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Hard times bite deep in Washington: who will step up as the state steps away?

Gov. Chris Gregoire hopes private charities, faith communities, and individuals can fill the gaps in the social safety net. Can they? What's the likely impact on business when children of poor families grow up? And what are we learning about the newly poor?


About 890,000 Washingtonians live in poverty, according to data collected for 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau and released earlier this month. That's 13.4 percent of the state's population. Almost half a million live in deep poverty, earning less than $12,000 a year for a family of four. About 300,000 children, or nearly one in five of Washington’s kids under 18, lived in poor families in 2010, and tens of thousands more are swelling the bleak statistics now.

At the same time, Gov. Chris Gregoire is asking for up to $2 billion in new budget cuts, and funding for public services faces a freshly sharpened ax. A June editorial in the Olympian quoted Gregoire as saying, “It’s going to be up to communities and their residents to get us through these terrible financial times. That’s how we did it in the Depression. People helped their fellow human beings.” The editor added, “we need faith communities, nonprofits, and individuals to step up.”

Can these entities make enough of a difference? That's a question answered in a variety of ways by the various leaders and experts interviewed for this story. A number of them see it, in part, as a question that also ought to be turned back on elected leaders. Laurie Pfingst, of Washington State Budget and Policy Center, sees "seriously diminished quality in the education provided for our children, public safety, the affordability of higher education — all has been cut so severely, we’re really threatening the future of our state in the long run. The waiting list for basic health is now 150,000 individuals waiting for access to health care, at a time when employers are cutting health care. We need a balanced approach. It is unconscionable that we ask lower- and moderate-income people to shoulder the burden. We need to discuss ways of increasing revenue.”

Growing pressure on the region’s social services is one indicator of the size of the burden borne by people with the least power to change the situation. Nearly every service provider quoted in this article cited surges in the requests they receive for help, both in numbers of applicants and in types of need.

At Salvation Army Eastside in Bellevue, requests have doubled, said Salvation Army Lt. Darryck Dwelle. “We are having to turn away, conservatively, 2,000 people a year asking for rent or electricity assistance.” In an email Kelly Bray, communications manager for Children’s Home Society of Washington, wrote, "Families come to us with shut-off notices from the utilities company," and debate whether they can afford to take a sick father to the emergenc room. “Five years ago we heard stories like this every so often. Now we hear [them] every day,” she wrote.

Crisis Clinic executive director Kathleen Southwick reported that calls to the 2-1-1 crisis line for help with basic needs rose from 109,000 in 2006 to 185,000 in 2010. Katherin Johnson, manager of Housing and Human Services for the city of Kent, said, “We used to handle maybe 400 calls per month, and now it's maybe 2,000.” She sees a sharp increase in the need for utility assistance. “They just can’t pay their utility bill. Then they run into late charges, turnoff fees, reconnection fees — a manageable bill becomes totally unmanageable, so how can they get [the power] back on?”

Deadbeats aren’t driving the increase in demand. These people want to work, according to those who are in touch with the increasing populations seeking services. Matt King, YWCA Greater Seattle director of employment services, reported seeing 5,500 job-seekers last year, vs. 3,500 in 2007. He said it’s harder for blue-collar workers to find jobs because more unemployed white-collar workers are now applying for the same ones, and employment classes where people might retrain for new kinds of work are full.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

"For many of those who worry about meeting the challenges, Fontenette put it in a nutshell: 'I saw Gov. Gregoire’s speech about how the community needs to step up. But the community doesn’t have any money.'”

At risk of stating the obvious: Government has only the money that the public concedes it, for purposes the public supports. In an initiative and referendum state, public approval isn't limited to the selection of representatives. Voter approval can and has been requested on a broad array of issues. A recent example would be the reversal of the tax on soda, a display of the persuasive power of millions of dollars of advertising by the beverage industry.

The definition of community is important in understanding or interpreting Fontenette's statement. If the voting public is the community whereof he speaks, and if the voting public doesn't feel that it has further money to offer, then we're back to the Governor's statement, and an understanding of "community" as the locally driven back-up structures that can respond more quickly and, frankly, informally.

It's not a pretty picture, any way you look at it.

Deb Eddy

Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, by all means let us consider the definition of "Community". Would that include anyone who can run,walk,crawl or swim across the border of the State of Washington. People who are not even citizens of the United States? When will the State of Washington address it's Sanctuary Status issues Rep. Eddy? Perhaps the "Community" would be more receptive to your revenue enhancement proposals, if they felt your were doing a good job with the funds that are already being provided. We can only hope that the "Community" will vote for a change in the Governor's Mansion, a change in the legislature and a change for the better in the State of Washington.

Cameron

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

At this point, Cameron, I think it is fair to ask for an honest list of reductions, and I think those are sufficient, already. We're bleeding educational opportunity in a way that our own parents would be ashamed of. It's also fair to demand some meaningful reform; arguable, we've fallen short on this one, since the entrenchment of the status quo is not easily disrupted. If we get movement on the reform front, then I think the public will be more easily approving of revenue. If we don't ... I think the public will continue to be receptive to the no-tax message.

There will never be, I suspect, a package that meets your approval. As you continue to be fixated by the evils of illegal immigration, Cameron, I fear you are missing some larger evils we're perpetrating on our children and grandchildren's generation. Did you see the movie, "UP"? Illegal immigration is a convenient "squirrel", I think, hitting an emotional hot button in excess of its overall contribution to the country's -- and state's -- woes.

Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Too bad all the local, county, school, state, and federal government employee workforce pay so little percentage of their own health insurance premiums and count on the 'taxpaying community' to pick up the tab. And, if all illegal alien residents decided to move, the numbers could look a bit better.

animalal

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 12:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Ah, but the state seems to have plenty of money to dig a tunnel in Seattle to replace the viaduct. So I guess they are planning on having those poor folks pick up a shovel and get digging?

GaryP

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

No Rep. Eddy I haven't watched your movie, but I have read the State Auditor Report on how DSHS continues to illegaly distribute Medicare/Medicaid funds to illegal aliens and to people who "Cannot be identified". Findings for over a decade Representative, what are you doing about it?

Interesting you want to talk about education, if the recent census is to be believed the Illegal population has grown 35% to approximately 240,000 over the last several years. Now if 25% if that population is school aged children that's 60,000 children at about $10,000 a piece in our educational system that should not be here. Your party is encouraging them to come here and your party is continuing to allow illegal aliens to get drivers licenses and other State support. WHY?

Cameron

Posted Tue, Oct 4, 10:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's this excellent, compassionate article about all the suffering going on in our state, and people just want to score their petty points and stroke their pet peeves. Have a heart, people! Be like Judy!

Posted Wed, Oct 5, 5:59 a.m. Inappropriate

If you want more resources to address the needs of the poor among us, perhaps it's time to realize there is not an infinite amount of money to do so. It would appear at Crosscut it is considered unreasonable or scoring points to ask elected officials to stop gifting State and Federal resources meant to address the needs of less fortunate citizens, to those who are not citizens or not eligible to receive those resources. Is it about compassion or searching for realistic actions to get resources to those who are entitled to receive them?

Cameron

Posted Wed, Oct 5, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

So, the governor thinks exactly like a Republican. Who are the fucking idiots who still insist the Democrats and Republicans are different?

Cameron, if the rich paid taxes, there would be more than enough to provide for all. You're claim that there are not infinate resources is an easily disproven, often-regurgitated neoliberal LIE. It is the argument the billionaires want to shove down our throats so that they can protect their wealth. Please speak for yourself and don't simply regurgitate the words of people richer than you.

lrlopez74

Posted Wed, Oct 5, 3:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Being poor in Washington State comes with cell phones, cable TV, and tattoos. There are millions of Africans who would trade places with our "poor" and notice an immediate improvement in their own personal well being.

Djinn

Posted Thu, Oct 6, 4:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I guess according to Mr. Brewster, Irlopez74 is just trying to "Be like Judy". What an articulate defense of illegal behavior.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Oct 6, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

An extremely powerful article, Judy.

Our cowboy ethos in this country seems to demand that in hard times, we decrease our tax demands on those who are "earning" the top 1% and increase our demands for free services from the religious community. I know members of dozens of Seattle congregations and those congregations are already doing much more with much less, because their own members are hurting financially. Congregations operate shelters, food banks, meals programs, and day drop-in programs for homeless people, with no money from governmental agencies. Those resources are not infinitely elastic; they're almost stretched out. So are the physical capacities of the members themselves, since most of those who do unpaid congregational work for poor people are 50+.

I wonder where poor people--and increasingly, working people are poor--are supposed to go. They're not wanted in any city or suburban neighborhood; they're not supposed to sleep on the street, or the parks, or greenbelts, or in their cars. Although the City just passed an ordinance that would allow more tent cities, there's no money for operation of those encampments. They can't afford apartments, especially with rents rising; there aren't enough shelters-with-roofs; there isn't enough transitional or low-income housing.

Everybody's got to be somewhere, as some comedian said. Poor people are not going to disappear because no one wants them. They are our neighbors, our fellow community members. If we don't want two completely separate communities--them and us--wouldn't it be better for us all to share what we have? In my religious tradition, it's called leaving the corners of the field. In democracy, it's called taxation. Either way, it means we don't take it all and leave poor people nothing.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Oct 6, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

When you have open borders and accept all comers, what is the capacity of the economy to provide for the wants and needs of all people who find themselves in want or need? At what level of taxation will all of the wants and needs of the poor be met? Should the ultra rich pay more? Sure, will it solve the problem? no. The taxation would necessarily reach far below income levels which are currently considered "rich".

Cameron

Posted Thu, Oct 6, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank goodness King County passed its Veterans and Human Services Levy. And by a wide margin. Like Major Baker of The Salvation Army in Bremerton puts it, "No neighbor left behind".

Posted Thu, Oct 6, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with the author and with the governor— we face a conundrum far more complicated than the first Great Depression.

Once again we are blindsided without ready solution after getting sidetracked this time on "21st Century" this and that, the equivalent of everyman's duty in the 1920s to get rich quick. Truth is keeping a chicken in every pot has never been something to lose sight of— when energy input can no longer keep up with demanded output, empires and populations decline.

This concept is no better portrayed than in the early chapters of Thomas Homer-Dixon's overly verbose "The Upside of Down," 2006.

afreeman

Posted Thu, Oct 6, 10:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Cameron, it really depends on what you call "rich". Most people I'd call extremely wealthy seem to consider themselves middle-class. No one wants to call themselves rich because that's a loaded term.

But the key thing is: you don't need any more food, or clothes, or shelter than I do, or my neighbor does, or the person sleeping on the street does. Our need for basic necessities is pretty much constant. So if I made in income a lot more than what I need for necessities, I'd be happy to be taxed at a higher rate so others would have necessities. At one point in my life, I was. That was back when it wasn't considered against the American Way to take care of our neighbors. And that was also back when there was hardly any homelessness. Funny how those two things went together.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Oct 7, 6:32 a.m. Inappropriate

When more and more of your neighbors find it far easier to allow you to continue to work to provide them with food, shelter and clothing not through a voluntary charitable giving, but through the filter of Government bureaucracy under the full force of the law, what do you do? What is the marginal propensity to consume free money and services by those who have no desire to achieve independence of Government programs? How about those who are not legally entitled to be in the system? Or legally in the Country for that matter? When more and more Government agencies maintain headcount based on the number of people being served, are they really working to transition people to independence? Or are they looking to boost their "client" numbers and justify their own existence?

Cameron

Posted Fri, Oct 7, 4:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Instead of making silly claims on here about immigrants, Cameron, go talk to some volunteers in local food banks. Ask them if their "existence" needs to be boosted by the rising number of people who need food, and who have to be told that the food bank has run out.

sarah90

Posted Fri, Oct 7, 5:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Silly comments? I am talking about illegal immigrants/ aliens/undocumented workers, not legal immigrants, I trust you know the difference. Perhaps you know of another Billion dollar a year piece of "low hanging fruit" that could be cut from the expenditure side of the State Budget without impacting the Legitimate poor and needy in the State of Washington?

I spend a fair amount of time with and contribute to our Local Food Bank operators and I am well aware of the need in our community. I also contribute to our local Senior Center to try and back fill the cuts from the County and I contribute to our local Childrens Services Center. If you want more for the needy in the community, how about stopping the support for those who are not entitled to the help? I guess you have an unlimited supply of money stashed somewhere that you are not sharing Sarah.

Cameron

Posted Sat, Oct 8, 3:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks to all who responded. As Cameron suggests, illegal immigrants can strain public services (I don't have facts on how significantly this is the case in Washington state), and in a few cases nonprofit organizations have perpetuated themselves after outliving their usefulness. Meanwhile - back to the argument of my article - the highly efficient, effective nonprofits in Washington state that have been set up to deliver services are unable to close the gap left by government cutbacks, and (Sarah90 reminds us), too many of our American neighbors lack basic necessities through no fault of their own.

We know that children who live in poverty for even a short time suffer consequences that will impose serious social costs down the road and will impact future economic prosperity. Given this, where is the business sector in providing leadership and advocacy toward closing the gaps? To be rescued from the destructive consequences of poverty, children need at least decent housing, food, clothing, health care, and preschool, after-school, and summer-school educational programs; and their parents dumped into unemployment by a down economy need job retraining and enough stabilizing support that their children will not suffer from parents overwhelmed by ongoing heavy stress.

So the question remains: Who will step up as the state steps away?

Posted Sat, Oct 8, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Judy did an excellent job here. And here's what we need to face up to: Things are not likely to get much better for at least five years, maybe longer. It may to 10 or 15 years before things really pick up in the ways they had before this really rough shock hit. And it has already lasted far too long.

Leadership has not been bold enough in describing the prospects for the near term future. Does anyone think that the state's November forecast will be any better? It is not expected to be better this Spring. It could well be far worse. The state's forecaster thinks that things might start to pick up in 2013......but at what rate? And for how long? The old models aren't working on this one.

Leaders ought to be shaking up people's thinking right now with clear honesty about the prospects for the next few years, and complement that story with plans to make it better.

Instead, you get the feeling that all that our legislature is doing is gaming how to cut, and maybe figuring out whether to put some teeny tiny taxes on the ballot (a prospect under tepid consideration from some of the state's major businesses who would normally start screaming) to do teeny tiny things. Maybe catch a wave on a one off jobs opportunity for a few.

Meanwhile our education system is degrading, our infrastructure is falling apart and far too many people are stuck in the horrors of rough and real poverty.

What ought to be happening is something far different. Government and business leaders ought to be mobilizing the state to invest now: in transportation and university building, in the structures that can pull thousands without jobs up now, and build the foundations to compete for jobs and opportunity in the future.

If people knew the sad facts about what's likely for the next several years, they might react differently to proposals like income taxes on high earners and other methods for paying for investments, like gas taxes and property taxes on the super rich. They may even go for a temporary hike in the sales tax.

The Governor has given up. Her surrender is complete. This generation of politicians in the current legislature seem more interested in positioning their party for the next election than leading.

People ought to be sick of it. Leaders should be convening now and every day to grow the jobs that will dig us out and support those on the edges through what is likely to be a really protracted road to recovery.

At least we ought to have leadership willing to try something bold. Let's mobilize. We have the means. We have the smarts. Do we have the willpower and the strength?

Hopefully the body politic can turn on the offense on sideshows like Tim Eyman and the hidebound politics of "me" versus "them." This era is screaming for something far better.

Jan

Posted Sat, Oct 8, 5:08 p.m. Inappropriate

I was at the Nordic Heritage Museum today and in the Swedish Room came upon the details of the origin of Seattle's Millionair Club, circa ~ 1920 and still going strong! A comment above about the days of little homelessness, plus Judy's closing question brought to mind my surprise at reading about a Johanson, I believe, looking out his downtown office window and noticing a long line of homeless men lining up for food ~ 1920.

There are also sections of the Museum devoted to hardships that NW Nordic immigrants had because of being relegated to the resource (logging, fishing, and mining) industries. The hype was far greater than the reality, but most were loathe to admit that they had been duped. The one in my heritage who went back home after nearly starving, lived ever after as "Dakota Johan."

As the prejudices over country of origin have lessened, we post WWII softies now see homelessness as lack of success in using over-consumption to one's advantage. This has brought an even deeper loneliness and lack of compassion. Anyway, God Bless the Millionair Club! http://www.millionairclub.org/

afreeman

Posted Sat, Oct 8, 11:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Ok Jan, Let's try something bold, a shake up in Olympia. A changing of the guard in both the Governor Mansion and the Legislature. Four more years of the same under the hand picked successor to Gregoire (Inslee) is probably not the answer. Will Washington be willing to take that chance? Or simply settle for the single party domination of the last thirty years and blaming the "other' guy?

Cameron

Posted Sun, Oct 9, 11:11 p.m. Inappropriate

An obvious solution would be sunset provisions for all state tax exemptions. If legitimate, they can be reinstated. This has gotten plenty of lip service for the last 20 years, but no real action out of fear of offending special interests. Legislators who object to putting in the time and effort for this review should simply be voted out.

Who cares about experience and seniority when all one does is operate off of "to do" lists from special interests?.

How hard can that be?

jmrolls

Posted Thu, Oct 13, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

many people in this state don't seem to realize how difficult it is for all its citizens. That fact is that when health and human services are drastically cut, along with eduction funding, it is not just children of immigrants, even illegal immigrants, who suffer. It is ALL the children. When schools are forced to greater numbers in classrooms, massive reduction in special education, increase in foster children and their needs, how would you expect that the state of Washington is going to improve this situation? We have no state income tax, unlike Texas which has a shit load of oil money; recently there was an article about schools taking the state of Texas to court for underfunding education. In addition, we have Tim Eyman's initiatives regarding what is needed to raise taxes and discontinue tax breaks for corporations, and that is a two thirds majority in both houses. This state is in DEEP problems with its lack of financing and how this will affect all its citizens. I am SO glad that Superintendant Dorn told Governor Gregoire to "sit on it and spin" when she announced more cuts. With all the intelligent minds and educational backgrounds, all these leaders can only say," we have to cut more." A bunch of high school kids at an illegal kegger could come up with better answers then that!!

fastryder

Posted Thu, Oct 13, 10:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Bravo, Jan!

I blame the Legislature, past and present, more than the Governor. All she can do is propose a budget; they take her proposals, chew them up, and produce their own and pass them. Legislative leaders have talked for years about sunsetting corporate tax exemptions et al. and have done nothing. Nothing. Now they're talking about maybe, just maybe, floating a referendum next November, the same thing they talked about last year, and the previous year. I'll bet the money that I don't have that they will do nothing this special session, and in the coming short session next year. I was just chastised by one legislator today for asking people to write the Governor about one particularly horrible cut and was told that we should understand that we, the people, must come up with the solutions. Sorry, Legislature, YOU need to do that. We're paying YOU.

sarah90

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