2016 Legislative Summary
Written by Carrie Glover, Senior Policy Manager
At about 11:00pm on March 29th the 2016 legislative session was adjourned. This year was a ‘short session’ that was mostly focused on writing a supplemental budget.
WithinReach did very well this session, including securing funding for an immunization validation tool and a school module within the Immunization Information System (IIS), which was our top priority going into 2016. It was a great year of working with our partners in Olympia and we made real progress in breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives.
We also supported some additional issues as they emerged through session, and those also fared very well. Below is a summary of the outcomes of our top priorities as well as other issues we supported this session that had successful outcomes.
Here is a brief summary of where we landed in the budget for our priorities:
Immunization Validation Tool & School Module within the IIS (budget only)
- Budget ask: $511,000>
- Final Amount funded: $511,000
Developmental and Autism Screenings for Medicaid (budget only)
- Budget ask: Maintain current funding
- Outcome: No cuts were made to the screenings
HB 1295: Breakfast After the Bell (budget and bill)
- Bill: Require all high needs schools to offer breakfast after the bell
- Budget ask: $2.692 million for startup grants
- Outcome: Unfortunately the Breakfast After the Bell legislation did not pass this year. Since the bill didn’t pass, the startup grants also were not funded in the final budget
Healthiest Next Generation (budget only)
- Budget ask: fund staff positions at OSPI & DEL for this initiative
- Outcome: Unfortunately this was not funded in the final budget
Other issues we supported that were successful:
HB 2877: Expanding SNAP Distribution dates
- Bill: Expand the distribution dates for SNAP beneficiaries from the 1st through 10th of the month to the 1st through the 20th of the month
- Budget ask: funding needed to implement the system change
- Outcome: The bill passed with a great deal of support and $300,000 in funding was included for implementation in the final budget
HB 2439: Mental health services for children and youth
- Bill: Increasing access to adequate and appropriate mental health services for children and youth including establishing a workgroup to identify barriers in accessing mental health services, report on the status of access to services, expand the Partnership Access Line (PAL), and require coverage for annual depression screenings according to the Bright Future guidelines
- Budget ask: funding needed for implementation of the workgroup, inventory of services, expansion of the PAL line, and the depression screenings.
- Outcome: The bill passed, though with only the workgroup and inventory of services. The PAL line was funded in the final budget even though it wasn’t included in the final bill. Unfortunately the depression screenings weren’t funded or included in the bill.
SB 5143: Childhood Immunization Resources
- Bill: Requires DOH to develop resources for expecting parents about recommended childhood immunizations.
- Outcome: This bill passed with a great deal of support and some of our WithinReach staff were able to be at the bill signing with Governor Inslee.
Learn more about the guiding principles of our policy work.
Advocating for healthy futures
As many people know, 2015 was a year filled with unique challenges for our state legislature. There were a lot of difficult decisions that had to be made and important programs that needed to be funded, and at the same time there wasn’t a lot of consensus on how to address these issues. This resulted in the longest legislative session in Washington State history (178 days) and a near-shutdown of our state government. Ultimately the legislature did pass a $38.2 billion two-year operating budget that included major investments in education and transportation.
That’s the news that made the headlines.
But in that budget, there were also a lot of unsung wins for Washington families. During the 2015 legislative session, WithinReach saw incredible support for our legislative priorities and some very exciting wins:
Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines. The funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health–Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).
Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions. Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to coverage of developmental screening by requiring full coverage of these screenings for kids on Apple Health. HB5317 passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016.
Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage. Both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.
At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities. Driven by the goal of breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives, WithinReach advocates for public policy and budget matters that directly advance our mission and relate to our five key focus areas: breastfeeding, health care access, child development, immunizations, and food access.
We are actively working on preparing for the 2016 legislative session and are excited to keep working public policies that elevate the issues that will improve health outcomes for Washington families. More to come as we get closer to 2016, but for now you can come and support our policy efforts by joining us at the first annual Big Wigs & Swigs event!
2015 Legislative Session Summary
Last Friday the legislature finally adjourned the 2015 legislative session. At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities and we have been working hard in Olympia throughout the session to break down barriers that prevent Washington families from getting the support they need to be healthy. Even though it was a very long legislative session (the longest in Washington State history), we ultimately emerged with some incredible successes for Washington families!
Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions. The full range of screenings is currently required to be covered for kids on private insurance, but kids on Washington Apple Health did not have this guarantee. Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to this issue by requiring full coverage of these screening for kids on Apple Health. We are happy to share that the bill passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016.
Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage. We are happy to share that both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.
Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines. We are happy to share that the funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health – Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).
Thank you to everyone who used your voice to support these critical issues! We could not have done it without you.
Connect With Us: Sign up for our e-news list to join a network of people committed to connecting families with health and food resources! Choose action alerts on – Immunization, Breastfeeding, Child Development, Health Care Access, and/ or Food Access.
Tags: Apple health for Kids Children’s Health Program Communities critical issues families health insurance legislative session supporting families Universal Developmental Screening Vaccine Coverage Washington Legislature
Some Great News For Basic Food Recipients. . .. Finally!
During the recession, people who utilize Basic Food were given an increase in their monthly benefit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). This increase gave low-income families more money to buy food during the difficult economic times, and in-turn also helped stimulate local economies. But as of November 1, 2013, this increased benefit was cut back. The average benefit level dropped to less than $1.40 per person per meal. Downward spiral number one.
Only a couple of months after that, Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill. As shared in an earlier blog post, the Farm Bill included another cut to the federal funding stream for Basic Food, called SNAP. This cut came from raising the amount for ‘Heat and Eat’ eligibility determination from $1 in LIHEAP assistance to $20. This was estimated to result in 232,000 Washington households experiencing another reduction in benefits of up to $90 per month. Downward spiral number two.
And then, the legislature did not include any additional dollars in their supplemental budget for the State Food Assistance Program, which provides Basic Food benefits to immigrant families who have been here less than five years and are therefore not eligible for benefits funded by the federal SNAP program. This means that these families are still only receiving 75 percent of the benefits provided to other Basic Food beneficiaries. Downward spiral number three.
With all of these reduced benefits, you would think there wasn’t a problem with hunger anymore! But food insecurity remains a very real issue in our state and in our country. One in four children in Washington are struggling with hunger and almost 15% of Washington households are considered food insecure. This is not the time to go on a downward spiral that takes more food off the tables of these vulnerable children and families.
But yesterday, we finally took a step back in the right direction that fixes one of these downward spirals. Governor Jay Inslee announced that Washington will take steps to preserve the SNAP benefits that were cut in the 2014 Farm Bill (as mentioned above). As explained in Governor Inslee’s press release:
A household’s SNAP benefits are calculated by factoring in a household’s eligibility for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The new Farm Bill made changes to the “Heat and Eat” option, which now requires states to provide a household $20 in LIHEAP assistance to maximize SNAP benefits. The prior law required that Washington only provide $1. Under the modified program, the Department of Social and Health Services will work with the Department of Commerce to provide $20 of LIHEAP assistance to eligible households, ensuring low-income families will remain eligible for up to $90 a month of SNAP benefits.
This will preserve benefits for approximately 200,000 households in Washington and will prevent the loss of nearly $70 million in federal SNAP benefits. Washington is joining seven other states who have taken similar steps. Preserving this benefit means fewer families will have to face the impossible choices of putting food on the table or buying medicine or paying rent.
Thank you, Governor Inslee, for helping protect vulnerable families in Washington!
The End of the 2014 Legislative Session
- Medicaid Plan Choice – $3.9 million in funding is provided to implement functionality with the Washington Healthplanfinder website so that Medicaid clients can select the Medicaid managed care organization of their choice. This option will be available in FY 2015.
- Autism screening – $1.256 million in funding is provided for the Health Care Authority to reimburse for autism screenings provided to children at the age of 18 months.
- Farmers Market Program – $200,000 in additional funding for this program that offers vouchers that help some of Washington’s most vulnerable populations purchase fresh, and nutritious produce at farmers markets.
- Emergency Food Assistance Program – $800,000 in additional funding for this program that supports food banks around Washington.
Unfortunately some of our other top priorities did not pass this year, including creating a Breastfeeding Friendly Washington designation system (HB 2329/SB 6298) and Breakfast After the Bell (HB 2536/SB 6444). Both of these efforts had some really great hearings where Alison Carl White was able to testify about the importance of these issues and the work we have already done at WithinReach to promote them.
It’s worth noting that this was the first year that both of these bills were introduced and it is fairly rare for a bill to pass on its first year. I think you can expect to see both of these issues come back again!
