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New report: An inclusive economy is essential for all Washingtonians, our economy, and the future progress of our state

Washington is poised for great economic progress. By many measures, a better future for all people in our state is within our grasp. And yet, economic growth is not reaching all Washingtonians. There are persistent and deep disparities based on race, ethnicity, nativity, class, and geography across every measure of economic progress. Progress is meaningful only if it’s felt by everyone and prosperity is shared by all Washingtonians. To create real progress, our state must have an inclusive economy in which everyone, especially people with low incomes and people of color, can participate in growth and benefit from it. Those are the primary findings of our “Building an Inclusive Economy” report (the first in our Progress in Washington 2018 series of reports).

Inclusive Economy carouselShared economic prosperity is one of the best measures of how our state and country are progressing, but economic growth has not been broadly shared in our state. Gains in income have been concentrated at the top while wages for low- and middle-income people have stagnated or declined. This rise in inequality is the result of many state and federal policy and budget decisions by legislators that have negatively impacted certain Washington state residents. Decades of regressive taxation, deregulation, privatization, cuts to the safety net, as well as the decline of collective bargaining have all played a role in rising inequality.

Washington state’s own upside-down tax code has contributed to the problem. Hardworking families in our state pay as much as seven times more than the wealthiest pay while corporations and the ultra-wealthy benefit from unnecessary tax breaks, making it hard for our state to have the revenue it needs to invest in the foundations that serve us all, such as great schools, quality health care, and other public priorities that make Washington a great place to live. Policymakers must fix our broken tax code. Doing so will allow our state budget to have sustainable sources of revenue to build an inclusive economy and to invest equitably in our communities in the short and long term.

Prosperity should be within reach of all Washingtonians
Making sure all Washingtonians have access to opportunity and resources is essential to ensuring prosperity is within reach of all residents. Across many indicators of economic progress, the data show that people with low incomes and people of color are starting off on unequal footing and are facing greater barriers in large part because of the impact of harmful historical housing, economic development, and financial policies. As Washington grows more racially and ethnically diverse, the future well-being of all of us hinges upon erasing the deep and pervasive racial imbalances that exist across these measures. By 2050, our state population will be majority people of color. Washington state’s young people are already at the forefront of this demographic transformation. Forty-three percent of children are kids of color.

 [Click on graphic to enlarge.]

WA_Demog_1980to2050

In an inclusive economy, all Washingtonians – regardless of race, ethnicity, nativity, income, or community of residence – would be able to access quality jobs and have financial security and stability. Our education system would be preparing students and workers for good jobs and jobs of the future. And all Washingtonians would be able to live healthy lives in vibrant communities so they can better connect to and participate in the economy. However, data trends highlighted in our report indicate economic prosperity is out or reach for many residents in three key areas – economic security; education and job readiness; and healthy people and communities. For example:

  • Economic security: Although economic growth holds the promise of prosperity for working people across the state, rising employment has not reached all communities. While unemployment in Washington state has overall dipped to 4.5 percent, for many communities of color – such as Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Blacks – unemployment rates remain at or near 10 percent. There are geographic differences as well: the unemployment rate has remained high in many rural counties. In Ferry County, the unemployment rate is the highest in the state at 9.1 percent, and in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, unemployment remains at just above 6 percent.
  • Education and job readiness: While the state’s Department of Early Learning’s goal is for 90 percent of kids to start kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed, currently only 47 percent of kindergartners are meeting that threshold, and there are significant differences by income and race. Only 33 percent of kids with low incomes, 27 percent of Pacific Islander kids, 30 percent of Latino kids, and 32 percent of American Indian kids were kindergarten ready in 2016.
  • Healthy people and communities: In Washington state, many low-income communities, communities of color, and rural communities experience worse health outcomes when it comes to chronic diseases, life expectancy, obesity, and more. Thirteen percent of households in Washington struggle with food insecurity – the inability to have three meals on the table every day as a result of lack of resources. Among 10th graders, Pacific Islander, Latino, and Black students have the highest likelihood of living in families that had to reduce meal sizes or skip meals compared to overall state average.

