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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 9, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 02
Washington Community Action Network 2015 'Facing Race' Report
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Washington Community Action Network 2015 'Facing Race' Report

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On January 7, a packed house of about 200 people filled the New Holly Gathering Hall (7054 32nd Ave.) to attend a town hall style meeting with community members and legislators to coincide with the release of the Washington Community Action Network 2015 'Facing Race' Report.

The report details Washington Community Action Network's Racial Equity Agenda for 2015, and is endorsed by over 50 organizations and institutions - including some LGBTQ organizations.

The report, 'Facing Race,' provides a breakdown demonstrating racial inequalities that exist in Washington state and provides an analysis of the impact of state budget cuts over the past five years and identifies the legislative priorities regarding racial equity for the 2015 session.

'This report recognizes a failure to thoroughly consider the impact of policy decisions on the persistent inequity between communities of color and white communities,' said report author Chris Genese of the Washington Community Action Network. 'We are seeing the effects of those decisions deeply hurt Washington's core health and human services, education, and community safety structures.'

'Washingtonians of color face tremendous inequities that limit their ability to access a high-quality education, become economically secure, and have access to quality healthcare. It is imperative that our state address these racial and ethnic disparities, and the 'Facing Race' report sheds light on the reforms that must occur,' said report author Kim Justice of the Washington Budget & Policy Center.

The report's findings show that a good job is the foundation for economic security, but Black and Latino workers have higher rates of unemployment and are more likely to be in a job that pays a lower wage than the overall population. In addition, good health is central to a good quality of life, yet nearly one in three Latinos and one in four American Indians and Alaska Natives lack health care coverage.

Also, a high-quality early learning experience is crucial to a child's future, yet three out of four Latino children are not enrolled in preschool. Likewise, higher levels of education equate to better job security and increased wages, but Latinos, American Indians, and Alaska Natives face the biggest hurdles to college enrollment.

The report notes that a strong democracy is dependent on equal representation, but the racial and ethnic composition of the State Legislature does not reflect the state's diversity. People of color comprise 29 percent of the state's population, but less than 10 percent of the State Legislature.

Some of the legislative recommendations in the report are to increase access to affordable health coverage to make it attainable to those left behind by the Affordable Care Act. Even with tax breaks, those in our state just above the income threshold for Medicaid often cannot afford coverage. Also, increase the state minimum wage to ensure that all workers in Washington state share in economic growth. Statistics show when people make enough money to maintain basic needs, the entire economy benefits.

Another legislative recommendation calls for the approval of progressive state revenue reforms, including the closure of tax loopholes and the addition of a capital gains tax. As the nation's single most regressive tax state - where low-income citizens pay the highest portion of their income in state taxes - Washington needs to implement reforms that begin to reverse that trend like the capital gains tax used by 42 other states.

Also, the case was made Wednesday night that Legal Financial Obligations are hurting those who have served sentences for past criminal conduct and are struggling to reenter society. Washington state needs to enact common-sense reforms that help reduce these burdens by preventing interest from accruing until after release from prison and eliminating the possibility of going back to jail for failure to pay.

One recommendation would ensure all workers can receive paid time off when they are sick to prevent the spread of illness and to help workers avoid more serious, long-term health problems.

In addition, supporters of social justice say it is time to improve public education by complying with the McCleary ruling and providing equal access to higher education for all children.

'This is critical to our state's future economy,' notes the report. 'The additional investment ordered in the McCleary ruling, which found the state government was not meeting its paramount duty of providing a quality public education system, will decrease drop-out rates, improve training for educators, and start to close the gap for students of color.'

'Our state has many more people of color than it ever has,' says spokeswoman Rosalind Brazel. 'This moment is crucial for Washington state history because the awareness of racial justice is heightened and although the focus of specific incidents will fade, remembering is fundamental to continuing the fight for racial equity both from criminal justice and economic justice perspectives.

'We are collectivizing our power to make real change in Washington,' Brazel says.

'There are many things people can do to be active on these issues,' Brazel says. 'They can protest and sign petitions to demand change and accountability. They can also read, watch and understand these issues so they can inform people who care, but may not be paying close attention to the movement. People can get active by keeping the conversation going on social media to let others know they still care.'

For more on Washington Community Action Network, go to www.washingtoncan.org.

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