Washington Association of Churches and Lutheran Public Policy Office
2011 State Legislative Priorities and Results
The 2011 Special Legislative Session ended on May 25. Following is a review of the joint Washington Association of Churches–Lutheran Public Policy Office 2011 legislative agenda and how our priorities fared. These priorities were developed based upon values and principles held in common with our faith communities and with input from congregations and community partners. The 2011 legislative agenda was driven by budget priorities and legislation that fit into our long-term public policy principles.
In the midst of devastating cuts that will cause extreme hardship for many of us and our neighbors, we were successful in saving some programs slated for elimination and made progress on some policy issues.
I. Reduce Hunger, Homelessness, & Poverty
A. Preserve School Meals State Funding Portion
Nearly 300,000 children in Washington utilize this federal program with matching funds from the state budget. Priority: Restore $3 million of the $6 million cut proposed in the governor’s 2011-13 budget.
• Unfortunately, the final budget contained the entire $6 million cut to this program.
• Funds will be available to cover breakfast and K-3 lunch co-pays for those who don’t qualify for free meals, as well as summer and breakfast grants and reimbursements.
B. Preserve 2010 Funding Level for Disabilities Lifeline, formerly General Assistance to the Unemployable (GAU)
Nearly 18,000 people with very low incomes in Washington rely on this program because they are temporarily unable to work due to a mental illness or physical disability. Last year this program was dramatically altered and time-limited.
• Disability Lifeline program was dramatically altered again. Cash grants were eliminated for those who are not awaiting federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) determination and substituted was The Essential Needs & Housing Support Program which will provide housing vouchers and essential items to eligible recipients.
• The monthly cash grant for those who have applied for federal SSI assistance, the ABD (Aged, Blind, or Disabled) program was reduced to up to $197/month.
• Medical benefits were preserved.
C. Preserve the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) and the State Food Assistance (SFA) Program
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) provides funding and services to 330 food banks and distribution centers and to 31 tribes. In 2010 there were 7.7 million visits by 1.5 million people to food banks, and tribes provided vouchers to 9,600 people. It was proposed to eliminate the program.
• With the support of advocates around the state, strong funding for this program will continue.
The State Food Assistance (SFA) Program provides similar benefits as the federal food stamp program but covers documented immigrants and refugees who aren’t eligible for the federal program. State Food Assistance benefits average about $114 per month, and the program serves more than 14,000 Washingtonians. The governor’s 2011-13 budget proposed to eliminate all funding for SFA.
• Though $30 million was cut, public outcry and the work of advocacy organizations like the WAC and LPPO convinced the legislature to preserve 50% of the funding for this program.
D. Support Funding for Washington Family Fund (WFF) and Home Security Fund
WFF is a public-private partnership to prevent and end family homelessness with innovative programs. The Home Security Fund provides a variety of vital homeless services. Nonprofits providing services to the homeless depend upon these funds. The source of funding sunsets with the current budget. Priority: Continue funding by extending the sunset and increasing document recording fees.
• The House bill died in the Senate the last day of the special session.
II. Increase Affordable and Accessible Housing & Health Care
A. Maintain Funding for the Housing Trust Fund
The Housing Trust Fund invests in affordable housing developments across Washington State.
• Funding was decreased to $50 million including funding for housing for people with developmental disabilities, farm workers, homeless veterans, and communities of concern, and for weatherization programs.
B. Establish a Home Foreclosure Fairness Act for unemployed homeowners
The Homeowner Assistance and Protection bill creates a Washington State mediation process to give homeowners every opportunity to avoid foreclosure and maximize the ability for loan modification to keep them in their homes.
• The bill was signed by the governor in April and goes into effect in July 2011.
C. Preserve the Basic Health Plan at 2010 funding levels
The Basic Health Plan provides low-cost health care coverage through private health plans for the working poor who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.
• Basic Health Plan was preserved, but will be reduced to 34,000 enrollees by the end of the biennium (July 2013), with a freeze on new admissions for the next two years. There is now a waiting list of 150,000 people for this program.
D. Preserve the Apple Health Children’s Insurance Program
This program provides health insurance for approximately 725,000 low-income children.
• The program was preserved but eligibility levels changed. Families earning more than $37,000/year and families with undocumented children will pay higher premiums.
E. Preserve state dollars for Maternity Support Services (MSS)
One in three women in the state receives maternity care from MSS, saving the state millions of dollars in unnecessary medical costs by preventing pre-term deliveries and poor birth outcomes.
• MSS received a 25% cut totaling $12 million instead of the 50% cut proposed by the governor.
III. Reform the Criminal Justice System
A. Support reform in criminal justice system
Priority: Reform the “Three Strikes” law (passed by initiative in 1993) and the sentencing review process for non-violent offenders.
• These bills died
IV. Care for the Environment & Promote Sustainable Agriculture
A. Support Clean Water Legislation and other initiatives of the Environmental Priorities Coalition (see http://environmentalpriorities.org/)
• The 2011 Clean Water Jobs Act, SB 5604/HB 1735, was introduced but died.
• The Clean Fertilizers, Healthier Lakes and Rivers legislation passed.
• Proposed proactive solutions that ask industries that profit from using our natural resources to pay their fair share for services they receive did not make it into the budget.
B. Preserve WIC & Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program
Program provides healthy locally grown food to low-income seniors, women, infants, and children, and supports family farmers.
• The program was saved from elimination, but was cut by $420,000. The second year biennial funding is only $100,000.
C. Preserve Farm to Cafeteria Program
Supports small family farmers while improving the quality of school meals.
• The Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School programs were eliminated.
E. Support the transition of coal-based power production in Washington (TransAlta Plant in Lewis County) by 2015
• The Coal Free Future for Washington legislation is a compromise to close the TransAlta Corp. plant in Centralia in 2020 and 2025 and transition the plant to cleaner energy production.
V. Advocate for Civil & Human Rights
A. Support Human Trafficking Prevention Legislation
• Building on previous successes, bills were passed to strengthen the definition of the current human trafficking statute and to give local law enforcement greater ability to apprehend the actual perpetrators.
B. Support Farm Labor Standards Legislation
• Improvements in basic workplace safety and sanitation requirements were not made.
C. Support Adult Family Home Reform Legislation
Personal stories of abuse shared by elder advocates in our congregations confirmed a need for stronger oversight legislation.
• Legislation reforming adult family homes and reducing elder abuse passed. It includes better oversight of inspecting for abuse and greater penalties and fees for Adult Family Home owners.
D. Oppose Proposed Anti-Gang Legislation
Anti-gang legislation proposed by the Attorney General was more punitive than prevention-oriented and would have a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color.
• This legislation did not pass.
VI. Advocate for Accessible and Quality Public Education
A. Support Achievement Gap Legislation Implementation
• Legislation passed last year but implementation funding has not been included in the budget.
VII. Maintain State-Funded Safety Net
A. Encourage examination of all revenue options, especially elimination of certain tax exemptions
In these difficult economic times, our highest priority is protecting services for the most vulnerable in our state. We should close loopholes for the wealthy and corporations, rather than closing classrooms, jeopardizing our environment, cutting services, and undermining our quality of life.
• The operating budget was balanced by about 90% cuts; the rest (about $460 million) was in fund transfers. Revenue solutions or repeal of tax exemptions did not receive serious consideration.
• The House voted on repealing a tax exemption for out of state banks on interest earned on first mortgages. Those taxes would have been redirected to K-3 class size reductions. However, it failed to receive a 2/3 vote interpreted as a requirement of Initiative 1053.