 [Click on graphic to enlarge.]

Food_Insecurity_10th_graders

Note about data: Disaggregated data is presented to provide a preliminary understanding of disparities by race, ethnicity, and nativity. On its own, the data throughout the report tells a limited story about the population it represents. We encourage users of this data to engage with communities of color to develop a more accurate and meaningful understanding than the data allows.

These and other trends highlighted in the report point to the fact that much work remains to be done for policymakers and all of us to advance shared prosperity and progress for generations to come. Our state budget and tax code are powerful tools to make this happen and to build an inclusive economy. In the upcoming 2018 legislative session and beyond, policymakers can choose to advance shared prosperity by making sure our state budget and policies increase economic security, promote racial equity, ensure all kids have access to great schools, and build thriving communities for everyone.

Stay tuned for the next publications in the Progress in Washington series, which will explore policy solutions that address the barriers to opportunities described in the “Building an Inclusive Economy” report.

“Building an Inclusive Economy” is the first report in our Progress in Washington 2018 series. The report is intended to offer a framework for understanding the challenges before us. To reach the goal of an inclusive Washington state economy with shared prosperity for everyone, we need to know where we are, where we need to be, and how we can get there.

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Important Gains Have Been Made for a Better Future for Our State, but More Needs to Be Done

Washington’s elected leaders have an opportunity to ensure that all our residents have strong communities and the chance for a bright future. During the 2017 regular legislative session, state policymakers did pass some important bills – some of which are priorities for the Budget & Policy Center – to advance the wellbeing of Washingtonians. They include expanding access to early learning, enhancing educational opportunities for working parents, and supporting policies that would help reduce disparities in K-12 education. Yet they also left some very important policy decisions on the table to be worked out in the final budget.

The following highlights of key victories from the legislative session are great examples of what can be done to advance progress for working families for our state. As state policymakers move into a special session to negotiate the budget, they should build on these efforts to ensure the final budget secures a better future for all our residents.

Giving Washington’s Kids a Better, More Equitable Start


Washington state could be on track to expand the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), a key program for ensuring Washington kids have a solid foundation for early learning and care. Although the expansion is not a done deal, both the House and Senate budget proposals included plans to increase the number of 3 and 4 year olds in the program. However, only the House proposal included enough slots to put the state on track to meet its goal of covering the entire population of eligible kids who are not currently being served. If the final budget includes the funding, this would represent a significant step toward making sure all kids in Washington can get a great start in life. A recent research brief by KIDS COUNT in Washington – a collaboration between the Budget & Policy Center and the Children’s Alliance – found that expanding ECEAP could reduce disparities by race in K-12 readiness for kids across the state. The final budget must fund this expansion, and it must also include funding for ECEAP child care centers to build out their classrooms and facilities to accommodate more kids.

Policymakers also took another important step to advance racial equity for kids in schools by passing House Bill 1445, the Dual Language Learning Bill. Research has shown that one of the best ways to increase student achievement for both English-speaking kids and kids who are learning English as a second or third language is through dual language programs, which are programs that offer instruction to kids in two languages. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle took the important step to pass the bill to expand the program, but House and Senate budget proposals would have funded the program at different levels. Lawmakers should follow the urging of OneAmerica, the group that developed the legislation, and invest at least $4.5 million in funding for the program.

These investments are important steps forward for kids in our state. The final budget should also make sure that Washington’s kids and families have access to high-quality, affordable child care. The House has wisely proposed to do this by increasing pay for state-funded child care workers and increasing reimbursement rates for child care centers in the Working Connections Child Care program, a program that helps parents with low incomes pay for child care so they can go to work or train for a job.

The Budget & Policy Center is helping to shape the conversation on reducing disparities in education. For more details on how an ECEAP expansion and dual language learning can reduce disparities, check out our recent Budget Beat webinar, featuring the director of education and integration policy at OneAmerica. 

