between wealthier white students and those with lower incomes and students of color.

Disenfranchised people – those experiencing homelessness, immigrants with limited English proficiency, and those who lack education or job experience – can all achieve their dreams if they have access to equal opportunity and resources. By bringing their testimony into the political process, Poverty Action and allies influence laws, policies and practices and set the stage for transformative, generational success.

At Solid Ground, we believe our community can move beyond poverty and oppression to a place where all people have access to quality housing, nutritious food, equal justice and opportunities to thrive. We believe strong advocacy is a vital component of interrupting generational cycles of poverty. We believe effective advocacy starts in the personal narratives of our community.

And we believe that successful advocacy secures long-term, positive changes in our society.

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.

Tenant Tip: Evictions in Clean & Sober Housing (Part 2)

recovery-photoIn Evictions in Clean & Sober Housing (Part 1), we explained some of the requirements and the specific evictions process for tenants living in clean and sober housing in Washington State. Current legislation does not provide strong protections for these tenants, so in Part 2, we’ll address some of the barriers they face.

In the 2013 legislative session, there was an effort by certain housing providers to introduce legislation to make it faster for landlords of clean and sober housing to evict tenants. Because the evictions process for this type of housing is already speedy under current law, the new legislation would have put these tenants at great risk of losing their housing. But through a collaborative open dialogue to discuss the implications of changing the current law regarding evictions in clean and sober housing, the proposed legislation was not introduced and will not move forward this legislative session.

Stable housing is critical in helping individuals in recovery get back on their feet and be able to support themselves. However, housing promoted as “clean and sober” or “recovery housing” varies widely in the types and levels of services and support offered to the residents, because current Washington State law does not require regulatory monitoring of these types of housing. Also, it is common for various individuals living in clean and sober housing to be at different stages of drug or alcohol recovery. In situations where individuals break the housing rules by using drugs on the premises, it can be challenging for landlords to protect the other residents so that recovering addicts are not put in vulnerable situations with drugs present in their living environment.

Many housing providers who offer clean and sober housing do comply with the laws and meet the guidelines of chemical dependency professionals working with individuals in recovery programs. However, there are also landlords who do not comply – specifically with the required evictions process. In some cases, tenants are not given the proper eviction notices required by law and then face the risk of housing loss in a very short amount of time without due process. Under the current statute, tenants in these situations can be given a 3-day notice with only one day to comply or be evicted.

The current evictions process in all types of rental housing is speedy, but even more so in clean and sober housing where the time window for tenants to be in compliance is only one day. While this allows for housing providers to maintain the health and safety of tenants in recovery housing by immediately addressing problems with tenants who are not complying with the rules, it can be problematic for tenants who relapse and require more support.

Because many individuals who live in clean and sober housing can be required to serve jail sentences if they violate their court-ordered requirements, stable housing is critical to address drug addiction issues through services and alternative community programs, not jail time. Relapsing tenants should be given chemical dependency counseling and access to legal services so they can be well-informed and able to address a notice of eviction, but access to free services is very limited and often contingent on funding of community programs.

For these reasons, it is crucial that the clean and sober housing evictions process not be sped up, as this would only create further barriers for individuals who are working towards making life changes from drug addiction.

The tenant information contained in this article 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 here 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.

Fair Tenant Screening Act Passes in the Senate and Moves to House Judiciary

Solid Ground celebrates a great victory for renters in Washington: On Monday, March 11, 2013, the Washington State Senate moved one step closer to making landlord-tenant laws more fair and just for tenants. The Senate voted on the Fair Tenant Screening Act, and with true bipartisan support they passed SB 5568 with a vote of 46-3. This is a huge step toward making sure that domestic violence survivors are not discriminated against or denied housing based on a protection order or their history of domestic violence.

