Politics & Government

Breakdown: What are some of the biggest cuts to social services in the Senate GOP budget proposal?

The state Legislative Building in Olympia. Republicans have proposed a budget that eliminates or reduces some social programs.
The state Legislative Building in Olympia. Republicans have proposed a budget that eliminates or reduces some social programs. Staff file

The budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by Republicans who control Washington’s state Senate came with social service cuts, some of which the GOP has now withdrawn.

Republican leadership has said the cuts are necessary to avoid more new taxes to pay for priorities such as meeting a court order to fix how the state pays for K-12 education. The plan would add about $1.8 billion to Washington’s public school system over the next two years.

Senate budget writer John Braun told reporters Tuesday that Republicans were trying to “best invest state dollars to truly help the vulnerable and get the best return for the citizens of the state of Washington.” He also said some of the cuts could be counteracted by the budget’s investment in other areas, such as mental health.

Republicans did restore some of those cuts by amending their proposal in a marathon fiscal committee meeting late Wednesday night.

Though the hundreds of millions in savings pale in comparison to the overall $43 billion budget, supporters of the agencies under the knife say the reductions still come with adverse effects.

The Senate’s Democrat Leader Sharon Nelson said the GOP is trying to “hide the fact they don’t have enough money to pay for this budget, so they go ahead and put it on the backs of the poor and say they’re helping the vulnerable.”

Democrats who control the House are expected to reveal their budget plan next week.

Here are some of the agencies and programs that would receive the largest budget cuts in the original Republican proposal:

Housing and Essential Needs program

As first proposed, the Senate budget saved about $53 million by eliminating the Housing and Essential Needs program that helps certain homeless adults who are unable to work for more than 90 days because of a physical or mental incapacity.

The program, known as HEN, gives out rental assistance, but also personal supplies such as toothpaste and shampoo, dish soap, batteries, bus passes and laundry tokens.

In the Ways and Means Committee late Wednesday, the Republicans restored $10 million for the program in the next two years.

In 2015, the program gave 8,228 people rental assistance, including 273 people in Pierce County and 274 people in Thurston County, according to the state Department of Commerce, which administers the program. More than 3,500 people in King County received rental assistance from HEN, the most of any county.

Republicans also put $7.5 million over the next two years into helping people who are incapacitated from general employment with dependent children.

Department of Early Learning

The Republican budget plan would limit eligibility and make other changes to the Working Connections Child Care program as part of more than $61 million in savings in the original budget proposal from programs overseen by the Department of Early Learning.

The changes to the Working Connections program, which helps low income families pay for child care, would save $44 million in the next two years.

Starting in 2018, the budget would limit eligibility over three years to the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, which currently gives free preschool education to eligible 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families.

The GOP proposal would let only 4-year-olds participate in the program.

The preliminary department analysis says closing off eligibility to 3-year-olds entirely may not just affect them: It could cause entire classrooms to close for lack of students, which may put 1,400 four-year-old children out of the program, too.

But late Wednesday, Republicans added $16.5 million in the next two years for 1,200 3-year-olds to participate in the program.

While the budget also would have nixed half of state money for the nonprofit ChildHaven, a preschool for severely abused children, Senate Republican’s amended their proposal Wednesday night to restore the program’s funding.

The Department of Early Learning’s budget would increase overall when including investments to other programs and normal fluctuations in spending.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

The GOP would save about $33 million through changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program run by the Department of Health and Social Services, including restricting who is eligible for its services.

The program gives temporary cash to low-income people who have children or are pregnant. The amount of help depends on the family size and income level.

The department is still analyzing the effects of the proposed change, said Norah West, a spokeswoman, in an email.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein

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