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Showing blog entries tagged as: State Economy


President’s Budget Would Harm Washingtonians, Leave State on the Hook for Massive Costs

Posted by Julie Watts at May 23, 2017 07:05 PM |
This post was updated on May 24 to add clarifying information about the Medicaid data.
 
Statement by Executive Director Misha Werschkul:
 
The federal budget proposal released by President Trump would give massive tax cuts to the rich by cutting important programs that help lift people out of poverty and help people struggling to make ends meet. On the chopping block are critical services like Medicaid, food assistance, and basic support for people with disabilities. This “Robin Hood in reverse” proposal would hurt the wellbeing of our communities while lining the pockets of the wealthy and special interests. It should be rejected by Congress.
 

Far too many American families are just one accident or personal catastrophe away from financial collapse. The federal government needs to make sure that when people hit hard times they do not go without the basics. However, the president’s budget would cut $2.5 trillion from poverty-reduction programs in the United States over the next decade. That funding would help pay for huge tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

In Washington state, the proposed federal budget proposal would leave lawmakers on the hook for finding billions of dollars in additional funding over the next decade to make up for cuts in federal programs for states. For example, it would:

  • Cut Medicaid funding by 20 percent over 10 years, which would cost the state approximately $5 billion in federal funds per biennium by 2027.*
  • Cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 25 percent over 10 years, costing the state up to $1 billion per biennium by 2027.
  • Cut another $1.9 billion in other federal funds to the state over 10 years that provide basic supports to low-income families, prevent homelessness, and help people meet basic needs and train for better jobs.

We all share in the responsibility to ensure that everyone in our communities has food on the table, a roof over their heads, and basic supports. Programs like Medicaid and SNAP are effective at helping provide people with the foundations they need to move out of poverty. They also bolster local economies. 

If President Trump truly wants to help the American people and strengthen the economy, his budget should invest in services that actually help people find work, get education and essential job training, and have access to mental health services. He shouldn’t be focusing on making the rich richer at the expense of the rest of us.

Greenstein quote Trump budget

For more analysis on the federal implications of Trump’s proposed budget, see this statement from the director of the Center on the Budget and Policy Priorities: “Greenstein: Trump Budget Proposes Path to a New Gilded Age.”

 

* This estimate is based on Congressional Budget Office projections and does not take into account the potential passage of the American Health Care Act that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now under consideration in the U.S. Senate, which would dramatically increase these cuts to the state even more. This estimate could be updated on the basis of new information.

Lawmakers Must Protect the Wellbeing of Children, Families, and People with Disabilities

Posted by Julie Watts at Mar 23, 2017 01:50 PM |

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.

Senate Republicans' Plan Doesn't Amply Fund Schools, Puts Other Programs at Risk

The Senate Republicans' new plan to fund K-12 public schools continues to work within a framework that doesn’t raise additional revenue – a strategy that has proven ineffective at serving Washington's kids and that could force cuts to other important investments. To pay for the basics, including keeping excellent teachers and staff in our public schools, the legislature must inject more resources into schools than they have in recent years. Any plan to improve our schools must include additional new revenue, as well as a strong focus on equity, sustainability, and adequacy.

The Senate’s plan, called the Education Equality Act, features as its major funding source a new Local Effort Levy – basically, an increase to the statewide property tax of $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value. As details about the plan emerge, however, it appears that the plan does not actually raise additional dollars for schools. That’s because the proposed statewide property tax increase is coupled with cuts to local property tax levies that currently fund a significant portion of basic education costs. As we’ve said in the past, levy swaps like this are schemes that change the source of the money flowing to schools but don’t actually make new investments in Washington’s kids.

As it is structured, the plan could deepen the shortfall in school funding because the plan does not pay for itself. It leaves a $1.4 billion hole in the 2019-2021 budget, for which its authors have yet to identify a source of funding. Promising to pay for education without identifying a funding source is a prescription for damaging cuts throughout the rest of the budget. And while the plan would dedicate future revenue growth to funding basic education, it would use any revenue growth in addition to the dedicated funds to decrease the new Local Effort Levy to a rate of $1.25. In short, the proposal is not only short on revenue now, but it is also designed to restrict revenue growth for schools and other public investments in the future.  

There is certainly promise in raising additional school revenue through property tax reforms, as we have proposed. The Senate's plan would effectively nearly double the current state property tax rate. And it exempts the Local Effort Levy from the damaging 1 percent property tax levy growth limit, which is a positive step toward making the tax code more sustainable. But this plan should go further and get rid of the 1 percent levy growth limit altogether to allow property tax revenue to better keep up with the needs of our schools.

