In August 2010, NP Staff Janet Byrd and Alison McIntosh traveled to Seattle to attend the 2010 Strategies to End Poverty (STEP) Conference, sponsored by STEP and Northwest Area Foundation. In addition to taking in a Mariner’s game, we learned a lot about coalition building, revenue coalitions, and what’s new in terms of TANF reauthorization and improving unemployment insurance. We got to spend time with some great Oregon partners, which is sometimes hard to do with our busy schedules. And, Janet moderated a panel featuring Rey Espana of NAYA and Kalima Rose of Policy Link, on the Sustainable Communities Initiative and other system integration efforts.
States all across the Country are facing extreme budget shortfalls for both the current year and coming year, and Oregon is certainly no exception. With little prospect for additional federal stimulus dollars, and no appetite for raising taxes, advocates for human services and housing are faced with fighting draconian budget cuts to services for low income families, children, disabled, and the elderly. One strategy that worked last year in Washington State was to create a Revenue Coalition—Rebuilding our Economic Future—aimed at increasing state revenues through the closing of tax loopholes and sunsetting tax credits. Oregon advocates will be considering similar approaches—e-mail us if you’re interested in hearing more about what’s going on.
Legislation which governs TANF, or welfare, is due to expire in September, 2010. However it is unlikely that TANF will be reauthorized in 2010, and we will likely instead see a series of ‘continuing resolutions’—which just extend spending authority temporarily—for the next one to three years. Liz Schott from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities presented on the prospects for reauthorization as well as the possibility of an extension for the Emergency Contingency Fund to increase TANF funds due to the recession.
We also heard Deborah Schlick of the Affirmative Options Coalition give a great presentation about how, as a result of unequal access to unemployment benefits, TANF has essentially become unemployment insurance for thousands of low wage workers or workers in industries with high turnover such as service industries, retail, and even health care jobs. As a group, we discussed ways to improve unemployment insurance to make it work for low-wage workers—including extending benefits to temporary workers, part-time workers, low-wage workers, and families.
Overall, it was a great conference filled with interesting presentations, information and connections. We’re looking forward to exploring some of the things we learned, and putting new information into practice here in Oregon.