Schmudget Blog

NEW REPORT: Policymakers must reverse the damage of parental incarceration on kids

Posted by Lori Pfingst at Apr 25, 2016 07:05 PM |
Filed under: Kids Count

One out of every 14 children in Washington state has at least one parent who is or has been incarcerated. These 109,000 kids’ counterparts nationwide total 5.1 million. The number of children affected by incarceration in Washington is 6.5 times greater than the number of inmates in the state’s 12 correctional centers. The needs of these children, as they face increased risks and significant obstacles in life, are usually overlooked.

In a new KIDS COUNT report released today, A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities, the Annie E. Casey Foundation proposes recommendations that state and local policymakers should adopt to help the children and families of inmates.


While states spend heavily on corrections, few resources exist to support children and families who are left behind. These kids and families often struggle with emotional and financial instability as a result of having an incarcerated parent. Many children of incarcerated parents experience increased poverty and stress—which research shows can have as much impact on their well-being as abuse or domestic violence.

Findings from the report include: 

  • Seven percent of children in Washington state (109,000) have a parent that is or has been incarcerated, which is identical to the national rate. Among states, the percentage of children with an incarcerated parent varies dramatically, from only 3 percent in New Jersey to 13 percent in Kentucky.
  • Nationally, the number of children with a father in prison nearly doubled between 1991 and 2007, and those with a mother behind bars more than doubled. Children with a parent who is incarcerated are typically younger and living in low-income families of color, usually with a young single mother who has limited education. Most are younger than 10.
  • Nationally, more than 15 percent of the children with parents in federal prison—and more than 20 percent with parents in state prison—are younger than 4. Compared with their white peers, African-American and Latino kids are seven and three times more likely, respectively, to have a parent incarcerated.

The KIDS COUNT report offers common-sense steps officials can take to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience, as well as to address the disproportional toll of incarceration on families and communities of color. They include:

  1. Ensuring children are supported while parents are incarcerated, as well as after they return;
  2. Connecting parents that have returned to the community with pathways to employment; and
  3. Strengthening communities, particularly those disproportionally affected by incarceration and re-entry, to promote family stability and opportunity.

In Washington state, progress is being made to support the families of people who are incarcerated. This past legislative session, the House and Senate unanimously passed a law allowing formerly incarcerated adults to petition a court for a “Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity” that would become part of the adult’s record—showing potential landlords and employers that the former prisoner has fulfilled the conditions of their sentence and is paying off (or has paid off) any fines. This improves opportunities for housing and employment. House Bill 1390 was also introduced, which would have eased the financial blow of incarceration on a family experiencing incarceration. While the bill did not pass, its introduction is illustrative of building momentum in our state to reduce the impact of incarceration on families.

The confinement of a parent should not close the doors to opportunity for a child and their family forever. Washington state lawmakers should work alongside communities and families that have experienced incarceration to enact common-sense reforms that reverse the damage of incarceration on kids, families, and communities.

Read the full report: A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities.


Final Budget Responds to Pressing Needs, But Lacks Bold Vision

Posted by Lori Pfingst at Mar 30, 2016 05:20 PM |
Filed under: State Budget
By Lori Pfingst, Research and Policy Director, and Elena Hernandez, Policy Analyst

While the final 2016 supplemental operating budget makes some important progress on addressing Washington state’s most emergent needs – like the teacher shortage, the homelessness crisis, and wildfires – the deal is nevertheless shortsighted. Until lawmakers craft a budget that invests in all of the resources people and communities across the state need to thrive, we will fail to move the needle on improving our economy and on the issues that matter most to Washingtonians.

The budget deal reached by lawmakers focuses on addressing a set of emergencies that can no longer be ignored. To fund these emergencies, lawmakers rely on shifting resources away from other major priorities and using funds from the Budget Stabilization Account, the state’s rainy day fund that should typically be used during economic downturns (see chart). The final budget is a $191 million net increase from the 2015-2017 enacted budget. Noteworthy changes and exclusions include:



  • $190 million to cover the costs of 2015’s wildfires. Resources taken from the rainy day fund will be used to address the unexpected costs of the worst wildfire season in our state’s history.


  • No major investments to adequately fund K-12 education per the McCleary ruling. Lawmakers put off the task of adequately funding our public schools until next session, leaving students and schools across the state without the resources they need to obtain and provide a high-quality education.
  • $1.2 million to help close the education opportunity gap.  Lawmakers took steps to close the opportunity gap in education by implementing several recommendations from the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee, including: reducing discipline for students of color, instituting mandatory cultural competency training for teachers and staff, and requiring better, more detailed racial and ethnic data for students.
  • $13 million to improve the availability and quality of family child care centers, but no major investment in the Early Start Act. The additional resources cover a collective bargaining agreement reached in 2015 and will help increase the number of slots and improve the affordability of family child care. However, no significant progress was made on advancing the Early Start Act, which needs additional resources to increase availability and affordability of early learning opportunities. 
  • $5 million to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, but no salary increase. Lawmakers failed to provide teachers with a pay increase, but a small amount of resources are provided to recruit and retain new teachers and para-educators in response to Washington state's teacher shortage.


