Corrections workers rally at Capitol as others also take their causes to Olympia

Staff writerDecember 9, 2010 

Advocates for various causes are making themselves heard at the Capitol this week, including as many as 400 corrections workers who rallied on the Legislative Building steps Thursday to oppose cuts in prison staffing and to support public safety.

Other advocates testified Wednesday and today in House committee hearings about the dangers of budget cuts to health and human services programs that Gov. Chris Gregoire and majority Democrats are considering.

Some cuts could eliminate the state Basic Health Plan or prescription-drug coverage for Medicaid clients. Others could trim mental health funding and – closer to home – speed closure of the Maple Lane youth prison at Grand Mound. Gregoire and lawmakers are searching for ways to cut $1.1 billion of spending through June and an additional $5 billion in the next two years.

Carl Granger, a corrections officer at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, and other rallying workers said they want to keep both institutions and the public safe from dangerous felons. And he asked for respect, drawing cheers from a crowd that was dressed in yellow ponchos as rain poured out of the sky.

“We will no longer be a doormat they can wipe their feet on,” Granger said, adding that proposed temporary furloughs and staffing cuts put everyone at risk.

“Some days it’s hard to get up and go to work knowing it may be the last time you see your family,” he said.

Several lawmakers of both parties also spoke to the group and were cheered for their pledges to make public safety a high priority in the Legislative session that begins Jan. 10, as well as Saturday’s special session. They included Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, who said the key issue was public safety, and Republican Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood, who said DOC’s proposed closure of the McNeil Island prison does not make economic sense.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed across-the-board cuts that could close other facilities, including the Larch corrections facility near Vancouver.

Dozens of others testified Wednesday at the House hearing, including advocates for people of color who said cuts to immigrant services and some health services will hit minority groups disproportionately hard.

Richmond Nguyen, a home-care worker with the Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775NW, said one legal immigrant client could lose coverage because of a language barrier that will be caused if money for medical interpreters is cut.

Nguygen said the union is looking for ways to bring more federal funding into long-term-care services, which are being cut. These include a likely 10 percent cut in home-care workers’ hours and reduced help for those in need who are staying at home instead of more costly nursing homes.

Rhonda Paul, a home-care provider in Snohomish County, said one couple she cared for had to enter a nursing home after the wife collapsed.

“Three days ago, I found out they are both dead,” Paul said, blaming cuts.

Others testified at harm caused by limiting eligibility for child-care help for mothers in the work force, which the Department of Social and Health Services has proposed to cope with a rising welfare caseload and no new funds. Some women have chosen to quit jobs to retain aid while in college.

Representatives of food banks, community mental health clinics and many other service agencies spoke of a ripping public-safety net that could lead to more people lacking health insurance, more homeless people and more people showing up in hospital emergency rooms or jails – which the public ends up paying for through other means.

As many as 50 SEIU workers in purple rain gear also staged a rally at the Department of Social and Health Services’ headquarters in Olympia on today, and many sent handwritten messages to DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus outlining the effects cuts will have. Agency spokesman Thomas Shapley said the agency welcomes comments and ideas from employees on how to deal with the budget crisis.

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