In addition, any reforms to the property tax should also include steps to fix our inequitable, upside-down tax code – in which Washingtonians with the lowest incomes pay seven times what the richest 1 percent pay in taxes as a share of income. The Senate's plan aims to more evenly distribute the tax code so that homeowners in every school district pay the same property tax rate, regardless of property values. But that doesn’t do enough to protect the thousands of lower- and middle-income homeowners and renters who would see higher property tax bills under the Senate proposal. The proposal should include a property tax safeguard rebate to ensure that property tax increases do not fall disproportionately on the shoulders of families who can’t afford it, no matter what part of the state they call home.

To learn more about the Senate Republicans' school funding plan, join our fiscal policy team for a Budget Beat webinar this Friday, February 3, at noon. And stay tuned for further analysis when more details about the fiscal impact of the plan become available. 

 

Supreme Court Strikes Down Eyman’s Latest Attempt to Derail Social and Economic Progress

Posted by Kelli Smith at May 26, 2016 08:50 PM |

This morning, the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to restrict the legislature’s ability to eliminate wasteful tax breaks and enact new revenue for public priorities like education, infrastructure, and health care. Initiative 1366, another in a series of Eyman’s unconstitutional supermajority proposals, would have allowed a handful of lawmakers to stand in the way of attempts to raise revenue for these and other state investments. Supermajority laws require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to enact any tax increase, essentially granting veto power to just 17 senators out of 147 state legislators. 

As we’ve described in the past, I-1366 would have been disastrous for Washington. It would have essentially blackmailed the legislature into restricting its own ability to enact new state revenue, or else lose $1.4 billion a year from the state budget for important services like higher education, safe communities, and health care. This, in the face of an historic mandate from the state Supreme Court to fully fund basic education for our kids and grandkids, which will require billions of additional dollars for schools each year.

In order to fund state priorities that build strong communities, like parks and libraries, safe roads, and schools that we can depend upon to educate the next generation of Washington’s leaders, the legislature must be able to do its job. That includes raising revenue equitably and sustainability – and by decision of the entire legislative body, not just a handful of influential lawmakers. 

As the Court stated in its opinion: “[If I-1366 were allowed to stand, t]he new norm would be for the initiative sponsors to pair one drastic or undesirable measure with an ultimatum that it go into effect unless a specific constitutional amendment is proposed to the people.”

 

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!

Lawmakers Can Prevent Thousands of Washingtonians from Losing Food Assistance

Posted by Elena Hernandez at Apr 04, 2016 11:00 PM |
*Corrected version, April 5, 2016
 

Many Washingtonians who struggled during the recession are now on more stable footing thanks to the economic recovery, but there are still many people in our state who are facing barriers to employment and unable to make ends meet. And as of this month, thousands of those Washingtonians, including many veterans and homeless people, are losing their access to the Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), a critical tool to help them put food on the table.

Strict time limits are being reinstated for SNAP – or Basic Food in Washington state – for non-disabled, childless adults who are unable to find full-time employment. This will result in some of our most vulnerable populations throughout the state facing an increase in hunger and hardship.

It's not too late for lawmakers to rethink the decision to allow these time limits to be reinstated. 

The 1996 federal welfare reform law originally imposed time limits on individuals who are not working or participating in a 20-hour per week work training program. Those individuals could only receive SNAP for three months out of any three years. However, during the economic recession, states like Washington rightly chose to waive this rule in areas of high unemployment. Unfortunately, states have begun to re-impose the time limit as the economy improves. In Washington state, approximately 15,000 childless adults who have previously qualified for SNAP who are living in King, Snohomish, and parts of Pierce County are no longer receiving food assistance as of this month.

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sheds more light on who is impacted by these cuts: 

  • Those facing cuts to food assistance are some of the poorest in the state, including those who are homeless, veterans, and part-time workers. Impacted individuals have extremely low incomes – an average of $2,000 per year for a single person in 2015. Many live in rural areas where poverty can be especially high and jobs are few and far between. In addition, the number of underemployed workers (i.e. those who work fewer hours than they wish, or in jobs for which they are overqualified or underpaid) among communities of color remains especially high, further evidence that our economic recovery is not being felt equally for all Washingtonians (see graphic).
  • Many of those impacted do not qualify for any other forms of assistance to help them get enough to eat or make ends meet. The reinstatement of the three-month time limit is especially detrimental to this population as there are no other benefits available to most unemployed workers without children.
  • Many face significant barriers to employment, including limited education and skills, or are caring for elderly, sick, or disabled relatives. This impacts their ability to find work. And those people who do find work often struggle to meet the 20-hour requirement.

