$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.

 

Recap: Coalition’s General Meeting — February 20, 2014

What we wouldn’t give to get a couple of extra days at the end of February. Do you feel the same? It’s a good thing we’ve been posting these abbreviated meeting notes so that you can make the most out of the time you have!

Last week’s General Member Meeting was quite timely, what with the Legislative Session over half-way through and the next phase of Reduced Fare actions taking place. Be sure to catch up if you missed out, or refresh on details if you attended. Here’s what happened at the latest General Member Meeting, held on February 20, 2014.

As a reminder, the General Member Meeting takes place every third Thursday of the month from 9.00 – 11.00 a.m. at the East Cherry YWCA (2820 E. Cherry Street in Seattle). For more information, check our website’s Members’ tab for a link to the ‘Committees & Meetings’ page, or simply follow this link to take you there directly. Our next General Member Meeting is Thursday, March 20, 2014.

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2014 One Night Count Discussion: What did you think? What did you hear? What are the implications for your work? Your community?

  • Many people spoke about their 2014 One Night Count experiences:
    • Some shared that more people were awake and moving around between 2-5 a.m.. One individual noted the dissonance in counting people who are homeless amid high rises and malls. A new Team Captain from this year’s count said she took away an extra dose of compassion and humility. A first-time counter, who was able to count in his home neighborhood, noted how different it was to see people who are homeless at night than during the day, and was also surprised at the wide age range of people who were counted. A first-time Team Captain but returning counter mentioned that this year he saw more tent encampments than in years prior. A first-time Headquarter volunteer shared that student counters came back with a new outlook on their neighborhood after counting at night. In all, everyone shared the meaningfulness of their experience, and its lasting impression.
    • Alison Eisinger, Executive Director of the Coalition, share that this 14% increase change is significant; it’s not “in the noise.” She’s glad to report that many elected officials participated this year; this sort of showing is good for all the work we do after the Count. She encouraged us to talk in our communities about what a 14% increase means both personally and professionally, but reminded us to understand that what’s most powerful is the total number of people reported, and that number represents unmet need (because shelters are full.)

2014 Legislative Session updates w/ special presenter Ben Miksch of Washington Low Income Housing Alliance

NOTE: for more information or current status on the below bills, please check out the rest of our blog and Facebook posts, and be sure to sign up for our e-mail alerts

  • Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge (aka Document Recording Fees): Passed the House, and is now in the Senate. Contact your Senator, and ask them to support HB 2368.
  • Fair Tenant Screening Act, Part 3: Passed the House, and is now in the Senate. Contact your Senator, and ask them to support HB 2537
  • Youth Opportunities Act: Passed the House, and is now in the Senate. Contact your Senator, and ask them to support HB 1651.
  • Homeless Children Education Act: One bill started in the house and another started in the Senate. Each bill passed their respective houses and has moved to the other. Contact your legislators and tell them to support HB 2373/SB6074.
  • HED/ABD, and the Housing Trust Fund: This is the first time we haven’t started the session with cuts to HEN. While that’s a great place to start, we can do so much better. Please ask your elected officials to match the average Housing Trust Fund allocations from previous years by investing a total of $18 million this year.
  • Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP): Unfortunately, CROP did not pass through the House; it will no longer be considered this session. Rest assured, it will be back next session! Contact your legislators throughout the year to let them know the importance of CROP.

Call-in to Olympia: 1-800-562-6000

  • Oh yes, we did! Everyone took out their phones, dialed the number listed above, and dictated to the operator on the other end their simple message in support of the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge.

