Anti-poverty advocates and Jewish community lobbyists last week commended state senators for taking action to restore cuts to medical assistance for the indigent and the disabled and encouraged the House of Representatives to follow suit.
In a statement last week, Jewish and Christian advocacy groups thanked “elected leaders in Olympia for remembering that the state budget must recognize the public’s moral obligations to care for the genuine needs of all.”
“The state budget should reflect the voters’ wishes by providing first for those who have no other place to turn — the elderly, the disabled, the working poor, children, and vulnerable adults,” said Rev. John Boonstra, Executive Minister of the Washington Association of Churches. “Our religious tradition requires us to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. We understand the challenge to produce a balanced budget in light of current constraints, but in these tough fiscal times it is more important than ever to make sure the poor are cared for and protected.”
In December, the governor’s proposed budget included deep cuts to several human services programs. The Senate restored adult vision and dental services for low-income adults, reimbursements to hospitals caring for people who are poor and uninsured, in-home chore services for low-income elderly and disabled, the adult day health program, as well as funding for migrant health clinics.
However, religious leaders said they were troubled by the proposed increases in Basic Health Plan co-pays, the cap on enrollments to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the elimination of law libraries and legal services for inmates.
Dr. Michael Spektor, president of the Jewish Federation, added, “We share Sen. Lisa Brown’s [chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee] concern that the budget shouldn’t be balanced on the backs of vulnerable citizens. We urge the House to show similar leadership in prioritizing services for the poor and vulnerable.”
State lawmakers are under pressure to fund two education initiatives that require the state to spend over $700 million. “When the people of this state voted for the education initiatives to raise teachers’ salaries and reduce class size, they did not say the state should deny healthcare for kids and working families or eliminate dentures and glasses to the elderly,” said Jean Johnson, interim director of the Children’s Alliance. “We should not balance the budget on the backs of poor children and families.”
Anti-poverty advocates say the state should raise the I-601 spending limit and, must ultimately find ways to generate more revenues so that education and human servicescan be adequately funded.
State legislators have to cut $1.3 billion in spending to stay within the I-601 spending limit. Gov. Gary Locke proposed a budget with 64 percent of the cuts coming from human services, according to the Poverty Action Network. Some of those cuts were restored by the Senate last week.
According to Remy Trupin, government affairs associate for the Jewish Federation, the Senate budget restored $31 million to the medically indigent program that reimburses hospitals for providing emergency care to uninsured adults. With this level of restored funds, the program would still lose $3 million over the biennium. This program helps clients of Jewish Family Service, the Seattle Association for the Jewish Disabled and the Kline Galland Center.
The Senate also restored $20.4 million to the adult dental program. The governor had proposed reducing the level of service for low-income adults, other than for people with developmental disabilities, by limiting preventative and routine dental care. The adult vision progam also saw $4.4 million restored (The governor had proposed eliminating this program). And the adult day health program had $3.7 million restored. The governor’s budget would have cut in half this program, which helps seniors and people with disabilities.
For young adults with developmental disabilities, the Senate set aside $2 million in new funds to help fund their transition into employment and training after high school. New money also was budgeted for emergency food assistance: $1 million to food banks and food distribution centers.
Although the Legislature has not taken action to stop planned cuts in Medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes, according to Trupin, the Senate acknowledged the potential crisis of cutting reimbursement levels in its budget narrative. But the House likely will come up with the final policy. The Kline Galland Center stands to lose nearly $750,000 a year when new rules go into effect.
All of these issues will be decided within the next few weeks as the Legislative session winds down.
Some good news and some more bad news for SHA
Seattle Hebrew Academy finally got some good news late last month when supporters at the Orthodox day school’s annual dinner answered a plea for pledges to erase the school’s $900,000 debt.
Before the euphoria of this achievement could begin to fade, however, the school, whose building was heavily damaged in the Nisqually Earthquake, got some more bad news. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) announced that the school’s application for disaster relief funds has been denied.
SHA officials, who were hopeful FEMA would offer major assistance in repairing several million dollars of earthquake damage to SHA’s turn-of-the-century brick building on Capitol Hill, have appealed the decision.
In the meantime, students of the school, which has no earthquake insurance, are going to class for the rest of the school year in classrooms loaned by Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation. School officials are still trying to figure out where the school will be housed next year, and a number of local and national fund-raising possibilities are being explored.
“Coming back-to-back as they did, these good and bad news developments are a lot for the school to absorb,” said SHA’s headmaster, Rabbi Shmuel Kay. “We’re doing our best, but these are trying times.”
Kay said teachers and staff are doing an incredible job under difficult circumstances, but the school is facing one of its biggest challenges in solving the problems created by the earthquake.
At SHA’s annual dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel on March 25, school supporter Victor Alhadeff said the school’s $900,000 debt, accumulated over the past 53 years, is placing an intolerable burden upon the school. Alhadeff reported that every dollar pledged that night must be paid by mid-June to be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000 by an anonymous donor. The total dollars would then be matched two-to-one, up to $600,000, by the Samis Foundation.
In a 30-minute period, school supporters pledged to contribute more than $200,000 by summer. This money, coupled with the $100,000 in matching funds from the anonymous donor and $600,000 in matching funds from Samis, instantly erased the school’s long-standing debt. Those attending pledged an additional $100,000 to be paid by the end of 2003.
“It’s not often that we get to witness such overt miracles,” said Kay.
Apart from the special, on-the-spot debt-erasing campaign, SHA officials reported that their dinner ad journal raised more than $125,000 to support new and existing general studies and Judaic programs.
Just two days later, SHA received official word that FEMA had denied the school’s application to received federal disaster relief funding. The application was denied, FEMA representatives said, because SHA, a private, non-profit religious school, does not provide services to the general public.
The school has 60 days from the date of denial to appeal. It has hired earthquake- damage assessors and a FEMA consulting team to assist them.
At the SHA dinner, long-time Seattle Jewish community leaders Albert and Jean Maimon were honored with the SHA’s Community Leadership Award and school parents Beth and Leon Rosenshein were honored with the school’s annual Parent Volunteer Award. The Rosensheins, who moved to the Seattle area in 1999, have been heavily involved as volunteers with numerous SHA projects.
Recognition and honor also were given to glass artist Dale Chihuly, who recently exhibited his work in Jerusalem under the title “In the Light of Jerusalem 2000.”