Schmudget Blog


Washington state’s members of Congress should reject SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill

Posted by April Dickinson at Apr 27, 2018 05:30 PM |
Filed under: Federal Issues, Poverty
By Hana Jang, Narver policy fellow

Now that Republicans in Congress have released the details of their partisan Farm Bill, it is clear that the bill’s proposals for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are as harmful as we feared. This bill would take our communities in the wrong direction when it comes to the well-being of our residents. Nearly 1 million Washingtonians use SNAP to feed their families, and this bill would result in many seeing their benefits reduced or cut altogether, putting them at risk of being hungry or falling into poverty. The Farm Bill must be rejected by Washington state’s members of Congress.


In Washington state, the proposed changes to SNAP would:

  • Create hardship for thousands of people throughout Washington state as a result of unnecessary new work requirements. Most people who participate in SNAP and can work, already do. But proposals in the bill would require almost all adult participants not receiving disability benefits – including people between the ages of 50 and 59 and parents with children over the age of 6 – to prove every month that they are working or attending an employment program at least 20 hours a week or that they are exempt from the requirement. This additional administrative process could mean that participants who are exempt or are meeting the requirement could have their benefits at risk if there is a slip-up in their monthly tracking. And people subject to the work requirement who cannot meet the minimum hours prescribed will lose their access to SNAP. Placing additional barriers to access to food assistance could mean people have to go without food.
  • Impose penalties on people who can’t meet the new requirements, including people who are working in jobs with insecure hours. The bill contains a provision that would penalize workers who already face hardship due to low wages or unpredictable schedules. Under this provision, failure to meet the minimum number of required monthly work hours just once would kick a SNAP participant off the program for 12 months. And a second failure would result in them losing benefits for 36 months. They could only regain benefits if they found a job that provided enough hours or if their circumstances change in a way that exempt them from this requirement. In other words, people who have fluctuating work schedules, which can already lead to financial insecurity, could be subject to greater financial hardship because of a schedule dictated by their employer.
  • Misuse tax dollars that should be strengthening our communities. Under the previous 2014 Farm Bill, 10 states (including Washington state) agreed to pilot new and innovative SNAP work and job-training programs to help identify effective ways to help SNAP participants obtain meaningful work that leads to success. The pilot programs are due to release their results in the next few years. Yet the current Farm Bill is proposing major changes to SNAP’s job training and education programs without waiting for the critical data and research that shows how the pilot programs are working. It would ultimately invest significant taxpayer dollars toward creating a new system to track SNAP participants’ work hours and an underfunded expansion of untested job training and education programs, rather than providing needed food assistance to families in our communities.

SNAP is already one of our nation’s most powerful and effective poverty- and hunger-reduction programs. It helps feed over 40 million Americans and keeps eight million out of poverty. Our U.S. representatives from Washington state must reject these proposals that would harm people who are working to make ends meet. They must protect SNAP’s legacy of trying to ensure everyone in our country can put food on the table.

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Five essential truths about our state tax code

We’re hearing a lot of conversations these days about a topic previously off the table at most social gatherings: our state’s tax code. As an organization that advocates for the important role that taxpayers’ investments play in the well-being of our state, we welcome the interest in this topic of conversation. 

Unfortunately, many myths permeate the public discourse about our state tax code. At the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, we are committed to making sure you know the truth about that tax code – and the real solutions that must be enacted in Olympia to make it work for everyone. Because it is a tax code that doesn’t live up to our values. It isn’t set up to invest in our communities in the short and long term. And it is set up to favor corporations, special interests, and the ultra-wealthy over everyday Washingtonians. As a result, the tax code creates additional barriers to economic opportunity for many communities of color and people with low incomes. 

Here’s the truth about the ways our tax code is failing our state:

1. Yes, Washington state really does have the worst tax code in the nation for working people. Specifically, those with the lowest incomes pay almost 17 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes, while those in the top 1 percent pay less than 3 percent. That’s completely upside down. And this takes a particularly heavy toll on many people of color in our state who have low incomes as a result of generations of systemic racism. 

2. The tax code is too dependent on regressive sources of revenue that aren’t growing with our modern economy. Our tax code relies way too much on the super regressive sales tax. Further, by mostly taxing goods (like household necessities and toiletries) and not high-end services (like many spa services and financial advising services), the tax code also misses out on a major opportunity for growing revenue (see chart below) that primarily comes from higher-income people who already get better deals in the tax code. 
 