SenJeanne_Kohl-WellesTo hear senators Hobbs, Kohl-Welles and Frockt’s moving testimony on the Senate floor, visit the TVW website for March 11, 2013 Senate coverage, and scroll to 21:30 minutes to watch the 6 ½-minute video coverage.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done! Please send an email to thank Senator Hobbs (steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov), Senator Kohl-Welles (Jeanne.Kohl-Welles@leg.wa.gov) and Senator Frockt (David.Frockt@leg.wa.gov) for their ongoing support and leadership for the Fair Tenant Screening Act.

Thanks to everyone who offered their support of this critical bill by writing emails and letters and making calls. Also, special thanks and congratulations to the advocates who stood strong on this issue and made this victory possible: Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Tenants Union, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project.

Poverty Action at the Capitol

Poverty Action members march & rally in Olympia in 2012

Poverty Action members march & rally in Olympia in 2012

Join the Statewide Poverty Action Network in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 21. Speak out about the importance of basic needs services, fair housing, racial equality, healthcare and other issues impacting the lives of people across Washington State.

Poverty Action’s annual lobby day brings together hundreds of people from across Washington State. It supports issues brought forward by people from across our state through face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, direct actions, and trainings to take our movement back to our hometowns.

This is a great opportunity for both seasoned activists and people who have never expressed their opinions to our lawmakers. Students are especially encouraged to join us and bring the perspective and power of the next generation to the state political process!

WHAT: 
Poverty Action Day at the Capitol – A day of community building, advocacy trainings and exercising political power!

The Washington State Capitol, where YOU have the power!

The Washington State Capitol, where YOU have the power!

WHEN:
Monday, 1/21/13,
9:30am – 3:30pm (bus leaves Seattle 7:30am, returns about 5pm)

WHERE: 
Temple Beth Hatfiloh
201 8th Avenue SE
Olympia, WA 98501

HOW: 
Register online or call 206.694.6794
(toll-free at 1.866.789.7726).

Poverty Action has planned a morning of issue and advocacy briefings in preparation for the 1pm rally at the Capitol and group meetings with lawmakers.

This session, Poverty Action will focus on:

  • Saving safety net programs by protecting them from budget cuts.
  • Fortifying recent changes in payday lending laws that protect consumers, but are under fire from the industry.
  • Tightening up consumer protections against debt collectors and Zombie Debt.

There is free transportation from Seattle to Poverty Action Day at the Capitol (the bus leaves Solid Ground, 1501 N 45th Street in Wallingford, at 7:30am). Breakfast and lunch are provided. Childcare and interpretation services are available upon request.

You can register online or call 206.694.6794 (toll-free at 1.866.789.7726). And for more information, visit the Poverty Action website.

Tenant Tip: Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!

Credit check imageIn March 2012, the Fair Tenant Screening Act (Senate Bill 6315) passed in the Washington State Legislature, creating new regulations for how landlords and tenant screening companies can screen prospective tenants. A new section of the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA) reflects the regulations – and two RLTA sections and one Fair Credit Reporting Act section were amended to include the law changes. SB 6315 goes into effect on 6/7/12.

Section 59.18.257 of the RLTA now includes the following new requirements for criteria used in tenant screening:

  • Tenants can only be charged screening report fees if the landlord provides eligibility requirements prior to screening. Before performing a screening or background check on a prospective tenant, landlords must first provide written notice detailing the information they will access to determine if a tenant is accepted or denied housing – as well as what specific criteria can be grounds for denial.
  • If a landlord uses a consumer reporting agency to determine tenant eligibility, they are required to provide tenants the name and address of the agency. Landlords must also inform tenants of their rights to obtain a free copy of the agency’s report and to dispute any errors in the report if they are denied housing or experience other adverse actions.
  • If a landlord does not use a consumer reporting agency and instead screens tenants on their own, they can charge tenants a screening fee – but the fee cannot exceed the standard amount charged by screening companies in the general area.
  • If a landlord denies an applicant or takes any other adverse action against prospective tenants, the landlord is required to provide tenants written notice listing specific information such as: reasons for denial, information used to deny or take adverse action, etc. The notice must include the date, address and signature of the landlord or agent.
  • If a landlord fails to follow the proper steps in conducting a tenant screening, they can be held liable for up to $100 plus court and reasonable attorney fees.

