Hundreds of mental heath and home caregivers rally in Olympia to protect services

Put People First!
On April 7, more than 500 community mental health workers and long-term caregivers, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and 775NW, rallied at the state capitol in Olympia, WA. The healthcare workers urged legislators to protect essential mental health, disability care and low-income housing programs by closing tax loopholes benefiting banks and wealthy corporations.

After protesting outside a Chase Bank branch, union members occupied the State Capitol rotunda for several hours; sixteen members of local 775NW staged a nonviolent sit-in outside Governor Gregoire’s office and were arrested by Capitol police. By the end of the day, the Governor agreed to meet with a delegation of healthcare workers, who delivered the same message: balancing the state budget solely by cutting social and human services is immoral. Before cutting services, we must close tax loopholes benefiting Wall Street banks and other wealthy interests.
The action at the state capitol is part of a broad effort to protect vital human services in Washington. Proposed budget cuts would leave 27,000 Washington kids without healthcare and tens of thousands of people with mental illness are losing housing and services. Meanwhile, legislators are giving away millions in tax breaks to corporate chicken farms for warm chicken bedding, $5 million a year to private jet owners, and $100 million a year to Wall Street Banks.

In March, 1199NW President Diane Sosne, RN, MN, brought the twisted priorities of the state to life with an Op-Ed published in the Olympian when she described the differences between Bill and a chicken. Bill suffers from mental illness and chemical dependency, but thanks to a vital program Disability Lifeline, he has been able to get on his feet. Unfortunately, as Diane writes, Bill’s needs are not as important as a chicken:

…last fall the state cut monthly Disability Lifeline payments from $339 to $258. Bill could no longer afford to rent his apartment, and began sleeping on the street. Without the support he needed, he relapsed, found himself in jail, then ended up in an intensive inpatient treatment facility.

Now about those chickens: Ten years ago, the state Legislature passed a special tax break to benefit a few dozen factory farms that raise chickens. There’s a tax break on bedding – wood shavings, sawdust, straw, shredded paper – and another tax break for natural gas to heat the barns so the birds can stay warm. All told, these tax breaks cost Washington $4.5 million over the last four years. With the state facing a $5 billion deficit, it’s time for the corporate chicken farms to pay their fair share.

We’ve got our work cut out for us in state houses like Washington across the US. SEIU members are standing with people with disabilities and mental health needs to protect human services, not tax breaks for corporations and millionaires. Sign-up here to stay up to date on our in WA and across the US.

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