Goods vs services 2017

3. The property tax system doesn’t support the needs of people with middle and low incomes. Although our state’s property taxes are an important source of revenue for our schools and community services, they are structured in a way that makes homeowners with middle and low incomes shoulder too much responsibility to support community needs – like schools and public safety. Property owners often pass the cost of increased taxes onto renters through higher rents. Without targeted safeguards or rebates in place to offset some of these taxes for homeowners and renters who cannot afford them, the system stays broken. 

4. Our state has hundreds of harmful and unnecessary tax breaks on the books for corporations and special interests. Those tax breaks are funneling money away from investments that serve all our communities, like our schools, our parks, and our public transportation systems.

5. Overall, our tax code is simply not providing reliable revenue to pay for critical services. As of 2018, our state revenues are still well below the levels from before the Recession, when adjusted for economic growth (see chart below). In a growing state with a strong economy, that is simply unacceptable – especially given the challenges we face with issues like homelessness and unaffordability in our communities. 

Revenue trend 2018

But there are solutions.

We’ve laid out commonsense solutions to these problems. To start turning the tax code right-side up and creating new revenue, our state legislators should:

These policies would also importantly take some steps to help undo some of the racial inequities in our tax code. For example, if the WFTR were enacted, it would strengthen the economic security of many families of color with low incomes throughout our state. And the largest rebates would go to Latinx people, Asians or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians/Alaska Natives.

In the work to clean up our state’s tax code, let’s make sure that accurate information is drowning out the myths and half-truths. With a real understanding of what we want our tax code to look like, we can work to make sure it is equitable and invests in all of us. 

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Brief: Washington state must ensure kids are on the path to a healthy life

Posted by Jennifer Tran at Apr 11, 2018 12:55 PM |
Filed under: Kids Count, Health Care, Equity

Washington state has made tremendous gains in recent years to make sure more kids and families have greater access to health insurance. In 2007, the Washington State Legislature passed the Cover All Kids law, creating affordable, comprehensive Apple Health for Kids coverage. Since then, the number of Washington children without health coverage has dropped to its lowest level on record. Yet despite reaching historically high rates of insurance coverage, racial gaps in health outcomes persist and must be addressed.

HealthyStartPhoto

For KIDS COUNT in Washington’s new “Getting All Kids Off to a Healthy Start” brief (a part of the State of Washington’s Kids 2018 series), we asked local health leader Michelle Sarju, “What would it take to make sure young kids have a healthy start?” She noted that it begins with the quality of care an expectant mother receives – because women with low incomes experience the worst features of our public systems, which includes our health care system. Mistreatment at the hands of medical providers is a disincentive to seek further care, says Sarju. “Who wants to show up to a doctor’s appointment to be treated poorly?”

Even when socioeconomic differences are erased, race still matters. Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes as white women, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “For African American and Native American women, midwifery and doula care are two of several evidence-based strategies for improving maternal-child health outcomes,” says Sarju. “If you have a well-trained and licensed provider, you have much better outcomes. Midwives and doulas are strategic resources.”

In Washington state, women of color have a greater likelihood of dying from pregnancy-related causes. And infants of color – particularly Black, American Indian, and Pacific Islander babies –experience higher rates of infant mortality and preterm births and are more likely to be born at a lower birthweight.

In order to make systemic improvements to address these poor outcomes, decision makers must thoroughly assess quality of care for women and families of color. Policymakers, community health leaders, health care practitioners, and other individuals who influence health care and public health systems should also take other necessary steps to implement the following recommendations to help improve health outcomes for mothers and young children:

  • Identify interventions to address the adverse effects of structural and institutional racism on health outcomes;
  • Promote culturally relevant forms of health care, such as midwifery; and
  • Prioritize socioeconomic supports that advance the well-being of families, including Apple Health coverage, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, two-generation approaches to parent-child support like home visiting, and the full implementation of the state’s new paid sick and family leave laws.

Getting All Kids Off to a Healthy Start” is the second release in the State of Washington’s Kids 2018 series. See the first in our series here.

KCinWA

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Kids of color are leading the way into a more racially diverse state

Posted by Jennifer Tran at Apr 11, 2018 12:55 PM |
Filed under: Kids Count, Equity

Our new KIDS COUNT in Washington demographic profile, “Kids are Leading the Way Toward a New Washington,” shows how kids of color are leading our state into a more racially diverse future. The profile – the first release in our State of Washington’s Kids 2018 series – focuses on how Washington state’s population is projected to become majority people of color around 2050, and youth are at the forefront of this trend.