These new requirements provide more organized regulations for tenant screening and allow prospective tenants to know what information will be used to determine their acceptance or denial before paying screening fees. However, reports often contain inaccurate and misleading information, and tenants are not made aware of this until after they have been denied housing and paid fees. (Our November 2011 Tenant Screening blog post describes some housing barriers that unfair, misleading and inaccurate screening reports can create for low-income families, domestic violence survivors and many others.) So despite the new regulations, screening costs and misinformation in screening reports continue to prevent thousands of families from getting into housing.

A group of stakeholders – including tenant advocates, landlord groups and representatives of consumer reporting and screening agencies – will convene to address tenant screening costs and the information included in screening reports. This group will provide recommendations to the legislature by December 1, 2012.

Individuals who have paid multiple screening fees, have been wrongfully denied housing by a screening company or landlord, or face other housing barriers due to tenant screening are encouraged to share their experiences to help influence the recommendations made and increase the regulations to better protect tenants. To find out more about the law changes and how you can share your experiences to make the most beneficial recommendations, contact Solid Ground’s Tenant Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

The tenant information contained in this article 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 here 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.

Advocacy works! 2012 Legislative wrap up

Poverty Action members lobby in Olympia for foreclosure fairness

Poverty Action members lobby in Olympia for foreclosure fairness

This legislative session, Statewide Poverty Action Network members worked hard to achieve substantial wins amidst one of the most difficult political climates in recent memory. From holding the line on funding Washington State’s safety net to passing significant consumer protections, we have a full slate of accomplishments we are proud to share. This work is possible because our members took a stand against further attacks on low-income families.

This session, Poverty Action successfully passed the following consumer protection bills:

HB 1552 – Garnishment
This bill allows consumers to keep more money to live on after a wage garnishment. These new protections may allow an individual worker to keep approximately $120 more per month, providing much-needed financial relief. This new law also clarifies that pension funds will continue to be exempt from garnishment, ensuring that seniors and people living with disabilities will be able to use their pensions to meet their basic needs, even during a garnishment. HB 1552 provides much-needed updates to Washington’s garnishment laws, better reflecting the realities of struggling families.

HB 2614 – Foreclosure Prevention
Last year, Washington led the way in ensuring that families facing foreclosure would have the right to a mediation process with their lenders. The Foreclosure Fairness Act, which passed in 2011, brought homeowners, lenders and a third-party mediator together to discuss alternatives to foreclosure. HB 2614 builds on the strength of last year’s law by streamlining the mediation process and providing added protections for mediators, as well as for homeowners while they work toward saving their homes and most valuable assets.

SB 6155 – Debt Adjusters
This bill puts reasonable and fair regulations on for-profit debt adjusters (sometimes called debt settlement), helping to prevent deceptive practices that hurt families who are attempting to regain their financial stability. For-profit debt adjustment is a fringe financial service that has seen rapid growth and change over the last several years. Debt adjusters reach out to people living with debt and offer bold “miracle cures” to help eliminate their debt, but often leave families in financial ruin. Because this industry is growing fast and the impacts in our state are still widely unknown, SB 6155 includes reporting requirements to gain information on the impacts to Washington consumers.

We also stood strong and protected vital public programs:

SB 6411 – Take Back the (TANF) Box
This bill increases transparency and accountability in our state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by allowing legislators to make decisions on how TANF is administered. Previously, the Governor’s office made all of the decisions about TANF (also called the TANF “box”), allowing the public few opportunities to provide input on the program or its funding. By moving control of the TANF box to the 149 members of the legislature, SB 6411 provides Poverty Action members 149 opportunities to influence how TANF is managed.

