Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed 2009-10 budget eliminates funding for community-based organizations that advocate for and organize low-income people. In addition, the budget cuts off funding for agencies that provide critical technical assistance and support to fledging community groups. The Mayors' proposal is short-sighted, penny-wise, and pound-foolish. It would deny low-income Seattle residents millions of dollars of direct services.
The mayor has stated that his budget gives priority to direct services for low-income people, not to "indirect services" such as advocacy and capacity building. This is a false distinction. Advocacy and capacity building's main goal is to secure and preserve federal, state, county, and private funding for critical services such as low-income housing, healthcare, child care, food programs, and welfare payments.
Since 2003, for example, this advocacy work has secured millions of dollars in additional funding and prevented huge cuts, which have benefited low and moderate income residents of Seattle. Advocacy and organizing work prevented the proposed elimination of the adult dental Medicaid and general assistance (GA-U) programs; stopped the imposition of co-payments for prescription drugs and transportation assistance in the Medicaid program; and stopped the proposed elimination of all King County funding for community health and human services.
Advocacy work also quadrupled the funding for the state's Housing Trust Fund from $50 to $200 million; established the Children's Health Care program, which provides healthcare insurance for all low and moderate income children in our state; significantly expanded access to the food stamp program for low-income working families; increased access to naturalization services for refugees and immigrants; and directly increased voter registration and participation of 26,000 new immigrant citizens in our democracy.
For every dollar the City of Seattle invests in advocacy, city residents receive $54 in savings or additional benefits, according to an analysis done by the Seattle Human Services Coalition.
Similar to advocacy work, capacity building has helped smaller, newer agencies better deliver direct services. City funding has enabled organizations serving refugees, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and people of color to provide culturally competent, client-centered care. Capacity building has also made it possible for small agencies, through technical assistance, to secure grants, government funding, and individual donations.
The mayor's action comes at the worst possible time. The state is facing a $3.2 billion deficit for 2009-11, the county is grappling with a huge $90 million shortfall, and the federal budget is swimming in red ink. Faced with significant budget deficits, policy makers will target social programs for cuts or elimination. That is why advocacy and capacity building are absolutely crucial at this time. Low-income families and individuals need sustained, effective advocacy and organizing now more than ever.
Another troubling aspect of the Mayor's proposal is the disproportionate impact it will have on vulnerable groups: refugees and immigrants, gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people, and people of color. Half of the agencies that will lose funding serve these communities exclusively. These organizations provide crucial support to their respective communities and are major voices for these underserved populations. Whether it's the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, One America, the Non-Profit Assistance Center, or the NW Network (for LGBT survivors of abuse), the people who are served by these agencies know the value of these agencies work and how important it is to their communities.
The City Council a few years ago rejected the mayor's request to eliminate funding for advocacy and capacity building. It is our hope that the Council will once again reject this proposal. By making a relatively small investment of about $600,000 per year, the Council can make it possible for low- and moderate-income families in Seattle to have access to housing, health care, food, child care, and welfare payments. Please write to all the Council members and urge them to continue supporting these vital activities.
Pramila Jayapal is executive director of OneAmerica: With Justice for All, which advances the fundamental principles of democracy, justice, and human rights at the local, state and national levels. Tony Lee is advocacy director of Solid Ground, which helps nearly 33,000 Seattle-area families each year to overcome poverty and build better futures.