Already, 43 percent of kids in our state are kids of color. And in eight of Washington’s 39 counties, the population of children is already majority kids of color. Latino, Pacific Islander, and mixed-race children are the fastest growing segments of our youth population.

SWK County Map

Kids of color in Washington state are diverse in ancestry, including Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Ethiopian, Somali, and more. Additionally, over a quarter of Washington’s kids are immigrant or reside with at least one immigrant parent.

As kids of color continue to represent a growing share of Washington’s population, our state needs to create the conditions that allow all our children — regardless of race or ethnicity, immigration status, ZIP code, family income, gender, and whether English is their first language — to thrive. And the State of Washington’s Kids 2018 series provides recommendations for how policymakers can make this a reality. The first issue brief in the series, “Getting All Kids Off to a Healthy Start,” makes recommendations for how lawmakers and community leaders can help Washington’s kids have equitable opportunities for good health.

And in the coming months, keep an eye out for the next State of Washington’s Kids issue briefs. They will look at how our state can ensure kids in Washington have their basic needs met and how our state can ensure all kids have the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

SWK2018


KIDS COUNT in Washington is a partnership between the Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The demographic profile, “Kids are Leading the Way Toward a New Washington,” is the first release in our State of Washington’s Kids 2018 series, providing a racial demographic overview of Washington’s youth population. This profile is available in a printed folder format. For a hard copy, please contact adam(at)childrensalliance(dot)org.

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Threats to food assistance in Farm Bill could harm thousands of Washington households

Posted by April Dickinson at Apr 05, 2018 07:15 PM |
Filed under: Federal Issues, Poverty

By Misha Werschkul, executive director, and Hana Jang, Narver fellow

When Congress returns from spring recess on April 9, they will begin considering a Farm Bill that could undermine nearly four decades of progress in addressing hunger by including harmful cuts or changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, and formerly known as food stamps), our nation’s largest and most effective anti-hunger program.

SNAP, which provides food assistance for one in every eight Washingtonians, helps people get back on their feet while boosting health, nutrition, and children’s learning. SNAP reaches over 900,000 Washington residents, including: families with children, teachers, support staff, cashiers, retail staff, home health aides, and many others. Many SNAP participants work, but often have jobs that offer low-wages or not enough hours to make ends meet. Nationally, SNAP keeps more than 8 million people out of poverty – including nearly four million children. And SNAP provides more than $1.3 billion in federal resources annually to help boost Washington’s economy.

SNAP helps 1 in 8 Washingtonians

As Congress begins to debate the Farm Bill, Washingtonians should watch for and reject:

1.    Harmful cuts to SNAP funding. SNAP is an incredibly effective anti-hunger program. Even with a modest average benefit of just $1.33 per person per meal, SNAP has a vital impact in our state, helping hundreds of thousands of our residents put food on the table. Cuts and harmful changes to SNAP that take away people's food have no place in the Farm Bill.

2.    Elimination of state flexibility. Washington state currently uses what’s known as “categorical eligibility” to help SNAP benefits phase out more slowly as a worker’s income increases. Taking away this option would punish people who work more hours or get a better-paying job with the goal of stabilizing their lives before moving away from SNAP.

3.    Increased paperwork and administrative requirements. One proposal under consideration is to undo the connection between Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and SNAP, also known as “Heat and Eat,” which allows Washington and other states to streamline administration of food assistance with utility benefit programs. This would result in costly and unnecessary new paperwork and administrative requirements for families and states.

4.    New, untested work requirements. The proposed Farm Bill may include harsh new work requirements and penalties that would eliminate SNAP as a core support for people who are unemployed or experience irregular work schedules. Research suggests that these types of proposals do little to promote work while pushing more people into deep poverty.

Washington’s members of Congress have historically shared a bipartisan commitment to SNAP as an effective way to help feed struggling Washingtonians and get them back on their feet. Our representatives in Congress must reject cuts to food assistance and focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages instead of punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.

