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25 Senate lawmakers sign onto $42 million pledge for food aid in next state budget

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on March 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm | No Comments »
March 22, 2013 3:57 pm
Sen. Joe Fain
Sen. Joe Fain
Sen. Andy Billig
Sen. Andy Billig

The Senate goes first with a budget at the Washington Capitol this year, and the Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition is keeping pretty mum on its spending plans. But the coalition does plan to put out a budget in another week – well after tomorrow’s quarterly revenue forecast. In the meantime, there is a growing list of lawmakers or groups declaring what must be in the budget.

The latest is from the Children’s Alliance, aided by Republican Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, who took the lead in rounding up signatures from 25 Senate members – a majority – in support of $42 million for the food assistance program . It was more than an exercise of job skills by the majority coalition’s floor leader; Fain had met during the legislative interim last year with immigrants in his legislative district who were struggling with cuts in the food aid program, according to the alliance.

Jon Gould, deputy director of the Alliance, said Fain led the effort but got help from  Democratic Sen. Andy Billig of Spokane and also Democratic Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell. The $42 million would double what the state now is putting into the program, which had been cut in half during the 2011-13 budget cycle, and that meant families that rely on the food aid were given half as much.

The alliance estimates 14,000 kids in immigrant families lost help. Gould said the cuts meant families that rely on the food aid were given half as much – about $78 on average in November versus $159 in June before the cuts.

In a news release from the alliance, Fain is quoted as saying: “The data is clear. Sound nutrition fuels academic achievement. …  “State Food Assistance is a smart way to make sure no child goes hungry.”

You can see the letter here – it includes the names of Fain, three other Republicans and 21 Democrats. It is addressed to the budget leads, Republican Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond and Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam.

The three other Republicans signing on were Sen. Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla, Sen. Steve Litzow of Mercer Island and Sen. Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup. Democrats not signing included the top two minority caucus members on the Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Hargrove and Sharon Nelson of Vashon. The other Democrat not signing was first-year Sen. Mark Mullet of Issaquah.

“We are delighted that a majority of the Senate is willing to stand up for hungry kids and support restoring benefits so kids can be free of hunger and be ready to learn,’’ Gould said.

The letter is unusual in that interest groups usually round up support for spending and make it public after a budget is already on the table. But it isn’t unusual this year – in that others also are staking out areas of the budget that must get new investment:

  • Last week, House Republicans put out an “education first” budget. It proposed a net gain of $566 million for K-12 public schools above current levels. It also would cut $726 million in human services spending – some of it a reduction in state outlays because health reform is giving the state more money for Medicaid.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, one of two Democrats in the coalition, told a town hall group over the weekend that the Senate budget is due sometime next week – roughly March 28-30.

The Democrat-controlled House is expected to put out its budget plan soon after the Senate’s comes out. It is safe to assume the House majority is looking for new revenues to invest more into K-12 schools than the House Republicans are considering and to avoid some of the cuts that Republican Rep. Gary Alexander, author of the education-first plan, has hinted at.

Alexander wants to reduce welfare spending and repeal the fifth year of lifetime eligibility for those receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grants. The House GOP proposal also has lots of fund transfers and assumes 2 percent savings across the board in state-government operations.

Gould said Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Seattle Democrat, is circulating a similar letter in the House.

The alliance believes the state needs more revenue and Gould said the social-services coalition wants to see unspecified tax exemptions closed to produce the additional funds.

UPDATED to say that Pettigrew lives in Seattle.

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