Schmudget Blog


New Research Brief: Early Learning Improves Kindergarten Readiness and Reduces Disparities for Kids of Color

Posted by Jennifer Tran at Apr 04, 2017 01:00 PM |
Filed under: Kids Count, Education, Equity

We all have a stake in making sure that from the day they’re born, kids can have the enriching experiences they need to get off to a great start in life. Quality early learning can give children the tools they need to thrive academically and emotionally throughout their entire lives. 

This new KIDS COUNT in Washington research brief demonstrates why legislators need to make greater investments in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) – our state’s preschool program that serves children from families living in poverty. Expanding this program to ensure all eligible kids can participate could help more of Washington’s kids show up to kindergarten ready to learn. It could especially help many children of color who haven’t had equal access to opportunities that promote kindergarten readiness.

ECEAP, which serves families with incomes below 110 percent of the federal poverty line ($26,730 for a family of four in 2017), offers many of our state’s most vulnerable children quality early-childhood learning experiences. It has a proven record of improving kindergarten readiness and impacting their long-term academic success. Yet because of inadequate state investments in this program, there are currently about 23,000 unserved children eligible for ECEAP in Washington, 62 percent of whom we estimate are children of color.

KIDS COUNT in Washington, which is a partnership between the Budget & Policy Center and the Children’s Alliance, examined how expanding ECEAP to serve the 23,000 unserved eligible children could impact readiness for kindergarten across the state and help bridge disparities in access to opportunities that promote kindergarten readiness. Our analysis concluded:

  • Kindergarten readiness in Washington overall could increase by 20 percent (to 56 percent from 47 percent);
  • 7,900 more children could be ready for kindergarten on all six indicators of readiness (1) by the end of their year in ECEAP; and
  • The share of Latino, American Indian, and Black children ready for kindergarten could have the largest increases (See chart for more details).

(Click on graphic for enlarged image)

ECEAP K-Readiness

The Washington State Department of Early Learning has set a goal of ensuring that, by 2020, 90 percent of Washington children enter kindergarten prepared to learn, with race and family income no longer a predictor of kindergarten readiness. A key to delivering on that promise is to make sure all eligible children have access to ECEAP. 

See our full research brief for more information on how expanding ECEAP could improve kindergarten readiness for all kids in Washington state and help bridge disparities for kids of color.


For more detailed technical information on our analysis, please contact jennifert@budgetandpolicy.org for a copy of our Data and Methods document.

1. The six indicators of readiness refer to an assessment by educators and teachers to measure kindergarten readiness on six developmental domains: social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, and mathematics. See the full brief for more information on how the indicators are measured.

New Fact Sheet: Advancing Racial Equity through the Working Families Tax Rebate

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Apr 03, 2017 02:50 PM |
By Asha Bellduboset, Narver fellow
 
It’s time for Washington state to have an equitable tax code. Currently, it disproportionately relies on people with low incomes while giving the wealthiest people tax breaks. That’s just upside down. What’s more, those most heavily burdened by our upside-down tax code are people with low incomes, many of whom are people of color. The Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR) is an important tool to help turn our tax code right-side up and to help undo the systemic inequities that have created an uneven playing field for people of color.

The Washington state legislature enacted the WFTR in 2008, but it was never funded. It is one of the most effective ways Washington can work to correct our state’s reliance on regressive sales taxes that overburden lower-income families. The rebate uses the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program, a powerful anti-poverty tool, as a basis for eligibility. The WFTR would provide qualifying low-wage workers with an annual boost to their income in the form of a tax credit.

Funding the WFTR would advance racial equity by supporting the economic security of Washingtonians of color who are working in low-wage jobs. Our new WFTR fact sheet shows how the WFTR would benefit families in all of Washington’s 39 counties from all racial backgrounds. For example, our analysis shows that, if the WFTR were funded:

Recipients would invest $98.5 million back into local economies throughout Washington state, nearly half (49 percent) of which would go to communities of color

The rebate would improve the lives of many children of color, given that 51 percent of qualifying children in EITC-eligible households are children of color

Approximately 498,000 Washingtonians in all 39 counties of the state would be eligible for the WFTR, which means residents in all counties would see some economic gain. 

[Click on image to see full PDF that includes this graphic] 

WFTR Advances Equity One-Pager

Take a look at our fact sheet for more information on how the Working Families Tax Rebate would advance equity for our state and its people. 

House Democrats’ Budget Shows What Our State Can Achieve by Cleaning Up the Tax Code

Posted by Kelli Smith at Mar 30, 2017 12:30 PM |
Filed under: State Budget, State Revenue
By Kelli Smith, policy analyst, and Andy Nicholas, associate director of fiscal policy


The budget recently proposed by House Democrats is evidence that our state and its people can make real progress when lawmakers clean up the tax code. By taking steps to ensure the tax code is equitable and that it’s set up to invest in the foundations of a strong economy – like great schools and programs that lift up working families – our communities can thrive.