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Final budget brings momentous victories for communities, but property tax cuts will come at a cost

Posted by Kelli Smith at Mar 14, 2018 02:30 PM |

In the final 2018 supplemental budget, Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate reached compromises to make several laudable new investments in our schools and communities – including some very worthy investments that advocates for low-income communities and communities of color have promoted for years. But lawmakers also cut next year’s state property tax using accounting gimmicks that may leave the state in financial trouble for years to come. Not only did budget writers choose to pay for these across-the-board property tax cuts with funds that should have gone toward the state’s emergency savings, they also missed opportunities to strengthen our state tax code. 

No doubt the investments lawmakers made in our communities – from making breakfast available for students in high-poverty schools to expanding health care access – will put many on a much brighter path forward. But these investments would have been more sustainable and better for the well-being of our state if policymakers hadn’t decided to prioritize short-term tax cuts over maintaining healthy fiscal reserves for the longer term.

Lawmakers should not have compromised the rainy day fund to pay for property tax cuts

In a slight variation on what both the House and Senate put forth in their earlier budget proposals, the final budget diverts funds from the rainy day fund to pay for inequitable and unnecessary property tax cuts next year. As we have written previously, any property tax reform should be targeted to low- and middle-income households that already pay a higher share of their income in taxes than the wealthy do. Higher-income households don’t need any more tax breaks.

When economic times are good, as they are now, our state should be building up reserves – not squandering them on tax cuts. Instead of depositing this year’s unforeseen revenue growth into our state’s rainy day fund, budget writers enacted a legislative maneuver that allowed them to get around their savings requirement and instead put that money toward cutting the recently enacted state property tax levy. In the long term, compromising the state’s emergency savings to pay for tax cuts is fiscally irresponsible, and it will leave our communities vulnerable when real emergencies – like natural disasters or major economic downturns – strike. 

Lawmakers missed an opportunity to enact a capital gains tax to bolster community investments and rebalance our tax code

Lawmakers once again had the opportunity this session to make solid investments in schools and other community priorities in addition to ensuring the strength of our state’s long-term fiscal health. They could have done that by closing the tax break on capital gains, which would have generated more than $700 million annually to put toward our most important priorities. This move would have also been a significant step toward rebalancing our worst-in-the-nation tax code, in which people with low and middle incomes pay up to seven times more in taxes as a share of income than the top 1 percent do.

To put the need for this new form of revenue in context: When adjusted for economic growth, our state is still well below the investment levels it had before the Recession (see chart below). That is despite the fact that lawmakers have made significant investments in K-12 schools. 

Lawmakers must get serious about making our tax code more equitable, adequate, and sustainable if they want to ensure we have a state where everybody has the chance to thrive. That starts with closing wasteful tax breaks like the one on capital gains.

Click on image to enlarge.

2018_supp

On the bright side, the final budget makes progress on strengthening Washington’s communities

Despite the missed opportunities in some parts of this budget, there is a lot to celebrate in terms of the investments that lawmakers prioritized with the resources they had. Included below are snapshots of how well the final budget promotes the well-being of Washingtonians based on the Budget & Policy Center’s Progress in Washington framework

Education & job readiness

Our education system must have the resources to prepare all students – from early learning through higher education – for good jobs and jobs of the future. It should prioritize removing barriers to education and employment for communities of color. Investments in education and job readiness make up 60 percent (1) of total community investments in this budget. In the supplemental budget, lawmakers:

