The elimination of income assistance for 5,000 families last week happened without a single vote by any of the 147 state legislators.
That’s because a major portion of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds and the Child Care Development Block Grant are not included in the House or Senate budgets – the fundamental responsibility of legislators. House Bill 1782, co-sponsored by 80 legislators, would put the TANF box back in the budget and therefore, under legislators’ purview.
Opening a hearing on H.B. 1782 on Feb. 8, Rep. Bill Hinkle (13th District - Cle Elum) drove the bipartisan point: “As a legislative body, it is our constitutional duty to do the budget.”
In order for legislators to make good budget decisions, they need to see the full scope of Washington’s services. TANF – one of Washington state’s largest, most comprehensive safety nets for families without work during the Great Recession – needs to be given full consideration alongside other budget items.
Providing more daylight to the budgeting process means families and child advocates can attend public hearings and meetings with legislators – an opportunity for the families most profoundly affected by income assistance cuts to buy time, avoid emergency rules and voice their concerns through the legislative process to influence decision makers.
Policies that affect our most vulnerable children should have the legislature’s attention. Washington families can then play a greater role in educating their lawmakers and urging them to enact policies that work for Washington’s kids in good times and in bad.