The House Democrats rightly propose to clear out wasteful tax breaks, including the break on high-end capital gains given to the wealthiest individuals in our state. As such, the House's two-year spending plan prioritizes the needs of our communities over powerful special interests and the profits of the ultra-wealthy. And most important, the plan would begin to turn our upside-down tax code – in which people with the lowest incomes pay seven times more in state and local taxes as a share of income than the wealthiest 1 percent – right-side up. When lawmakers make our tax code one in which everybody pays their share, our communities flourish, and we all do better.

This proposal is starkly different from the Senate proposal released last week. The Senate Republicans’ plan relies on fiscal gimmicks to pay for schools and balance the budget, and it also includes a host of harmful cuts to essential programs that support hardworking, low-wage Washingtonians. The House Democrats’ plan, in comparison, responsibly raises new revenue – in an equitable and sustainable way – to account for additional investments necessary to pay for schools, parks, public safety, and other key priorities. The revenue plan in the House's proposed budget would make crucial investments in K-12 schools, front-line workers, and behavioral health services by generating nearly $3 billion in resources in the 2017-19 biennium and $4.8 billion in the 2019-21 biennium.

The House's proposed actions for cleaning up the tax code – and the amount of revenue these actions would generate in 2017-19 – include:

  • Curtailing or eliminating five wasteful business and sales tax breaks ($137 million);
  • Modifying the 1 percent levy growth limit to allow property tax revenues to keep better pace with economic drivers ($128 million);
  • Closing the tax break on profits from high-end capital gains ($715 million);
  • Reforming business taxes to strengthen small businesses ($1.2 billion);
  • Rebalancing the Real Estate Excise Tax to make it more progressive ($420 million); and
  • Creating a more level playing field between in-state and out-of-state retailers ($340 million).

These proposals are a direct response to the reality that the resources our state currently brings in through our regressive sales tax and other sources of revenue cannot keep up with the demands of our growing economy. Closing tax breaks and joining the 42 other states that have a tax on capital gains will help ensure Washington state has the resources necessary to take care of its communities.

One area that could be improved relates to the House Democrats’ use of budget reserves. Their plan to drain more than $1 billion from the state budget stabilization account, or rainy day fund, is risky. Budget reserves (including the rainy day fund) help maintain critical investments when the economy falters or when a natural disaster strikes. Yes, tapping budget reserves now would help lawmakers begin to fund important investments at the outset of the 2017-19 budget cycle, before many of the new resources from their proposed tax reforms would be available. But doing so now would also put those investments at risk of damaging cuts if the funds aren’t replenished before the next recession strikes.

As shown in the chart below, the House Democrats would boost state funding for education, healthy people and environment, and community development and trust. The small reduction in funding for investments in economic security is mostly the result of a proposed transfer of funds out of the general fund, rather than an actual service cut.

(Click on graphic to see enlarged version.) 

2017-03-28_Budget_HouseDemocrat_vs_SenateRepublican

The proposed changes to funding, according to the major value areas laid out in the Budget & Policy Center’s Progress Index framework, are detailed in the sections that follow.

EDUCATION

The House Democrats’ proposal reflects the considerable role K-12 schools have played in the discourse around the state budget this legislative session. It would make its most significant investments in education – an important area of the budget made even more urgent as lawmakers face a state Supreme Court mandate to fully fund K-12 schools per the McCleary decision. The House’s proposed budget would invest an additional $1.9 billion in early learning, K-12 schools, and higher education – a 7.9 percent increase from maintenance levels. The proposals include:

  • Making major investments in K-12 schools. In order to ensure we can attract and retain top-notch educators for Washington’s 1.1 million school kids, the House Democrats’ budget makes its largest investments in boosting pay and professional development opportunities for teachers and other school employees. The House budget would also invest in students in the most under-resourced school districts by increasing funds for districts that are unable to raise substantial local resources, due to low property values. Their plan would also create a ‘breakfast after the bell’ program to ensure that students in the schools with the most low-income students can eat a nutritious breakfast each day.
  • Enacting key enhancements to early education to prepare Washington’s kids for lifelong success. The plan would give more kids the opportunity for a bright future by expanding the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program – our state’s preschool program that serves families living in poverty – by increasing slots to serve more 3 and 4 year olds and increasing the reimbursement rate so providers can serve more kids and families. But the House’s budget also makes cuts to Early Achievers, which could further limit a key resource for early learning professionals to access tools to provide the highest-quality early care.
  • Providing financial relief for college students and their families. The House Democrats’ budget proposal would build on historic investments in higher education in recent years by expanding our state’s largest financial aid program and freezing tuition at all public colleges and universities.