Update and Action on the Low Income Fare (aka Reduced Metro Fare)

NOTE: for more information or current status on Proposition 1 and the Low Income Fare, please check out the rest of our blog and Facebook posts, and be sure to sign up for our e-mail alerts

  • Please call King County Councilmember Larry Phillips @ 206-477-1004 (toll free: 800-325-6165). Message: We strongly support a reduced fare. We urge the council to “buy down” the fare to no more than $1.25.
  • Update: On Monday, the King County Council voted unanimously to implement a reduced Metro fare of $1.50* for people living on low incomes. King County residents all the way up to 200% of the federal poverty line will be eligible - meaning that nearly a quarter of the people in our community will be better able to access the bus. (*This proposal can be made even better if voters turn out to pass Proposition 1 on April 22, when voters can ‘buy down’ the fare to $1.25 as part of a revenue package that will prevent 17% bus service cuts.) 

Staff Update

  • Alison provided an update and announce the Call for Letters re: Federal Reserve Bank Project. Check out our website to learn more and sign up for alerts!

Save these dates on your calendar:

  • Legislative Session runs January 13 – March 13, 2014
  • Families w/ Children Meeting re: Rapid Rehousing – Wed, Feb 26 from 9.30-11 a.m. @ E. Cherry YWCA
  • Youth and Young Adult Committee Meeting re: DV, and spotlight on TeenFeed programs – Tues, Mar 11 from 10-11.30 a.m. @ Capitol Hill Library
  • Next General Member Meeting – Thursday, March 20 from 9-11 a.m. @ E. Cherry YWCA
  • Keep an eye out for Member Surveys in March!

We look forward to seeing you at the next General Member Meeting on Thursday, March 20, 2014! And be sure to check back here for a Recap following each meeting.

 

 

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.”

 

Diary of an outraged advocate: Nancy Amidei sets herself (and Congresswoman DelBene) a challenge

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Nancy Amidei partners with the Coalition regularly to teach “Homelessness Advocacy 101″ workshops, where her infectious enthusiasm and stories of how advocacy works never fail to engage participants. I call her a Cheerleader for Democracy.

Nancy Amidei has been an anti-hunger and homelessness advocate, a teacher, and a champion of people participating in democracy for more than forty years.

She is director of the Civic Engagement Project, and retired a few years ago from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, where I met her in 1993. I use the word retired with bemusement: Nancy’s schedule of workshops, guest lectures, meetings, and community events has slowed, but only in comparison to what it was a few years ago.  I am not sure she has ever declined to meet  with an interested student, or told a small group of concerned or caring people that she wouldn’t come speak for free.

Nancy and I often meet for a walk on the weekends, catching up on work and politics and sometimes tackling the Sunday crossword puzzle.  We spent the Sunday before the election talking about the $5 billion in cuts to food benefits that took effect on November 1st, and the terrible political state that leaves the Democrats proposing additional deep cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), just not as deep as the Republicans are proposing. Starting this month, 47 million people  in the United States will have less help to shop at local grocery stores and put food on their families’ tables. The cuts being debated now as part of the Farm Bill will be even more harsh, and last for ten years.

Typically, as Nancy turned this situation over in her head, she thought about what the advocacy opportunity might be. She suggested to national anti-hunger organizations that they call on all members of Congress who are making decisions about the SNAP program to eat on the same budget they were recommending for hungry Americans. By the next time Nancy and I talked, she had phoned local Congresswoman Suzan DelBene to ask her to do just this. As you’ll read, she is fair-minded enough to do the same.
Here is Nancy’s diary of her first week:

On November 17, 2013 I started trying to feed myself on the average food stamp benefit for an adult in Washington state:  $4.20 per person per day,  or $1.40 per meal.
I am doing this because 41 members of the U.S. Congress are meeting now in Conference Committee to decide the future of SNAP (aka Food Stamp) benefits.  One of those 41 is Representative Suzan DelBene, of Washington state.  Since food stamps were already cut on November 1 for everyone, it seems especially harsh that the Conference Committee members are debating whether to cut the program by  an additional $4 billion or $40 billion over the next 10 years.