  • Prioritized funding teacher salaries per the Supreme Court’s McCleary order. After House Democratic leaders initially neglected to propose minimum funding for teacher salaries by next school year per the Supreme Court’s McCleary order, budget writers ultimately settled on providing nearly $800 million in additional K-12 school funding to fulfill the state’s paramount duty to fund education. Even though there is still much work to be done to ensure world-class schools for all students, this is a positive step toward bringing the years-long Supreme Court battle to an end. 
  • Expanded learning opportunities for K-12 students. The final budget includes much-needed additional funding for special education, which is critical to providing every student with the resources they need to learn. Lawmakers also included modest funding for a bilingual educator pilot initiative and dual-language programs, which are evidence-based strategies to close the opportunity gap for students who are English-language learners. 
  • Made progress toward ensuring kids have access to a nutritious breakfast each school day. After years of debate and advocacy, lawmakers included funding for Breakfast after the Bell, a program to ensure that more of our state’s lowest-income students have access to a nutritious breakfast each school day. This is a significant step in the right direction toward providing kids with the most basic thing they need to learn: food. 
  • Took significant steps forward to provide financial aid to college students with low incomes. The final budget invests an additional $18.5 million in the State Need Grant, the state’s chronically underfunded financial aid program for college students. This is a significant boost to funding, which will provide financial aid to an additional 4,600 students who need it and cut the program’s wait list by 25 percent next year. The legislature plans to eliminate the wait list by 2022, but they will need to make additional investments in the coming biennium to accomplish this goal. 
  • Focused on targeted, proven child care and family support programs. Lawmakers made some modest but impactful investments in these areas. Chief among them was funding to provide 275 additional families with home-visiting services – a proven and targeted program that gives in-home resources to new and expecting parents to help them lay a strong foundation for their child’s development and health. 
  • Did not make significant progress to improve broad access to early learning for the youngest Washingtonians. Early learning should be one of the legislature’s top priorities in next year’s budget. Lawmakers will need to grapple with how to provide funding for the planned expansion of the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, as well as how to strengthen the Working Connections Child Care program to ensure that all families across the state have access to affordable, high-quality early learning and child care.
  • Should have done more to provide outside-the-classroom support for K-12 students who need it. Next year, lawmakers should take up strengthening investments in family involvement coordinators, guidance counselors, and other outside-the-classroom resources to help school kids – especially those facing the most significant barriers to opportunity – get the most out of their education.

Healthy people & communities

Our state should support vibrant communities that allow Washingtonians to lead healthy lives and better connect to and participate in the economy. Investments in healthy people and communities make up 25 percent of total community investments in this budget. Lawmakers: 

  • Expanded health care access for many Washingtonians. Lawmakers improved access to health care for kids from families with low incomes by increasing the reimbursement rate for doctors who care for them. They also rightly included funding to expand access to health care for Washingtonians who are citizens of Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. Citizens of COFA nations are legal residents of the U.S. who work, pay taxes, and serve in the U.S. military – but are ineligible for Medicaid health care coverage. 
  • Made necessary additional investments in behavioral health services. The final budget includes funding necessary to bring our state’s mental health hospitals into compliance with federal safety standards, which was a priority in both the House and Senate budgets. Lawmakers also included significant funding to improve community behavioral health services and opioid treatment across the state.
  • Fixed health-care-related accounting stunts from last year’s budget. The final budget provides funding to make up for millions of dollars in unrealistic health care and pharmaceutical cost savings assumed in last year’s budget to make the books balance.

Effective & accountable government

The state government supports the foundations of our communities. Our public institutions should efficiently and reliably ensure that all Washingtonians can meaningfully participate in our democracy. Investments in effective and accountable government make up 9 percent of total community investments in this budget. Lawmakers:

  • Enacted reforms to enable people to re-enter their communities more easily after being incarcerated. This budget includes funding to help administer long-needed reforms to our state’s legal financial obligations (LFOs), which are high-interest legal fines and fees imposed by criminal courts on top of a criminal sentence. The reforms in this bill will remove some of the financial barriers that previously incarcerated Washingtonians face when they re-enter their communities.
  • Strengthened resources to help people with low incomes navigate the legal system. Lawmakers boosted resources for people with low incomes who need civil legal help. This will have significant positive impacts on the lives and communities of those people who need such legal support.

Economic security

All Washingtonians should have access to employment opportunities, living-wage jobs, and financial security and stability; and they should be economically secure in the face of a financial emergency. Investments in economic security make up 2 percent of total community investments in this budget. Lawmakers:

  • Restored some of the devastating cuts made in recent years to poverty-reduction programs. The final budget takes some significantly positive steps to improve services for Washingtonians with low incomes by undoing some of the cuts made in recent years to basic assistance grants for people who participate in WorkFirst, the State Food Assistance Program, and the Refugee Cash Assistance Program. The budget also expands eligibility for the Housing and Essential Needs program, which provides housing-related assistance to people unable to work because of disabilities.
  • Made common-sense reforms to public-assistance programs. Lawmakers smartly raised the financial-asset limit for people with low incomes who receive public assistance. This move will improve a previous law in which people living in poverty were forced to sell a decent car or spend down their savings to below $1,000 in order to receive help climbing out of poverty. 
  • Set up a study to ensure the WorkFirst program can meet the needs of the thousands of families that need help getting out of poverty. The budget includes funding for an important study of how the state could take steps to halt the rapid decline in the WorkFirst caseload, which is leaving more than 33,000 Washington families in poverty without basic support. The study calls for the state to investigate the impact of implementing recommendations the Budget & Policy Center made in our recent policy brief, “Reinvest in WorkFirst: How we can restore the promise of basic support to Washington families facing poverty.”