ECONOMIC SECURITY

Every Washingtonian should have what they need to meet basic needs, like safe and stable housing and food on the table. They also should have the opportunity to get ahead financially. The House Democrats’ budget would reduce investments in economic security from the general fund by $12.1 million, a 1.2 percent decrease in funding from the general fund. Although our analysis shows a small overall decrease in funding, much of this cut is, as mentioned previously, the result of a proposed funding transfer outside of the general fund, rather than an actual cut to services. Proposed changes include:

  • Providing paid time off for family leave. The proposed insurance program would provide workers with help to keep their heads above water when they or a family member is seriously ill, or when they are welcoming a new child. This budget provides startup costs for the program, and ongoing costs of the insurance premiums would be split equally between employees and employers.
  • Investing in early education for kids from families with lower incomes. By increasing subsidy rates for child care providers who serve kids in Working Connections Child Care – Washington’s largest child care subsidy program for families with low incomes –  this budget would help high-quality providers keep their doors open to serve low-income kids. The budget would also fully fund the collective bargaining agreement for in-home family child care providers.
  • Increasing support for working families in poverty. The House Democrats’ budget would provide an 8 percent increase in resources to help families who participate in WorkFirst – Washington’s job assistance and training program for those striving to move out of poverty – meet basic needs. The boost would give them a little more money for essentials like shoes and diapers for their kids. The House plan would also update “asset cap” policies that force families to give up a car or spend all of their savings down before they can access WorkFirst benefits.
  • Increasing resources to prevent homelessness. The House budget proposal would boost basic supports for people unable to work because of a mental illness or physical disability. People who are waiting for federal disability benefits to come through (which can take several years) would get up to $30 a month more through the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program.  People receiving Housing and Essential Needs, which provides housing-related assistance for people unable to work because of disabilities, would be able to get $10 a month in transportation assistance.
  • Taking steps to alleviate intergenerational poverty. The House budget proposal would use an intergenerational approach to addressing poverty by funding a task force whose goal would be to cut poverty by half in Washington by 2025. It would also include a provision requiring several state agencies to report data on Washingtonians participating in federal nutrition assistance programs. This data will provide important information for policymakers to make informed decisions and develop targeted policies to address hunger and food insecurity throughout the state.

HEALTHY PEOPLE & ENVIRONMENT

Washington state is one of the best places in the nation to call home, in part because we live in a beautiful corner of the country where we can enjoy clean air and water and access to stunning outdoor recreation. We are also a state that values supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of all of our state’s residents, so that we can all have opportunities to enjoy a high quality of life. The House Democrats’ budget would increase funding in this area by $660 million, an increase of 6.3 percent. The proposals include:

  • Making improvements to Western State Hospital and enhancing community behavioral health supports. The budget would make important investments in improving safety at Western State Hospital. It would also boost funding for critical supports like mobile crisis teams, housing, and related services – that reduce the need for in-patient treatment at state mental hospitals.
  • Dedicating $40 million in new funding for foundational public health investments. This funding would enable the state Department of Health and local public health agencies to better monitor and prevent communicable diseases and address health inequities among state residents.
  • Moving forward on Washington's Medicaid Transformation Project. House Democrats’ budget would bring in $1.5 billion in federal funding to improve health care delivery and lower costs for Medicaid. It would also offer cost-effective support for family caregivers and help individuals find housing and employment.
  • Strong investment in environmental protection. The proposal provides some much-needed resources to move forward in reducing air and climate pollution, clean up Puget Sound, and protect and restore habitat needed for salmon recovery. The House budget also provides funding for the public to have a voice in cleaning up toxic sites.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT & TRUST

For communities in our state to prosper, residents should feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods, be able to enjoy well-kept parks and historical spaces, and feel confident that government is transparent, fair, and efficient. This budget would increase funding to these programs by $673 million, an increase of 11.2 percent. The major changes include:

  • Supporting the recruitment and retention of Washington's front-line workforce. The budget proposed by House Democrats would provide funding to support adequate pay and benefits for thousands of nurses, public safety workers, home care and child care workers, and other public employees that serve communities throughout our state. It also includes funding to preserve health benefits for state employees. This is an acknowledgement of the important role these workers play in helping our state run smoothly by ratifying the contracts negotiated between the state and its public employees.
  • Reducing barriers to re-entry for people who have been incarcerated. Many Washingtonians – particularly men of color – are saddled by the debt of legal financial obligations (LFOs) after prison release. In their plan, the House Democrats would reform LFOs to make it easier for people who have been incarcerated to get back on their feet and rejoin their communities in a meaningful way.
  • Increasing access to civil legal assistance. Seven in ten low-income households in Washington have at least one civil (non-criminal) legal issue a year, like housing or job discrimination, consumer finance problems, or medical debt. Race and ethnicity also play a role in the number and type of civil legal problems Washingtonians face, especially when it comes to discrimination and unfair treatment. But low-income residents are less likely to have the resources to pay a lawyer to represent them in these matters. The House budget would provide $5.2 million in funds to expand civil legal services in Washington and ensure that more low-income people have access to a lawyer in civil legal matters.
  • Enhanced efforts to reduce homelessness. The budget proposal from House Democrats would provide funding to increase temporary rental assistance and related services for those at risk of falling into homelessness. Their budget would also provide resources to help youth exiting state facilities, such as a juvenile detention center, find safe and stable housing. 

