Op-Ed: City Budget addresses Human Services, but doesn’t go far enough

by Elena Carter, Rachel Livengood, Zak Meyer, Claire Star and Kelsey Tyas

The authors are seniors at The Center School, a public high school located on the Seattle Center campus.

While the Presidential candidates are focused on helping the middle class, more and more people fall below the poverty line and out of America’s consciousness. How does Seattle differ from the national conversation on poverty? At least we’re having one. Unlike President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney who focus on the middle class time after time, our city government officials keeps poverty at the forefront of their minds.

Mayor Mike McGinn’s proposed budget for the 2013-2014 makes no cuts to Health and Human Services. The $980,000 added for homeless family programs will benefit those who face family separation at night, the $500,000 added for child care subsidies will help parents who have to work 90 hours a week to live on minimum wage and the $180,000 added for domestic violence programs will aid women who face nothing but the street. The $133,000 for the Center City Initiative outreach program, however, will only assist the poor in finding the long waitlists -– it won’t go very far to reduce them. We appreciate Seattle City Council for adding the bare minimum in funding to human services, but the selected programs need to be the right ones and the funding is far from complete.

First off, the $133,000 allocated for the Center City Initiative is far from an effective solution. Julia Sterkovsky, director of the Seattle Human Services Coalition remarked, “Until we have beds [at homeless, we don’t need outreach -– but now we’re full.” Countless homeless shelters are turning people away. Roots Young Adult Shelter has a lottery system and turned away 2,103 people in 2010, according to the director. However, with a recent grant, Roots was able to expand by 30 percent and help even more people. More funding is necessary to continue this progress; outreach will only point people to a long line.

Instead, this money could fund services directly. Funding homeless shelters can add more space and reduce the amount of people spending the night on the street. Even Tim Burgess, the budget chair of City Council, agrees that the Center City Initiative is unclear and uncoordinated.

What about the food banks that are struggling to meet their demands? Or the at-risk youth battling with social pressures to join gangs? The proposed budget doesn’t include any funding for struggling seniors or sexual assault victims. A number of critical programs that have not received the required funding.

Seattle now has the funds. Amazon’s recent $1.16 billion purchase of an 11 building South Lake Union headquarters complex, previously owned by Vulcan, frees up money in the general fund. When the sale is finalized, Vulcan is estimated to pay approximately $5.8 million in real estate excise taxes to the city. The Seattle Human Services Coalition recommends $2.27 million be placed into the city’s Health and Human Services budget to aid individuals and families suffering, who need help with medical services, and who are homeless and need shelter and long-term housing.

It’s no question the economy is in a recession. Even with the slow ascent out of an economy that has plagued people, we are still hurting. In a year where the King County budget is proposing record budget cuts, the City of Seattle is in a unique position to help with the transferring of money in the general fund and the reallocation of money made from land deals of emerging industries. The addition of these funding sources would fill major gaps that the Health and Human Services budget lacks, and provide thousands with a new hope for their future.

Share your opinion or concerns on the budget by contacting the Seattle City Council budget chair, Councilmember Tim Burgess, at the Seattle City Council: PO Box 34025 Seattle, WA 98124-4025 or tim.burgess@seattle.gov.

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