Providing More Opportunities for Working Families to Get Ahead


Everyone benefits when hardworking families have opportunities to get better-paying jobs and provide for their families. Two important bipartisan bills advanced this session that would create greater opportunities for working families. Policymakers in both parties passed House Bill 1566/Senate Bill 5347 which will allow parents on WorkFirst – Washington’s assistance and job training program for families striving to move out of poverty – to pursue 24 months of post-secondary education and training, rather than the current limit of 12 months. Research has found that people who get at least 54 credit hours of post-secondary education are more likely to be stably employed and earn more money over the long term.

Both Republicans and Democrats also worked to advance House Bill 1482/Senate Bill 5440 to prevent intergenerational poverty – a key Budget & Policy Center legislative priority  – which would create a new goal for the state to reduce the number of people living in poverty by half by 2025 through an intergenerational approach. Both the House and Senate budgets included funding for the bill in their budget proposals and the House bill passed with support from both parties. Now policymakers should include the bill in the final budget.

Our team is on the ground in Olympia! View our testimony on access to post-secondary education for families on WorkFirst before the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee. You can also watch our testimony addressing intergenerational poverty.

Removing Barriers for People to Re-enter their Communities:


Policymakers took important steps to provide educational opportunities for people who are incarcerated by passing Senate Bill 5069, the College in Prisons bill, which would allow people in prison in Washington to get an associate’s degree while serving their sentence. Research indicates that getting a post-secondary degree can reduce the likelihood that a person will be re-incarcerated by half. This is a huge step forward to ensure that people leaving prison have access to meaningful opportunities for a better life.

However, it is important to note that there were two significant missed opportunities with important re-entry bills that did not advance this session. The Fair Chance Act, House Bill 1298/Senate Bill 5312, would have prevented employers from discriminating against people with convictions on job applications. Policymakers also failed to pass House Bill 1783, which would reform the state’s legal financial obligations (LFO) policy. LFOs are fines and fees a person may need to pay connected with their conviction. While in prison – when a person is unable to work to earn an income – interest on unpaid fees can accumulate at an interest rate of 12 percent. The LFO reform bill would have improved this system to make it easier for people to pay of this debt and fulfill their sentence. Moving forward, lawmakers must take steps to remove the systemic barriers that exist for Washingtonians who are trying to re-enter and contribute to their communities.

We are highlighting important conversations at civic events! Read more about the need for LFO reform in this slideshow from a panel at our Budget Matters 2016 Policy Conference.


As the legislature moves into special session to write the budget, lawmakers must make sure the final budget secures a future for Washington that we all want: great schools, strong families, healthy communities. So far, the House budget proposal is a step in that direction that would secure the revenue necessary to make important investments in our communities. The Senate budget proposal, by contrast, would harm children, families and people with disabilities in Washington. Securing a strong future for our state will require leadership from both parties and the willingness to make the right investments on behalf of Washington residents. Now it is time to get to work on that important task.

Five Ways Trump’s Budget Proposal Would Harm Washington State

By Julie Watts, deputy director
 
The Trump administration’s federal budget proposal hurts the very people the administration purported to help and leaves our states on the hook to make up the difference. The budget calls for big increases in military spending and pays for it through deep cuts to programs that help strengthen the economic security of everyday Americans. These cuts are on top of those already being proposed to health care through the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

 

President Trump has promised to be a champion of people left behind by the economy. However, his budget takes aim at the very programs that serve them. In fact, all of the cuts come from the Non-Defense Discretionary spending area of the federal budget. This part of the budget funds key priorities like job training, education, affordable housing, and basic supports for children, families, and the aging. It also includes funding for border security, veterans' benefits, and the FBI, but since Congress is unlikely to cut these areas, programs that help workers and families would be particularly hard hit. 

