By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Community leaders are more than a little concerned over Washington state’s economic crisis. The state’s projected deficit stands at $9.3 billion through mid-2011. This deficit is the difference between how much tax money (revenue) the state government anticipates collecting over the next two years, and the cost (expenditures) of maintaining programs and services during that time.
Among the many areas slated for massive cutbacks, state lawmakers have announced cuts totaling $1.5 billion in health and human services. The Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) says these spending cuts will have a devastating impact on people of color as others have already been hit hard by the economic turndown. The APIC is a statewide network of Asian Pacific Islander community organizations dedicated to several concerns, such as the promotion and care of health and human services of Asian Pacific Americans in Washington.
The APIC announced its concerns at a press conference on April 2 held at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS).
“The Washington State Senate and House released their budgets earlier this week. The purpose of this gathering is to look at the impact of the proposed budget cuts on the Asian Pacific American community,” said Diane Narasaki, King County chair of the APIC and executive director of ACRS.
Narasaki and six other panel members spoke to an audience of about 60 people. The other panel members included Hyeok Kim, executive director of Inter*Im; Lua Pritchard, executive director of the Korean Women’s Association and Pierce County chair of APIC; Van Dinh Kuno, executive director of Refugee Immigrant Services Northwest and Snohomish County chair of APIC; Tony Lee, advocacy director of Solid Ground;
Frank Bacungan, adult day services supervisor of Legacy House; and Cris Krisologo-Elliott, second vice president of International Community Health Services (ICHS).
Both House and Senate Democrats recommend a 43 percent cut to the state’s Basic Health Plan, which provides health care to residents who are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. They estimate that the cut will save more than $251 million for the state.
“The state is proposing to cut the Basic Health Plan drastically, and we’re talking about 14 percent this year and another 30 percent next year. So, where are those people going to go?” asked Krisologo-Elliott. “They are the working poor, the ones who don’t have health insurance. So now, they’re going to join the ranks of a very, very large growing number of uninsured people.”
“[ICHS] had to not only cut staff, but we’ve also imposed a furlough, a day off without pay for all employees including the senior staff,” she said, referring to her organization’s efforts in reduce its costs.
ICHS is a nonprofit medical and dental center serving Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other communities in Seattle and King County.
“By the end of this year, we’re probably going to have to make additional layoffs, consolidating everywhere that we can,” Krisologo-Elliott added.
Narasaki said the Asian Pacific Islander community experiences all the challenges that low-income groups face, such as access to “food, security, housing, education, employment, health insurance, health care, mental health services, and other survival services.”
“All of these factors put Asian Pacific Americans at greater risk in a downturn economy when jobs are scarce, business activity is low, and cutbacks to survival services occur when the services are most needed,” she added.
“We just want to urge our lawmakers today to take a look at the interconnectedness of all of these programs and services for the most vulnerable in our state,” said Kim.
Narasaki said, “The message we send today is that our already fragile safety net is in danger by the House and Senate budgets. People will be hurt, and people may die as a result of these cuts. And we call upon our legislators and the citizens of Washington state to raise revenues to prevent drastic cuts in services to all Washingtonians, including our community.”
“These cuts are going to affect the entire society,” said Lee. “When you cut the Basic Health Plan by 42 percent, you deprive 40,000 working, poor families of health care. What are they going to do? They’re going to end up in the emergency rooms. … If you spend one night in the emergency room, that’s going to cost the taxpayers $4,000.” (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.