Strong Social Policy: Good for Families, Good for the Economy
As state budget decisions start to take shape over the next few weeks, lawmakers must reinvest in social policies to support a strong middle class and keep children out of poverty. This is particularly crucial as Washington state has one of the worst track records in the country for cutting children and families off from resources in an economy that is failing them.
Since 2009, lawmakers have cut nearly $11 billion from social policies and programs proven to create jobs and support growth of the middle class. As a result, unemployment remains stubbornly high and the middle class continues to erode, with an especially devastating impact on children. Recent data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show that over 27,000 students are homeless statewide, a 46 percent increase since recession began.
Meanwhile, decisions made in Washington state have decimated the WorkFirst program, the primary program to help parents find or keep a job, and in which seven of every 10 participants is a child. Since 2009, over 27,000 people have lost access to WorkFirst benefits that help families find work and keep children sheltered, well fed, and safe.
One of the most egregious cuts in the WorkFirst program has been to cash assistance for families. The cash assistance families receive covers basic necessities – food, rent, diapers, and other personal hygiene items. In Washington state, the value of cash assistance has declined by 40 percent – only two states, Hawaii and Arizona, are worse (see chart). Unless lawmakers act to restore cuts to this program, these family supports will continue to decline, with likely increases in more expensive systems, like child welfare and homelessness.
With such high unemployment and a job market awash in low wage work, policies that help families find or keep a job are critical and provide a pathway to self-sufficiency. Ensuring the basic needs of our children are met is an investment in their future and our collective well-being, as our fate is directly tied to how well we prepare our kids to be the leaders, workers, and parents of tomorrow. Our state budget is a primary tool to invest in the opportunities children and families need to rebuild a strong middle class in Washington state.