Now about a quarter of the way through, the pace in the Legislative session is beginning to pick up, with committees holding hearings on bills of interest to the Jewish community.
According to Remy Trupin, government affairs associate for the Jewish Federation, committees are in the process of deciding whether they approve of the policy intent of bills before they vote to pass them along to a fiscal committee to debate the financial impact of the proposals.
“This is why your input is critical,” he said in an e-mail to citizen activists. “Bills have many hoops to jump through to become law. They are heard in several committees, voted on the floor, and often competing versions must reconciled. Your voice must be constant to legislators with the overabundance of issues that they must attend to.”
The bills Trupin is keeping his eye on right now include HB 1372 (and its companion SB 5201; companion bills are identical to the bills introduced in the other house), which would allow families eligible for public assistance to receive up to two years of college education without additional work requirements. It was scheduled to be heard in the House Children & Family Services Committee on Thursday, and has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Trupin also asks the community to keep its attention on SB 5423 (and its companion HB 1390), which would continue to make health care and support services available to people who are disabled under the state General Assistance/Unemployable program. Many Jewish Family Service clients rely on these funds as a major form of subsistence. These bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Health & Long Term Care and the House Health Care Committee.
According to the Statewide Poverty Action Network, which includes the Coalition for a Jewish Voice, families in the state’s WorkFirst program are allowed to participate in one year of vocational education; however, they must be working 20 hours a week. HB 1372 would allow parents to go to school for two years without the work requirement. In its newsletter, the organization quotes a recent report by the state that found there is a shortage of skilled workers in Washington State. The report stated that 64 percent of employers had difficulty finding qualified applicants with a post-secondary vocational education. This shortage was experienced in all industries, not just in high-tech. (To view a copy of this report visit, www.wa.gov/wtb. The report is titled, “Workforce Training: Supply, Demand and Gaps.”)
Regarding the issue of Medicaid reimbursement for nursing homes (HB 1159), last Thursday, Josh Gortler and Steve Reynolds of the Kline Galland Center testified in front of the House Health Care Committee in support of the bill. Trupin said the hearing went well and the committee is likely to hold a vote on whether to pass the bill on to the House Appropriations Committee very soon. A hearing on the companion bill, SB 5630, was scheduled for this Thursday in the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee.
The No. 1 priority for the Jewish Federation this year is maintaining Medicaid reimbursement rates for the Kline Galland Center. Medicaid is both a state and federal program. The state determines at what rate nursing homes will be reimbursed for the care they give to their residents. Kline Galland’s level of care is substantially above the average for nursing homes across the state. About 65 percent of the people living at the Kline Galland Home are on Medicaid.
During the 1998 legislative session, lawmakers imposed a ceiling on Medicaid reimbursement rates that is scheduled to go into effect in July 2002. This ceiling is well below the service level currently at Kline Galland. Trupin says Kline Galland will have its Medicaid reimbursement cut about $750,000 a year after the ceiling is imposed. That money will need to be replaced by community fund-raising or else services at Kline Galland may decrease.
Trupin advises community members to keep the pressure on their legislators concerning this issue, which government people call “hold harmless.” “Let them know that Kline Galland cannot fill the gap in lost funding with bake sales: Let our grandparents bake for their grandkids, not for their care,” he said.