Defending Our Safety Net & Restoring Cuts
Last fall, we launched an aggressive campaign to maintain the integrity of our state’s safety net. Together, our advocacy, paired with real stories from our members, prevented new cuts to TANF, Disability Lifeline Medical, State Food Assistance, State Family Assistance, and the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program.

And finally, we were able to restore a 2011 cut to Working Connections Child Care. By restoring eligibility to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) from 175% FPL, we were able to bring back 1,000 subsidized childcare slots for working parents. Furthermore, the TANF large family cap was restored to the 2011 level, returning full benefits to nearly 2,000 families, including many refugee families.

These wins are a direct result of Olympia hearing from our network and could not have happened without their hard work. Thank you to all Poverty Action members for helping thousands of families across Washington State.

In Solidarity,
Your Poverty Action Network Staff
Marcy, Tony, Danielle, Senait, Kate, Julia and E.J.

For more information about the Statewide Poverty Action Network, contact us at info@povertyaction.org. Or click here to join our network!

Poverty Action members march & rally on MLK Day 2 (Presidents' Day 2012, as the MLK Day events were snowed out)

Poverty Action members march & rally on MLK Day 2 (Presidents' Day 2012, as the MLK Day events were snowed out)

Poverty Action members inspire at Lobby Day 2012

Although I have been a Statewide Poverty Action Network member for many years, I had yet to experience one of the most fun and important events they hold every year: the annual Lobby Day at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Traditionally held on MLK Day as a day of service, this year’s originally scheduled event was cancelled due to the Puget Sound area’s Snowpocalypse 2012 – so Poverty Action rescheduled for Presidents’ Day.

Justin & Timothy at rally, Lobby Day 2012

New and longtime Poverty Action members come together to help "Save Our Safety Net"

Lobby Day is an inspiring combination of community mobilization, education/awareness about the most pressing legislative issues currently affecting people living on low incomes in WashingtonState, and group action. As event photographer (see slideshow below), I got to experience the day in solidarity with people who had some truly moving stories to share – and I participated alongside them as we made our voices heard with our legislators.

Building momentum, setting the stage
The day started with a gathering at the Women’s Club of Olympia. The room was packed with both longtime and new Poverty Action members. Poverty Action is guided by a Board comprised mostly of people living on low incomes from around Washington State. Board member Ligia Velázquez of Lynnwood and Board Chair David Northover of the Yakama Nation co-MCed the morning’s events, which gave us all a wealth of information from Poverty Action staff and members. Ligia seamlessly interpreted in Spanish as needed to keep the large number of Spanish-speaking attendees in the loop.

Executive Director Marcy Bowers fired us up first thing with her State of the Movement Address, giving us a sense of the power of our collective voice. Then Legislative Coordinator Kate Baber gave a “Save Our Safety Net” Briefing, providing background info to help us understand the importance of saving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and DL (Disability Lifeline) benefits.

To put a human face to how people who rely on TANF and DL will be impacted if funding for these vital programs is not restored, member Adrienne Karls graciously shared her personal story. A former medical worker who made a decent living, she lost everything to hospital bills following a bad car accident. Disability Lifeline was truly the lifeline that pulled her out of homelessness and helped her regain her dignity. She brought home the reality that any of us might someday need that safety net intact.

Throughout the morning, other individual members’ stories grounded our purpose. One young single mom described how she had to give up her job when she had a child, because after paying for childcare, she couldn’t afford rent. Thanks to TANF, she has been able to support herself and her daughter and is two months away from completing her AA degree, which will help her qualify for a living wage job.

Community Organizer Senait Brown also gave us a Racial Equity Briefing, describing how the proposed TANF/DL cuts disproportionately affect people of color. One Latina member, who had organized a large group of family and friends to attend Lobby Day, stood up and shared how people in her community are suffering from the TANF/DL cuts as well.