  • Reduced funding to address toxic cleanup. Lawmakers continue to raid the Model Toxics Control Account (MTCA) to balance the general fund. MTCA resources are supposed to be spent on cleaning up more than 5,700 toxic sites across the state, preventing harmful air and water pollution, and funding community participation grants so the public can address a toxic pollution threat. The funding cuts or delays are in response to a dramatic drop in revenue from polluters across the state.
  • $41 million in additional resources to treat and support people with mental illness. The additional resources will be used to support Western State Hospital, expand medical staff, and increase community-level services. 
  • $11 million for programs supporting homeless youth. The investment will create 23 new HOPE beds, which provide shelter, support, and permanency planning for street youth. These resources also include other temporary services for homeless youth, much of which will flow to counties.


  • $49 million reduction in state funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). By far, one of the most egregious changes to the state budget is the continued “sweeping” of resources out of TANF to balance the state budget. Previous cuts to TANF – the primary program to help families with low incomes to find or keep a job – have kicked people off of the program, and made it harder to get on, resulting in a caseload decline. Lawmakers continue to funnel the resources from this program to balance the budget.

The final budget deal did avoid a revenue-draining tax break for giant media corporations, which was welcome news. And while many of the investments made this session are laudable, the fact that our state budget only allows for investment in issues that have reached the point of emergency should alert lawmakers to the problem underlying these crises – a broken revenue system and a prevailing anti-tax sentiment is preventing us from having the investments we need to allow Washingtonians and our economy to make progress.

Scrambling to deal with emergencies, dipping into rainy day funds, and cutting important programs is just bad business. Crafting a budget that makes real progress for the people and economy of Washington state requires lawmakers to take bold steps and big thinking to ensure that there is enough revenue to prepare for the long-term needs of our state.

Proposed Two-Generation Legislation is Important Step in Improving Family Economic Security

Posted by Lori Pfingst at Jan 15, 2016 02:50 PM |
Filed under: Poverty, Economic Security

The research is clear – when children grow up in poverty, it has long-term consequences for their future well-being, as well as that of the state. With nearly one of every three children in Washington state living in families at risk of not meeting basic needs, poverty poses a significant threat to future generations, as well as to the contributions they can make to our communities and economy. 

Lawmakers can help improve the well-being of children by passing House Bill 2518, which supports a two-generation approach to family economic security (see graphic) – so that both parents and their children have the opportunity to get ahead. 


Nationally, two-generation approaches – those that focus on economic success of whole families, as opposed to a focus on children or adults in silos – are gaining momentum. HB 2518 joins these national efforts by creating a results-focused, evidence-based state effort to improve child and family well-being in our state by:

  • Directing state agencies across sectors – early learning, health and human services, and higher education – to create a data system to track intergenerational poverty each year;
  • Creating a state commission to summarize the data in an annual report; and 
  • Creating a community advisory committee – made up of advocates, faith-based leaders, government representatives, and academic experts – to provide input on the data and on the creation of a long-term plan to improve intergenerational family economic security.

It is noteworthy that this legislation rightly puts a focus on results and aims to create a commission that has the power to act. We further encourage lawmakers to strengthen this bill by developing explicit goals to achieve equity for children and families of color. We also recommend that policymakers include families with low incomes in a decision-making capacity with the commission. With these additions, HB 2518 would be a strong first step at laying a foundation to create economic security for future generations of Washingtonians. 

In November, the Budget & Policy Center highlighted the need for a two-generation approach to reduce child poverty in Washington state. Listen to the audio of the presentation given by the Center’s Research & Policy Director, Lori Pfingst.

Affordable Care Act Gives Significantly More Washingtonians Access to Health Care

Posted by Lori Pfingst at Sep 16, 2015 09:25 PM |
Filed under: Health Care

Thanks to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 300,000 additional Washingtonians are now able to see a doctor when they need to. That’s equivalent to almost the entire population of the cities of Everett and Tacoma combined. This is according to a new U.S. Census report which shows an overall 5 percent increase in the number of people in our state who have obtained health coverage since 2013. 


Washington state’s decision to embrace Medicaid expansion is a major reason for the increase in people covered, and it was an important step in the right direction for advancing the health of Washington’s residents. 

Today, 91 percent of all Washingtonians, and 95 percent of children, are able to see a doctor, go to the hospital, or fill a prescription when they need to. Washington state mirrors the national trend, which showed a historic rise in the number of people with health care coverage.

