OLYMPIA — Washington has long ranked among the top states to live in the nation, and the state has enacted several leading policies to support lower-income families such as a strong minimum wage, the Washington College Grant, paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave and the nation’s first public long-term care benefit.
Poverty, however, has been a persistent challenge, even as Washington’s economy has consistently ranked among the best. Despite a strong economy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in four Washingtonians — 1.75 million people, including 500,000 children — struggled to make ends meet. The pandemic ushered in a public health and economic crisis that exposed many existing disparities in our communities.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s Poverty Reduction Work Group has a plan to meet this moment through its newly released A Blueprint for a Just and Equitable Future: The 10-Year Plan to Dismantle Poverty for all Washingtonians. Inslee launched the workgroup in 2017 to develop a strategic plan for reducing poverty and inequality. With state agency leadership from the Department of Commerce, Department of Social and Health Services and Employment Security Department, the work group is a diverse, dedicated corps of 45 stakeholders, powered by a 22-member steering committee of people experiencing poverty. The plan has eight strategies and 60 recommendations to help eliminate poverty.
“Systemic change becomes possible when we recognize the ‘system’ is us,” Inslee said. “People working in state and local government, non-profits, businesses and philanthropic entities across the state all have a role to play. It simply takes a willingness to act … so let’s get to work.”
“For those of you with the power to now decide whether and how to act, please remember that millions of Washingtonians, just like us, will continue to struggle to keep a roof over our head, struggle to feed our children and live without peace of mind that things will be OK,” said Drayton Jackson and Juanita Maestas, co-chairs of the Poverty Reduction Work Group steering committee. “Please don’t forget that we are the people behind the numbers, the lives that will benefit should you choose to act.”
In this state and across the country, the burden of poverty is not equal, with people of color, women (especially those with young children), persons with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, refugees and immigrants disproportionately affected.
“History shows that times of profound disruption are followed by significant social, cultural and economic change,” said Tim Probst, Grants Director at ESD and co-chair of the work group. “This time will be no different, and the timely release of the 10-Year Plan outlines the strategies and recommendations we can begin implementing today to build a just and equitable future.”
“We are proud to co-lead the development and roll-out of the 10-Year Plan,” said David Stillman, Assistant Secretary for DSHS’ Economic Services Administration and co-chair of the work group. “The strategies and recommendations in this plan are data-driven, grounded in evidence and informed by a steering committee consisting of people experiencing poverty, who help guide our priorities.”
Not only does poverty cause negative outcomes for all people affected, in Washington state, the economy would be nearly $40 billion stronger if poverty was reduced and racial disparities in income were eliminated.
“Reducing poverty and inequality is not just about the economic returns,” said Diane Klontz, Assistant Director at Department of Commerce and co-chair of the work group. “It is also about dignity, humanity and belonging. When Washingtonians have their foundational needs met and believe their lives are valued, they are more likely to thrive and fully contribute to their families, schools, communities and jobs.”
Go to www.dismantlepovertyinwa.com to read the full plan, learn more about the Poverty Reduction Work Group and the Steering Committee, and sign up to stay connected to the work. Follow along on social media @DismantlePovWA on Twitter and @DismantlePovertyinWA on Facebook. For other questions, email PRWG@dshs.wa.gov.