Things are still beyond grim as the work on Washington State’s budget continues. However, on February 4, there was a more hopeful sign when the Senate approved its version of the Supplemental Budget, including a provision to continue the Basic Health Program, although in reduced scope, by drawing on the Life Sciences Discovery Fund. The LSDF was established in 2005 from WA’s share of national tobacco settlement funds. Both the Governor’s budget and the one previously approved by the House had cut BHP, along with the DSHS long-standing interpreter services program for Medicaid and CHIP patients These potentially promising developments however have garnered less attention than another set of proposals in HB 1847 ,which would to sustain funding for BHP by eliminating tax exemptions for Big Banking, and sales taxes on elective cosmetic surgery and private jets.
While advocates regard these developments as positive, the struggle is far from over. The Supplemental budget is now undergoing the reconciliation process by both houses and will needs the Governor’s approval; the Biennial budget will have its turn next. Both contain deep cuts in virtually every area of life affecting Washingtonians, with the worst cuts affecting the most vulnerable populations, especially immigrants and refugees. WA Budget cuts 2011.
The history of these two programs is of particular note at this critical time. The original intent of the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement was to fund health services in the states for those affected by smoking. At the time, Gov. Gregoire, aware that the state would come into additional funds from that source by 2009, planned a move to combine them with private monies to develop a biotech sector. In a 2005 commentary prescient of current threat of extinction for the Basic Health Program (which began as a 1987 pilot project and became permanent in 1993) the Seattle Weekly had reported:
It will be controversial because originally the tobacco settlement money was supposed to be used to help states offset the health care costs associated with smoking. In 2003, when Gary Locke floated an idea similar to the Life Science Discovery Fund—he called it Bio21—Senate Majority Leader Brown told Seattle Weekly she didn’t like the idea of using tobacco money for biotechnology. “We are one of the few states that has remained true to using that money for health care,” she said at the time. Expect the debate over the best use of the tobacco money to continue.
As I had written previously, in late October 2010, after the Governor had issued her call for “across the board budget cuts” from every state agency, the LSDF awarded $5 million to a private company engaged in personalized medicine research. Last week, LSDF awarded $600,000 in commercialization grants to four research projects.
The Interpreter Services program also was created as a result of federal litigation, in this case as a result of a 1991 Consent Decree negotiated with the Office of Civil Rights in response to lawsuits and civil rights complaints filed against DSHS for failing to provide equal access to services for clients with limited English proficiency By law, in this case the Civil Rights Act of 1964, title VI, recipients of federal funds must not discriminate against program beneficiaries on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Courts have defined lack of language access as a form of discrimination based on national origin. However, the responsibility to fund language services is ultimately that of providers. Since techncially Washington funded the DSHS program voluntarily, it is now able to seek to de-fund it, unlike other mandatory programs. But in doing so, the state would also forgo specific federal funds that it has been receiving that have covered 50-75% of the total costs, as the Washington State Coalition for Language Access explains in a fact sheet: WASCLA DSHS Interpreter Services Talking Points January 2011