Bill just wanted a home with a warm bed. Too bad he's not a chicken, because under Washington state law he'd be getting better treatment.
Bill, a south Puget Sound-area resident, suffers from mental illness and chemical dependency. In his mid-20s, he’s been working on getting treatment and rebuilding his life. Last year he got into a clean and sober house. He was able to pay the $300 monthly room-share rent thanks to Disability Lifeline, a state program that provides modest cash grants to help disabled adults purchase basic necessities such as rent. The home gave Bill stability and a chance to get the help he needs.
Then last fall the state cut monthly Disability Lifeline payments from $339 to $258. Bill could no longer afford to rent his apartment, and began sleeping on the street. Without the support he needed, he relapsed, found himself in jail, then ended up in an intensive inpatient treatment facility.
Now about those chickens: Ten years ago, the state Legislature passed a special tax break to benefit a few dozen factory farms that raise chickens. There’s a tax break on bedding – wood shavings, sawdust, straw, shredded paper – and another tax break for natural gas to heat the barns so the birds can stay warm. All told, these tax breaks cost Washington $4.5 million over the last four years. With the state facing a $5 billion deficit, it’s time for the corporate chicken farms to pay their fair share.
After all, what’s more important – a roof over the head of a fellow human being, or corporate tax breaks to underwrite soft bedding for next week’s casserole?
Faced with that basic question of values and priorities, the state Legislature acted decisively: When they convened in January, they slashed Disability Lifeline benefits again, to a paltry $193 per month. As for the poultry bedding and heating tax breaks, the Legislature left them untouched.
They also left untouched tax breaks for private jet owners; for people who get elective cosmetic surgery; for stockbrokers and mortgage brokers; for big out-of-state banks; for corporations that laid off hundreds of workers. All told, the Legislature left more than 567 tax breaks untouched.
Instead, lawmakers cut health care for the elderly and for pregnant women. They cut funding for kids in day care. They cut home care services for seniors. They cut food and housing for people who need it most.
And they cut Bill.
Sadly, and ironically, taxpayers will carry a far heavier burden paying Bill’s incarceration (about $300 a day) and hospitalization (more than $500 a day) than the $339 a month for Disability Lifeline, which helped Bill get back on his feet.
Cutting Bill’s Disability Lifeline cost a fellow human being his stability. And it cost all of us taxpayers thousands of dollars. It was a foolish budget choice.
State leaders need to stop making budget choices that cost taxpayers more in the long run. The Legislature should close tax loopholes to preserve basic services, because in these tough times, corporations should pay their fair share. I’m confident the chickens will understand.
Diane Sosne, is president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW, representing more than 22,000 nurses and other health care workers in Washington state.