Leaving early Thursday morning for Olympia, a delegation from Snohomish County joined representatives of 14 other United Ways for the 6th Annual United Ways of Washington Lobby Day.
"There are three things that we encourage people to do: Give, Advocate and Volunteer," said Dennis Smith of Stanwood, president and CEO of United Way of Snohomish County. "This is an excellent example of how we advocate for public policies that will ensure the success of our children, the financial stability of our families and the health of our communities."
This year's agenda focuses on kids, seniors and health care.
The group encouraged lawmakers to support several programs devoted to early learning - one of United Way's main priorities - specifically: 1) Working Connections Child Care (HB 2446) - a bill that would aim to reduce ineffective reporting requirements and reporting errors; maintaining support for the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), child care resource and referral services to assist families in finding licenses child care, and two other specific pieces of legislation: a voluntary, comprehensive preschool program (HB 2448) and the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills WaKIDS (HB 2586) - an assessment tool that can help us to improve the early education experiences for all children.
The delegation also urged lawmakers to maintain Senior Citizens Services Act funding to support services such as information and assistance, transportation, nutrition programs, caregiver support and other local services and important health insurance options such as Basic Health and Apple Health for Kids.
With the budget battles starting to heat up in Olympia, the timing of Lobby Day could not have been better. With the state facing a $1.5 billion deficit, United Way of Snohomish County urged lawmakers to adopt a balanced approach to the budget, one that includes revenue and reform, a position adopted by its Board of Directors in December.
"Our state has already cut more than $10 billion over the past three years. It is critical to maintain safety net programs. Revenue has to be an option," said Jim Litz of Mill Creek, chairman of United Way of Snohomish County's Board of Directors.
According to Katrina Ondracek, the group's Vice President of Public Policy and Community Initiatives, there's no substitute for meeting with legislators in person. "All the legislators and staff are very approachable. It's important that constituents take the time to go down there and represent our community. They really value that opportunity."
During the legislative session, Ondracek is in Olympia two days a week attending hearings, meeting with legislators and coordinating legislative strategy with other stakeholders
The delegation, in addition to Smith and Litz, included two representatives from Everett: Rich White, chairman of United Way's Public Policy Committee and manager of state and government relations for The Boeing Company and June Robinson, on United Way's Family Matters Vision Council and Executive Director of the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County; two from Marysville: Josh Estes, a United Way Board Member and Dennis Kendall, a member of United Way Public Policy Committee and former mayor of Marysville and Judy McCoid, a retired teacher from Edmonds.
The group met with Sen. Nick Harper, Rep. Ruth Kagi, Rep. Hans Dunshee, Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, Rep. Norma Smith, Sen. Paull Shin, Sen. Steve Hobbs and met with legislative assistants or dropped off materials for the rest of the Snohomish County legislative delegation.