Finally, a performance by member James King gave everyone a chance to sit back and absorb the meaning of this information. James read an essay in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which he had originally prepared to read on MLK Day) and then led us all in an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Members Peter Zimmerman & Adrienne Karls in front of the Capitol building

Lobbying 101
Next came the beginning of the real action: We broke into groups by our legislative districts, and Campaign Manager Danielle Friedman gave us a quick and dirty training on lobbying. The Spanish-speaking members caucused as well. We shared our personal stories (or those of people we care about) around the importance of saving our safety net, and we crafted talking points to bring up when we met with lawmakers’ legislative aides. We also wrote heartfelt letters and postcards to lawmakers, to be hand delivered later.

Fueled by members’ inspiring stories (and lunch), we marched en masse toward the Capitol in our purple “Save Our Safety Net” T-shirts, stopping for a rally at Trivoli Fountain. Our numbers grew as coalition partner groups joined us from all directions, carrying banners and signs reflecting our shared priorities. Undaunted by the misty rain and soggy grass, Poverty Action members and partners danced and chanted and connected in solidarity, pumping each other up for meeting with our lawmakers.

Taking action!
The day’s events culminated in an additional short march to the sundial across from the Capitol building, and then legislative district teams set off to drop off letters and postcards at our lawmakers’ offices. Many of us had the chance to deliver our messages directly, using the power of speech and conviction, via face-to-face meetings with legislative aides.

Even though I’m very familiar with Poverty Action’s work, the impact of what they do really hit home when I met some of their newest members. One guy who had been brought to the events by a friend confessed to me in the morning that previously, he had no interest in politics. He honestly believed it wouldn’t make a difference if he voted, and despite salt and pepper hair giving away his years, he had never even registered to vote. By the end of this Lobby Day 2012, he had led chants while marching, written letters to his lawmakers, talked with a legislative aide, signed up to be a Poverty Action member – and was scrambling to find out how to register to vote as soon as possible.

 Now THAT’S showing people their voices matter. That’s Poverty Action IN ACTION. 

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The Statewide Poverty Action Network is part of Solid Ground’s Advocacy Department. Poverty Action builds grassroots power to end causes of poverty and create opportunities for everyone to prosper. They envision a state where people of all income levels fully promote and participate in building the fabric of socially, politically, and economically just communities. For more info and to get involved, visit www.povertyaction.org.

The Capitol goes orange for Hunger Action Day

(Contributed by Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center Team)

Orange is the color of hunger awareness. And with 367,000 Washington families struggling to put food on their tables while Washington State budget woes threaten to further slash our safety net, awareness among our state lawmakers is vital. Programs like food stamp benefits for immigrant families, farmers market vouchers for seniors and women with children, school meals funding, and support for local food banks are all in danger.

Amid a sea of orange scarves, over 150 advocates gathered in Olympia on Friday, February 3rd for Hunger Action Day. The message? Protect the programs and infrastructure that ensure people can meet their most basic need: food.

This annual day of advocacy was organized by the Washington State Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition – a statewide coalition of service providers which works to bring the voices of hungry Washington families to the ears of our policymakers to ensure that public policy leads our state’s response to hunger.

L to R: Claire Lane (co-chair, Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition), Jen Estroff (Government Relations Dir., Children’s Alliance) & Trish Twomey, (Solid Ground's Hunger Action Center Dir. & co-chair, Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition). Photo by Joyce Zeigen.

Solid Ground staff from the Hunger Action Center were proud to attend the event and meet with our legislators to explain the importance of these programs to the families we serve. The group also heard from Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, who thanked Hunger Action Center Director Trish Twomey for her years of service. Speaker Chopp spoke of the importance of our safety net and the need for revenue options to protect the services provided to Washington’s most vulnerable residents.

Take action!
Hunger Action Day may be over, but it’s not too late to let your legislators know that you want them to protect our state’s anti-hunger infrastructure. Find your legislators here and tell them you support the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s 2012 Legislative Agenda, which seeks to:

Hunger Action Day, 2/3/12, Olympia, WA
Photo by Julie Washburn, Washington Food Coalition

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.

