If you love your local nonprofit agency, let the state Senate know.
That was the message Washington's Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, brought to an informal discussion with nonprofit leaders at the Clark County Food Bank on Monday morning. Inslee mostly listened as representatives of 18 local nonprofit agencies described their missions, challenges and worries during a time when the state Legislature, challenged by a looming deficit, has yet to approve a budget.
But he did encourage the leaders of agencies like Share, the Council for the Homeless, the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington and Innovative Services Northwest to put their email lists to use. Inslee proposed alerting their clients and supporters that he and the
state House are largely in agreement on a budget proposal that focuses on closing tax loopholes for the wealthy; the state Senate, on the other hand, has proposed steep cuts to social services like poverty, health and senior-support programs, he said.
"We have a debate going on," he said. "It seems to me you have an opportunity to share some information. These are real things to real people." He acknowledged that those proposed cuts are driven by a state Supreme Court order to fully fund education needs.
But, he said, "It's very difficult to educate a hungry, homeless, sick child." Inslee said he supports a "holistic" approach to supporting people in need.
"We've been cutting these things for four years," Inslee said. "I'm not cutting anymore."
The friendly crowd of nonprofit leaders thanked Inslee for that spirit -- especially because their needs and clienteles continue to grow at a fast pace. Several health-related nonprofit officials said that they are bracing themselves for the full rollout of federal health care reform which, they said, will increase eligibility for services to many poor people without necessarily increasing the availability of professionals to provide those services.
Inslee said the health care reform law does provide money to train more new doctors, "but it's a pipeline," he quipped so all those nonprofit providers have to do is "hang on for five or six years." The remark brought titters and groans from the group. Some said the payments they depend on from state and other agencies for contracted services are coming in later and later.
"As nonprofits, we don't have the capacity to wait," said Laundra Carroll of Innovative Services Northwest, which provides a range of therapeutic, day care, foster-family and other services for local families.
The 8 a.m. session at the Food Bank was largely a time for Inslee to listen as officials took turns introducing themselves, their agencies and their concerns. Jeanne Kojis of the Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington offered some perspective on the people they serve and the economic impact they have by pointing out that the nonprofits in the room account for 805 paying jobs and serve approximately 170,000 people in one way or another; that's well over one-third of Clark County's total population of approximately 425,000. In Washington state overall, there are 55,000 nonprofits that employ 211,000 people, representing more than 9 percent of the private workforce.
Dennis Morrow of Janus Youth Programs, which caters to runaway homeless youth, was one of many to congratulate local nonprofits on their cooperative spirit.
"This community has done a remarkable job," he said. "Stuff happens here you don't see anywhere else in the country."
But on a state level, he added, services for homeless children and children in crisis is a failure.
"The child welfare system in this state is broken," he said. Why? Inslee asked. "Lack of funding," Morrow responded.
'Not even close'
Andy Silver of the Council for the Homeless said the county is doing reasonably well when it comes to housing "the folks who are literally homeless," but that efforts at prevention and intervention are lacking.
"We're not even close with the folks who are couch surfing, doubling up, bouncing around," he said. Those numbers far exceed the resources to help them stave off homelessness, he said.
"It's like we're serving 5 percent, and the other 95 percent we're telling, 'we have nothing for you,'" Silver said.
Barbe West of the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, which serves about 12,000 uninsured people annually, said a recent survey of her clients found that finding a living-wage job tops their list of priorities. Reversing the deterioration of social supports -- such as food, health care, housing and education -- came next.
She said the new federal forms to get people enrolled in the expanded Medicare plan that's part of health care reform are confusing -- especially for people with less education, who are likeliest to sign up. The forms should be rewritten to aim at a fifth-grade reading level, she said.
Pat Beckett of the Children's Center, a mental health clinic, also complained about various forms of bureaucracy: Background checks for prospective employees can take months and result in people taking other offers; children who are prescribed medications must start with older, less safe, generic drugs and are routinely denied better, safer, more modern formulations. Why? Because the newer drugs are more expensive.
Inslee encouraged the leaders in the room to get their clients involved in the public debate over the budget. Compromise is inevitable, he cautioned: "Budgets are not going to be fat for a long time. But everyone you represent has a stake in the discussion."