About Kathryn Murdock - UCC Social Justice Intern

Kathryn was previously a UCC Social Justice Intern at the Coalition. She is currently the Special Projects Coordinator.

$15 Minimum Wage – A Shared Commitment

Last November, voters in SeaTac approved increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making national news and inspiring vigorous public conversations about wages, affordability, and income inequality in coffee shops and town halls, on buses, and around water coolers across our region.   Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant have been working hard on this issue, and the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee is scheduled to release recommendations at the end of April.  The Coalition on Homelessness has been a part of the conversation about the opportunities and complexities of raising the minimum wage as a member of the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC), a coalition of direct service providers and advocacy groups (see background materials below).  We’ll be taking up this conversation at our April 17 General Membership meeting with Tony Lee, from Poverty Action, and other special guests.  Please join us to discuss the practical, political, and policy issues related to raising the minimum wage for all workers, including human services and housing providers. As usual, we meet on the third Thursday from 9-11 a.m. at the E. Cherry St. YWCA (2820 E. Cherry St.) in Seattle.

Background:

In late March, SHSC, together with Working Washington, SEIU 925, and Kids First Seattle issued a joint press release affirming their clear commitment to a $15 minimum wage because it “lifts workers out of poverty, boosts the economy, and strengthens people’s abilities to meet their basic human needs.” These labor and human services groups noted:

“The current citywide conversation about income inequality and the minimum wage should not be used to pit one low income group against another, because we know that those who work in poverty-wage jobs and those who receive human services can be the very same people. Thousands of low-wage workers can’t feed themselves without help from food banks, and can’t possibly afford early childhood education for their children without public support. And at $9.32 an hour, a housing crisis is never more than a paycheck away.”

The Seattle Human Services Coalition laid out five key points in an  ”Issues Advisory on $15 Minimum Wage and Impact for Human Services.” Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

The Seattle Human Services Coalition recognizes the importance of a livable minimum wage in addressing poverty in our community. SHSC fully supports raising the minimum wage for all human services workers (and others) to $15/hr.

We are also acutely aware that this call for raising the minimum wage must be done in such a way that does not result in a decrease in urgently needed services; any solution must take into account the impact on the vulnerable people we serve.

We call upon elected leaders and other stakeholders to take all five of these actions:

      • Include non-profit human service employees in any recommended increases to the minimum wage.
      • Ensure that wage standards and city contract requirements do not lead to a reduction of needed human services.
      • Increase local investments in pay equity, including human services employees.
      • Move the discussion beyond an hourly wage to examine the broader issue of income inequality in our region.
      • Set a base wage that does not include other forms of compensation.

 

The Importance of the Affordable Care Act for Youth & Young Adults

ACAThe deadline of March 31 for signing up for the Affordable Care Act is quickly approaching. However, if you are eligible for Medicaid, you can enroll at anytime, and do not have to meet the March 31 deadline. Our Youth & Young Adult Committee learned this, and much more from Tabitha Jensen, Executive Director of Teen Feed, who came to their meeting this morning and gave a presentation on the importance of signing up young people for the Affordable Care Act. If you are interested in learning more, you can see her presentation: Teen Feed Youth & Young Adult Healthcare Presentation.

Also, please join us for our next meeting on Tuesday, April 8 from 10-11:30am at the Capitol Hill Public Library or on any first Tuesday of the month. 

Nancy Amidei’s Food Stamp Diary: Week Three (Including a Holiday Message to Congress, urging them to restore cuts made to SNAP)

WEEK THREE

Day One

Went to a friend’s birthday celebration – which means I ate well that night, AND I can stretch last week’s meat purchase a bit longer.  I mentioned feeling guilty that I’d eaten so well, and was told:  think of it as a visit to a soup kitchen – rare, but wonderful.

Day Two

One thing I hear a lot:  “What about beans? They’re good for you, and low-cost.”
Answer:  I’m not too fond of beans, especially not as a big part of my diet.

However I AM getting lots of money-saving tips – many of which involve cooking that takes a long time. It’s a trade-off that can work for someone like me, but not for anyone with a low-paying job, long commutes, and/or no kitchen (e.g., if I were living in my car, or at a shelter).

Day Three

A friend gave me three oranges ~ what a treat!  Later, at a meeting, someone put out a bowl of red grapes.  Fruit TWICE in the same day!  In the past, that would not feel like a big deal; on $4.20/day – it’s a VERY big deal.
And since I’m fighting a cold, that fruit feels downright therapeutic.  Plus, I spotted some leftover Halloween candy in a kitchen drawer… good news for my sugar-craving (tho’ admittedly not in my budget).

Day Four

Finishing off my potatoes and carrots.  Running out of bread; tired of cheap cheese.  If this continues, I’ll try to make some different choices, based on what I’ve learned… if I can. However I realized today that I’m going through a lot of cough drops (which I didn’t count in my food budget). While it’s true that I have a cold and cough, I suspect this is really about keeping a taste in my mouth when I’m hungry.  Hmmm.