Foreclosure Fairness Act: Foreclosure mediation is now the law

The Foreclosure Fairness Act (HB 1362) was signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire on April 14, 2011, creating a foreclosure mediation program in Washington State. Mediation will give struggling homeowners the opportunity to meet with their lender to discuss options before losing their home and most valuable asset. This law will truly make a difference for thousands of homeowners in our state. Foreclosure mediation programs have been shown to be extremely effective in allowing families to save their homes. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Normandy Park) and had overwhelming support in the legislature.

Governor Christine Gregoire signs the Foreclosure Fairness Act

Governor Christine Gregoire signs the Foreclosure Fairness Act

Throughout the housing crisis, homeowners and housing counselors have repeatedly reported that banks and loan servicers do not answer the phone, lose homeowners’ information about loan modifications, and have different staff people from different offices talking to a homeowner. This new law will eliminate the problem of struggling homeowners being unable to get in touch with their lenders as they fight to stay in their homes.

“Approximately 45,000 families will receive notices of foreclosure this year, but we are providing new hope for many of them with a fair process and resources to help them explore every option available and keep their homes whenever possible,” said Rep. Tina Orwall.

Are you facing foreclosure? Unable to get your lender to respond? Want to know your options? Read on…

Washington State has a new law to prevent foreclosures.
As of July 22, 2011 you can now ask for a face-to-face meeting with your lender by requesting foreclosure mediation. To request a meeting with your lender, contact a housing counselor or attorney by calling 1.877.894.HOME (4663).

What is foreclosure mediation?
Foreclosure mediation is a process where a neutral, third-party mediator assists the homeowner and the lender to reach a fair, negotiated agreement.

Why request mediation?
If you have not been able to get in touch with your lender, you can now request a face-to-face meeting to discuss alternatives to foreclosure. During mediation, the lender is required to negotiate with you in good faith.

Who is eligible?
• Homeowners who are in default on their mortgage and have not yet received
   the Notice of Trustee’s Sale are eligible
• Homeowners who live in owner-occupied properties

How can I request mediation?
Foreclosure mediation must be requested by a housing counselor or an attorney on behalf of a homeowner. To find a housing counselor, call 1.877.894.HOME (4663).

How much does it cost?
The homeowner and the lender each pay a $200 fee for the mediation. The fee must be paid prior to the mediation.

Share your Story!
The foreclosure mediation law was passed because struggling homeowners shared their stories with lawmakers. Poverty Action is collecting stories from community members like YOU! Are you facing foreclosure? Having trouble with payday lenders? In danger of losing benefits like TANF or Disability Lifeline? Share your story and help lawmakers understand the issues Washingtonians are facing. For more information contact Poverty Action at 1.866.789.7726 or visit the Statewide Poverty Action Network website.

More information

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.

Teens in Action

Teens in Action is a new project giving voice and political power to young people. It is coordinated by the Statewide Poverty Action Network in conjunction with the American Government class at Seattle Interagency Academy Southwest, an alternative school in White Center that serves youth aged 12-18, primarily students of color and self-identified as low-income.

“The program is built upon the belief that young people as well as adults need to be able to build skills that allow them to act on their interests and concerns. Students will be empowered to speak truth to power and lead their communities in effecting change,” said Juanita Maestas, Poverty Action Board Member and one of the organizers.

The class will cover topics including:

  • How government works
  • Racial equity
  • Immigrant rights
  • Education
  • and more

One of the student's letters to Olympia, calling for a no vote on HB 1126, the "Racial Profiling/Gang Bill"

Recently, the students analyzed legislation working its way through the state legislature and wrote advocacy letters on issues concerning them and their communities. The class will travel to Olympia on March 29 to lobby Senators and Representatives in person.

