SEATTLE – Darasanvanh Kommavongsa, a Laotian single mother of two who lives in the Yesler Terrace neighborhood, worries that her daughters, Genisis and Allyah, will lose their food assistance and Apple Health for Kids. Their future hangs in the balance as lawmakers deliberate about the biennial budget in Olympia.
“Recent budget cuts have put at risk what little we have,” said Kommavongsa. “I myself have already been cut off of assistance from the State Food Assistance Program, and it is hard enough being a single mother. Now I’m worried about how to put food on the table for my two girls.”
Shaunte Powell, whose son was born with a hole in his heart, is devastated that she has been cut off from state programs. “Lawmakers need to protect people not corporations, especially people of color who have been hit especially hard. Our communities have suffered enough.”
With the release of a recent report, “The Color of Cuts: The Disproportionate Impact of Budget Cuts on Communities of Color in Washington State”, the Washington Community Action Network is sounding an alarm about Washington state's biennial budget and its corrosive impact on the state’s communities of color.
Highlighting new data from the 2010 Census, the report projects how Asian, Latinos, African Americans, and other communities would be affected under Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget proposals. Failure to assess the impact of anticipated 2011-2013 budget cuts on communities of color will increase existing racial and economic disparities in our state, the report states.
Since the report came out, House Democrats have presented a somewhat revised budget but it remains heavy on the kind of service cuts Gregoire proposed. The Senate is expected to unveil its own proposals next week. Both houses of the legislature and Gregoire must come to a budget agreement by April 24 for lawmakers to complete their work in the regular session.
Jill Mangaliman, the report’s author, hopes that heightened public awareness of those disparities can lead to fruitful dialogue among lawmakers. “In the legislature and in mainstream media, there has been a lack of discussion of how budget cuts are disproportionately affecting people of color and immigrants,” she said. “Race matters.”
Other community leaders agree. “In order to eliminate racial disparities in our state, lawmakers must consider how their decisions affect all communities,” said Dorry Elias-Garcia, executive director of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition. “With Washington becoming more diverse, eliminating programs that help people of color stay healthy and thrive undercuts our long-term economic success as a state.”
Community groups representing communities of color, immigrants, labor, faith-based groups, and social justice organizations released the report at a March 15 news conference at the International Community Health Services Clinic (ICHS), which serves a predominantly immigrant Asian American community and already has suffered cuts.
Endorsed by 64 community organizations, Mangaliman’s report is based on exhaustive research and analysis. “Communities of color and immigrants have grown steadily in the past 10 years, according to the latest census statistics. Building on work from the Racial Justice Report Card, we started reaching out to community partners and allies to create a tool that analyzes the budget through a racial justice lens.”
Washington state's projected budget shortfall for the 2011-2013 biennial budget is now estimated at $5 billion, but because of recent anti-tax initiatives and previous cuts, the options for closing the gap are far more limited, the new report says.
The report notes that immigrant communities are bearing the brunt of the governor’s proposal to eliminate or cut programs that serve immigrants and refugees. They include the New Americans program, naturalization services, medical interpreter services, children's health care, refugee services, state only food stamps, and health coverage for immigrants through the Basic Health program.
“Roughly 55 percent of our patients on Basic Health have lost coverage and half of patients who relied on adult dental health services have lost coverage except for emergency care,” said Teresita Batayola, ICHS executive director. “Budget cuts are devastating our patients and our communities.”
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