The Census report contains the first data to show the initial impact – and clear success – of the expansion of health care coverage under the ACA. In fact, nationally, the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) that expanded Medicaid by the January 2014 deadline had much larger increases in health care coverage than states that did not expand the program.  

Stay tuned as we continue to provide further details on health insurance trends in Washington state, as well as on new poverty and income data to be released by the U.S. Census.

NEW REPORT: Too Many Kids Are Being Left Behind in Economic Recovery

Because of stagnating wages, underemployment, and high costs for basic needs like housing and child care, many of Washington state’s kids and families will continue to have a hard time making ends meet, according to the 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today. 

The report, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and KIDS COUNT in Washington, found that too many children and families are still not feeling the effects of the economic recovery and are facing issues like poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Washington ranks 19th overall among the 50 states in four areas of child well-being: education, health, family and community, and economic well-being. Policymakers need to make significant investments in our children if we are to make progress toward improving outcomes for our kids.

(Click on the image below to view the entire table)


KIDS COUNT in Washington found that our  state fares especially poorly in economic security. A lack of quality employment for parents, combined with high cost-of-living, is a significant challenge for Washington state. What’s more, our national legacy of structural racism means that an increasing share of Washington state’s children are born and raised on an unequal and unstable footing. For example (click on above graphic for data summary):

  • An additional 78,000 children are living in poverty since 2008. One in three Black (34 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (32 percent) and Latino kids (32 percent), and one in four (25 percent) Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian kids, live below the poverty line -- that's compared to the state average of 19 percent.
  • Approximately one in three (31 percent) children have parents that lack secure employment. 
  • Approximately one in three (36 percent) of children live in households with a high housing-cost burden. Housing and child care are the two biggest expenses families with young children face, taking up between one-third to half of median monthly income depending a family's racial and ethnic background (see chart).  

(Click on the image below to view the entire table)


What Would It Take to Be the No. 1 State for Kids?

The Data Book also contains good news. Washington state ranks among the top 10 best states for child health – a testament to the investments our state has made in the Washington Apple Health program, which has a goal to provide health insurance to all kids. There has also been a sizable decline in child death rates and the share of teens who are abusing drugs or alcohol, both of which can be attributed to the rise in public health campaigns and child-focused public policies. 

The message from these successes is clear – when Washington state invests in kids, it makes a difference. In addition, there are several steps that policymakers, community leaders, and child advocates can take to make Washington the best state in the country for kids to live:

  • Lead with equity. We cannot make progress as a state if we don’t achieve racial and socioeconomic equity. Investments to advance well-being for all children must start with the kids who need investing in the most. 
  • Investigate the story behind the data. Data, on its own, tells a limited story about the people it represents. Lawmakers should work with the people that the data represents to understand their stories, and develop community-informed policies that have a higher likelihood of success. 
  • Increase investment in policies that simultaneously support both parents and children. The Casey Foundation recommends policies that result in higher pay, paid sick leave, flexible scheduling, and expanded unemployment benefits that will result in higher family income, reduced parental stress, and an increased capacity for parents to invest in their kids. Detailed recommendations can be found in the 2014 report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach.

Read the KIDS COUNT in Washington press release about the 2015 Data Book. 

The 2015 Data Book is available at Additional information is available at the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state, and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps, and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices. 

KIDS COUNT in Washington is a joint effort of the Children's Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, which are working together to pursue measurable improvements in kids’ lives in Washington state.


Progress in Focus: Declining Economic Security Is a Big Threat for Washingtonians

With too many hardworking people struggling to get by, state lawmakers must do more to support the investments needed for Washingtonians’ long-term economic security than they did in the recent state budget.

For an eye-opening look at the challenges our state faces, see the "Progress at a Glance" table below and, for more details, check out our full Progress Index .

(Click on the image below to view the entire table)


Ultimately, state budget writers this year missed significant opportunities to help build an economy where prosperity is widely shared. Their budget did not do enough to rectify the fact that today’s economy is providing gains to a relative handful of Washingtonians, as these statistics dramatically show:

  • Nearly one quarter of all income in Washington state goes to the richest 1 percent – those with average annual incomes of $1.3 million. For perspective, the richest 1 percent held no more than 11 percent of all income during the height of middle-class prosperity from 1947 to 1979. 
  • Between 2009 and 2012, during the recovery from the Great Recession, all income gains went to the richest Washingtonians. The remaining 99 percent saw their income decline.
  • Median household income declined by $4,000 between 2008 and 2013, to $58,405 a year from $62,486. 
  • The share of Washingtonians who make too little to meet basic needs is rising, now encompassing nearly one-third of the population.  

In addition to all this, Washington continues to have the nation’s most upside-down state tax system: as a percentage of what they make in a year, the lowest-paid Washingtonians pay up to seven times more in state and local taxes than the wealthiest 1 percent. 

