Politics & Government

Welfare advocates protest Gregoire's cuts to program

The Washington State Capitol in Olympia. (Tony Overman/The Olympian)
The Washington State Capitol in Olympia. (Tony Overman/The Olympian)

OLYMPIA - Welfare advocates met with Washington officials Wednesday to protest state assistance cuts ordered by Gov. Chris Gregoire, saying it makes little sense to trim support for parents when jobs are so difficult to find.

Thousands of families are expected to be affected by state welfare-to-work program cuts, which would grant fewer extensions to families who reach a five-year limit for assistance and lower the income threshhold for child-care subsidies.

The cuts of at least $51 million, which were announced last month, also include employment, education and training services. They were part of Gregoire’s efforts to downsize state government amid chronically low revenue collections stemming from the recession.

Monica Peabody, director of Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights, said the sluggish job market makes such cuts particularly harsh. Federal statistics show there were about five unemployed people for every job opening this June, compared with fewer than two jobseekers for each opening when the recession began in December 2007.

With Gregoire’s child-care cuts, Peabody said, some parents will have to leave their jobs and wind up on other forms of government assistance when they plunge further into poverty.

“It’s a cut that doesn’t make sense for the state. I mean, some people are going to have to quit their jobs, and it’s just going to move the need from one pot to another,” Peabody said.

Administration officials told the group that “everything’s on the table — we’re open to all ideas,” Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis said. “But with the budget situation what it is, there’s just less to go around.”

Gregoire, a second-term Democrat, has informed state agencies to prepare for immediate spending cuts of up to 7 percent after officials get new revenue estimates this month. Heading into January’s 105-day legislative session, Gregoire has said lawmakers will need to quickly pass a supplemental budget cutting $500 million from the last six months of this fiscal year. The upcoming 2011-2013 budget could need to be cut by 10 percent in order to bridge an expected $3 billion shortfall.