Trump’s budget proposal, entitled “America First: A Budget Blueprint for Making America Great Again,” would not, in fact, help the communities in our nation and in our state thrive. Here are five ways Trump’s budget proposals would hurt Washington state and its residents:

1. Shifting costs to our state government and making it harder to balance the state budget: Federal grants make up almost one third of the Washington state budget. (See chart below.) They pay for things like education, human services, the environment, and statewide emergency response. The budget proposal would cut federal grants to states, which would leave our state on the hook for $458.6 million per biennium to maintain these services. (That is not even taking into consideration the $2.5 billion our state would have to cover if the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid go through). 

Federal grants to WA pie chart_2017

2. Making it harder for people to make ends meet: President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which helps people who don’t have enough money to pay their light and energy bills to keep the lights and heat/cooling on. This program – which largely serves people with low incomes and the elderly – would provide $113 million to the state in the 2017-2019 biennium. Trump’s budget would also eliminate the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides roughly $8.6 million per biennium to the state to help people with lower incomes weatherize their homes to save on energy bills.

3. Making it harder for parents to care for their kids: Many working families rely on before- and after-school programs to not only provide educational and enrichment opportunities for their kids, but also to ensure that kids are well-cared for while they work. Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This program would provide $36.1 million for before- and after-school programs in Washington state in the next biennium. Eliminating the program could mean nearly 18,000 state children would lose educational, recreational, and enrichment programs outside school hours.

4. Making it harder to get a living-wage job: Whether you are a young person just starting out or you’ve been laid off and are back in the market, job-seeking is a daunting task. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides support to help eligible job seekers get education, training, and support services to succeed in the job market. WIOA grants to Washington totaled $137.5 million between 2015 and 2016. The Trump budget proposes cutting WIOA grants to states by 35 percent, which would mean the state would either need to come up with an additional $48.1 million in funds to cover the federal losses or serve 59,000 fewer people with job search and training support in the next biennium. 

5. Making it harder to get affordable housing: Washington state is in the midst of a homelessness crisis. Homelessness increased 15 percent in 2015 and again by 7 percent in 2016. The Trump budget slates the HOME Investment Partnerships Program,  a federal grant program to states to build affordable housing, for elimination. This program provides Washington state with about $38.1 million per biennium to issue to developers to build affordable housing units. Washington also stands to lose funding for Housing Choice Vouchers. These vouchers are an important tool in combating homelessness and providing people with low incomes with assistance to get housing in the rental market. In 2015, more than 50,000 Washington families had a roof over their heads thanks to this important program. Trump proposes to fund the vouchers at $1.7 billion below the amount necessary to maintain the current number of vouchers nationwide. That could mean big cuts to the number of households getting rental assistance in Washington.

And this is barely scratching the surface in terms of the cuts that the Trump budget is proposing.

President Trump’s budget proposal may have a difficult time clearing Congress. However, it represents a stark vision of what it would look like if Congress chooses to pursue a budget along similar lines: dramatic increases in military spending paid for with deep cuts to services and programs that help states support families, individuals, and workers. And again, this whole budget proposal is in addition to the dramatic cuts Washington state could be facing with the potential loss of ACA and Medicaid. 

 

Report Highlights the Many Economic Contributions of Refugees in the U.S.

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Jun 16, 2016 01:00 PM |
Filed under: Community

Welcoming refugees who flee to the United States to escape potential persecution in their home countries is not just the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective. It’s also good for the continued growth of our economy, according to a new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. 

Refugee Integration in the United States focuses on four groups that are identifiable in Census Bureau data – Somali, Burmese, Hmong, and Bosnian refugees – that together constitute about 500,000 U.S. residents, and 20 percent of all refugees. The report demonstrates the many ways that refugees contribute to economic growth in cities and states throughout the country. A few highlights: 

  • Refugees contribute to the labor force soon after they arrive and become even more fully integrated into the workforce after 10 years in the United States.
  • Refugees start a wide range of small businesses at high rates.
  • Refugees bring economic and cultural vitality to many areas with dwindling populations. 

