KIDS COUNT in Washington, in partnership with Children’s Alliance, released our 2013 State of Washington’s Children report this morning, which affirms that we are falling far short of providing the opportunities our kids need to succeed in school and in life. To remedy this, lawmakers must reach agreement on a final budget that makes targeted investments that provide a solid foundation for all kids to prosper.
The State of Washington’s Children data tells a story we can’t afford to ignore:
- Nearly four of every 10 kids (625,000) in Washington state live in families that struggle to meet basic needs, like having enough food, safe housing, and school supplies;
- Nearly 104,000 children lack health insurance, reducing their likelihood of seeing a doctor or dentist when they are sick, and putting their family at financial risk; and
- Almost one in three (31 percent) students cannot read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, limiting their future educational achievement and attainment.
Such gaps in opportunity obstruct progress toward a secure and healthy future for kids. For kids of color, who are rapidly becoming the majority of our population, the gaps in opportunity are even more egregious.
And the data in our report only provides a superficial understanding of the opportunity gaps kids of color face – limitations in available data conceal the true extent of diversity in our state (see graph). Without deepening our understanding of what kids today need to succeed, our solutions will be limited too.
The state of Washington’s children is not strong. The state budget is our main tool for making the investments that all kids need to reach their full potential, and lawmakers should act now to give this generation the opportunity to thrive. But none of the current budgets under consideration make the adequate and targeted investments that provide a foundation of opportunity for children to grow into the leaders, artists, parents, entrepreneurs, and workers of tomorrow.
Washington state needs new and sustainable resources to build a prosperous future for the next generation.
Check out the full report: State of Washington’s Children 2013: Good Data for A Stronger Future.
Kids Count in Washington is a partnership between Children's Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center to help improve young lives.
Hundreds of data indicators about the well-being of children are available through the KIDS COUNT in Washington web site: www.kidscountwa.org.
Part three in a series: “Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture.” At a time when children and families need job training, affordable housing and other economic supports the most, Washington state’s investment in economic security over the last few years has decreased dramatically.
The recession took a huge toll on Washingtonians – today over 900,000 live in poverty, an increase of 200,000 since the recession began in 2008. However, lawmakers have not responded accordingly.
The House and Senate budgets would cut the very things that families need. The Senate, for instance, would make severe cuts to services that help low-income families find or keep a job, slicing almost four times more from those services than the House (see chart).
The majority of the cuts in both budgets are in the WorkFirst program – Washington state’s primary way to help low-income families find and keep jobs, and mitigate the harm poverty inflicts on children. The cuts are characterized as savings from lower caseloads, but that is misleading. While poverty has risen dramatically since 2008, lawmakers have made it harder for families to get WorkFirst and have kicked people off the program altogether, resulting in lower caseloads than anticipated. Two out of every three people kicked off is a child, even though children have experienced the largest increase in poverty compared to other age groups.
Instead of reinvesting the additional resources from the caseload decline in WorkFirst and making it easier for parents to get the services they need to get back to work, lawmakers want to use the money for other things. The House budget, however, does start to rebuild some opportunities for low-income children and families, while the Senate would make additional cuts that make it harder for low-income parents to find work, afford child care and housing, and meet other basic needs.
Key differences in the two budgets include (see table):
- The House budget devotes $8 million to emergency housing services for families on WorkFirst. The Senate makes no investment in homelessness prevention. Over 27,000 children in Washington state are homeless, a 47 percent increase since the recession began.
- The House budget invests $28 million to improve access to quality, affordable child care and early learning by increasing the subsidy rate for Working Connections Child Care (WCCC). The Senate budget would cut $17.4 million from WCCC, leaving 4,000 families without help.
- If WorkFirst needs increase beyond forecasted levels, the House sets aside $12.7 million to provide a modest level of assistance so families can meet basic needs, like food and shelter. The Senate not only fails to reinvest in WorkFirst, it makes additional cuts to the program.
- The Senate budget cuts $2.7 million by limiting WorkFirst assistance to the size of a family when it enters the program, offering no additional assistance if another child is born.
- The Senate eliminates income assistance for people with disabilities and gets rid of services that currently connect Washingtonians with disabilities to additional federal resources that they may be eligible for.
- The Senate would spend $9.4 million to increase food assistance for immigrant families, making them eligible for three-quarters of the assistance non-immigrant families can get through the State Nutritional Assistance Program. The House maintains the current level of assistance for immigrant families, which is half of what non-immigrant families are eligible for.
Over the next week, we will continue our series on "Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture."
Yesterday the Senate approved a proposal to fund education at the expense of all other investments kids need to succeed (Senate Bill 5895). This short-sighted approach undermines the foundation of opportunity our children need to prepare for school and life.
Beginning in 2015, the Senate bill would attempt to fund court-mandated education reforms by limiting spending on public safety, health care and all other areas of state investment to an arbitrary formula (the rate of inflation plus population growth).
While a high-quality education is essential to prepare kids for the future, they also need secure families, safe neighborhoods, and quality health care. Washington state makes a number of investments that help ensure our state’s children have these essentials:
- Health care. The Apple Health for Kids program ensures that over 700,000 children in Washington state can afford to see a doctor when they get sick.
- Family Security. The Working Connections Child Care program provides over 25,000 low-income families with assistance to find affordable child care so they can work, and their children have the early learning opportunities they need to prepare for school.
- Foster care. Washington state provides support to the over 10,000 children who rely on the foster care system for a stable home.
- Safe neighborhoods. State funding for firefighters, police officers, and gang prevention programs keeps our neighborhoods safe so children can play outside.
- Good quality of life. State investments protect our natural resources and guarantee that our water and air are clean.
