Among the positive signs for Jewish community interests during the first few weeks of the legislative session was a bill introduced under the leadership of Rep. Shay Schual-Berke to temporarily resolve a Medicaid reimbursement issue that could cost the Kline Galland Home about $750,000 a year.
Remy Trupin, government affairs associate for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, reports that House Bill 1159 was introduced last week and referred to the House Health Care Committee. Trupin says a hearing is likely within the next few weeks before the House committee and its Senate companion, the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. He has been meeting with members of these committees as well as the fiscal committees and with advocacy partners, which run other nursing homes and provide services to the elderly.
“This will be a session-long fight that will not be over until the last days of the session,” Trupin predicts.
Legislators have also taken some initial action on another issue on the Jewish community agenda this year — the issue of providing unemployment insurance to victims of domestic violence. Clients and staff of Jewish Family Service’s Project Dvorah will be watching the outcome of Senate Bill 5270 and House Bill 1248.
Trupin says that under these bills, the number of domestic violence victims that would qualify for unemployment insurance would be very small. He bases that assessment on the experience of similar rules in other states. This bill would keep skilled workers who are temporarily unemployed because of domestic violence and stalking connected with the workforce and out of poverty, preventing the need for welfare. A hearing was scheduled to discuss the Senate bill on Thursday in front of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.
Jewish Family Service clients who are welfare recipients would also benefit from Senate Bill 5201, which would allow them to attend two years of college as an allowable work activity that would not impact their eligibility for cash support. A House companion bill was expected to be introduced this week. Trupin reports that a hearing was scheduled before the Senate Higher Education Committee for SB 5201 on Thursday.
Sherry Appleton, lobbyist for the Coalition for a Jewish Voice, draws the community’s attention to Senate Bill 5211, which would require health insurers to provide comparable mental health benefits to children and families. While most health insurance policies offer mental health benefits, they are limited by high co-payments and benefit limits. This bill would force insurance companies to treat mental health coverage similarly to the way they cover physical health. A second bill on this issue, Senate Bill 5271, would provide coverage only for selected mental illnesses and some additional coverage for mental health services for children.
Also on the agenda for children and families is the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). This is a pre-kindergarten program similar to Head Start that is funded by state dollars. As a result of Initiative I-732, community colleges and schools must raise the wages of their ECEAP staff to keep pace with the rest of their employees. If the Legislature does not provide funding specifically for this purpose, employee raises may be paid for by cutting slots for children.
The Coalition for a Jewish Voice, in cooperation with a network of organizations that advocate on behalf of children and families called the Children’s Alliance, would also like the Jewish community to keep their eye on funding for Community Public Health and Safety Networks, which were cut in the governor’s budget. These programs are intended to help Washington families thrive and at the same time reduce problem behaviors in children.
The Children’s Alliance has scheduled “Have a Heart for Kids Day” for advocacy on these issues for Feb. 19, President’s Day. There will be activities for both adults and youth in the morning, a “Step Up for Human Services” rally at noon and lobbying in the afternoon. Transportation will be available from Spokane, Wenatchee, Yakima, and the Seattle area. For more information, contact Jon Gould at 206-324-0340, ext. 19, or firstname.lastname@example.org.