With regard to business ownership, refugees follow the trend of U.S. immigrant populations in general: They have high overall rates of business ownership. For example, there are 36 immigrant business owners for every 1,000 people in the labor force, higher than the rate for U.S.-born, which is 31 for every 1,000 in the labor force. And within the refugee populations studied in the new report:

  • Bosnians own businesses at a rate of 31 per 1,000, with high rates of ownership in trucking and construction businesses, as well as in professional and business services and restaurants. 
  • Burmese, with a business ownership rate of 26 per 1,000, are spread across a wide number of types of businesses, from retail store owners to doctors with their own private practices.
  • Hmong, at 22 per 1,000, tend to own businesses in agriculture, retail, restaurants, home health care, and nail salons
  • Somalis, at 15 per 1,000, often become shop owners and travel agents, and they own incorporated businesses in taxi or truck driving – with some concentration also found among engineers and scientific consultants.

Click on graphic to see enlarged version.

Refugee Business Ownership Chart 2016

Local economies throughout Washington state benefit from the addition of these small businesses, especially given the high percentage of Somali and Bosnian refugees who reside in this state. Washington has the nation’s third-largest Somali refugee population – more than 9,000. There are also more than 3,700 Bosnian refugees, nearly 2,000 Burmese, and more than 1,000 Hmong who make Washington their home. All refugee and immigrant communities are an important part of the fabric of society, making our state more culturally rich and economically vibrant. 

The four refugee groups studied in this report came to the United States to escape hardships unimaginable to many people – including civil war, genocide, displacement, and sectarian violence. And yet since starting over in an unknown country over the last several decades, they have helped to strengthen local economies, build thriving businesses, and enrich communities in unquantifiable ways.

Policymakers in our state and our country continue to wrestle with how to handle a sharp rise in the number of people around the globe displaced by conflict and persecution in places like Syria. The United States has only resettled around 1,200 Syrian refugees, well below its pledged goal of 10,000 for fiscal year 2016. In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has made the case for welcoming Syrians. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he highlighted the example of how Governor Dan Evans welcomed the Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, unlike governors in many other states at the time. It has led to a large, thriving Vietnamese-American community in our state. 

Yet resettlement still continues to be a complicated issue with many vocal critics. Amid these complications, Refugee Integration in the United States demonstrates there is reason for encouragement. When welcomed into the United States and provided a safe haven, refugees bring untold cultural and economic benefits to our states. 

For further reading about how all immigrants contribute to Washington, see our previous blog post on the topic. 

Report: Changes Needed So Washington's Kids Have Chance for Bright Future

All of Washington's children could have the opportunity to thrive in school and life if policymakers took key steps to improve economic security and remove barriers to success, our new report finds. 

State of WA Kids 2016 Cover PageState of Washington’s Kids 2016, co-published with the Children’s Alliance through our Washington KIDS COUNT partnership, shows that children are better able to prosper when such basic needs are met as a secure place to sleep at night and food on the table. Yet four out of 10 kids in Washington state live in families that struggle to meet these basic needs, according to the report. This economic insecurity puts kids at greater risk of falling behind throughout their life – in school, jobs, personal health, and civic engagement. What's more, structural racism – which exists because of a historical legacy of discriminatory practices in housing, finance, and education – means that kids of color find themselves on increasingly unequal and unstable footing. 

State of Washington’s Kids shows that:

  • The number of homeless children is up by nearly 15,000 since 2008, and is particularly high among students of color.
  • Just four in 10 children entering kindergarten are prepared in all six areas of readiness: social, emotional, physical, cognitive, literacy, and math. Only one in three American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students are prepared in all six areas of readiness.
  • In all but two Washington counties, the number of child care slots available for hardworking parents is less than the number of children in need of such care. 

There is plenty of reason for hope. The rate of low birthweight babies in our state has remained quite low – below 6.4 percent – since 2005. The number of children with health insurance increased to 96 percent in 2014. And on-time high school graduation rates in Washington have held steady, above 75 percent since 2010.

