U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen sat down with officials from across Island County on Friday to discuss potential impacts of the President’s 2019 budget proposal on food stamps, housing and other programs at the local level.
“I didn’t want to come with a list of horribles,” Larsen said at the meeting. “But I do kind of have a list of horribles.”
Many of the officials present agreed with his assessment of the proposal, which was released Feb. 12.
The proposed budget calls for cuts of $17.2 billion in 2019 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Under the proposal, the Department of Agriculture would buy and deliver a package of food to SNAP households that receive $90 or more in assistance each month.
Larsen asked those present at Friday’s round table discussion what their thoughts were on this food-box idea.
“It would be a disaster,” said Carol Squire, executive director of Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores. She said the program would eliminate families’ ability to choose what food best supplements what they already have access to, what they can eat or what their children will eat.
Squire said the idea will also not teach households about nutrition and how to choose healthy food.
“Good nutrition and calorie necessities are not the same thing,” Squire said.
Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes, who is also president of Gifts from the Heart Food Bank, called the idea “ridiculous.”
Catherine Reid, Island County housing program coordinator, said taking away people’s ability to choose their own food is “incredibly disrespectful.”
Programs that bring food to seniors would also be threatened, said Cheryn Weiser, executive director of Island Senior Resources. She said Meals on Wheels, which delivers hot meals three days a week to low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities, may be at risk of losing funding.
“The need for that service is exponentially growing,” she said.
Housing was an issue cited as being faced by seniors as well as by low-income households in the county. The proposed budget includes a 14 percent cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This includes the elimination of funding for public housing capital repairs.
Lisa Clark, local service center director for the Opportunity Council, found this “troubling.” The council uses this funding to replace heating systems and provide weatherization services for low-income or senior housing. The proposed cuts to HUD would include a reduction in Section 8 housing subsidies and zeroes out community development block grants. These grants allow states and local governments to increase home ownership for the lowest-income Americans and funding for neighborhood development.
Joanne Pelant, Island County housing resource coordinator, updated Larsen on the relatively extensive housing needs in the county. She said there are over 300 households currently on the wait list at the Housing Support Center because staff have not been able to find them any housing solutions.
Housing has also been impacted by the federal tax revision passed in the December, according to Pelant.
The low income housing tax credit lost value as a result of the tax cuts. A developer planning to build a 51-unit low-income housing development in Oak Harbor suddenly found itself not fully funded for the project after the value went from $1.19 per credit to 85 cents per credit, Pelant said.
Programs that directly go toward human services were not the only ones discussed at Friday’s meeting.
Pat Powell, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, pointed out the proposal calls for the elimination of the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.
The Land Trust and other organizations use these funds to protect estuaries, which are now few and far between in the county, she said. Larsen reminded the group that fishing represents a large recreational industry in Washington that benefits from salmon recovery efforts.
“It’s nice to save salmon, but I’m saving them so I can catch them and eat them,” he said.
Not wanting to end on a negative note, Larsen said the proposal included $7 billion for increasing access to treatment and recovery for opioid addiction. Island County Sheriff Mark Brown was encouraged by this, and discussed the move for jail personnel to perform medication-assisted treatment to addicts.
Congress returned to session Monday, although Larsen said work has been completed during the 10-day break.
“It’s a myth that work doesn’t get done when we’re out of session,” he said.
“Although it probably looks like work doesn’t get done when are in session,” he laughed.