(1) Percentages mentioned in each value area do not add up to 100. That is because funding for prisons and policing, which are not part of the Progress in Washington value areas, constitute 5 percent of spending from the Near General Fund + Opportunity Pathways account.

 

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In final budget, lawmakers should take the best from House and Senate proposals

Posted by Kelli Smith at Feb 23, 2018 05:10 PM |
Filed under: State Budget, Capital Gains

The state House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats this legislative session, have proposed budgets that contain strong investments that would take steps toward ensuring that all Washingtonians have what they need to prosper. Lawmakers have the chance to enact much-needed new forms of revenue and make our tax code more equitable. There is no reason lawmakers shouldn’t include the best ideas from each proposal in their final budget. 

As they create this final budget, they should also take into consideration the fact that state investments in communities have still not reached pre-Recession levels. In fact, overall near general fund spending in each of these budget proposals is still below spending levels in the 2007-09 budget cycle, when adjusted for economic growth. At the end of the day, the state budget must reflect our values and meet the needs of our communities in a real way. 

Lawmakers should close the tax break on capital gains, reject new tax breaks

The House’s budget proposal includes a plan to close the tax break on capital gains, which would be a significant step forward in making our tax code more equitable. Washington’s tax code is completely upside-down: low- and middle-income households pay up to seven times more in state and local taxes than the top 1 percent do. A capital gains tax would affect fewer than 2 percent of the wealthiest Washingtonians – and only modestly at that. Further, revenue from a capital gains tax would diversify and strengthen our tax code, putting resources for important community investments within reach. Budget negotiators should include this common-sense proposal in the final budget.

They should also reject new tax breaks that siphon resources out of our communities and turn them into tax giveaways for special interests. A prime example of such a giveaway is the proposed rural manufacturer tax break, which is funded in the House’s budget. It’s a narrowed version of the flawed manufacturer tax break that Governor Inslee smartly vetoed last year. This tax break would cost the state millions of dollars a year that could be used instead to fund schools, help families put food on the table, or provide much-needed senior services. The bottom line is that right now is the time to clean up our tax code to invest in the priorities we all care about – not add more tax breaks.

Lawmakers should not use the rainy day fund to pay for property tax cuts 

While the details of the House and Senate proposals differ when it comes to the use of rainy day funds, both plans would raid our state’s emergency savings to pay out statewide, across-the-board property tax cuts. As we wrote when lawmakers raised the state property tax last year to fund schools, any reforms to the property tax should be targeted specifically to making the tax more equitable for low- and middle-income families. Across-the-board cuts just give higher-income households more tax breaks they don’t need.

More importantly, using the state’s emergency savings to pay for tax cuts is incredibly irresponsible under any circumstances – but especially so during good economic times when our state should be building up reserves, not drawing them down. The rainy day fund is an essential safeguard to fund the most critical foundations – such as safe hospitals, functioning schools, and responsive emergency services – when our state endures an economic downturn or a natural disaster. 

Instead of paying out property tax cuts to many households who don’t need it, lawmakers should think about the well-being of our entire state. That means ensuring we have the resources we need to invest in our communities now, and that we have reserves to weather emergencies.

The final budget should invest in Washington’s communities

Included below are snapshots of how successful the two budget proposals are at promoting the well-being of Washingtonians, using the Budget & Policy Center’s Progress in Washington framework

Education & job readiness

Our education system must have the resources to prepare all students – from early learning through higher education – for good jobs and jobs of the future. It should remove barriers to education and employment for communities of color. Here’s how the budgets stack up in terms of: 

K-12 schools. One of the most significant differences between the House and Senate proposals is that the Senate increases funding for K-12 teacher salaries by $778 million this budget cycle to comply with our state Supreme Court’s McCleary order by the 2018 school year. House budget writers opted to ignore the Court’s order and instead put off fully funding McCleary until next year, a choice that would leave teachers and students in limbo for yet another year. Budget negotiators should follow the Senate’s approach and fulfill their court mandate to fund schools now. Students – and their teachers – have waited long enough.

Both budgets would also increase funding for special education – a positive step toward ensuring that schools can provide a rich learning environment based on the needs of all of their students. 

