Proposals from state agencies paint devastating picture of all cuts approach

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Proposals from state agencies paint devastating picture of all cuts approach

Washington state’s elected leaders must chart a different path with community needs at the center

By Misha Werschkul, executive director, and Liz Olson, policy analyst - June 10, 2020

Washington state leaders are putting together options to respond to what will likely be the largest state budget crisis since the Great Depression entirely with budget cuts. Washington state has the most upside-down tax code in the country, where people with the lowest incomes – who are disproportionately Black, American Indian and indigenous, Latinx, and Pacific Islander – pay the highest share of their income toward public investments. Because these Washingtonians have been hit hardest by the recession, we are seeing a sharp decline in the revenues needed to fund schools, parks, and other public investments.

Proposed cuts would create a harmful ripple effect through our communities

State agency leaders have proposed nearly $2 billion in budget cuts for the year ahead, which include:

  • Elimination of dental care, maternity support services, hospice care, occupational and physical therapy and other critical health care services for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults who rely on Medicaid health care.
  • Elimination of nursing home and home care services for tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Cuts to financial aid impacting tens of thousands of low-income college and university students.
  • Reduced funding for early childhood education impacting support for children with disabilities and families with low incomes.
  • Elimination of much-needed investment in the Housing and Essential Needs program, leaving thousands of people with disabilities without support that prevents homelessness.
  • Delayed implementation of critical reinvestments in the WorkFirst/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and reduction in job training services for people with low incomes, diminishing support and opportunities for families struggling to meet their basic needs.
  • Furloughs, salary reductions and layoffs for tens of thousands of public employees, including home care workers, case managers, essential workers, and staff at small but important state agencies like the Commission on African-American Affairs and the Washington State Investment Board.

Across-the-board reductions in critical public supports that Washingtonians need to get through this public health crisis will make life harder for all of us and disproportionately harm communities of color. Structural racism – both historic and ongoing – has systematically transferred wealth out of Black, American Indian and indigenous, and other communities of color and into the hands of whites, leaving people of color with fewer resources to draw on in in hard times. Communities of color have also long watched policymakers target and underfund their majority-Black and brown neighborhoods’ schools, roads, and businesses. Communities of color in Washington state– already deprived of the resources they need – will be further targeted by sweeping budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19.

In addition, cuts to vital public services like health care and schools will result in a slower economic recovery for Washington state. Many of the proposed program reductions are particularly short-sighted because they will result in corresponding losses of federal funds or forgo long-term savings, as in the case of childcare.

There is a better way: Prioritize equity and keep money flowing to our families and communities

Importantly, at this point these cuts are just proposals. There is still time for elected leaders to take a different approach that includes:

  • Conducting racial equity impact assessments to analyze the impact of proposed cuts on Black, American Indian and indigenous, and other communities of color who are already shouldering the worst health and economic burdens of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Centering impacted communities in decision-making processes, and prioritizing resources to those communities first. This must include responding to demands from Black leaders to redirect resources from public spending on policing and prisons to investments that support community health and well-being like education, healthcare and economic supports.
  • Working with Washington’s congressional delegation and other national leaders to approve a fourth Coronavirus relief package that includes substantial additional aid to state and local governments.
  • Using Coronavirus Relief Funds that have already been allocated to Washington state to prevent cuts and make new investments that promote economic security and public health, especially for those who are most impacted by the pandemic and accompanying economic crises.
  • Taking action to address Washington’s upside-down tax code and raise progressive revenue to support important state investments in schools, health care, and economic security.