I wanted to end by highlighting a win this session that could easily slide under the radar, but it was really important to immunization policy in Washington. A bill was introduced this year (SB 6297) that would have had the Department of Health make resources available for pregnant women about childhood immunizations. It was a nice bill that we were supportive of at WithinReach. However, at one point, an amendment was passed that would have had had the resources include information about flexible approaches to vaccines. At WithinReach, we support the only schedule that has ever been proven safe and effective; any deviation from this schedule puts our communities at risk because it lacks a scientific foundation and likely results in immunization delays or opting out of immunizations entirely. Alison testified about the dangers of this amendment when the bill went to the House Health Care committee. That committee successfully removed the dangerous amendment language. While the bill didn’t ultimately pass, we were able to prevent bad policy from passing. As Alison said in our recent WithinReach staff meeting, “Having no bill is better than having a bad bill”. It was a great win to get that language removed and prevent bad policy from going though, and it was also good to have the opportunity to speak to the importance of immunizations and the work we do at WithinReach.
Thank you to everyone who supported our legislative priorities this year. A nice, long interim lies ahead where we can lay a lot of groundwork and prepare for the 2015 legislative session.
2014 Legislative Session Update- Budgets
In Washington State, we run on a biennial (i.e. two year) budget cycle. This means that in the first year of the biennium a big budget is written and then, in the second year a supplemental budget is written to make adjustments (cuts and/or additions) depending on how the revenue forecast looks, changes in case loads, new bills, etc.
- Funding was included for Medicaid Choice in all three budget proposals. This would allow Medicaid clients to select the Medicaid Managed Care Organization of their choice when shopping on WA Healthplanfinder. We are optimistic this will be funded in the final budget.
- Both the House and the Senate are anticipating varying levels of savings from the State Health Care Innovation Plan should that bill pass.
- Varying levels of proposed funding were included in both the Governor’s and House budget for the Healthiest Next Generation Initiative, should that bill pass. This initiative was proposed by Governor Inslee and would establish a council that seeks to improve children’s health.
- Varying levels were included in the Governor’s and Senate budget proposals for some funding developmental and/or autism screenings for Apple Health for Kids.
- Funding for food security programs saw mixed results in the proposed budgets. Unfortunately, no funding was included for the State Food Assistance Program. However, some funding was included in the Senate proposed budget for the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and both the House and Senate included increased funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
The final funding for all of these (and other) programs is still to be determined. The House and Senate will next enter into negotiations and will come out with a proposed compromise budget within the next day or two. We will be back with an overview of the final outcomes!
Have a Heart for Kids Day is the Children’s Alliance’s lobby day and was full of amazing energy and, in addition to some great meetings, included a rally and a parade. Read about the experience of two of our board members at this Lobby Day by clicking here and here.
Hunger Action Day was the lobby day for the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition (AHNC) and WithinReach was a lead in planning the day. There were nearly 200 participants at Hunger Action Day all of which wore orange scarves so they could be easily seen all around campus. Participants met with legislators or their staff in 127 offices about the AHNC legislative priorities and left a crunchy, orange carrot behind as a reminder of the importance or fighting hunger.
The United Day Lobby Day gave us the opportunity to join in meetings with our partners at United Way of King County to talk about issues we both care about, including Breakfast After the Bell. It was so great to talk with legislators about our many shared priorities.
If you haven’t been to a lobby day before, it’s an experience that every citizen should have. I hope you’ll join us at a lobby day next year!
The 2014 Farm Bill – The Good and the Bad
The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (aka Farm Bill) is a major piece of comprehensive legislation – what we call an omnibus bill – that is the main driver of agricultural and food policy in the country. There are hundreds of programs that fall under the farm bill, including food and nutrition programs and farm subsidies. The Farm Bill is reauthorized by Congress about every five years.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP (food stamps) is the largest food and nutrition programs funded through the Farm Bill. It currently serves more than 46 Million low-income Americans each year. One in seven people in the United States receive SNAP benefits, and many of those are working adults. These families have to make impossible choices every day between buying medication, putting food on the table, or heating their house. SNAP provides some financial relief to these families by providing assistance to buy food for their household. SNAP has helped lift millions of Americans out of poverty.
2014 Farm Bill
The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and negotiations around passing a new Farm Bill have been stalled for a couple of years. There has been a stalemate between the House and Senate in part over the proposed cuts to food programs. The House had proposed almost $40 billion in cuts over 10 years while the Senate had proposed $4.1 billion in cuts over 10 years. Click here to learn more about what the proposed cuts were in each original proposal.
