November 26, 2011; Source: The Olympian | As with other states throughout the country, Washington’s budget shortfall—of $2 billion—is expected to have a particularly adverse effect on anti-poverty programs managed by statewide nonprofits. In anticipation of a 30-day special session of the Legislature that begins this week, and as a means of reinforcing the fact that from the perspective of nonprofits and faith-based organizations, “filling the gaping holes in the state budget is unrealistic,” Greg Rickel, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, and Erica Hallock, president/chief executive officer of United Way of Washington submitted a joint letter to the Olympian, urging readers to get involved with this issue either by calling their state legislators or by volunteering with one of their organizations. 

Rickel and Hallock provide some striking statistics that give an overview of the impact that the $380 million cuts to social welfare programs have already had throughout their state. They note, for example, that calls to the state’s help line have already doubled in some counties in the past 36 months, and that in one particular county the percentage of residents qualifying for state social service assistance has jumped to 46 percent from 23 percent five years ago. They also include the observational assessment that congregations “are reporting more families with children on the streets, increasing numbers of families showing up for meal programs at churches and lengthening lines at food banks.”

Although the authors highlight the fact that Washington’s United Way raised $138 million in 2010, about $10 million more than the previous year, they point out, powerfully, that even this total amount would not be enough to counteract the proposed single cut of $220 million to school bus service throughout the state. It is possible too that the inclusion of financial information representing the entire nonprofit sector of the state might have added even more impact to their appeal. 

As additional background on this week’s upcoming legislative session, The Columbian points out that the focus of the special session will likely be the possibility of a temporary half-cent sales tax increase to raise $494 million to reverse cuts to social service and education programs.—Anne Eigeman