Senate Republicans have revealed their new budget plan to be a house of cards – a budget with a weak framework that threatens the foundations of a strong economy. The deep cuts they propose to state-funded programs that protect the wellbeing of Washingtonians would hurt our state economy and be devastating to children, families, and people with disabilities.
This proposal from state Senate Republicans adds insult to injury in the context of the federal policy proposals we’re seeing out of Washington, D.C. President Trump’s budget proposal would leave our state on the hook for coming up with an additional $458.6 million for the next biennium. And Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act would result in up to $2.5 billion in proposed cuts to our state’s health care.
Unfortunately, the Washington state Senate Republicans’ budget proposal, like President Trump’s, cuts programs that help hardworking people and support those who have been left behind in our economy. If lawmakers care about having thriving communities in our state, they should reject this proposal and instead look at investing in building a strong and vibrant middle class. When lawmakers ensure everyone in our state can pay for necessities like food on their table and a roof over their heads, our economy and our communities are stronger.
Washingtonians with Low Wages Would Have a Greater Likelihood of Falling Behind
The budget would cut $63 million from WorkFirst – Washington’s assistance and job training program for families striving to move out of poverty. The Senate Republicans would account for $17 million of that funding by forcing out of the program parents who have disabilities, people who are required to be at home to care for disabled children or adults, and who are over the age of 55. Studies show that when this group of people leave the program, they have significant barriers to working and seldom get additional help.
The WorkFirst program is funded by both federal and state dollars that are supposed to be used to help low-income parents and their children. The Senate budget proposal would take $47 million of the money they cut from the program to backfill cuts they’re proposing to higher education. The remaining $16 million would be moved into the state’s general budget to pay for other programs that don’t provide for low-income families.
What’s more, the Senate budget proposal would put a harmful provision in place that would require people applying for WorkFirst to demonstrate they have been engaged in a job search before they can apply for public assistance, without providing them with any child care or other work support assistance to engage in that search. When other states have implemented similar procedural hurdles for families, they saw an increase in hardship and spikes in homelessness.
In addition, the Senate Republican budget rejects the negotiated collective bargaining agreements for most public sector workers and fails to invest in tens of thousands of frequently low-wage front-line service workers like child care workers, home care workers, employees at state hospitals, and social workers. Our research shows that investing in these workers is not only good for families and state services, but that it also provides a boost to local economies across Washington state.
The Wellbeing of Washington’s Families and Kids Are at Risk
Washington’s Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) is a key program for ensuring Washington kids have a solid foundation for early learning and care. Washington families pay, on average, 36 percent of their incomes in child care. Finding affordable child care is especially challenging for parents with lower incomes. WCCC helps them with the costs of child care so they can go to work. The Senate Republican budget would freeze enrollment in WCCC at 31,000 kids. This would force many families onto a waiting list, given that the state has projected enrollment will reach 33,000 as early as this spring.
The budget proposal would also make it harder for families to keep their child care while looking for work if they lose a job and have trouble finding a new one. It also creates more red tape by requiring participants to pursue child support enforcement in order to receive the subsidy.
It is important to note, however, that the budget proposal does offer one good recommendation for saving money on the WCCC program. It would extend the amount of time one of the parents in a family receiving WorkFirst could stay at home with their child, from when the child is age 1 to when they are age 2. Lawmakers expect this would save $19.8 million in WCCC. Of course, while this change is commendable, the money saved should be kept in the WCCC budget rather than being funneled from that program to plug holes in other parts of the budget.
More Washingtonians Would Be in Danger of Poverty or Homelessness
Although the Senate Republicans assert in their budget that they make investments to protect people with disabilities, they actually propose harmful cuts to people with disabilities who are at risk of homelessness. The budget would cut $49 million from the Housing and Essential Needs program, which provides housing-related assistance for people unable to work because of disabilities.
The budget would also cut $3.7 million from the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program by applying a 36-month limit for people to be in the program. The intention of the program is to provide temporary assistance for people while they apply for federal disability benefits. However, the application process often takes more than three years, and the state would leave people to fend for themselves until their federal benefits come through.
The Senate budget would additionally cut $5.4 million from the State Food Assistance Program, which provides food stamps to legal immigrants not eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It also eliminates several housing and shelter programs including Young Adult Shelters, Homeless Student Stability Program, and the Young Adult Housing Program.
The Senate Republican plan places the entire state on shaky ground. The deep cuts to the many programs that help our communities thrive and secure the wellbeing of all of our residents are simply unacceptable – especially when considering the fact that they are in addition to potential cuts we could see to federal funding for key state programs. We cannot make progress as a state when our legislators allow members of our communities to fall behind. The state legislature can and should do better for the future of our state and its people.