Nevertheless, much work remains to be done. We cannot achieve our promise of a brighter future for all children when so many kids of color are being left behind. Our report offers two multi-faceted solutions to provide all of Washington’s children with the opportunity to get ahead: 

  • Take meaningful steps to undo structural racism and the system of exclusionary practices and policies that breed inequities for kids of color. Replace them with solutions that enable kids from all backgrounds to succeed. One way policymakers can advance inclusivity is to use racial equity measurement tools to review the impact of proposed legislation that seeks to close the opportunity gap. [See our racial equity toolkit for one resource to accomplish this.] Another essential step is to work directly with leaders in communities of color to learn from them about recommended strategies to redress inequities. 
  • Invest in the success of whole families by recognizing that the well-being of children is inextricably tied to the well-being of their parents. Kids do better when their parents do better. That’s why two-generation approaches to poverty prevention in particular offer a good model. Proposed legislation focusing on intergenerational poverty that was introduced in the 2016 legislative session was a good start. Further, Initiative 1433, now gathering signatures for the November ballot, would smartly raise the take-home pay for the working parents of thousands of Washington children. And by providing paid sick and safe leave, it would also help Washington families by ensuring that workers don’t lose wages when they need to take care of themselves or their children when they’re sick.

Taking steps to implement these common-sense solutions would set Washington’s children up to have a healthy start in life, have their basic needs met, and succeed in school and life. We'll build a better future for all of us if we take the right steps for our children now. 

Read the full State of Washington's Kids 2016 report or visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT Data Center.

Spread the Word: Tax Dollars Make a Difference

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Apr 18, 2016 01:00 PM |

Your tax dollars help to make the lives of Washingtonians better. From college scholarships to affordable health coverage, public safety to parks, state investments from tax dollars serve the common good. These investments are essential to creating the kind of state in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive. 

This infographic (which we encourage you to share far and wide) provides a breakdown of how state and local taxes invest in Washington’s people and communities:

Click here to see the full infographic.

Tax Day Infographic Small

 

And here are just three of the many ways state and federal investments made possible by tax dollars have helped Washingtonians over the past few years: 

  1.  241,000 Washington kids have a better shot at getting ahead. A 2015 KIDS COUNT report found that the many programs that help kids and families – including school lunch programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and cash assistance – helped lift 241,000 children out of poverty between 2011 and 2013. That cut the poverty rate among Washington’s kids in half. 
  2. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act means 300,000 more Washingtonians can see a doctor when they need to. This is according to the 2015 U.S. Census report that showed a 5 percent increase in the number of people in our state who have obtained health coverage since 2013. That’s equivalent to almost the entire population of the cities of Everett and Tacoma combined. 
  3. We have seen progress in improving the health of Washington’s environment. Over the past 15 years, investments in environmental protections have allowed Washington to make some strides toward cleaning up its air, water, and land. For example, the 2015 Progress Index showed that the percentage of people impacted by drinking water that doesn’t meet water-quality standards decreased from 5 percent to just 0.2 percent between 2000 and 2012. And the percentage of hazardous waste recycled by businesses and other facilities increased from 16 percent to 24 percent between 2000 and 2013. 

While we celebrate these successes, we also recognize we still have much work to do to ensure that our state has adequate funding in its budget. If we really want all Washingtonians to have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives, we need a state budget that provides the investments to do so. Yet our state’s economy and progress continue to be threatened by some short-sighted policymakers who refuse to support raising the resources necessary to provide high-quality K-12 schools, clean up toxic sites across the state, and provide emergency services that we all rely on. 

In fact, too many lawmakers simply won’t take common-sense steps to ensure there is enough revenue to invest in these critical areas unless the public demands it. It’s up to those of us who envision a better Washington to change the dialogue about how essential tax dollars are to our state’s prosperity. Powerful, common-sense solutions to our state’s funding shortfall exist – like fixing our state’s broken tax system (a system that forces people with the lowest incomes to pay the highest state tax rates), closing wasteful tax loopholes for big corporations, and taxing capital gains for those with the highest incomes. 