The disturbing situation these statistics describe should serve as a clarion call to lawmakers that investments need to be made to create affordable housing, connect workers to job training, keep children from going hungry, and in other ways promote opportunity and prosperity for all. Yet Washington state invests just 3 percent of its total operating revenue on ways to help Washingtonians maintain economic stability during an economic downturn or personal crisis.

Further, inadequate state support over the past five years has weakened the forms of assistance many Washingtonians need most. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Working Connections Child Care – critical tools to help families find or keep a job – serve significantly fewer children today than in 2008.

The recently adopted state budget did increase support in some key areas, like expanding early learning opportunities for all kids and providing a small increase in cash assistance to families struggling to get by. But those gains are severely threatened by the failure to enact enough new, sustainable revenue sources to protect long-term investments and economic security in the years to come. The adoption of a capital gains tax on the wealthiest Washingtonians in particular would have provided several million dollars a year to meet important needs and take a step toward making taxes more equitable.

This is Part 6 in our "Progress in Focus" series of blog posts highlighting the individual sections of the Progress Index. To read our additional recommendations for how to support a thriving Washington economy, visit the Economic Security section of our Progress Index. See our previous posts: 

Part 5: Healthy People

Part 4: Healthy Environment

Part 3: Good Jobs

Part 2: Education

Part 1: Revenue

Progress In Focus: Protecting the Health of Washingtonians

Posted by Lori Pfingst at Jun 16, 2015 03:25 PM |
Filed under: Health Care

This is Part 5 in our "Progress in Focus" series of blog posts highlighting the individual sections of the Progress Index. This post is focused on the healthy people part of the Healthy People and Environment section. 

Everyone in Washington state should have the opportunity to live a healthy and productive life, with affordable options to obtain quality health care. While Washington state’s investments in healthy people are starting to pay off with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more needs to be done to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe.

Washington state invests 27 percent of its total operating revenue on programs that protect public health and the environment. With this investment, some significant progress has been made in recent years (see "At a Glance" table for a summary; and see the full Progress Index to review all the data we use to measure progress). Progress has been especially evident when it comes to the expansion of health care coverage. Since full implementation of the ACA began in 2014 with Medicaid expansion and the creation of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, more than 700,000 Washingtonians have enrolled in these programs to gain affordable coverage.

(Click on image to view full graphic.)

At a Glance Healthy People jpg for web 

Still, state investments in the health of Washington’s residents are nearly the same as they were in 2002. This compromises the state’s ability to make progress in other areas of health – notably, protecting our most vulnerable citizens. While the state is making some progress for children placed in the child welfare system, more needs to be done to ensure their safety and stability. And Washingtonians with mental illness are not as protected as they should be. For example, our Progress Index shows that:

  • The rate of out-of-home placements – when children are removed from the care of their parents or legal guardian – has declined, from 7.2 per 1,000 children in 2008 to 5.3 per 1,000 in 2013. While rates of re-entry into the child-welfare system are also declining for children who have been reunited with their family or guardians, rates remain high compared to national quality recommendations. 
  • Although the number of psychiatric beds in state and community hospitals has rebounded to 2000 levels (12 per 100,000), too many people involuntarily committed for treatment for mental illness are being “boarded” in state emergency rooms due to lack of capacity. Psychiatric boarding in facilities that do not offer individualized psychiatric care is a practice the Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled as unconstitutional under the Involuntary Treatment Act. 

As this legislative session continues into special session, lawmakers still have the opportunity to advance the health and well-being of all Washingtonians. But they need more revenue to do it. The House budget raises new revenue, most notably through its capital gains tax proposal, to invest more in mental health services and hire additional staff for the child welfare system. The Senate, on the other hand continues to shortchange the health and safety of Washingtonians who lack the resources or authority to protect themselves on their own. 

Washingtonians deserve a state budget that lays a foundation of opportunity in all areas of their well-being, including their physical and mental health. To get there, our state must provide resources to help ensure all Washingtonians have access to the resources they need to be well.

To read our additional recommendations for how to protect the health of Washingtonians, visit the Healthy People & Environment section of our Progress Index.

Document Actions

Sign Up for #BudgetMatters17!

We will host two Budget Matters policy summits this year – one in Spokane on October 31 and one in Seattle on December 6! 

Our Policy Priorities

Washington state should be a place where all our residents have strong communities, great schools, and the chance for a bright future. Our 2017-2019 Legislative Agenda outlines the priorities we are working to advance to build a better Washington.

Budget Beat!

Check out the Budget Beat webinars we hosted throughout the 2017 legislative session, including our most recent Budget Beat about federal budget proposals, featuring Louisa Warren of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on our YouTube channel

Testimonies in Olympia

To advance our legislative priorities, the Budget & Policy Center team was in the state capitol throughout session testifying on a wide range of bills. Watch our testimonies on TVW:
Misha TVW