The House Democrats’ budget proposal is a strong effort to move Washington forward. It shows how cleaning up the tax code produces the resources our state needs to make investments that help families, kids, individuals, and communities thrive. With this plan, House Democrats would trade wasteful tax breaks that benefit special interests for concrete investments in communities that help us all do better. That’s a set of priorities we can get behind.

Don’t Let the Talking Points Fool You: Senate Republicans’ Budget Proposal Is a House of Cards

By Andy Nicholas, associate director of fiscal policy, and Kelli Smith, policy analyst
 

The state budget is not just a statement of our values. It is also a foundation and framework for delivering the everyday services that benefit us all – like ensuring everyone has the opportunity to thrive, making sure we have clean water to drink and air to breathe, and keeping school buses and fire trucks running each day. Republican leaders in the state Senate have proposed a two-year spending plan that would profoundly weaken that framework by slashing vital investments that help Washington’s communities and people prosper – and by failing to come up with the revenue needed to fund schools and other key priorities. Their plan would turn the state budget into a house of cards, at risk of collapsing at the first sign of a slowdown in the economy. And the human cost in terms of the well-being of Washingtonians would be staggering.

Building a responsible and sustainable budget requires lawmakers to take steps toward fixing Washington’s upside-down tax code, which taxes middle- and lower-income households at significantly higher rates than those at the very top of the income scale. Yet the proposal from Republican leaders in the state Senate offers no meaningful reforms to the state’s flawed tax code.

Far from raising the substantial new revenue needed to fully fund education and protect the programs that help Washingtonians who are struggling to make ends meet, their “levy swap” proposal would actually reduce overall property tax resources for schools in our state. It would also be deeply inequitable, raising taxes on millions of lower- and middle-income homeowners and renters in the Puget Sound region.

What’s more, Senate Republicans actually propose creating or extending nine tax breaks, totaling $13.5 million in giveaways in the 2017-2019 budget cycle.

Rather than working to flip our tax code right-side up and improve our quality of life, Senate Republican leaders propose a state budget that nominally balances, but only with the help of unsustainable gimmicks, such as:

  • Forcing future lawmakers to make deep cuts to non-K-12 investments – such as health care, child care, job training, safe communities, and other important investments – by dedicating all future revenue growth to maintaining K-12 spending and property tax cuts.
  • Draining $700 million in reserve savings from our state’s rainy day fund, the budget stabilization account, which is an essential backstop that prevents severe disruptions in funding for our most important services during recessions and other state emergencies. And Senate Republican leaders offer no plan to replenish it.
  • Sweeping $63 million from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to pay for other unrelated budget items. TANF is an essential resource for families trying to get back on their feet. This proposal would take much-needed resources out of programs that help the people who have the hardest time making ends meet and dole those resources out for other investments. 

As shown in the chart below, the budget proposal from Senate Republicans would boost state funding for education, but at the expense of essential investments in Washingtonians’ economic security and in community development and trust. Within those categories are programs that are essential to many Washingtonians – programs like TANF, Housing and Essential Needs, state retirement contributions for first responders, and the programs we all count on to protect our legal rights. Thousands of Washingtonians’ lives would be severely and negatively affected by these cuts – and in many cases, they are the people who are already struggling just to get by every day.

(Click on graphic to see enlarged version.)

Senate budget 2017 graphic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The proposed changes to funding, according to the major value areas laid out in the Budget & Policy Center’s Progress Index framework, are detailed in the sections that follow.

