Community leaders and advocates gathered in Renton on Thursday at the Compass Veterans Center to share stories about the impact the proposed state budgets wil have on all residents, but especially on people of color and low income families.
The State House and Senate both released their proposed budget within the past two weeks with drastic differences, the advocates said.
The gathering was timed to coincide with a letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee and legislators by over 40 organizations that advocate and provide services for these traditionally underserved communities, urging lawmakers to pass a budget that will "invest in communities of color, embracing equity through funding education, the safety-net, and other priorities that strengthen the middle class and move families of color onto a path of prosperity."
"What differentiates the two budgets is their approach," said Lacy Steele, President Emeritus, Seattle King County NAACP, speaking to a gathering of civic and labor leaders and local press. "The House budget closes tax loopholes, and continues taxes that were set to expire this year, so that significant investments can be made in education without slashing funding to critical services. The Senate budget does not close a single tax loophole and allows existing taxes to expire. It makes insufficient investments in education at the expense of vital services."
The proposed Senate budget significantly reduces the number of families eligible for Working Connections, a program that allows low-income families to provide affordable quality child-care for their children while they work. The Senate also proposed a 57 percent reduction to Housing & Essential Needs and the elimination of the Aged, Blind & Disabled program effective July 1, 2013.
One of those likely affected by the proposed cuts was former Renton resident Tonya Thomas, a career Alaska Airlines flight attendant who suffered debilitating injuries while on the job in 2011.
Thomas, 60, said she was busy securing an supply bin at the rear of a passenger jet in Bellingham when the aircraft suddenly took off — the pilot's regulation warning failing to reach her. The fall caused two torn muscles in her left shoulder and separated her hip, and she was unable to continue working. She was forced to move from her $1200-a-month rental at Bristol Apartments in Renton. Through Catholic Community Services (CCS), Thomas was eventually able find a more affordable, $675-a-month ground-level apartment of her own in Des Moines through the Housing and Essential Needs/Disability Lifeline (HEN/DL) program, which provides safety-net assistance to thousands of individuals with disabilities.
"Shortly after my surgery, my workman's comp ran out. I was so scared I would lose my home and end up on the streets," she said. "I praise God for the HEN/DL program that allowed me to keep my home and retain my sense of independence."
She said she was looking for another job within Alaska Airlines that would be able to accomodate her disability, where she is on unpaid leave, but hasn't had any luck so far. It is unclear if CCS would continue to keep Thomas on the program if the cut was passed.
The House budget, said the advocates, preserves current funding for these programs by prioritizing them over tax loopholes.
Renton may also bear the brunt of cuts to the Consolidated Homeless Grant program (a 50 percent cut by the Senate's budget) and other programs in Renton that receive support from other homelessness programs that were also cut by the Senate's budget, according to Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
"If that budget were to go into effect, conservative estimates are that it will cause at least 20,000 more people to experience homelessness (statewide) during the two budget cycle," she said.
Advocates say they hope the final budget will include current funding for these programs, in addition to fully funding the State Food Assistance program, the breast and cervical health & screening program, and several mental health safety enhancements such as more room at mental health hospitals for violent offenders and synchronizing laws on concealed weapons permits for offenders.