At Solid Ground, we believe people who’ve experienced poverty in their own lives best understand barriers that keep folks in poverty – as well as the support they need to overcome them. That’s why our advocacy partner, Statewide Poverty Action Network, travels across Washington state every other year to talk with people living on low incomes about the issues impacting their lives and the policy solutions that could clear a path to more stable and fruitful futures.
Throughout the summer of 2021, Poverty Action held digital and in-person listening sessions in Kent, Spokane, Vancouver, and Yakima to better understand the most pressing issues for families living on low incomes in those communities. They heard about how Washington’s safety net fails families most in need, with eligibility requirements that are too strict, applications processes that are too complicated, and payments that are insufficient to support thriving families.
They heard that Washington’s Medicaid program, Apple Health, provides such inadequate coverage for vision and dental care that people already living on low incomes are often left with mounting medical debts or forced to choose between urgent medical care and paying for other basic needs, like food and rent. And they heard about the devastating impact that the pandemic continues to have on communities across our state.
“We heard stories of hardship, frustration, and exhaustion. But as importantly we heard about how COVID-related policy responses – such as expanded unemployment insurance, federal stimulus checks, and the state’s Immigrant Relief Fund – helped people survive this extraordinary time,” says Marcy Bowers, executive director of Statewide Poverty Action Network. “We also heard that we can’t go back to the ‘old normal’ that routinely allowed people to fall through the cracks of our frayed safety net.”
The lived experiences Poverty Action learned about last summer led to its policy priorities for this year’s 60-day legislative session, which started last Monday, January 10. Read detailed descriptions of the measures Poverty Action is fighting for this session, along with stories from the listening sessions, in their 2022 Policy Agenda, Building Momentum Together.
You can also join Poverty Action and thousands of other advocates across Washington on Monday, January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for Poverty Action’s 17th Annual Lobby Day to help us lift up the voices of those most impacted by poverty and make sure they’re heard by our lawmakers.
Here are some policy highlights we’ll advocate for on Monday and throughout the legislative session:
Meeting Basic Needs
Poverty Action is dedicated to strengthening support for basic needs and advocating for policies that ensure a baseline of economic security. Our safety network is focused on three programs: one that supports families with children (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – TANF), and two that support adults with disabilities (Housing and Essential Needs – HEN; and Aged, Blind, and Disabled – ABD). To ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect when accessing these programs, we support meaningful improvements such as:
- Extending protections put in place in response to the pandemic that offer equitable access to financial help and ensure financial stability.
- Increasing cash grants to meet the real, everyday needs of those of us living on the lowest incomes.
Getting Cash in People’s Pockets
Poverty Action supports direct cash assistance to the people of Washington state through:
- Adding funding for resources and outreach to ensure equitable access to the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC).
- Supporting efforts to implement a guaranteed basic income.
- Passing progressive revenue solutions to fund cash assistance programs and making these programs as widely available as possible.
Expanding Access to Dental Care
Poverty Action supports policies that prioritize the health and wellness of Washingtonians by boosting access to affordable and comprehensive dental care by:
- Maintaining current investments in the Medicaid Adult Dental program. In 2021, the state doubled funding for Medicaid Adult Dental reimbursement rates, helping incentivize more dentists to see more Medicaid patients.
- Expanding dental therapy across Washington state.
Safety and Civil Rights
Poverty Action is working to further a world with racial and economic justice by:
- Working to end unfair property seizure and police violation of civil liberties.
- Supporting movements to redistribute resources from policing to social programs.
- Strengthening and expanding the police accountability measures passed in the 2021 Legislative Session.
Poverty Action supports policies that provide the opportunity for us to reclaim our lives and support our families following incarceration by:
- Eliminating mandatory fines and fees at sentencing and expanding who qualifies for waived interest so that fewer of us impacted by the criminal justice system get trapped in Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) debt in the first place.
These policy aspirations are far from guaranteed. Lawmakers will face intense pressure this session from powerful lobbyists with financial interests in keeping these measures from being enacted. But working together, we can make sure that the voices of people whose lives are most impacted are heard even louder.
“To be sure, it will take all of us to make this happen,” says Marcy. “It will take all of our calls, emails, and virtual visits to our lawmakers. It will take all of us testifying and sharing our stories. And it will take lawmakers forwarding bold, innovative policies that remove barriers and create pathways toward economic and racial justice. We hope you will join us in this extraordinary task.”
Illustrations above by Ana Vonhuben.