State Investments Can Improve Health & Environment
Part four in a series “Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture.” Both the House and Senate budgets take advantage of the single best opportunity to improve health: expansion of Medicaid to more than 250,000 people in Washington state. But that’s not the end of the story, as there are still significant differences between the House and Senate bills in how we invest in keeping Washington’s people and environment healthy.
The House goes further than the Senate to preserve and strengthen state investments that protect seniors and children. On investments in clean air, water, and land, both the House and Senate make damaging cuts, but the Senate cuts to key environmental programs that maintain Washingtonians quality of life are far deeper. The House invests over $200 million towards ensuring good health and quality of life for Washingtonians. The Senate invests $36 million (see graph below).
Some key differences include (see table for more detail):
- Dental care for adults. Oral health care, including teeth cleanings, fillings, and dentures, is a critical aspect of maintaining overall good health. These services were drastically reduced in the last budget cycle, but the House fully restores this funding. The Senate proposes to only partially bring back dental benefits, for preventative care and dentures only.
- Quality child care. Currently, a child care provider’s salary covers less than half of a family’s basic needs. The House increases payments to all child care providers and gives an additional increase to providers who deliver high-quality care. These pay incentives promote quality and mean more families will be able to find child care. The Senate fails to make this important investment.
- Protecting seniors: The House budget includes investments to protect seniors and people with disabilities from neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation. The Senate does not include any funding for these protections.
- A clean and safe environment: Both the House and Senate transfer $29 million away from the Model Toxics Control Account (MTCA), which is dedicated to cleaning up over 5,000 toxic sites in Washington state. These toxic sites threaten people’s health in communities across the state by contaminating the water and land where we live, work, and play. The Senate makes things even worse by also cutting $12.6 million from the Department of Ecology, which will further erode our state’s ability to keep our drinking water and air safe, and maintain the environmental amenities so critical to our quality of life in Washington state.
A bright spot amid shrinking resources is the savings that result from the expansion of Medicaid, a decision that both chambers agree on. As we have written about previously, expanding Medicaid is a good deal for our state. It will greatly increase the number of people who have access to health care while savings the state between $250-300 million in the next two years.
We have a shared responsibility to achieve a state where people are healthy, our environment is clean, and children and people with long-term needs are cared for and protected. These things don’t happen by accident. Good health and quality of life for all Washingtonians depends upon the investments the state makes.