As we have previously written, House Bill 1484 and Senate Bill 5440 would lay the foundation and establish a framework to reduce the number of people living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line ($32,040 a year for a family of two) by half by 2025.
Policymakers can also take steps this session to strengthen public benefit programs to have an immediate impact on child and family well-being. For example, they should ensure that state agencies and community organizations have the data and information they need to create effective poverty-reduction strategies. Current data sources don’t tell us enough about who is going hungry and missing meals due to a lack of financial resources. That is why policymakers and anti-hunger advocates have introduced Senate Bill 5485 and House Bill 2014 to allow the state to get more-detailed hunger data by region, race, and ethnicity to better target resources throughout the state.
To see a fact sheet on why our state needs better data on hunger, click on the graphic below.
Further, policymakers should also support these five intergenerational poverty-reduction priorities this session to build a better foundation for the future of our state:
- Early Childhood Education: In order to thrive, all young children must have access to high-quality early learning. Policymakers must make sure more kids can enroll in the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) and make sure the ECEAP child care centers have the resources to provide preschool education, and health and nutrition services. They should also improve both quality and access to affordable child care through Working Connections Child Care by eliminating potential waitlists, increasing the wages of child care workers, and ensuring providers have the resources they need to provide great care.
- Post-Secondary and Employment Pathways: Education is a key pathway out of poverty. However, parents who participate in WorkFirst (a temporary assistance program to help families in poverty get on their feet) are not allowed to pursue more than 12 months of post-secondary education and training. A recent state study found that WorkFirst parents who manage against the odds to complete at least 54 credits (which takes at least 24 months) earned $6,252 more annually two years later and spent fewer total months on public assistance than parents who don’t go to community college. Senate Bill 5347 and House Bill1566 would allow WorkFirst parents to pursue 24 months of post-secondary vocational education and training.
- Economic Assets: We all need to have some savings to weather tough economic times, like the loss of a job or an illness. Unfortunately, some public assistance programs force people to spend down their savings or sell their car in order to qualify. As a result, people who are financially struggling need to dig themselves into a deeper economic hole before getting help. Two bills this session, Senate Bill 5609 and House Bill 1831 would raise or eliminate entirely asset caps in public assistance programs. Both bills would not only help people be more financially resilient, but would also make the programs more beneficial and cost-effective.
To see a fact sheet on the benefits of eliminating asset caps, click on the graphic below.
- Health & Well-Being: Research shows that children who grow up in economic hardship are at greater risk of experiencing toxic stress. In fact, as many as one in five low-income children and youth between ages 6 and 17 have some form of behavioral or mental health disorder. Rates are even higher for children who live in poverty and for those who become involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Intergenerational approaches to poverty place an emphases on reducing toxic stress through improved mental health services. House Bill 1713 and Senate Bill 5763 would require the state to better coordinate mental health resources and treatment for Medicaid-eligible children in Washington, require depression screenings for youth, and maintain a network of mental health providers.
- Social Capital: Research has shown that there is an inter-relationship between social capital (relationships that help people earn more money and build influence in their community) and post-secondary education. Having social capital helps you get a better education and vice versa. Social capital and post-secondary education help people who’ve been incarcerated have a better transition home upon release, and they also them better contribute to their communities. Senate Bill 5069 and House Bill 1129 would allow people to pursue an associate’s degree while incarcerated, ensuring they have a chance at a better life when they are released and able to strengthen the well-being of their families and communities.
Policymakers on both sides of the political aisle have demonstrated their interest in and support for taking intergenerational approach to reducing poverty. The bipartisan support of many of these bills is a great sign that lawmakers want to support common goals to strengthen the well-being of all Washingtonians.