EDUCATION

The McCleary Supreme Court case’s school funding mandate has been the most prominent issue in the legislative session so far – and for good reason. Excellent schools are one of the foundations of a thriving economy, and the legislature is facing a deadline for fully funding those schools. While the Senate’s proposed budget increases K-12 education funding by $1.8 billion, or by 7 percent, it makes huge cuts to early learning – slashing $36 million from child care programs. This is because the Senate doesn’t actually raise the necessary new revenue to fund K-12 education, despite the speaking points that make it sound otherwise. The proposals include:

  • Undermining the foundations for high-quality early learning, especially for low-income children and families. The Senate plan would limit access to Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program – our state’s preschool program that serves families living in poverty – by eliminating 3 year olds from the program and not adding any new slots over the next two years despite 23,000 unserved eligible children in the state. It also guts Early Achievers, our state’s key resource for early learning professionals to access coaching and tools to provide high-quality early care.
  • Repealing voter-approved education initiatives. The budget would repeal initiatives 1351 and 732, measures passed by Washington voters to reduce class sizes and fund teacher cost-of-living raises. Refusing to implement voter-approved teacher cost-of-living raises is out of step with the goal of fully funding K-12 education.
  • Overhauling the current school funding formula to change the way state disburses money to schools throughout the state. Even though the plan would require sizeable and commendable new investments in K-12 schools, the Senate has proposed to pay for its plan with a levy swap proposal that would actually reduce property tax resources for schools compared to the current system.
  • Prioritizing STEM and medical education over the needs of struggling working families. The Senate’s budget provides some increases in the higher education budget. But these investments would come at the expense of the lowest-income working families: $47 million is ransacked from WorkFirst – Washington’s job training and assistance program for families with young children who are trying to get back on their feet – to pay for them. Lawmakers should not be pitting working the needs of families against those of people seeking higher education opportunities.

ECONOMIC SECURITY

A community with a thriving economy fosters great jobs and supports working families, ensures stable and healthy housing for everyone, and provides economic opportunity for Washingtonians to meet their basic needs. The Senate Republicans’ proposal eviscerates the parts of our budget that make these values a reality for residents, particularly targeting those programs that relieve hardship among the lowest-income working people. This budget would cut funding for economic security by $132 million, a staggering 13 percent decrease from the amount necessary to maintain current services. Proposed changes include:

  • Cutting assistance for people with disabilities at risk of homelessness. This proposal would do away with the Housing and Essential Needs program that provides housing-related assistance to people unable to work because of disabilities. It replaces it with a new program that would only be available to people with dependent children, essentially eliminating services for seniors and single adults and all but guaranteeing an increase in homelessness. It also cuts another crucial program for people with disabilities – the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program – by limiting the time people can be on it to 36 months.
  • Ransacking resources from job training programs to plug holes in other parts of the budget. The proposal moves $63 million out of the WorkFirst program and uses the money for other unrelated purposes, such as replacing funding cuts to colleges and universities.
  • Pushing people off basic assistance and making it harder for new people to get on. TANF provides basic supports to families with children who are financially struggling. The Senate Republican budget would cut people off the program who have a disability, or people who are needed at home to care for a family member with a disability. It would also require new applicants to prove that they have been unable to find a job before applying for benefits, but it fails to provide necessary help to applicants in their efforts, such as providing for child care while parents are job-hunting. When other states have implemented similar procedural hurdles for families, they saw increases in hardship and spikes in homelessness.
  • Limiting options for working families to access child care so parents can go to work. The plan makes Working Connections Child Care, Washington’s largest child care subsidy program for families with low incomes, more difficult to access by changing eligibility requirements, capping enrollment, and creating more red tape for participants.

HEALTHY PEOPLE & ENVIRONMENT

Washingtonians enjoy clean air and water and an excellent health care system that supports the wellbeing of a vast majority of Washington’s residents. The state budget provides for those benefits by investing in public health clinics, climate protection measures, and mental health services. The proposal would increase funding in this area by only $75 million, a less-than-1-percent boost. The proposals include:

  • Failing to provide adequate investments in mental health services. Compared to the budget proposed by Governor Inslee, this budget falls short on the immediate investments to address safety and staffing issues at Western State Hospital – in fact, this proposal would close down two entire wards – and fails to make the investments needed to build a strong community system into the future.
  • Missing opportunities to invest in public health, and to safeguard against proposed federal cuts. As the federal government considers cutting back federal support for health care, it is alarming to see leaders in our state Senate propose underinvestment in our public health system and health benefits for state workers. The budget also threatens the health insurance coverage for tens of thousands of home care workers who support our vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Threatening health care innovation reforms that are part of the Washington State Medicaid Transformation Project. This initiative is designed to help Washingtonians achieve better health outcomes, to reward high-quality care, and to curb health care costs in the state Medicaid program. The Senate’s budget would create a roadblock to continuing this initiative and to receiving the $1.5 billion in federal funds it was slated to receive.
  • Reducing investments in programs that are protecting our state’s air and water. The proposal fails to provide resources to adequately sustain work to clean Puget Sound, a clean-up project that is also facing a federal funding threat from the Trump administration’s proposed budget. And no state funding is provided to implement the Clean Air Rule, an effort by Inslee’s administration to reduce carbon pollution in our state. The proposal would also cut or fail to fund investments in restoring salmon and protecting habitat.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT & TRUST

