The Impact of Washington State Budget Cuts on Newly Arrived Refugees, Asylees and Certified Victims of Human Trafficking
The economic recession has hit local and state governments hard; here in Washington, the state budget faced a well-reported deficit. After tax proposals were rejected by voters in November 2010, the governor and state lawmakers were faced with making drastic cuts to the budget. The Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS), which administers many social service programs for low income, disabled, and otherwise vulnerable populations, is experiencing numerous budget cuts in the form of reduced benefits and services and most refugee families will be negatively impacted.
Cash assistance, which is intended to help families pay their rent, utilities, and other necessities, has been cut 15% as of February 1. For example, a family of 4 which includes two minor children currently receives $661/month in cash. Starting in February, the same family will get $562 (plus food assistance and Medicaid). Many families will not be able to pay their rent as a result of this cut.
Childcare assistance will only be available to families who are eligible for cash assistance, which will hurt many working families who relied on state assistance to pay for daycare expenses. Many programs that provide ESL and other services to refugees and immigrants will also see their funding cut, which will make it more difficult for refugees to learn English and be assisted in finding employment.
Supplemental Medicaid Medical benefits paid by the state have also changed for the worse. Vision, dental, and hearing coverage for adults have been cut effective January 1st. State funded Medical interpreters, a necessary resource for refugees, will be eliminated on March 1st unless something changes.
All of these changes were announced with very short notice. The governor submitted her budget in early December, and state agencies had very little time to react. As a consequence, most refugee families only received the written notification of the new cash assistance levels in mid-January. For most, this is not enough time for them to give notice to their land lord and find a new apartment that they can afford with their reduced grant.
The path forward is unclear for many refugees. The job market has not improved enough to accommodate the number of refugee job seekers. The new state budget also cuts programs and services for the disabled and elderly, creating an increased burden on the families that struggle to take care of them. Refugees came to this country to escape fear and persecution, only to be abandoned in poverty with no clear alternative. While the IRC has tried to meet emergency needs in the past, our funding to do so has also been reduced and we cannot respond to the additional needs.
Unless the state legislature restores some of these cuts, it is going to be a difficult time for refugees and other low income families in Washington State.