The budget in Olympia, in fact, may be central to a mayoral candidacy in Seattle. And perhaps not in a good way.
Anyone who wants to take on Mayor Mike McGinn in liberal Seattle (it's going to be harder than his critics think), needs to have his or her lefty bona fides in order. And at a first glance, as chair of the state senate ways and means committee, this could be a slight problem for Murray.
Progressives in Seattle see the proposed senate budget as more conservative than the house version, because it includes larger cuts to a sacred program among social justice advocates—the Disability Lifeline, the $327 million program that provides assistance to about 21,000 people, including HIV victims, veterans, victims of domestic violence, and people with severe disabilities, who cannot work.
[pullquote]"I got Republicans and conservative Democrats to vote for restoring programs like the Disability Lifeline and family planning that the Democratic governor cut."[/pullquote]
Sen. Murray's senate budget takes a harsher swipe at the Disability Lifeline than the liberal house, completely eliminating the the cash stipend program. (The house version preserves the cash stipend, though at a reduced level, cutting it by 42 percent.) As for the medical benefit, the senate reduces it by $51 million—downsizing coverage from about 18,000 people to 12,000 people, while the house preserves it at current levels.
In a push to keep funding the program, Seattle-area leaders, including King County Executive Dow Constantine, Downtown Seattle Association President Kate Joncas, Harborview Medical Center Executive Director Eileen Whalen, Seattle Police Department Assistant Chief Dick Reed, and Committee to End Homelessness Project Director Bill Block, recently signed a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire and to the chairs of the state house and senate ways and means committees, including Murray, calling on the state to continue funding both the cash stipend and health care coverage components of the program. (McGinn didn't sign the letter. We have asked his office why not.)
Murray has won praise for shepherding through a bipartisan budget, and he defends his sharper cuts to the Lifeline, saying of the senate (where conservative Democrats and Republicans outnumber liberals like Murray): "I got Republicans and conservative Democrats to vote for restoring programs like the Disability Lifeline and family planning that the Democratic governor cut. If I hadn't done a bipartisan budget, [ranking Republican ways and means committee member Sen. Joe] Zarelli would have captured the budget process, and instead of talking about pushing the numbers up now, we'd be talking about trying to fund it at all."
As for the house's full funding, Murray quips: "If I had a majority and 300 million extra dollars [a reference to a liquor distribution privatization scheme in the house budget on which many question the math], I could have funded the programs too."
The letter from Seattle leaders reads in part:
DL recipients face multiple challenges including physical infirmities, mental illness (66%), substance abuse (38%) and homelessness (29%) making them a difficult and expensive population to serve. However, they would be an even more expensive population if cash assistance and health care were not provided.
Without cash assistance, DL recipients are unable to pay for housing, prescriptions, over the counter drugs, food, utilities and basic necessities. While many DL-U recipients live in subsidized permanent housing (public housing or using Section 8 vouchers), a large proportion are either homeless or in transitional settings, sponsored in large part by non-profit providers that rely upon rental income to cover a portion of their operating costs.
Without the stability from cash assistance and supportive housing, DL recipients can fall away from the managed health care system leading to increased costs and public safety concerns. With two-thirds of the cost of DL-U being medical and one-third cash assistance, cost control of medical care is important. Compared to other populations in state programs, DL-U recipients have high medical expenses and frequent use of inpatient hospital care. Mental health and substance abuse problems increase frequency of emergency room visits as well as rates of arrest.
Cash assistance, along with access to health care, housing and supportive services, is a vital part of the pathway to work, rehabilitation, permanent disability benefits, and more stable living situations for DL-U recipients as well as a key in reducing homelessness. King County saw an 11% reduction in the annual count of the unsheltered on the street, in February 2011, the first time there has been a double digit reduction.
People on Disability Lifeline need your support NOW! Let’s work together to provide more targeted assistance so that recipients can continue to move from DL-U to other appropriate programs and supports.