Even in the midst of so much chaos, I hope this message finds you and your loved ones healthy and safe.
Thank you to so many of you who have been writing to me about your pain, your hopes, and your policy ideas for addressing racism, anti-blackness, and the culture of violence. We’re fed up with police brutality against Black, Indigenous, and Brown people. Yet, we’re witnessing more of that violence even as communities across our city, state and country rise up against it. These hurts are compounded by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with disproportionately high rates of infection and death amongst our communities of color, record levels of unemployment, and economic losses that will continue to be felt for the foreseeable future.
It can be hard to find room for hope during these desperate times. But I want you to know that I am here, aware of your pain and listening to our community’s needs and demands for a better future. Below, you’ll find my policy ideas to lead us out of these hard times and into a more just future, with laws to protect and support all people in Washington.
At the end of this newsletter, there is an important message about summertime food assistance for K-12 students while their schools are closed.
Fighting Police Brutality
The grief and anguish our communities are feeling deserve direct and immediate action at every level. That’s why I supported I-940 to hold police officers responsible for excessive use of force and implement de-escalation training, but clearly more needs to be done.
What I’ve witnessed since the protests against police brutality began cannot be described as de-escalation. Alarmed by the behavior of the Seattle Police Department (SPD), I joined 9 other legislators of color in urging Mayor Jenny Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best to take immediate action to end law enforcement’s violent response. We’ve called for ending the use of the National Guard and stopping the use of all forms of chemical substances, rubber bullets and flash-bangs, as well as demilitarizing police on the streets who interact with protestors. The police should not be showing up to peaceful protests in riot gear ready for provocation.
Our state must also immediately institute accountability and transparency measures in police contracts and ensure public access to disaggregated data on complaints of misuse of force, investigation and action taken as the result.
I will continue to work with Black leaders, organizers and my colleagues to completely rethink policing and create a model for public safety that truly upholds the safety of all communities. We should consider redirecting spending on traditional law enforcement and create additional progressive revenues to be invested in foundational public health, essential services, restorative practices and community-led youth programming. This includes making sure everyone has safe housing, access to healthcare including mental health services, and ending the inhumane practice of criminalizing poverty.
This is a long list of things Washingtonians need and deserve. With the help of your advocacy, I am confident we can make them happen.
Recovering from the Pandemic
Our state’s economic recovery must be centered on racial equity. The pandemic laid bare the underlying societal illnesses of racism and xenophobia. We’ve seen immigrants who are essential workers treated as expendable, with spikes in COVID-19 infection rates among Latinx people under 40. We’ve seen people in our Black, Indigenous and Pacific Islander communities get sick and die from COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than whites. And we’ve witnessed violence perpetrated by law enforcement officers against these communities and their allies as protests have spread across the state. Enough is enough.
Improve health, increase wealth.
Our recovery must focus on those who have been most impacted, improving their health and giving them real meaningful opportunities to increase their wealth, so that in the future our state can be more resilient in the face of disasters. Here are some actions I’m advocating for:
- Use the recommendations from the Environmental Justice Task Force based on the Department of Health’s cumulative mapping tool for health disparities.
- Make lasting changes to the Unemployment Insurance system so that it works for all participants in our economy, not just those who have traditionally benefitted from it.
- Study how to extend other employment benefits for non-traditional employees and businesses, such as health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid sick leave.
- Study how to institute a universal basic income in Washington.
Take care of essential workers.
We need to update state policy and regulations to ensure essential workers are not treated as sacrificial workers. This means we must:
- Provide them with all the equipment needed to prevent exposure to communicable diseases at work.
- Ensure workers can take paid leave when sick.
- Pay wages that reflect the importance of the work people do to keep our society functioning.
- Fully fund universal, accessible childcare that meets the needs of all workers and families regardless of immigration status.
- Create a system to link unemployed workers from sectors such as service and hospitality with employers in sectors that need workers.
Transition away from incarceration.
We must reframe our ideas of criminal justice, addressing crime with restorative justice and a focus on remedying root causes instead of focusing on punishment and incarceration.
We’ve seen study after study about the ineffectiveness, inequity and cruelty of our country’s mass incarceration machine, but now during the COVID-19 pandemic, incarceration quite literally brings the risk of death.
Our new reality is that we cannot in good conscience concentrate large groups of people in prisons knowing we are putting their lives in immediate danger. It’s time to make a dramatic change.
Food Assistance for Families During School Closures
Because schools have been closed due to COVID-19, families in Washington state will soon have food benefits available to them to help buy groceries while children have been home from school. Called Pandemic EBT, or P-EBT, these food benefits are available to families with children who are eligible for schools’ free or reduced-price meal programs. The Public Charge rule does not apply to P-EBT benefits and will not impact immigration status.
For most families receiving SNAP/Basic Food benefits and free or reduced-price meals: You do not need to apply. A one-time amount of up to $399 will be automatically deposited onto existing EBT cards in early July.
Families who already receive free or reduced-price meals but do NOT receive SNAP/Basic Food benefits: Apply for P-EBT at washingtonconnection.org or call the DSHS Customer Service Contact Center at 877-501-2233 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Families who do NOT receive free or reduced-price meals: First, fill out a free or reduced-price meal application with your local school by June 30. Next, apply for P-EBT at washingtonconnection.org or call the DSHS Customer Service Contact Center at 877-501-2233 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Any questions about the P-EBT program should be directed to the DSHS Customer Service Contact Center number listed above.
My office welcomes your thoughts and concerns, so please feel free to reach out and let us know what issues are important to you and your community at this difficult time.
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña