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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.
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.
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.
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.