Governor proposes stop-gap funding for key programs hit by federal cutbacks

OLYMPIA - Responding to the first wave of federal budget cuts to hit Washington state, Governor Lowry today asked the Legislature to authorize $11.8 million in stop-gap funding for food banks, salmon hatcheries, and youth employment programs facing serious problems due to reductions in federal support.

He also asked the Legislature to appropriate $4 million to meet state matching-fund requirements for receiving federal assistance in repairing damage caused by flooding and windstorms in November and December of 1995.

Lowry said his proposal is targeted to resolve immediate problems in critical service areas, and is not designed to address all federal reductions approved or proposed by Congress. In no case did he propose replacing federal funds lost to budget cuts dollar-for-dollar.

"This is a stop-gap proposal designed to support critical services already affected by federal actions," Lowry said. "Until we see a resolution of the current federal budget deadlock, it's just not possible to develop a comprehensive response to all of the cutbacks we expect to see in the next year. But that doesn't mean we can afford to just overlook immediate problems that we know exist."

The governor outlined his emergency funding recommendations in a letter sent to legislative budget writers, who are currently developing a supplemental budget for the remainder of the state's 1995-97 budget period. He urged them to include additional state money to help make up for federal cutbacks in three critical areas.

Food Banks

Food banks throughout Washington state have reported a serious shortage of food since Congress eliminated federal support for emergency food purchases in the 1996 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget approved late last year. Many of the state's 155 food banks report turning an increasing number of people away hungry, and all 164 other food distribution sites (e.g. fire stations, grange halls) in operation last year have discontinued their programs in the months since USDA food ceased to be available.

Last year, the state's food bank network received 1.8 million pounds of USDA food, distributed through the state Emergency Food Assistance Program. The program serves about 142,000 individuals per month.

Hardest hit by this cutback are food bank programs in Eastern Washington and rural Western Washington, which have historically relied on USDA for a major part of the food they distribute. (In the southeast quadrant of the state, for example, USDA food accounted for approximately 41 percent of the food distributed through the state's Emergency Food Assistance Program.) Private food donations also have declined significantly in these areas, following the closure of local distribution sites.

The governor is requesting $2.5 million in state funds to replace food that would otherwise have been supplied by the USDA from March 1996 through March 1997.

Columbia River Hatcheries

In Late January, the National Marine Fisheries Services notified the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) that federal funding under the Mitchell Act for salmon hatcheries on the Columbia River will be cut by $1.1 million in the current fiscal year, a 20 percent reduction from the amount received in 1995. DFW has determined that this reduction will require the closure of three hatcheries (Grays River, Elochoman, and Fallert Creek) and cutbacks at four others on the Columbia, resulting in the premature release of millions of hatchery fish and $18 million in lost fishing income through 1999.

To protect the state's investment in these fish, the governor is proposing a state appropriation of $813,000. This will allow the affected hatcheries to continue at full capacity until the young salmon smolt, and keep the hatcheries open at reduced capacity through the end of the biennium.

Youth Employment Programs

The rescission bill signed into law last June eliminated funding for the state's 1996 Summer Youth employment program and cut funding for the year-round program by 80 percent. Last year, more than 10,000 young people aged 14-21 received job training and educational assistance through these programs, both designed to help dropouts and at-risk youth prepare for adult life.

To continue these efforts, the governor is proposing an $8.5 million state appropriation to make up for part of the $25.6 million in lost federal support for these programs. The state Department of Employment Security would use these funds to design a stop-gap program for young people most in need of assistance.

Other Concerns

In addition to the issues addressed in his letter to state legislators, Lowry expressed concern about several other programs including Head Start and federal job training funds for dislocated workers targeted for federal cutbacks in the next year. One area of immediate concern is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides assistance for low-income families in meeting their winter heating bills and insulating their homes.

The rescission bill approved by Congress last summer cut federal funding for LIHEAP by 40 percent, resulting in a $10.5 million loss to Washington state this year. However, before considering an additional appropriation to make up for that shortfall, Lowry said he wants to examine other options to maintain heating assistance for low-income families.

"We have to remember that this is just the beginning of the federal cutbacks coming down from Washington, D.C.," Lowry said. "We have some tough choices to make, and the important thing is that we leave enough money in reserve to meet the most urgent needs as they arise."

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For further information contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.