Working Families Tax Rebate Remains Smart Policy to Fix Our Tax Code, Bolster Washingtonians with Low Wages
Funding the WFTR is an important step lawmakers can take to clean up our inequitable tax code while reducing taxes for households with middle and low incomes. Under our current tax code, people with the lowest incomes pay seven times more in state and local taxes as a percentage of their income than the wealthiest 1 percent. The WFTR would help alleviate the disproportionate tax responsibility placed on people with low incomes by providing an extra boost to households already receiving the EITC.
Households that receive an EITC would get an additional 10 percent rebate for the year through the WFTR. For example, a family with two qualifying children receiving the maximum annual EITC credit amount of $5,616 could also qualify for an extra $562 through the WFTR. This extra income could cover the cost of feeding a family of three for one month or pay for a month of care for a school-age child.
Looking at the most current data on EITC filers, we estimate that if the WFTR were funded :
- Nearly 439,000 Washingtonians across every county who received an Earned Income Tax Credit would also receive a Working Families Tax Rebate, with a slightly higher share of benefits going to rural counties;
- The WFTR would put $95 million back into the state economy; and
- Qualifying households would on average receive approximately $2,400 in EITC and WFTR combined.
The EITC has been an extremely successful federal poverty-reduction tool, not only by immediately reducing taxes for working families, but also by supporting their work efforts through rebates that support access to transportation and child care. Our state should capitalize on the many established benefits of the federal program by fully funding the WFTR.
The map below further emphasizes why funding the WFTR is a smart policy choice. It would benefit households in all 39 counties in Washington state. And in particular, working families in rural counties in central and eastern Washington would see an economic boost.
Click on graphic to see enlarged version.
Click here for a printable listing of total EITC returns and estimated WFTR rebate amounts for Washingtonians by county and legislative district.
And for details about the Budget & Policy Center’s full revenue reform plan, which includes the WFTR, visit our Accountable Washington webpage. The Accountable Washington plan would clean up the tax code, bolster the economic security of people with middle and low incomes, and invest in important statewide priorities
1. Budget and Policy Center’s Analysis of Brookings EITC 2014 Tax Year data, https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/earned-income-tax-credit-eitc-interactive-and-resources/
The Future We Want: The Washington State Budget & Policy Center Announces Our 2017-2019 Legislative Agenda
Great schools, strong communities, healthy families: these are the things Washingtonians care about. Everyone wants this to be a state where kids can meet their full potential, where everyone can breathe clean air and drink clean water, and where everyone can succeed.
In the face of big changes on the national landscape, now more than ever it is important that state policymakers work to ensure the future of Washington as a place where all people can lead safe, happy, and healthy lives. The decisions they make now will influence the well-being of people in Washington for years to come.
How do we create a better future for our state? The Washington State Budget & Policy Center’s 2017-2019 Legislative Agenda offers a framework for how policymakers can ensure that every child, every family, every individual, and every community in our state can thrive.
Starting in January, state policymakers must take action to deliver a world-class basic education to every child. This will require cleaning up the tax code and avoiding distractions that take attention away from efforts to make sure every kid in Washington state has access to great schools. It is imperative that policymakers accomplish this task while also dedicating resources to priorities that make Washington a great place to live, from early learning to long-term care, from school breakfast for kids to night classes for their parents.
We know that basic education will dominate the conversation this legislative session. We also know that kids can’t succeed if their parents are struggling to meet their basic needs, if their neighborhoods aren’t safe, and if their communities aren’t healthy. That is why our Legislative Agenda is focused on building a better Washington through the six key areas laid out in our Progress Index: world-class education; economic security, healthy people and environment; community development and trust; good jobs; and revenue. The recommendations within our agenda also aim to promote policies that advance racial equity. The Budget & Policy Center Legislative Agenda offers specific recommendations for how lawmakers can:
- Build economic security by addressing intergenerational poverty, strengthening support for families, and making sure everyone can afford a roof over their head and food on the table.
- Create a world-class education system that provides kids with high-quality teachers, gives them a great start through early learning, and offers equitable access to higher education.
- Ensure everyone has access to affordable health care, as well as mental health and public health services; make sure that everyone lives in an environment with clean air, water, and land.
- Develop strong communities and racial equity while addressing barriers to re-entry and ensuring access to civil legal assistance; ensure that there’s greater transparency about our state’s tax breaks.
- Promote great jobs that stimulate economic growth and development, and advance opportunities for all workers to have paid time off to be with their families.
- Clean up the state’s tax code so that our state has the resources it needs to support a high quality of life for everyone.
Throughout the legislative session, which begins January 9, and beyond, the Budget & Policy Center will work with partner organizations, community leaders, and grassroots advocates to advance the priorities laid out in this agenda. Our research and analysis will continue to show policymakers why it is critical to invest in the progress of our state and its people – especially in the face of proposed federal policies that threaten to move us backward rather than forward.