Part three in a series: “Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture.” At a time when children and families need job training, affordable housing and other economic supports the most, Washington state’s investment in economic security over the last few years has decreased dramatically.
The recession took a huge toll on Washingtonians – today over 900,000 live in poverty, an increase of 200,000 since the recession began in 2008. However, lawmakers have not responded accordingly.
The House and Senate budgets would cut the very things that families need. The Senate, for instance, would make severe cuts to services that help low-income families find or keep a job, slicing almost four times more from those services than the House (see chart).
The majority of the cuts in both budgets are in the WorkFirst program – Washington state’s primary way to help low-income families find and keep jobs, and mitigate the harm poverty inflicts on children. The cuts are characterized as savings from lower caseloads, but that is misleading. While poverty has risen dramatically since 2008, lawmakers have made it harder for families to get WorkFirst and have kicked people off the program altogether, resulting in lower caseloads than anticipated. Two out of every three people kicked off is a child, even though children have experienced the largest increase in poverty compared to other age groups.
Instead of reinvesting the additional resources from the caseload decline in WorkFirst and making it easier for parents to get the services they need to get back to work, lawmakers want to use the money for other things. The House budget, however, does start to rebuild some opportunities for low-income children and families, while the Senate would make additional cuts that make it harder for low-income parents to find work, afford child care and housing, and meet other basic needs.
Key differences in the two budgets include (see table):
- The House budget devotes $8 million to emergency housing services for families on WorkFirst. The Senate makes no investment in homelessness prevention. Over 27,000 children in Washington state are homeless, a 47 percent increase since the recession began.
- The House budget invests $28 million to improve access to quality, affordable child care and early learning by increasing the subsidy rate for Working Connections Child Care (WCCC). The Senate budget would cut $17.4 million from WCCC, leaving 4,000 families without help.
- If WorkFirst needs increase beyond forecasted levels, the House sets aside $12.7 million to provide a modest level of assistance so families can meet basic needs, like food and shelter. The Senate not only fails to reinvest in WorkFirst, it makes additional cuts to the program.
- The Senate budget cuts $2.7 million by limiting WorkFirst assistance to the size of a family when it enters the program, offering no additional assistance if another child is born.
- The Senate eliminates income assistance for people with disabilities and gets rid of services that currently connect Washingtonians with disabilities to additional federal resources that they may be eligible for.
- The Senate would spend $9.4 million to increase food assistance for immigrant families, making them eligible for three-quarters of the assistance non-immigrant families can get through the State Nutritional Assistance Program. The House maintains the current level of assistance for immigrant families, which is half of what non-immigrant families are eligible for.
Over the next week, we will continue our series on “Special Legislative Session: The Big Picture.”
Originally published at Washington State Budget & Policy Center.