From the print paper this morning:
A few years ago, a homeless woman named Lee Ann Winters was nearly run over by a car while walking across a downtown Spokane intersection. She yelled at the driver, saying she was in a crosswalk and had a green light.
“What does it matter?” she recalls the driver yelling back. “You’re homeless!”
Now 52 and living in her own apartment, Winters is worried that the homeless will be dismissed the same way by state lawmakers looking to cut spending.
A program called General Assistance for the Unemployable that once provided Winters a critical lifeline – health care and $339 a month – is among budget cuts that state officials are considering.
GA-U now benefits about 21,000 people statewide, including about 1,400 in Spokane County, who are deemed too physically or mentally disabled to hold a job. The program is intended to provide short-term help for people transitioning to long-term and largely federally funded assistance programs.
In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested that state lawmakers eliminate the program, which would cost taxpayers $411 million over the next two years, saying the state must solve its budget mess without raising taxes…
…As the Legislature tries to write a budget for the next two years, GA-U has two key allies in Olympia: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp, the two most powerful lawmakers in the state, both with roots as anti-poverty activists.
“We’re going to make it a high priority to preserve that funding,” said Chopp, D-Seattle. “It is a matter of life and death in many cases.”
Brown, D-Spokane, says it would be foolish to throw people off the program only to see them on the streets and turning up for expensive last-resort care in emergency rooms, shelters and jails. There may be reductions, she said, but “we’ll try to moderate it.” She’s floated the idea of saving money by changing the way the health coverage is administered.
The big question, however, is whether the state’s budget problems will override legislative leaders’ hopes to keep the program going. November’s state revenue forecast stunned lawmakers, slashing nearly $2 billion from what was expected. Similar forecasts are scheduled for March, July and September.
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