When Gov. Chris Gregoire released her list of preferred general fund cuts for the coming biennium, the new Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program hadn't even gotten off the ground.
HEN was formed as a stopgap, to keep people who were on Disability Lifeline from becoming homeless when that program was discontinued Oct. 31. HEN would also give them access to essentials such as toilet paper.
Disability Lifeline once served more than 19,000 low-income people with cash grants and rent assistance. No one said that HEN would replace Disability Lifeline. But now, under the existing budget proposal, the gap between Disability Lifeline and HEN will grow.
If the legislature accepts cuts in order to fill the $2 billion hole in the general fund, HEN will be slashed to $10 million, down from $64 million.
There won't be enough money to pay for even a fraction of what HEN was meant to do.
"It's pretty clear that it's not like a cutback. It's a distinctly different effort," said Ted Kelleher, managing director of the Department of Commerce's housing assistance unit.
HEN's remaining $10 million will only serve those discharged from state institutions.
Solid Ground's Advocacy Director Tony Lee said Gregoire's proposal renders the program worthless.
"It would be just a skeleton program," Lee said. "She's [Gregoire's] essentially eliminating the whole thing."
HEN is just one of the programs on the chopping block as the Washington State Legislature heads into its 30-day session Nov. 28.
Advocates for the poor say the $2 billion in cuts, following the state's
$10 billion in cuts to the general fund over the last two and a half years, are unthinkable.
Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, said cuts, without additional revenue, would cripple the state's safety net.
"The path out of poverty becomes much harder," Thomas said. "These are things that are going to set individuals back many, many years."
Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) spokesman Thomas Shapley said this budget demonstrates that government help is now reserved only for those deemed most vulnerable.
"It's going to mean communities and family and the faith community and corporate philanthropy stepping up," Shapley said.
In addition to reducing HEN, the cuts reduce Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Apple Health for Kids by tens of millions of dollars each.
The cuts to DSHS and the Health Care Authority would cover more than a third of the $2 billion deficit, not including cuts that pull money from the poorest school districts or safety nets under the Department of Commerce.
Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) said it's not a win if saving one program for housing hurts another program for child health.
"There are no acceptable cuts," she said.
The state will release its revenue forecast Nov. 17. The Governor has said she'll come out with proposals to increase revenue sometime this month.
It won't be enough, said DSHS spokesman Shapley.
"Even if there's revenue, this hole cannot be filled by revenue alone -- there will be cuts," he said.
Meanwhile Thomas, of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, is working to combat cynicism among supporters, who may not feel there's any hope.
"I don't think that's the case," Thomas said. "I think if you harvest energy, if we come together, we will force another way forward."
The Governor's proposal was released Oct. 26.
The Office of Financial Management is expected to deliver a fleshed-out budget proposal the week of Nov. 21.