In addition to meeting the minimal requirements of McCleary, budget writers should ensure that the final budget contains ample funding for services that we know give students the best access to opportunities. These include investments such as Breakfast after the Bell – an essential step toward ensuring that kids who may otherwise show up to school hungry have access to breakfast each school day. The Senate budget contains some funding for the program, but more is needed in the final budget. This is a moral imperative: kids can’t focus on learning when they’re hungry. The final budget should also include additional funding for family involvement coordinators and guidance counselors, as proposed by the House, to ensure that students have the resources they need outside of the classroom. 

Early learning and child care. Both the House and Senate propose small but important new investments in the state’s home visiting program, which has proven effective at providing in-home resources related to infant care, child development, and parenting skills. While this is a step in the right direction, state lawmakers should commit to expanding access to affordable child care and fully funding high-quality early learning to serve more kids from low-income families. 

Higher education. The House budget proposes a substantial new investment of $158 million over the next four years in the State Need Grant, our statewide financial aid program, which would eliminate the long-standing waitlist of eligible but unserved students by 2021. This would be a remarkable step forward to put higher education within reach for thousands of students from low-income families and ultimately strengthen Washington’s workforce. The final budget should take the House’s approach.

Healthy people & communities

Our state should support vibrant communities that allow Washingtonians to lead healthy lives and better connect to and participate in the economy. Here’s how the budgets stack up in terms of: 

• Health care. In last year’s budget, lawmakers assumed millions of dollars in unrealistic health care and pharmaceutical cost savings in order to make the budget balance. Those savings predictably did not materialize, so both plans would restore funding to those areas to make up the difference. 

Both budgets include an increased reimbursement rate for doctors who provide care for kids from low-income families, as well as increased funding for behavioral rehabilitation service providers who deliver intensive, comprehensive care for kids with high-level behavioral health needs. 

Both budget proposals also include important funding that would expand health care access to Washingtonians who are citizens of Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. Citizens of COFA nations are legal residents of the U.S. who work, pay taxes, and serve in the U.S. military – but are ineligible for Medicaid health care coverage. The final budget should take the Senate’s approach of fully funding this investment. 

• Behavioral health. Both House and Senate leaders propose increasing funding for Western State Hospital to comply with federal safety and quality requirements, and they both propose additional investments in community behavioral health treatment services. These are steps in the right direction to improve the quality and accessibility of behavioral health care across Washington’s communities.

Effective & accountable government

The state government supports the foundations of our communities. Our public institutions should efficiently and reliably ensure that all Washingtonians can meaningfully participate in our democracy. 

Both budgets include funding to help people access essential public services, such as: enhancing our state’s emergency 911 system, streamlining how people access family law courts, and strengthening resources for Washingtonians with low incomes who need civil legal help. In addition, the House plan includes funding for economic development, such as a small business innovation exchange, which would support small businesses owned by women, veterans, and people of color. These are critical services that should remain funded in the final budget. These programs not only have significant impacts on the people who use them, but they also make all of our communities stronger.

Economic security

All Washingtonians should have access to employment opportunities, living-wage jobs, and financial security and stability; and they should be economically secure in the face of a financial emergency.

Both budgets smartly propose to strengthen services for Washingtonians with low incomes by restoring cuts made in recent years to grants for people with lower incomes who participate in WorkFirst, State Food Assistance, and Refugee Cash Assistance programs. The final budget should include those investments, plus proposals by House leaders to expand eligibility for the Housing and Essential Needs program, which provides housing-related assistance to people unable to work because of disabilities. It should also raise asset limits for low-income Washingtonians who receive public assistance, as proposed by the House.

The House and Senate budget writers have until March 8 to finalize their budget. With opportunities for new revenue and a number of good ideas on the table, they should be able to come up with a spending plan that will benefit all of Washington’s communities into the future. 

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HIGHLIGHTS

Thank you for attending Budget Matters

Our Budget Matters 2018 policy conference took place on November 13 at Seattle Center. john a. powell from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Gov. Jay Inslee were the keynotes. Watch their presentations and other presentations from the conference on TVW.  

Our policy priorities

Washington state should be a place where all our residents have strong communities, great schools, and the chance for a bright future. Our 2017-2019 Legislative Agenda outlines the priorities we are working to advance.

Testimonies in Olympia

Misha TVW
Watch our 2018 legislative session testimonies on TVW: