Background on the Issues
STATE LEVEL: An overtime special session started on Monday in Olympia. The Legislature has 30 days to come to an agreement on our state budget to send to Gov. Inslee to sign into law. At this point, the differences between the Senate and House budgets are vast. The Senate budget does not add any revenue and so it proposes a little over $500 million in improvements to our basic education system and makes deep cuts to critical support programs that help low-income families meet their basic needs. Even though the Senate budget makes a wise investment of restoring $9.4 million to the State Food Assistance Program, a program that provides food stamp benefits to legally residing immigrants who cannot qualify for federal assistance under welfare reform laws, that investment will be undermined by the deep cuts to other programs that will force families to choose between paying for food or for other basic necessities.
The House budget adds $900 million in revenue by closing certain outdated tax preferences, giving the budget the flexibility it needs to make a significant payment for basic education improvements and avoid many of the cuts to critical support programs proposed in the Senate. However, the House budget fails to restore funds to the State Food Assistance Program and does not provide funds to rebuild our state’s Farm to School and Small Farms Direct Marketing programs that were eliminated in the last biennium’s budget. Neither the House or the Senate budget cuts nor adds funds to the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) to help food banks, but we want to make sure that legislators continue to look for opportunities to provide relief to overwhelmed food banks by increasing EFAP if possible and protect the program from cuts if no agreement can be made on revenue. [TAKE ACTION]
PRESERVING OUR SAFETY NET: According to the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, the Senate Majority Coalition’s budget will actually result in the additional loss of $11 million in revenue over the next two years. This is because the proposal fails to close existing, unessential tax breaks and even adds thirteen more tax breaks. Those tax breaks include savings for clay targets for non-profit gun clubs and a tax break on cover charges at dance clubs.
The loss of the revenue from those tax breaks would add to a state deficit that some experts estimate is as much as $2.6 million due to the shortfall in revenue needed to meet existing need and an estimated $1.7 billion needed this biennium to start paying for improvements to our basic education system as required by the state supreme court decision, McCleary.
To find out more about the proposed tax breaks and their impact on spending for supports for moderate and low-income families, read this blog post from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center.
FEDERAL LEVEL: This week, the Senate will debate and vote on a Farm Bill that will cut $4.1 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps.) Here in Washington, that cut would amount to the loss of $90 in monthly SNAP benefits for at least 232,000 homes.
During the floor debate, amendments will be offered, including ones that will attempt to cut SNAP even deeper. One good amendment that we can expect will come from Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) who will introduce an amendment, co-sponsored by Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray, which would restore the benefits that are otherwise cut from the program.
More conservative members of Congress believe that we must cut SNAP in order to make a concerted effort to decrease our nation’s deficit, but that belief is contrary to what most non-partisan economic analysts have found. For instance the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that the dramatic rise in spending on SNAP is tied to the dramatic rise in poverty due to our nation’s recession and high unemployment rate. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has predicted that as our nation’s economic prosperity grows, the use of SNAP benefits will drop off. In other words, SNAP works exactly as it was intended to do: to grow in times of economic need and shrink as our economy improves. It acts as an economic stimulus, giving families the ability to continue adding money to our economy by purchasing the food they need to stay healthy and ready to find and continue work until they can be self-sufficient again.
In fact, our deficit is shrinking. The CBO estimates that our federal deficit will drop by as much as $642 billion this year and will continue to fall, such that by 2015, our deficit will be economically sustainable. Yet the House of Representatives will debate and vote on a Farm Bill next month that seeks to cut $20.5 billion from SNAP. That cut would add to the damage done by the Senate proposal by eliminating benefits altogether for 80,000 households in Washington, most of which are working poor families with children and seniors on fixed incomes. Nationally, 280,000 children would lose their eligibility for the free school lunch program. Cutting SNAP is not only unnecessary to reduce our deficit which is already shrinking, it is unconscionable, hurting families by denying them help to meet their most basic of needs and setting our nation back at a time when it is starting to make great strides in recovering. [TAKE ACTION]
2013 Legislative Session Tracking
Below are a few of the legislative issues Northwest Harvest will be tracking and advocating for during the 2013 Session of the Washington State Legislature.
Restore funding for the State Food Assistance Program (SFA)
The State Food Assistance Program (SFA) is the food stamp look-alike program that provides important nutrition assistance to legal, documented immigrants who do not otherwise qualify for the federal program. These include aspiring citizens who hold green cards but have lived here for five years or less, individuals whose immigration status is in transition from one legal status to another, and those families who live and work here under legal compact between the U.S. and their countries of origin. Last year, the 11,000 households that receive this assistance saw a 50% reduction in their benefits. These families, including 12,500 children, receive less than $2 per person per day in SFA benefits, and have no other nutrition assistance available to them other than the emergency food system. Add $21 million to restore this program to full benefits for the 2013-15 biennium.
Increase funding for Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP)
Food banks statewide have seen a 35% increase in need for services since the start of the recession in 2008. Unemployment and cuts to other vital services for low-income families have meant that families have sacrificed their food budgets in order to pay for other necessities like healthcare, housing, and transportation. Despite the dramatic increase in clients, food banks have seen decreases in contributions of food and money from the private sector, inconsistent contributions of commodities from the federal government, and have seen no added help from the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) to help them meet the rise in need or the higher operations and transportation costs. Increasing funds for EFAP will help food banks keep their shelves stocked, their lights on, and their doors open. Add $3.7 million for the biennium.
Restore the Farm to School Program at WSDA
The Farm to Market/School Program provides valuable assistance to Washington’s farmers, helping them understand rules and regulations that enable them to sell their product to schools, day care centers, and other institutions that help Washington’s most vulnerable populations. This program draws down federal dollars, supports Washington growers, and ensures that Washington’s finest produce is served to hungry Washington families in need. Add $500,000 to restore the program.
Find revenue to protect and preserve programs that provide basic services to low-income families
The state of Washington has made over $10 billion in cuts to our state budget over the last four years. These cuts have shredded our safety net, pushing more families into poverty and driving them to the doors of food banks and meal programs. Charity cannot bear the load alone. With state coffers tied up by our obligations pay for improvements to basic education and implementing the health care exchange plus an estimated $900 million revenue shortfall, we cannot afford further cuts to human services to balance our budget. Entire programs will be eliminated, setting Washington further back as we struggle to recover our economy. We need to keep all revenue options on the table to help make sure that children and families aren’t in crisis, creating a solid floor on which families can rebuild their lives.
Northwest Harvest is a statewide hunger relief organization, providing nutritious food to over 350 food banks, meal programs, and high need schools. We believe that eliminating hunger means fighting its root cause—poverty. To this end, we advocate for public policies that 1) promote access to nutritious food, 2) help low-income people meet their basic need, and 3) support budgets that preserve a basic safety net.
For more information, including how to get involved with Northwest Harvest’s advocacy work, please contact Christina Wong, Public Policy Manager, at 206-923-7465 or email@example.com. You can also sign up to receive email alerts below.