Will Washington state lead the way on equity?

January 4, 2021

This month, Governor Jay Inslee announced his equity policy package that would include $365 million for equity related initiatives. The package proposes a wide variety of investments like capital investments for Africatown Land Trust and Rainier Valley Food Bank, outdoor recreation equity, and equity for foster and homeless students. 

Some policy proposals that you may be interested are described below. 

Fund the new Equity Office which will be tasked with developing Washington’s equity plan and hold state government accountable to ensuring language access, removing barriers, and decreasing inequities across state government. Neighborhood House clients experienced these barriers when COVID struck. The lack of responsiveness from the Employment Security Department to diverse communities highlights the urgent need for this office.

Maintain the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant relief fund. Many immigrant workers have been unable to access COVID relief funds. In response to this crisis, the state allocated $10 million for economic support to immigrants. This proposal would expand safety net programs to individuals regardless of citizenship status. The heightened fear instilled by the public charge rule and sudden closures of businesses that rely on immigrant workers makes the need for these funds even more urgent.

Designate Junteenth as a state holiday. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers told slaves in Galveston Texas that they were free. This news reached them 2 ½ years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved African Americans. The anniversary of this historic event is known as Junteenth and is commemorated by 47 states. Washington would join Virginia, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia in recognizing Junteenth as a legal holiday.

Establish an office to investigate police excessive use of force. This Office of Independent Investigators would be comprised of members that bring a deep understanding of institutional racism in policing. Manuel Ellis, Tommy Le, Charleena Lyles, John T. Williams, and Che Taylor were community members that were killed by police in Washington.

Close the digital divide by increasing broadband connections to Washington families that cannot afford this service in their area and fund a digital navigation program to provide one on one digital skills for job seekers, English language learners and students. Neighborhood House distributed over 800 tablets with broadband service to families so they could participate in our programs. Without a computer, it’s impossible to apply for a job, open a bank account, and complete homework assignments. COVID has exposed the dire need to address digital equity.

“These proposals begin the long process of tackling inequities that have plagued this state and country since our inception. We have seen Black, Indigenous and people of color historically and disproportionately impacted because of longstanding racial gaps and socio-economic factors — all of which have racism as a root cause.” —Gov. Jay Inslee

The proposals in the Governor’s equity policy package are long overdue. And while the Governor has significant influence, in order for this vision to become a reality, the legislature must take action to pass bills and a budget that will make many of his proposals law. This legislative session, starting on January 11, 2021, will be extra challenging, with a $3 billion budget shortfall and convening session virtually. But legislators are committed to including racial equity as they analyze the impacts of bills and budgets.

All of us, regardless of our citizenship status, have the right to express our concerns to our elected officials. They want to hear from us. If you are inclined to speak up for any or all of these (or any other) proposals, you can contact your state Representative or Senator.* They represent you. If you don’t know who they are, you can find out here. You can also call the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and they will direct you.
So will Washington lead the way on equity? Only if we demand it.  

By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director

*Contacting an elected official about a bill or budget is considered lobbying, and most of our government grants prohibit lobbying. If you choose to lobby, please use your personal email and phone during your personal time. Educating legislators on issues, client experiences, your own experiences or policies that is not lobbying. Participating in an advocacy day education.