Over 600,000 children live in, at, or near the federal poverty level

Let’s talk about Washington’s children

By Rep. Mary Helen Roberts | Mar 02, 2012

Thirty-nine percent live in a low-income household, which means that over 600,000 children live in, at, or near the federal poverty level.  For a family of three, this is $19,090 annually.

Over 100,000 children are without health care coverage, and about 40 percent of adolescents haven’t had a preventative check-up in the last year.

These numbers are discouraging.  I find it disconcerting that they aren’t from a third-world country somewhere across the globe, but they are the most recent figures from right here in Washington State.

These are children who live in our neighborhoods and attend school with our children.

This year’s legislative session is scheduled to adjourn in less than three weeks, and budget proposals are being released that call for as much as an additional $1B in cuts.

Unless there is additional revenue, the number of children going without food, regular trips to the doctor and moving into homelessness will increase.

The problem of insufficient revenue is both highlighted and compounded by a recent State Supreme Court decision that faulted the legislature for not meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education.

We are constitutionally obligated to invest more in our schools, but will we do that by spending less to help children and families, the elderly and the disabled?

We cannot reasonably expect children to perform well in their classroom if they lack nutritious meals and a safe home in which to grow.

Here in southwest Snohomish County, the Alderwood office of the state Department of Social and Health Services is providing basic food benefits to 8,978 kids in our community every month.  That’s up an astronomical 135percent since 2008.

Furthermore, 1,303 kids are growing up in families dependent on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

That means they are living on an income of about 31 percent of the federal poverty level.

How do we write a budget that meets our children’s basic needs while also ensuring that they receive the world-class education they deserve?  It’s not a simple question and there isn’t an easy answer.

However, it’s obvious to me that the route to improving our schools and student outcomes must not include more budget cuts.

If the answer were as easy as getting a simple majority to vote to close outdated tax loopholes, we would have already done it.

Requiring the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share is often touted as a solution, but such a proposal sure didn’t work out when it was on the ballot in 2010.

So what are our options?

Finding solutions has become more difficult in the past few years as we grapple with the worst economic downturn experienced in more than the past half century.

State government has already been reduced by $10 billion and our per capita expenditures are the lowest they’ve been since 1985.

Taxes haven’t been this low in Washington for fifty years.

When the voters of the state overwhelmingly approved Initiative 1053 in 2010, they severely limited the legislature’s ability to write a budget that is both responsible and humane.

The initiative requires a two-thirds majority by both houses which is nearly impossible to achieve.

The only other option is to place a tax proposal on the ballot for the voters to decide.

So that means that it’s up to you, the voters of the state.

Who you elect and the measures you pass will make all the difference.

Do we let our education system slide because we won’t step up to adequately fund our schools?  Will we see innovative companies locate elsewhere because Washington can’t meet the demand for a highly trained workforce?

The decisions that both the legislature and the electorate must make are challenging, and the solutions are never as simple as what shows up on the signs or t-shirts of those who rally in front of the capitol.

One of the basic realities of a democracy is that it isn’t simple and we’re all in it together.

A discussion about revenue options in this state is long overdue.

We’ve seen the results of simultaneously underfunding our schools and our safety net; let us now find a new approach to our shared future.

The decisions all of us make will have serious consequences and deserve thoughtful debate.  They affect every citizen in this state.

My highest priorities will continue to be meeting the needs of our children and assuring them the quality education they need to make Washington a leader.

We all have a stake in the future of our children.




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