When we come together to push for these solutions, we can get on track toward creating a just and prosperous state. That is why the Budget & Policy Center is teaming up with an incredible group of experts and community leaders at Fuse Washington, Sound Alliance, OneAmerica, Spokane Alliance, Progress Alliance, and others to launch All In for Washington – a multi-year effort to help people understand why cleaning up our tax code and unlocking new sources of revenue is so critical to our state’s future. 

Stay tuned for an announcement with many more details about the powerful work this campaign is doing in Olympia and in key communities throughout the state this year and beyond! In the meantime, you’re invited to attend one of All In’s upcoming messaging workshops throughout the state on “A New Narrative on Taxes, Revenue, and Government.” Here’s the schedule and registration info about the messaging roadshow. 

And on this Tax Day, we hope you will talk with your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and social media friends about how important taxes are to our economy and the health of our communities. Together, let’s be All In for Washington!

Why Passing the Family Unity Act Is a Good Idea for Washington State

Posted by ehernandez at Mar 05, 2015 05:25 PM |
Filed under: State Budget, Community, Equity
By Eritrea Habtemariam, Narver Fellow
 
This is the second post in a series on immigrants in Washington state.
 

During this year’s legislative session, the Washington state Legislature will join the debate over immigration enforcement by deciding whether to enact the Family Unity Act (HB 1716).

This act would respond to the issue of local police detaining non-citizens for immigration officials after they are due to be released. Between 2012 and 2014, Washington state assisted in the issuance of 10,853 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. The majority of these detainers were imposed on individuals who were either never convicted of a crime or who had merely committed minor offenses such as traffic violations.

This collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and immigration agents from ICE can compromise community safety, use up scarce resources, and interfere with the rights of immigrants in their custody. The Family Unity Act would prohibit local sheriffs and police from using their resources to enforce federal policies. 

King County ICE Detainer Costs 1

The Family Unity Act would help our communities and economy by:

  • Reducing costs: Unnecessarily detaining individuals for extended periods of time adds tremendous cost to jails and law enforcement. In 2013, King County stopped honoring federal immigration detainers – saving local jails $1.8 million annually as a result. This proposed legislation would lower detention costs for county and municipal jails throughout the state. 
  • Foster care and parent detainers 1Strengthening families: When a parent is detained or deported, their children are often left to local and state agencies. This brings great volatility into a child’s life and adds costs to over-strained social services. Since 2009, an estimated 5,100 children have entered the foster care system in the United States as a direct result of one or both of their parents being detained – and, in some cases, deported – by ICE. The Family Unity Act would prevent families from being broken apart, increasing domestic and financial stability.
  • Helping take steps to improve trust in law enforcement: Strong communities are built upon trust in public safety officers. But the involvement of local police in immigration enforcement has increased fears in immigrant communities. As a result, many immigrants are less likely to contact the police if they have witnessed or are a victim of a crime because they’re afraid law enforcement will inquire about their or a family member’s immigration status. This reduced trust in police affects the safety and well-being of all Washingtonians.
  • Unifying state policy: Nineteen counties in Washington state limit or no longer comply with ICE detainer requests. By passing the Family Unity Act, our state will have a single policy and draw a clear line between the role of law enforcement and federal immigration agents. 

Immigrants are an integral part of Washington state, adding to its cultural richness and economic vibrancy. By passing the Family Unity Act, legislators will ensure that local law enforcement agencies are dedicated to their primary duties of serving and protecting the public instead of facilitating immigration enforcement. Ultimately, this will make Washington state safer and bring greater security and stability to the immigrant members of our communities.

For more information on the economic contributions of immigrants in our state, read the first post in this series.

The Budget & Policy Center staff would like to thank Toby Guevin, Associate Director of Civic Engagement with OneAmerica, and Ann Benson, Directing Attorney with the Washington Defender Association (WDA) Immigration Project, for their contributions to this post.

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