Funding education at the expense of everything else is the wrong approach for Washington state’s kids. Instead, lawmakers should develop a long-term plan that provides adequate and sustainable resources to allow our children to thrive. There are plenty of good options to choose from. We could raise additional revenue by ending ineffective tax breaks, enacting a capital gains tax, or modernizing our tax system by expanding the sales tax to include some services.
The Senate bill presumes we can’t afford to make all of the investments we need for our children to succeed in school and life – but the truth is we can’t afford not to make these investments. Our collective well-being depends on our children having the opportunities they need to reach their full potential in life.
Today over 900,000 Washingtonians live in poverty – that is 200,000 more since the recession began in 2008. In spite of rising need, state assistance to help low income people find or keep a job has dropped dramatically. Of the budgets proposed by the House and Senate in the last few weeks, the House budget makes the most substantial commitment to rebuilding work opportunities for low income families, as well as social insurance programs that keep kids well-fed, housed, and safe.
Poverty increased by 27 percent between 2008 and 2012 as unemployment skyrocketed. At a time when families needed support the most, Washington state’s primary program to help low income families find or keep a job – WorkFirst – was slashed by 26 percent. Today at least 27,000 fewer families are receiving assistance because bad policy choices imposed over the last few years have forced them out or made them ineligible.
While the Senate budget would continue this damaging trend, the House starts to rebuild work opportunities for low income families (see chart). By supporting policies that expand early learning for kids, prevent homelessness, and provide critical work supports for parents, the House starts to reverse the damage done to low income families over the past four years.
Key differences of the two budgets include:
The House budget is a great start, but more could and should be done. The House and Senate both chose to divert resources that could have otherwise been reinvested into WorkFirst to restore previous cuts. But the difference is that the House and Governor took the laudable step to invest in policy decisions that give low income families opportunities to get back on their feet, while the Senate not only didn’t invest, but made additional cuts that will make it harder for low income families to find work and afford child care.
To learn more about how the recent budgets compare on support for children and families, join our Budget Beat call tomorrow!
House Bill 1723 would streamline and strengthen our early learning system, one of the best investments for Washington state's children, families, businesses, and the economy.
The bill is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education tomorrow, and would support:
- The academic, social, and emotional development of children. The first five years of life are a critical stage of learning and development for children. Investing in a strong early learning system increases the likelihood of them doing well in school, graduating from high school, and attending college. HB 1723 would expand high quality early learning opportunities for children, especially those from low income families.
- Workforce development. Children who receive high quality early education develop skills that prepare them for work as adults. A strong early learning system is increasingly recognized as the best workforce development program for states and countries.
- Working families. The cost of child care is often as much, or more, as a mortgage or rent, making it unaffordable for many families. When parents receive Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), our state’s subsidized child care program, they are more likely to work and meet the basic needs of their family, often without additional state assistance. HB 1723 would increase the subsidy rate for WCCC, improving quality in the early learning system and making care more accessible and affordable for working families (see graph).
Children need opportunities to grow into strong leaders, workers, and parents that will shape the future of Washington state. House Bill 1723, which strengthens our state’s early learning system, provides an opportunity for lawmakers to invest in children and create equal access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.
The research is clear – the first five years of a child’s life are critical to their success in school and beyond. Building an affordable, high quality early learning system is an investment that reaps substantial returns: children develop the social and cognitive skills they need to succeed in school and beyond; parents have access to the care they need to work and support their families’ economic security; businesses benefit from the development of a high quality workforce; and the economy benefits when more children are able to thrive and reach their full potential.
HB 1723 strengthens our early learning system by:
- Creating a more integrated and streamlined early learning system to improve access, affordability, and quality for Washington state’s children and families;
- Expanding access to Washington state’s preschool program, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program; and
- Increasing the subsidy rate for Working Connections Child Care so more low income children and families have access to affordable, high quality care.
HB 1723 will be heard in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee tomorrow morning. See our recent analysis Early Learning is Key to a Prosperous Economy for background on a key element of the bill.
As state budget decisions start to take shape over the next few weeks, lawmakers must reinvest in social policies to support a strong middle class and keep children out of poverty. This is particularly crucial as Washington state has one of the worst track records in the country for cutting children and families off from resources in an economy that is failing them.
Since 2009, lawmakers have cut nearly $11 billion from social policies and programs proven to create jobs and support growth of the middle class. As a result, unemployment remains stubbornly high and the middle class continues to erode, with an especially devastating impact on children. Recent data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show that over 27,000 students are homeless statewide, a 46 percent increase since recession began.
Meanwhile, decisions made in Washington state have decimated the WorkFirst program, the primary program to help parents find or keep a job, and in which seven of every 10 participants is a child. Since 2009, over 27,000 people have lost access to WorkFirst benefits that help families find work and keep children sheltered, well fed, and safe.
One of the most egregious cuts in the WorkFirst program has been to cash assistance for families. The cash assistance families receive covers basic necessities – food, rent, diapers, and other personal hygiene items. In Washington state, the value of cash assistance has declined by 40 percent – only two states, Hawaii and Arizona, are worse (see chart). Unless lawmakers act to restore cuts to this program, these family supports will continue to decline, with likely increases in more expensive systems, like child welfare and homelessness.
With such high unemployment and a job market awash in low wage work, policies that help families find or keep a job are critical and provide a pathway to self-sufficiency. Ensuring the basic needs of our children are met is an investment in their future and our collective well-being, as our fate is directly tied to how well we prepare our kids to be the leaders, workers, and parents of tomorrow. Our state budget is a primary tool to invest in the opportunities children and families need to rebuild a strong middle class in Washington state.