Day Five

It now appears likely that the Conference Committee on the Farm Bill will not finish before Congress adjourns at the end of this week.  That means the issue of food stamp cuts won’t be settled til Congress convenes again in January.  It also means I won’t be facing the holidays on $4.20/day. A relief.
But I’m keenly aware that everyone who depends on food stamps isn’t so lucky.

Last Day

Dropped another half-pound.  Used up the last of the eggs in my fridge, the last of a few other items.  If Congress hadn’t adjourned, I’d be heading out to shop for a week’s worth of groceries for $29.40. Everyone should do this for a couple of weeks, especially anyone who thinks getting food stamps makes for an easy life, or prompts people to quit their jobs.

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It is hard to fathom why Congress would “choose” hunger for millions of people by cutting SNAP even more – and yet that’s what’s being proposed when Congress returns in January.  Low-income people don’t “choose” hunger.  It’s no mystery that SNAP use rises when unemployment rises, and falls when the economy picks up.  And while SNAP helps, $4.20/day for food doesn’t make unemployment easy.

In each of my three weeks on a food stamp allotment, I was:  thinking of food a LOT; conscious of a growling stomach a LOT; and generally aware of having less energy.  Why anyone would wish that on millions of children, elderly, low-wage workers, and people with disabilities – especially in our food-rich country – is beyond me.

So I hope that everyone reading this will send a Holiday Message about SNAP to our two U.S. Senators (Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell) and your 1 U.S. Representative. Not sure how to contact your U.S. Senators or Representatives, visit the Coalition’s website to find their contact information. Your message can be something as simple as:

  ”In the midst of holiday meals and parties, I hope you will remember all those who are struggling to get by on food stamps.  And when Congress reconvenes, ask your colleagues to RESTORE the cuts made on November 1, and REJECT any further cuts in SNAP.”

 

What does it take to fill nearly 1,300 backpacks?

What does it take to fill nearly 1,300 backpacks? A lot of planning, a lot of supplies, a lot of backpacks, but most of all A LOT OF FANTASTIC VOLUNTEERS!

Nyree and a pile of backpacksDuring our five volunteer days, we had over 90 volunteers help stuff backpacks for nearly 1,300 homeless children. We had volunteers from age 4 – age 70+ volunteer with Project Cool this year to make sure that every homeless child served by Project Cool could go back to school in September equipped with the same tools for success as every other child in his or her class. Our youngest volunteers were truly some of the best volunteers, they worked hard and had excellent attitudes, even through the long 3 hour shifts when they had to carry heavy backpacks up long flights of stairs. One of our youngest volunteers even came up and asked me, “Can I volunteer with you again soon?” I told her that we would be happy to have her again next year, and she quickly told me, “But next year is SOOOOO far away!”

Bundling pens and pencils (5)Project Cool is truly a volunteer-powered project, and without these fantastic, hard-working, and enthusiastic volunteers, we would not be able to provide something so critical – a brand new backpack with school supplies – at the beginning of the school year to 1,300 homeless children in preschool – twelfth grade.  The gift of a new backpack gives both the parents and the kids one less thing to worry about – the parents don’t have to worry about one more thing to purchase that they can’t afford, and the kids don’t have to worry about being stigmatized at school because they can’t afford the right supplies or a backpack.

Bev and Steve from Windermere stuffing pre-k backpacksEven though the backpacks are all stuffed, Project Cool isn’t over yet! As you are shopping with your kids for their school supplies, think of ways that you might be able to support Project Cool through a school supply drive. We are already beginning to gear up for next year, and the best time to do that is when everything is on sale. If you would like to host a supply drive or find out how to host a supply drive, contact Kathryn Murdock, 2013 Project Cool Coordinator (projectcool@homelessinfo.org).

The Power of Effective Advocacy – Winter Shelter Extended through June 15 for 215 people

Something unprecedented and special happened in our community this spring.  Winter shelters, which usually close on March 31, were extended, first through April 15, and then all the way through June 15th.  While we are all basking in the sunshine at the moment, it’s worth remembering how unpredictable our northwest weather is.  In the last few weeks we have had cold rain, wind, and temperatures near freezing.  The weekend before shelters were scheduled to close on April 15, a hail storm in Seattle highlighted the urgent need for year-round shelter in our city.

Red doors open

The red doors at Seattle City Hall that open to one winter shelter that will now run through June 15

Winter shelter was extended at three locations in Seattle: King County Administration Building (100 men), Seattle City Hall (75 men & women), and at the YWCA’s Angeline’s Center (40 women).  There are many people and organizations who collaborated to accomplish this broadening of shelter. Thanks to strong collaboration, persistence, leadership and effective advocacy, 215 men and women will not be left to fend for themselves through rain, hail, cold and darkness. Instead, they will be inside: safe, dry and warm.

Thank You Note to Seattle City Council in front of the Red Doors

Hand delivering a thank you note to the Seattle City Council that symbolized the opening of the red doors that they opened to extend winter shelter.

Today we hand delivered thank you cards signed by Coalition members to the leadership in Seattle and King County who helped make winter shelter a reality in our community: Seattle City Council; King County Council; Executive Constantine; Mayor McGinn; Director of King County Community & Human Services Department, Ms. Jackie MacLean; Director of Seattle Human Services Department, Ms. Dannette Smith.  Please also send your own note of thanks to any and all people listed above – without their leadership, we would not have been able to extend winter shelter.

 

Senate Releases Proposed Budget that Slashes Funding for Housing and Human Services

The Washington State Senate released their proposed budget yesterday which, if enacted, would be devastating for housing and human services.  Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) was cut by 50% and the Aged, Blind & Disabled (ABD) program, with the tiny cash benefit of $197 a month for people waiting for federal Social Security benefits, was completely eliminated.  Working Connections Child Care – a program that helps low-income parents pay for child care – was cut by $180 million.  In addition, advocates are concerned that there is a chance that neither the Senate nor the House will allocate funds for the Housing Trust Fund, our most powerful  tool for creating affordable housing and good jobs across Washington.

The Senate’s proposed budget is unacceptable.  We need to let our senators know how we feel about this budget, which places heavy burdens on low income people. Yesterday, the Coalition’s Alison Eisinger was among several housing and homelessness advocates who went down to Olympia to deliver testimony on the importance of the programs that were cut in the Senate’s proposed budgets.  Here are two strong testimonies from Greg Winter, Director of Whatcom  Homeless Service Center in Bellingham, and from Ania Beszterda-Alyson, Community Engagement and Advocacy Manager with the Low Income Housing Institute.

Greg Winter, Whatcom Homeless Service Center

I’m here to ask you to support the Disability Lifeline programs – Housing & Essential Needs and Aged, Blind & Disabled. I’ve witnessed first hand how these programs have transformed the lives of Whatcom County residents who were extremely vulnerable. I understand that your budget released today eliminates ABD – this is a very bad idea. This program provides modest support for people who are disabled and applying for SSI. The state receives approximately $50 million in reimbursements from the Federal Government for the modest cash grant and this is $50 million that will no longer come to the state or this vulnerable population. I understand that these people will be eligible for HEN if they are homeless or at great risk of homelessness, but it appears that your budget doesn’t fund HEN at the same level and certainly doesn’t increase it to accommodate for this newly eligible population, which is much larger than the current HEN-eligible population.

The usage of the HEN program is increasing each month in every county of the state and we need to grow this critical program not shrink it and add more demand to it. Please reconsider your budget proposal and don’t leave these vulnerable people with nothing. Otherwise, many of these people will eventually show up in much more expensive, publicly funded systems of emergency care.

Ania Beszterda-Alyson, Low Income Housing Institute

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, my name is Ania Beszterda-Alyson and I am here to urge you to preserve the Housing and Essential Needs /Aged Blind Disabled program in its current form,  and protect Washington’s most vulnerable residents.  The Low Income Housing Institute works to end homelessness in six counties across Puget Sound by developing and providing affordable homes to nearly 4,000 low income, homeless and formerly homeless people, including over 700 families. Overall, 72% of units developed by LIHI are occupied by formerly homeless households.

I drove to Olympia today to share a story of one of our residents who gave me permission to relay to you just how vital the Housing and Essential Needs Program has been for him. Due to his circumstance he preferred not to appear in person or have his name shared. I will call him Will.  Will became homeless when he turned 18 as do so many of our foster kids (I’m a foster mom myself and find this heartbreaking). Will’s biological family abused him when he was very young, but an older couple took him in and fostered Will until he was 18. He still visits his two foster parents regularly and affectionately calls them grandma & grandpa. Being homeless was particularly traumatic for Will due to his childhood experiences, but also because youth easily become victims once on the streets and are abused terribly. After two years of living in youth shelters and outside Will’s case manager helped him secure a HEN voucher so he could move into one of LIHI’s apartment buildings – Gossett Place in the University District. Will qualified for HEN because he was homeless and he has a developmental disability. Just last month he heard that his SSDI was finally approved after two attempts with help of a lawyer. Thankfully he will continue to be able to live at Gossett Place where he’s been thriving thanks to the on-site case management, counseling and services. Staff at Gossett Place have commented that Will’s behavior has improved dramatically since he moved in 10 months ago and has become very stable. Will is now looking forward to working towards his GED; he volunteers at Gossett Place – helps to tend to the rooftop garden boxes, and hopes to begin training to become a barber. HEN truly was a lifeline for Will – it secured his housing while he waited for the SSDI payments to be approved and allowed him to escape the trauma he experienced on the streets as a vulnerable youth.

Please protect the Housing and Essential Needs and the Aged Blind Disabled Programs and fund them at the current $130M level as they are a true lifeline for our state’s most vulnerable residents like Will. Thank you for your time.