But last week, Congress came to an agreement on the Farm Bill and it has quickly moved through both the House and Senate, thus ending the stalemate. We wanted to take a minute to explain how the bill, as passed by both the House and Senate, impacts hunger in America – both the good and the bad.
• $205 million in increased funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) program, which provides food to food banks
• $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which works to increase access to healthy, affordable food in communities that currently lack these options
• $200 million for a pilot project to train SNAP recipients for jobs
• SNAP is cut by $8.6 billion over 10 years by raising the amount for ‘Heat and Eat’ eligibility. This will result in 232,000 Washington households will experience a drop in benefits (up to $90 per month).
The good pieces are definitely something to be happy about. Additional support for TEFAP will help people who access emergency food through food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens. And our own Representative Suzan DelBene, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, worked hard to expand the pilots we have done in Washington for positive employment and training strategies like those utilized by the Seattle Jobs Initiative. These are all positive things that will help fight hunger in our country.
But the damage done by the cuts to SNAP outweighs the positive steps made. The goal of SNAP is to increase food security and access to a healthy diet for low-income households. Such a dramatic reduction in benefits will work against these goals and more families will experience food insecurity.
Don’t Forget to Look on the Bright Side
While it is terrible to see the cuts to the SNAP program, it is also important to recognize that it could have been worse. The cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill harm the most vulnerable members of our communities. The Institute of Medicine released a report last year showing that SNAP benefits already don’t provide enough for families to purchase a healthy diet throughout the month. These cuts will put families in an even worse situation.
However, families would have experienced even more hardship if the original House proposal would have passed with almost $40 billion in cuts. These proposed cuts included restricting Categorical Eligibility, which would have forced Washington to restore the asset and vehicle limits and drop gross income eligibility back to 130% of the federal poverty level. In addition, there was no elimination of waivers for the Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, or “ABAWDs”
What can you do?
The Farm Bill has been signed by the President so unfortunately the cuts to SNAP will be happening. So unfortunately, it looks like the bill will pass as-is and the cuts to SNAP will be happening. But, when one door closes, we look at what windows we might be able to open.
The first thing to remember is that the Farm Bill is reauthorized about every five years. So, we will be back and ready to talk about SNAP and other food and nutrition programs when the Farm Bill comes up again.
In addition, the Washington State legislature is still in session and will soon begin discussion the potential supplemental budget. There are several state-funded programs that help low-income families who are experiencing food insecurity.
You can learn about these programs by clicking on the links above, and then talk to your state legislators about the importance of funding them.
2014 Legislative Session Week Three – Breastfeeding Friendly Washington
Breastmilk is a baby’s perfect first food. It has special nutrients a baby needs that are not found in formula and changes to meet the needs of a growing child, including giving your baby protection against illness and infection. As a result, breastfed babies have fewer earaches, colds, and allergies and are less likely to experience Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Besides the many health benefits, breastfeeding also helps build a special bond between a mother and her baby.
2014 Legislative Session Week Two – Innovation in our Health Care System
But as the saying goes, this is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. This is the end of the beginning.
There is so much more that we can and must do to improve the health of our families. One of the next major steps to create some wide level change in our health care systems. The current system is segmented, doesn’t utilize effective payment and delivery models, and doesn’t focus on prevention first.
It is with this in mind that Washington State applied for, and was awarded, a State Innovation Model grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). With this grant, health care leaders from across Washington state came together to create the State Health Care Innovation Plan.
This plan has the three main goals of better health, better care, and lower costs for Washingtonians. To achieve this, our State will take on the different strategies of value-based purchasing, building healthy communities and people through prevention early mitigation, and better integration of health care and social supports, especially in the area of integrating physical and behavioral health needs.
These goals are shared by WithinReach and our staff has a lot of experience working with families who have seen the best and the worst of our current health care system. By transforming the system to better meet health care needs in an effective and more affordable way, we can help Washington families have better health outcomes.
Last week, legislation was introduced into the State House of Representatives to develop and implement the five-year State Health Care Innovation Plan. Getting this bill (House Bill 2572) passed is a necessary and important step toward getting this plan in motion. You can follow the progress of this bill by checking in here. It has already been scheduled for a hearing on January 27th in the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness, which you can watch on TVW.
It is an exciting time in the health care world! Through the great ideas and strategies in the State Health Care Innovation Plan, our state can begin to transform the system and create better, healthier lives for our friends, families, and communities.