This Washington

Reaction to Gregoire's Budget Proposal

By Josh Feit December 15, 2010

Social service advocates responded quickly today to Gov. Gregoire's budget proposal—a set of $4 billion in cuts that offs state health care subsidies for poor people, ends stipends for people with disabilities, suspends funding for smaller class sizes, and (as we noted in this morning's Fizz) reduces wages for home health care workers.

Here are some immediate and dramatic responses. (And one oddly poignant one at the end.)

The Community Health Network of Washington:
In 2009, Washington Community Health Centers served over 34,000 more uninsured patients than in 2008 – a 17% increase – and those numbers continue to rise.  The Governor’s cuts to public health coverage would create at least 100,000 new uninsured people in Washington overnight, the majority of them patients at Community Health Centers, which already serve more than a quarter of all uninsured people in the state.

Community Health Network of Washington CEO Lance Hunsinger states, “While demand for our services is at record levels, health centers are being pummeled by cuts to virtually every funding stream.  The safe harbor of health care that clinics provide many communities will be compromised. We won’t be able to provide the same primary and preventive care we have in the past, and thousands more people will have to use hospital emergency rooms. These costs will be passed on to insured people in the form of higher premiums.”

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance:
Included in the cuts was the total elimination of the Disability Lifeline program, formerly known as GAU, which provides healthcare and a small monthly stipend to those who are disabled and not yet physically able to work.

At the same time, the governor was able to preserve about $100 million for the capital budget, including $40.8 million for affordable housing. Advocates today praised Governor Gregoire for recognizing that shovel-ready affordable housing construction and rehabilitation both improves access to opportunity in Washington communities, and provides much needed jobs in the construction sector.

Unfortunately, cuts to other public services for the most vulnerable will just increase the need for affordable housing.

“Working people should be able to afford housing and still have enough left over for the basics like groceries and gas and childcare,” said Rachael Myers, Executive Director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, who believes that homelessness will increase due to the cuts. “The cuts proposed in this budget force low income, working people to make impossible choices. Do you pay the rent, or do you pay for medical care for your child? With so many people still unemployed, eventually there’s no money left for the rent, and people become homeless.”

SEIU 775, which represents home health care workers:
Just a day after agreeing to a 3% pay reduction for most state employees, the Governor proposed a 10% pay cut for the lowest paid public employees - home care workers who make just over $10/hour helping seniors and people with disabilities live in their own homes and communities. The Governor is also proposing deep cuts to health benefits for thousands of home care workers and reducing voter-mandated training requirements for long-term care workers.

“These cuts are a double whammy – by slashing hours of care for home care workers, not only is the state undermining the ability of seniors and people with disability to stay in their own homes but will also push tens of thousands of low-wage caregivers deeper into poverty,” said Spokane home care worker Karen Washington. Home care workers and clients have already received notices that the 10% cut to hours of care will go into effect in January 2011.

Fuse, representing a broad range of progressive activists:
John Barnett, an advocate for the senior organization AARP, called the budget cuts “penny wise and pound foolish,” noting that most of the cuts will end up costing Washingtonians more in the long run.

“Significant spending reductions are unavoidable,” said Barnett. “But AARP urges lawmakers to effectively manage this crisis by prioritizing direct services for the most vulnerable, demanding accountability and identifying new revenues to mitigate the massive cuts. We can do better and we must.”

Bill Pease, a neighborhood activist in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, worries about the kids who play near the toxic Duwamish River, a designated Superfund site since 2001.

“It’s not fair that people should be exposed to these toxins through the simple act of playing outside,” said Pease. “The state's Toxic Contamination Cleanup Program has worked for decades to ensure that toxic sites are cleaned up to protect the health of our kids and our environment.  Please don’t take that away.”

“More cuts to mental health services mean that mentally ill patients on the street won’t have access to the medications they need, or the care in the community that keeps them stable,” said Susan Tekola, a nurse at Harborview Public Hospital in Seattle. “Some will end up in our Emergency Rooms, where they’re receive care at a far greater cost and will be turned back onto the streets.”

“It’s time for a real discussion. It’s time for us to talk about what we value, and how we’re going to fund it,” said Tekola.

Voters have consistently said that they want good schools, affordable health care and safe communities – all services that are dependent on state funds. As state funds from taxes have dwindled because of the recession, services that Washington families want and rely on are being drastically cut.

Speaking for the coalition, Jim Dawson said that “all the options should be on the table. Instead of laying off teachers and cutting services for seniors we should cut costly tax breaks for Wall Street banks and private jet owners. Instead of cutting the Basic Health Plan, we should bring transparency and accountability to the hundreds of tax preferences that cost our state $6.5 billion a year.”

And this email, which, in an odd way—compared to the life-threatening cuts the statements addressed above—it actually seemed to boil down the severity of what's going on:

"Gregoire Closing Tacoma, Spokane history museums!"

The body of the email said simply: "Holy cow!"

Along with the email were two attachments: the page from the budget showing $3.7 million in savings to the Eastern Washington State Historical Society budget from the closure of the Spokane museum; and the page from the budget showing $4 million in savings from the closure of the state history museum.

Here's the footnote on the $4 million cut:
Close Museum - Preserve Collection

Operations will cease at the State History Museum.  A very limited staff is maintained to preserve the state  historical collections and archives and to protect facilities.  All state-funded educational programming, outreach,  and museum operations are suspended.
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