Get ready for session next Monday & update on Congress

Updates on Olympia & Congress: Governor’s budgets, Senate shake up, and gearing
up for Hunger Action Day & the fiscal cliff, Farm Bill and a new Congress.

Governor’s budget:

In late December, Gov. Gregoire released her 2013-15 budget, two of them, actually. We were happy with the inclusion of new revenue and her emphatic language about the terrible impact of another all-cuts budget, especially with her
shout-out for State Food Assistance. As her own Budget Highlights explains,

“As is required by law, Gov. Gregoire prepared a budget that relies only on existing revenue. But such a budget would require cutting deeper into higher education, sharply reducing levy equalization support to local school districts and eliminating basic services such as the State Food Assistance Program. After reviewing those options, the Governor is convinced a no-new-revenue budget would have unacceptable consequences for people across the state. What’s more, it would likely hinder the state’s economic recovery.”

Based on AHNC’s legislative priorities for 2013, our analysis of the budget:

Restore full benefits for families on the State Food Assistance Program (SFA):

Book One budget eliminates SFA. Book Two retains SFA at current 50% benefit level ($25 million/biennium). Importantly, in her budget statement, press conference and in other media analysis, State Food Assistance was named specifically as the kind of “basic services” that would be eliminated if we have no new revenue options. Much credit is due to the Children’s Alliance and all of your advocacy efforts for this high-profile example of critical safety net services – thank you!

Fill the shelves of Washington’s food banks – Add $3.7 million to Emergency Food
Assistance Program (EFAP):

Book One (with no new revenue and major program cuts) seems to add more funds to EFAP, but Book Two (with new revenue and fewer program cuts) does not seem to add new funds. The budget combines EFAP and TEFAP for a total of $12.408 million/biennium.

Protect the promise of the Local Farms, Healthy Kids Act – Restore $500,000 for WSDA’s Farm to School and Small Farms programs.

The Governor’s budgets do not provide funding for neither the Farm to School Program nor the Small Farms Program.

Support a balanced approach to the state budget – Create a sustainable state budget that includes new sources of revenue and that reviews and reforms our current tax exemptions and expenditures.

The Governor’s Book Two budget creates a new tax on carbonated beverages and repeals the sales tax on candy and gum (to pay for the arbitrated requirement of wage increases for state-funded home care providers). It repeals a tax exemption on refineries, and it extends the Hospital Safety Net Assessment fee for a total $463.8 million
in state general funds over the biennium (as well as additional local revenue). While not the kind of comprehensive tax reform we want, we think this new revenue is a good start for the Legislature to build from.

Protect critical anti-hunger programs that have been priorities for AHNC:

There are no cuts in OSPI’s budget for Child Nutrition programs: school breakfast, school lunch, summer meals, etc. There seem to be no cuts in DSHS’s senior nutrition programs nor in DOH’s nutrition services, including the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs for WIC and Seniors.

Senate shake up in Olympia:

Though a majority of Senators are Democrats after this election, two conservative Democrats (Rodney Tom, 48th district, and Tim Sheldon, 35th district) will caucus with Republicans, creating a Republican “philosophical majority” or “majority coalition” in the Senate. This has caused major changes in leadership positions compared to early post-election announcements. It’s now presumed Rodney Tom will become Senate Majority Leader (farmer Mark Schoesler, 9th district, will be Senate Republican Leader) and Democrats will act as the minority party, with Ed Murray, 43rd district,
as Senate Democratic leader.

Gearing up for Hunger Action Day:

Register now
for Hunger Action Day on Friday, Feb. 22 in Olympia! Once you register, we scheduleappointments with your legislators for you on Hunger Action Day, so it’s VERY IMPORTANTTO REGISTER EARLY (remember to include your legislative district). You will getinformation about the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s legislative agenda, links to policy papers, and advocacy tips to use throughout legislative session and on Hunger Action Day. If you are far from Olympia, spend Thursday night in Olympia so you can attend! WA Food Coalition has reserved discount rates at the Governor
Hotel under their name – make your reservation now for a good deal.

The fiscal cliff, Farm Bill and a new Congress:

On Jan. 1, Congress passed a bill (HR 8) to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Thebill isn’t perfect but it does some incredibly important things: It raises taxes on the very richest while it preserves the broad Child Tax Credit; extends the
Earned Income Tax Credit for 5 years; extends unemployment insurance for millionsof out of work people, and more. It extends the many (but not all) provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill until Sept. 30, with no cuts to SNAP benefits or eligibility
– though it cuts SNAP Nutrition Education by $110m this year. The bill also continues funding for Farmers Market Nutrition Program for Seniors and Community Food Projects- though it doesn’t include many important other provisions our sustainable ag partnersworked hard to include, like funding for socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers, organic programs and any of the so-called ‘orphan’ programs that are helping builda better food system. Two Washington Democrats voted no on the bill: Rep. Jim McDermottand Rep. Adam Smith have since gone on record to say they believe policies in the deal are still skewed for the wealthiest people, as well as concerns about negotiating
upcoming deadlines with Republicans.

Now that this bill passed, there are new deadlines looming: Congress did not agree to a deal on the U.S. debt ceiling, which will be reached sometime in February or early March and require more negotiation in Congress. This bill also delayed an agreement on across-the-board spending cuts (“sequestration”) on non-entitlement programs, which includes WIC. It now requires agreement about deficit reduction to avoid sequestration by March 1, 2013 (instead of Dec. 31, 2012).

We were glad to see President Obama and members of Washington’s delegation fighting hard for programs for low-income people, for a more fair tax system, and making sure SNAP was untouched, so struggling Americans don’t also struggle to put food on the table. Be sure to thank them and encourage them to stand strong in the upcoming months!

When Congress convenes later in January, the Senate Agriculture Committee chair will still be Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan); in the House, Rep. Susan DelBene, from Washington’s 1st District, will serve on the House Agriculture Committee.