Good quality of life for Washingtonians includes safe communities to live in, access to beautiful parks and historical spaces, an open government that runs smoothly and efficiently, and the assurance of transparent and fair elections. This budget would undermine community development and trust by cutting current programs by $107 million, a 1.8 percent decrease from maintenance levels. The major changes include:

  • Failing to invest in tens of thousands of front-line workers, like nurses, home care workers, child care workers, highway maintenance workers, and other public employees by rejecting collective bargaining agreements already negotiated (with the exception of corrections workers and Washington State Patrol troopers and lieutenants). It also exacerbates ongoing issues with recruitment and retention throughout state government by mandating indiscriminate layoffs at state agencies. This would make it nearly impossible for our state agencies to deliver high-quality, timely services to the public.
  • Reducing resources for those who serve to uphold the law for all Washingtonians. Under this budget, state agencies that work to protect the legal rights of everyday citizens would see huge cuts. The Office of Civil Legal Aid would be cut by $10 million (36 percent) and the Office of the Attorney General, which represents our state in legal matters that benefit us all, such as lawsuits against the federal government, would be cut by $20 million (78 percent). The cuts to the Office of the Attorney General in ongoing funding would be temporarily replaced by shifting one-time resources from a lawsuit.
  • Reducing state contributions to retirement systems for first responders. Contributions to retirement systems are reduced by $159 million (a 74 percent reduction from maintenance levels), largely because of a $109 million cut to retirement contributions for police and firefighters.

The state Senate Republican leaders take a page out of the book of Republicans in the other Washington – making deep cuts to the very investments that people throughout our state rely on, and across every area that we use to measure progress. It would be particularly stark for the people who are struggling to make ends meet. And it also includes a host of irresponsible and unsustainable financial stunts that add up to a budget that would collapse under its own weight.

A solid budget framework is the foundation for a strong economic future for Washington and its people. The Senate Republicans should rework their budget with an eye toward strengthening our state’s communities and the foundations that support them.

Lawmakers Must Protect the Wellbeing of Children, Families, and People with Disabilities

Posted by Julie Watts at Mar 23, 2017 01:50 PM |

Senate Republicans have revealed their new budget plan to be a house of cards – a budget with a weak framework that threatens the foundations of a strong economy. The deep cuts they propose to state-funded programs that protect the wellbeing of Washingtonians would hurt our state economy and be devastating to children, families, and people with disabilities. 

This proposal from state Senate Republicans adds insult to injury in the context of the federal policy proposals we’re seeing out of Washington, D.C. President Trump’s budget proposal would leave our state on the hook for coming up with an additional $458.6 million for the next biennium. And Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act would result in up to $2.5 billion in proposed cuts to our state’s health care.

Unfortunately, the Washington state Senate Republicans’ budget proposal, like President Trump’s, cuts programs that help hardworking people and support those who have been left behind in our economy. If lawmakers care about having thriving communities in our state, they should reject this proposal and instead look at investing in building a strong and vibrant middle class. When lawmakers ensure everyone in our state can pay for necessities like food on their table and a roof over their heads, our economy and our communities are stronger.

Washingtonians with Low Wages Would Have a Greater Likelihood of Falling Behind

The budget would cut $63 million from WorkFirst – Washington’s assistance and job training program for families striving to move out of poverty. The Senate Republicans would account for $17 million of that funding by forcing out of the program parents who have disabilities, people who are required to be at home to care for disabled children or adults, and who are over the age of 55. Studies show that when this group of people leave the program, they have significant barriers to working and seldom get additional help.

The WorkFirst program is funded by both federal and state dollars that are supposed to be used to help low-income parents and their children. The Senate budget proposal would take $47 million of the money they cut from the program to backfill cuts they’re proposing to higher education. The remaining $16 million would be moved into the state’s general budget to pay for other programs that don’t provide for low-income families. 

What’s more, the Senate budget proposal would put a harmful provision in place that would require people applying for WorkFirst to demonstrate they have been engaged in a job search before they can apply for public assistance, without providing them with any child care or other work support assistance to engage in that search. When other states have implemented similar procedural hurdles for families, they saw an increase in hardship and spikes in homelessness.

In addition, the Senate Republican budget rejects the negotiated collective bargaining agreements for most public sector workers and fails to invest in tens of thousands of frequently low-wage front-line service workers like child care workers, home care workers, employees at state hospitals, and social workers. Our research shows that investing in these workers is not only good for families and state services, but that it also provides a boost to local economies across Washington state.

