Immigrant communities will suffer from proposed state cuts
By Paola Maranan
For Northwest Asian Weekly
For decades, the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in Washington state has fought for equality and civil rights and worked to ensure that more API voices are heard. Together, our communities have increased voter registration, protected and increased access to critical services, and yielded a 2010 Census API response rate higher than the national average.
Yet the coming year will challenge API families and advocates in new ways. The slow economic recovery is hurting families. And when the economy is hampered, so is the government’s ability to help people through hard times.
State lawmakers will come together in Olympia in January facing a $5.7 billion shortfall in the budget for the next two years. In response, they may hack away at the very programs that have kept families afloat during the worst recession of our lifetimes. We must continue to raise our voices to ensure that programs critical to the health of low-income immigrant and refugee families remain intact.
These families will be disproportionately affected by cuts proposed to the following programs:
State Food Assistance (SFA) Program: The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has proposed the February 2011 elimination of this successful 11-year-old program, established with the leadership of then-Gov. Gary Locke, that provides food assistance to immigrants who are not eligible for federal food stamps. SFA currently serves 14,000 people who have been in the states legally for five years or less or have “permanently residing under color of law (PRUCOL) status, legal immigrants who don’t have the option of naturalization.
Eliminating this highly utilized program will only intensify hunger in our state, which has spiked 36 percent this past year.
Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Naturalization Program: DSHS’s Naturalization Program was eliminated as of Dec. 1. This program has helped thousands of legal newcomers become citizens, enabling them to receive federal benefits. Ending state food benefits and state naturalization services is like snatching a grocery bag from a person’s hands, and then locking them out of the kitchen.
Apple Health for Kids: No child, no matter what their circumstances, should go without health care. A portion of Apple Health for Kids that serves 27,000 immigrant children in the state is slated for elimination in March 2011. These children are not eligible for federal health assistance. Long recognized for its quality, accessibility, and streamlined enrollment process, Apple Health for Kids stands as a working model for covering all kids in the state, no matter where they were born. Thousands of parents who have lost employer-based coverage during the recession have turned to Apple Health for Kids to secure regular check-ups and vaccinations — ensuring that short-term childhood illnesses don’t develop into chronic and costly health problems. Lawmakers must continue to keep the state’s commitment to healthy kids.
Interpreter Services and the state-funded Alien Medical Program: Both of these services are critical to health care access for immigrant and refugee communities. Both are slated for elimination on Jan. 1. In all, 70,000 state residents use interpretation services to access health care, and 1,300 non-citizens who have chronic health conditions such as cancer or acute renal disease are covered under the state’s Alien Medical Program. Both have served as a lifeline to Washingtonians who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access or communicate with their medical providers. Let’s protect Interpreter Services and the Alien Medical Program for our most vulnerable populations.
In October, more than 40 community leaders from a broad base of social service agencies, community, and civic groups signed a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire urging her to keep these programs intact. In the upcoming months, our voices will be needed more than ever — at volumes proportional to the magnitude of the potential effects on our families. Two opportunities to show that we care, API Legislative Day on Feb. 17 and the Children’s Alliance’s Have a Heart for Kids Day on Feb. 22, will demonstrate the civic progress and empowerment that APIs have built.
Let’s show the power of the API community once again by standing strong for our children, elders, and families and the services that will bring us out of the recession with health and prosperity for all. ♦
Paola Maranan is the executive director of the Children’s Alliance (www.childrensalliance.org), a public policy advocacy organization that works at the state and federal level to ensure that all children have what they need to thrive, especially our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately those in low-income families and communities of color.
She can be reached at email@example.com.