I think it is reasonable to ask the members to feed themselves on $4.20 a day for the duration of their deliberations on the Farm Bill.  And, if I am asking them to do so, I am going to do it myself.  Despite having a long history with the Food Stamp Program, going back to the late 1960′s when I was a staff member at the (now defunct) U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, I’ve never personally taken the “food stamp challenge.”

Day 1: I know I start this challenge with many advantages. I have a car, so I don’t have to depend on a (higher cost) corner store for food.  I grow a few vegetables in my yard, and have a neighbor who gives me apples from her tree.  I subscribe to a newspaper, so I get lots of cost-saving coupons.  But right from the start I realize that just figuring out what I am spending per meal is a challenge.
Day 2: For the second day I’m having a lunch of half-a-bagel, plus 1 oz (sliced) of cheese, plus half a glass of V-8. I also had a few dried apricots that were in my cupboard. Without the “free” apricots, that’s a bit over $1.  Dinner is 2.5 oz of “manager’s special” (aka old) meat, some rice, and swiss chard from my garden.  Dessert:  half a large cookie.
Day 3: I realize I need to calculate the cost of my morning home-brewed coffee.  I don’t buy fancy coffee, but even so it comes to a whopping 40 cents: that won’t work. I’m now using the same amount of water, for half the coffee grounds.  By 10:40 a.m. my stomach is growling, and I am missing my usual caffeine hit.  Dinner:  same as last night.
Day 4: Probably should have thought of this before, but today I was grateful I wasn’t a growing teen, person with a high-energy job, or anybody bigger and younger than me. That realization hit me as I chatted with a grad student/veteran I know, who is about 6’2″ (I’m 5’5″, and a lot older).
Day 5: I haven’t mentioned this, but pretty much every day I’ve “cheated” a bit:  nibbling some chocolate-covered raisins that were in my cupboard, stretching my bought food with the last of my garden’s swiss chard, a piece of gingerbread from a friend, and  home-made applesauce that I found in my fridge (made earlier from my neighbor’s apples).  If I were in a low-paying job, living in an urban apartment, those things probably wouldn’t be possible.  Even so, this morning I had to “water” the milk in my breakfast cereal.  I am running out and can’t afford more milk.
Day 6: Today I head out for the holidays with various relatives.  I’ll still be at $1.40/meal for breakfast and lunch, but will be well-fed at dinner.  And, I’m going “off” the challenge for Thanksgiving week – a luxury low-income food stamp users don’t have. Over 90% of the people who use food stamps are families with children, or people who are elderly and/or with a disability. Virtually all of them who can work are doing so, or trying to find work in a time of high unemployment. I don’t know how they do it, but I’ll be trying again starting next week.
~ Nancy
P.S. For the record:  close friends have mentioned that I seem “crabbier” and I know that I have less energy — and it’s only been six days.

As you gather family and friends together this Thanksgiving, take a few moments to let Rep. DelBene know what you think about cutting food stamps. Representative Suzan DelBene‘s 1st district includes Kirkland, Bothell, Redmond, and Woodinville.  You can call her local Bothell office at (425) 485-0085 or use the form on her website to send her an e-mail. She tweets @RepDelBene, and her latest tweet is from the Sky Valley Food Bank in Monroe, WA. There are 22,000 people in the 1st district who use food stamps to eat.

The Coalition takes Tacoma!

Last week, Coalition staff were excited to be joined by our two fantastic scholarship recipients at the 23rd Annual Statewide Conference on Ending Homelessness. The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance put on this informative and exciting conference, this year in nearby Tacoma. We were joined by Susan and Tracy (pictured below) and spent two full days learning and connecting with people from all around the state committed to ending homelessness. I had the pleasure of getting to know both recipients both before and during the conference and their enthusiasm was contagious!

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For me it was great to see how many passionate people are out there fighting to end the homeless situation, and how these groups are dealing with the changing face of homelessness today. I especially enjoyed seeing the different programs and how they work … by attending I now have found some advocacy groups that I will get involved with most definitely now. -Susan