The Wellbeing of Washington’s Families and Kids Are at Risk

Washington’s Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) is a key program for ensuring Washington kids have a solid foundation for early learning and care. Washington families pay, on average, 36 percent of their incomes in child care. Finding affordable child care is especially challenging for parents with lower incomes. WCCC helps them with the costs of child care so they can go to work. The Senate Republican budget would freeze enrollment in WCCC at 31,000 kids. This would force many families onto a waiting list, given that the state has projected enrollment will reach 33,000 as early as this spring.

The budget proposal would also make it harder for families to keep their child care while looking for work if they lose a job and have trouble finding a new one. It also creates more red tape by requiring participants to pursue child support enforcement in order to receive the subsidy.

It is important to note, however, that the budget proposal does offer one good recommendation for saving money on the WCCC program. It would extend the amount of time one of the parents in a family receiving WorkFirst could stay at home with their child, from when the child is age 1 to when they are age 2. Lawmakers expect this would save $19.8 million in WCCC. Of course, while this change is commendable, the money saved should be kept in the WCCC budget rather than being funneled from that program to plug holes in other parts of the budget.

More Washingtonians Would Be in Danger of Poverty or Homelessness

Although the Senate Republicans assert in their budget that they make investments to protect people with disabilities, they actually propose harmful cuts to people with disabilities who are at risk of homelessness. The budget would cut $49 million from the Housing and Essential Needs program, which provides housing-related assistance for people unable to work because of disabilities.

The budget would also cut $3.7 million from the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program by applying a 36-month limit for people to be in the program. The intention of the program is to provide temporary assistance for people while they apply for federal disability benefits. However, the application process often takes more than three years, and the state would leave people to fend for themselves until their federal benefits come through.

The Senate budget would additionally cut $5.4 million from the State Food Assistance Program, which provides food stamps to legal immigrants not eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It also eliminates several housing and shelter programs including Young Adult Shelters, Homeless Student Stability Program, and the Young Adult Housing Program.

The Senate Republican plan places the entire state on shaky ground. The deep cuts to the many programs that help our communities thrive and secure the wellbeing of all of our residents are simply unacceptable – especially when considering the fact that they are in addition to potential cuts we could see to federal funding for key state programs. We cannot make progress as a state when our legislators allow members of our communities to fall behind. The state legislature can and should do better for the future of our state and its people.

Senate Republican Budget Proposal Puts Washington’s Economic Future on Shaky Ground

Posted by Melinda Young-Flynn at Mar 21, 2017 03:20 PM |

Statement from Misha Werschkul, executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center:

The two-year spending plan proposed by Republican leaders in the Washington State Senate would put the economic security of our state on shaky ground for future generations. This budget would fracture the foundation of our state economy with unsustainable fiscal gimmicks as well as deep cuts now – with even deeper cuts into the future – to investments that benefit all Washingtonians. And it ignores the real problem facing our state: an upside-down tax code that disproportionately and unsustainably relies on the people with the lowest incomes to pay the highest share of their incomes in state and local taxes – while special interests and the wealthy get tax breaks. 

It is the responsibility of policymakers to ensure the budget invests in the protection of our state’s current and future well-being – especially during this time when we face so many threats from the federal level. This proposal doesn’t do that. Instead, it would turn our state’s budget into a house of cards, precariously held together by fiscal gimmicks. For example, it would: 

Drain $700 million from our state’s budget stabilization account (or rainy day fund), which will be needed the next time we enter an economic downturn, in order to make a one-time contribution to a chronically underfunded pension fund. 

Mask deep cuts that legislators would need make in the future to public safety, environmental protection, and a host of other investments, by dedicating all future revenue growth to K-12 education and property tax reductions.

And if enacted, this plan would make devastating changes to some of our state’s most crucial investments. It would:

Eliminate or dramatically cut programs that help keep working families and individuals out of poverty, in stable housing, and with access to safe and reliable child care. 

Do away with the voter-approved initiatives to reduce class sizes and to provide teachers with pay increases to keep up with the rising cost of living. 

That’s not a prescription for economic growth and broad prosperity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. To truly invest in the foundations that make our communities thrive, lawmakers can turn our tax code right-side up and invest in schools and other priorities by closing wasteful tax breaks, including a huge break on capital gains enjoyed by the very wealthiest households in our state. Doing so would build a better future for our communities. Senate Republican leaders would be wise to rework this budget to ensure that it strengthens the economic foundations of our communities and advances the well-being of all Washingtonians.

Five Ways Trump’s Budget Proposal Would Harm Washington State

By Julie Watts, deputy director
 
The Trump administration’s federal budget proposal hurts the very people the administration purported to help and leaves our states on the hook to make up the difference. The budget calls for big increases in military spending and pays for it through deep cuts to programs that help strengthen the economic security of everyday Americans. These cuts are on top of those already being proposed to health care through the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

 

President Trump has promised to be a champion of people left behind by the economy. However, his budget takes aim at the very programs that serve them. In fact, all of the cuts come from the Non-Defense Discretionary spending area of the federal budget. This part of the budget funds key priorities like job training, education, affordable housing, and basic supports for children, families, and the aging. It also includes funding for border security, veterans' benefits, and the FBI, but since Congress is unlikely to cut these areas, programs that help workers and families would be particularly hard hit. 