Although the overall unemployment rate is falling in Washington state, other labor market data indicate that many people who want to work still cannot find jobs, while others who want to work full-time can find only part-time employment (see graphic). In addition, access to employment programs is limited in most states. This means that a number of individuals will lose SNAP regardless of how hard they are looking for work or how much they want to attend a job training program. Many of those impacted are already working, but may not be able to find the hours needed to meet the requirement. 

[Click on graphic to enlarge it.]

SNAP_employment

Cutting off this basic assistance to keep food on the table for the poorest Washingtonians will not mean that these people will be better able to find employment or more hours of work. It will simply mean that people who are already having a hard time making ends meet will now have to deal with increased hunger on top of everything else. 

While congressional action to reverse or limit this draconian rule seems unlikely, states can take steps to limit its impact. In Washington state, lawmakers and advocates have taken some laudable steps to do so: They're extending the waiver in areas still struggling with high unemployment, increasing access to job training programs, and examining rules and exemptions to ensure that individuals are not arbitrarily cut off. Nevertheless, 15,000 Washingtonians could still face even more hardship as a result of these limits. And more needs to be done. 

To learn more about the SNAP time limits and their impacts on communities, read this new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

*The previous version of this post did not mention the steps that Washington is taking to limit the impact of these federal SNAP time limits. The post has been updated to provide more detailed information about some of the protections in place for people facing losses to food assistance. Thank you to Christina Wong, Public Policy Manager with Northwest Harvest, for contributing to this post.

 

With I-1366 Ruled Unconstitutional, It’s Time for Lawmakers to Focus on Improving Schools

Posted by Andy Nicholas at Jan 21, 2016 10:00 PM |

Now that Tim Eyman’s harmful Initiative 1366 has been struck down by the King County Superior Court for violating the state constitution, lawmakers should put this damaging distraction behind them and focus on improving schools and ensuring that all Washingtonians have opportunities to thrive. 

Judge William Downing found that I-1366 – a law designed to force lawmakers into amending the state constitution to require a two-thirds “supermajority” legislative vote or a vote of the people to enact a tax increase of any size – violates the state constitution in multiple ways. His ruling invalidates the law, which voters passed by a narrow margin in a November 2015 election that had an especially low turnout (only 38 percent of registered voters cast ballots), in its entirety. As such, he spared lawmakers from having to grapple with the toxic choice it foisted upon them.  

Eyman has indicated that he will appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court. However, Judge Downing found the measure to be invalid on all three counts put forward by the plaintiffs – illegally strong-arming the people’s representatives into amending the state constitution under threat of an enormous reduction in revenues; putting multiple, unrelated subjects in the initiative; and binding the hands of future legislatures. Such a thorough repudiation means it’s highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will bring the measure back to life. 

That’s good news for Washington state. The supermajority amendment included in I-1366 would have given all power over state tax and investment policies to a small minority of lawmakers and corporate lobbyists opposed to important investments in schools, public safety, and other building blocks of a thriving economy. What’s more, if lawmakers had failed to muster the two-thirds vote required to pass the constitutional amendment required under I-1366, the state sales tax rate would have automatically fallen to 5.5 percent from 6.5 percent in April. That would have drained $1.4 billion annually from vital state revenues that support our economy and people. In short, I-1366 would have made it virtually impossible for lawmakers to come up with the billions of additional dollars required by the Supreme Court in the McCleary decision to improve Washington’s schools.   

As Judge Downing wrote:

“Even if the 2016 legislature were not facing a daunting and immediate challenge to solve the school funding crisis, the prospect of a severe budget cut to take effect in April…would greatly impede the intended deliberative process; in operative reality, it renders it an impossibility.”

The court's ruling makes it abundantly clear that I-1366 is unconstitutional. The measure has been thoroughly invalidated, meaning lawmakers need not waste any more time on preparing to implement it. Instead, they should focus on building a state revenue system capable of amply funding good schools and other investments that will help kids, families, workers, and seniors succeed in the 21st century economy.

For more analysis on what the I-1366 decision means for our state budget and the legislature, save the date for our Budget Beat webinar on Friday, January 29, at 11 a.m. It will feature Budget & Policy Center Associate Director of Fiscal Policy Andy Nicholas and Pacifica Law Group Partner Kymberly Evanson – who represented the plaintiffs on both the pre- and the post-election challenges against I-1366.

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