By Darasavanh Kommavongsa
For Northwest Asian Weekly
What is a mother to do? I’m a single parent raising two daughters who have severe asthma and eczema, which require ongoing medical attention. They are 12 and 5 years old — two little girls whose lives hang in the balance as lawmakers finalize our state’s budget.
I am Laotian. I moved here in 1979 and have called Seattle home for more than 32 years. As an immigrant family, we’ve struggled to stay afloat during these economically trying times. Luckily, because of critical safety net programs, my daughters have never gone hungry or endured pain because they couldn’t see a doctor. However, as state budget discussions unfold, I am finding out that pain and suffering may lie ahead for our family as lawmakers contemplate cuts to health care services and food assistance programs for low-income families.
My family’s story is not unique. In fact, many immigrant families and communities of color in our state are in the same stressful situation we face. Over the past two years, core services have endured $5 billion in drastic funding cuts. This year, more and more cuts are being proposed. Unfortunately, many of the cuts are concentrated in programs that help immigrants and people of color across our state.
For example, some of the programs targeted for cuts or elimination include health coverage for undocumented immigrant children, state food assistance services for immigrants, health coverage for low-income families on the Basic Health Plan, medical interpreter services for 70,000 limited-English speaking patients, funding to reduce class sizes, financial assistance for low-income college students, and the list goes on.
Each of these cuts affects everyone in our state because they eat away at the public structures that help our state thrive and compete in a global economy. However, the cuts that are being proposed mean communities of color, in particular, will have more to lose and will bear a disproportionate share of the burden in this recession. This means communities of color will be deprived of a decent quality of life.
According to the West Coast Poverty Center, Native communities and communities of color in Washington are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to white communities.
The Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs reports that among Asian communities in Washington, Korean and Vietnamese residents report the highest rates of poverty. Sadly, the ranks of the poor are overrepresented by people of color. When lawmakers choose to balance the budget by eliminating programs that serve low-income families, they are effectively targeting communities of color for undue hardship and undermining racial equity in our state.
Though lawmakers may not be choosing to hurt communities of color more than others, their actions have consequences. Right now, lawmakers are working to finalize the budget that will get us through June of this year.
They will then start working on the budget for the next fiscal year from 2011–2013, which includes a $4.6 billion shortfall. Lawmakers have a choice, either cut essential programs communities of color rely on and worsen racial disparities in our state, or raise more money.
Every year, our state forgoes $6.5 billion in revenue because of tax subsidies for special interests. For example, there are tax breaks for private jet owners, big Wall Street Banks, and for elective cosmetic surgery like botox.
Our state needs to prioritize protecting the most vulnerable populations, and that means we cannot afford to continue giving away billions of dollars in tax breaks when people are suffering. Think about it this way, will the owner of a private jet suffer if he gives back his tax break? Or do you think my daughters will suffer when there is no food on the table? Lawmakers, the choice is yours. ♦
Darasavanh Kommavongsa is a member of the Washington Community Action Network.
She can be reached at email@example.com.