Trump’s budget proposal, entitled “America First: A Budget Blueprint for Making America Great Again,” would not, in fact, help the communities in our nation and in our state thrive. Here are five ways Trump’s budget proposals would hurt Washington state and its residents:

1. Shifting costs to our state government and making it harder to balance the state budget: Federal grants make up almost one third of the Washington state budget. (See chart below.) They pay for things like education, human services, the environment, and statewide emergency response. The budget proposal would cut federal grants to states, which would leave our state on the hook for $458.6 million per biennium to maintain these services. (That is not even taking into consideration the $2.5 billion our state would have to cover if the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid go through). 

Federal grants to WA pie chart_2017

2. Making it harder for people to make ends meet: President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which helps people who don’t have enough money to pay their light and energy bills to keep the lights and heat/cooling on. This program – which largely serves people with low incomes and the elderly – would provide $113 million to the state in the 2017-2019 biennium. Trump’s budget would also eliminate the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides roughly $8.6 million per biennium to the state to help people with lower incomes weatherize their homes to save on energy bills.

3. Making it harder for parents to care for their kids: Many working families rely on before- and after-school programs to not only provide educational and enrichment opportunities for their kids, but also to ensure that kids are well-cared for while they work. Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This program would provide $36.1 million for before- and after-school programs in Washington state in the next biennium. Eliminating the program could mean nearly 18,000 state children would lose educational, recreational, and enrichment programs outside school hours.

4. Making it harder to get a living-wage job: Whether you are a young person just starting out or you’ve been laid off and are back in the market, job-seeking is a daunting task. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides support to help eligible job seekers get education, training, and support services to succeed in the job market. WIOA grants to Washington totaled $137.5 million between 2015 and 2016. The Trump budget proposes cutting WIOA grants to states by 35 percent, which would mean the state would either need to come up with an additional $48.1 million in funds to cover the federal losses or serve 59,000 fewer people with job search and training support in the next biennium. 

5. Making it harder to get affordable housing: Washington state is in the midst of a homelessness crisis. Homelessness increased 15 percent in 2015 and again by 7 percent in 2016. The Trump budget slates the HOME Investment Partnerships Program,  a federal grant program to states to build affordable housing, for elimination. This program provides Washington state with about $38.1 million per biennium to issue to developers to build affordable housing units. Washington also stands to lose funding for Housing Choice Vouchers. These vouchers are an important tool in combating homelessness and providing people with low incomes with assistance to get housing in the rental market. In 2015, more than 50,000 Washington families had a roof over their heads thanks to this important program. Trump proposes to fund the vouchers at $1.7 billion below the amount necessary to maintain the current number of vouchers nationwide. That could mean big cuts to the number of households getting rental assistance in Washington.

And this is barely scratching the surface in terms of the cuts that the Trump budget is proposing.

President Trump’s budget proposal may have a difficult time clearing Congress. However, it represents a stark vision of what it would look like if Congress chooses to pursue a budget along similar lines: dramatic increases in military spending paid for with deep cuts to services and programs that help states support families, individuals, and workers. And again, this whole budget proposal is in addition to the dramatic cuts Washington state could be facing with the potential loss of ACA and Medicaid. 

 
Document Actions
HIGHLIGHTS

A BIG Thank You!

Thanks to our generous community, we surpassed our GiveBIG 2017 fundraising goal and raised almost $10,000! Thank you to everyone who made an investment in the Budget & Policy's work advancing policies that promote shared prosperity. If you'd still like to support us, you can always make a gift here

Watch Our Budget Beat Webinars

We host regular Budget Beat webinars throughout legislative session to bring you updates and breaking news from Olympia and timely policy analysis. Visit our YouTube channel to watch our previous Budget Beats. 

Testimonies in Olympia

To advance our legislative priorities, the Budget & Policy Center team is in the state capitol throughout session testifying on a wide range of bills. Watch our recent testimonies on TVW:
Misha TVW

View Our School Funding Plenary 

Roxana_BMC_plenary_2016View the Budget Matters 2016 conference plenary, "What's at Stake in the 2017-2019 Budget: Funding McCleary and Beyond." Moderated by Ann Dornfeld of KUOW, the plenary features Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year; Lew Moore of the Washington Research Council; Roxana Norouzi of OneAmerica; and Sen. Christine Rolfes. The plenary starts after an intro by Executive Director Misha Werschkul and an intro video by Gov. Inslee.