“We hope that Teens in Action will lay the groundwork for an ongoing commitment among these young people to take a bigger stake in our community, to contribute to community life, and help society better appreciate young people’s contributions,” said staff coordinator Senait Brown.

For more information on Teens in Action, email Senait Brown.

To support Statewide Poverty Action Network go to their website.

To get SolidGroundBlog posts sent directly to your inbox, sign up using the handy form on the upper left side of this page!

Join us for Hunger Action Day, February 25 in Olympia!

Root solutions for root causes!

During each Washington State legislative session, the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition hosts Hunger Action Day in Olympia to advocate for hungry families in Washington. Solid Ground is represented on the steering committee of the Coalition and helps coordinate Hunger Action Day, so we are encouraging our supporters to join us in Olympia on February 25 to engage our legislators in Solid Ground’s work to end hunger in Seattle/King County and Washington State.

Register today and join us in Olympia on February 25 — the success of our efforts in Olympia rely on your voices and the voices of those we serve being heard!

This year’s Hunger Action Day is especially important as the State’s budget crisis will result in the elimination or significant reductions of critical services that help struggling families meet their basic needs, like keeping food on the table. One in seven households in Washington struggled to provide enough food for their family in 2010. Washington now ranks as the 13th hungriest state in the nation, and the problem of hunger in our communities will continue to grow unless we speak out.

We are asking you to help us by telling your friends, family and coworkers. Blog about it, tweet it, share it on Facebook.

For more information on Hunger Action Day 2011, click here for the event info packet.

See you in Olympia!

Get Up, Stand Up!

While the budget crisis has gotten most of the press from the 2011 legislative session in Olympia, there are also some important bills that need your support to give homeowners facing foreclosure a fair chance at staying in their homes, and to bolster protections against predatory lending that were passed last year.

Foreclosure Fairness Act
Our housing counselors report that one of the biggest barriers faced by homeowners threatened with foreclosure is the extreme difficulty of getting whoever owns the loan to discuss modification options. What used to take a few phone calls and a few hours to work out can now stretch out over months of calls, and many forms of delay. This brief video on the Foreclosure Fairness Act dramatizes how consumers are being stonewalled. Please check it out and post the link on Facebook and other social networks to attract attention to the issue!

The Foreclosure Fairness Act (SB 5275 and HB1362) would mandate that banks, or whoever holds the loan, must offer face-to-face mediation with homeowners. In the 23 states and municipalities that have mandatory mediation, 60% of homeowners in foreclosure are able to stay in their homes! The banking industry is trying to strip the mandatory mediation out of the bill, which will take away its most important tool. Please contact your state Senator and Representatives and urge them to support the Foreclosure Fairness Act and to keep mandatory mediation in the bill!

You can use this web form to email your legislators in support of the Foreclosure Fairness Act.

Keep Protections against Predatory Lending
Last year the Legislature enacted law to protect Washington State residents from predatory lending. This year the banking industry is fighting back with two bills that would strip away crucial consumer protections. Please contact your lawmakers and urge them to oppose these bills: HB 1678 and SB 5547.

You can use this web form to email your legislators to oppose gutting protections against predatory lending.

To find out who your Senator and Representatives are, go to Statewide Poverty Action Network and look for the zip code tool on the top of the page.

Tear down the wall between banks and homeowners facing foreclosure

The Foreclosure Fairness Act currently working its way through the Washington State Legislature gives homeowners facing foreclosure a valuable tool in the struggle to keep their homes. For more on the problem/solution, check out this video.

Legislators need to know that you support this bill!

Contact Statewide Poverty Action Network, call 1.866.789.7726, or email Danielle Friedman to take action to support The Foreclosure Fairness Act.

Tear down the wall!

 

Mortgage counselor Marita DeLeon knocks down the wall between lenders and homeowners.

Mortgage counselor Marita DeLeon knocks down the wall between lenders and homeowners.

Thanks!

 

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