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Protecting the Services, Supports, and Rights of People with Disabilities

Principles for Potential Budget Cuts 2020

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, state revenues have plummeted, and without additional revenue, the state will likely make cuts in spending. This happened during the most recent budget crisis in 2008, cuts were made to essential social services and people with disabilities were hurt. Now, twelve years later basic services are still not fully restored and people are still hurting.

Disability Rights Washington recognizes the inherent racism and ableism that come with having the most regressive tax system in the country and see this as an opportunity to address these systems. We know that “Disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty.”[1] And that poor people are the most impacted by our tax system.[2] Because of this, we respectfully request that the Legislature be guided by the following principles to protect the rights of disabled persons.

1.  Address the disproportionate impact of cuts on disabled communities of color.

State-funded services must better address the needs of disabled people of color who are underrepresented in service delivery and over-represented in institutions.[3] The Legislature must assess the impact of any proposed service cuts on disabled persons, and identify and address disproportionate impact on disabled persons of color before passage. To better understand the implications of budget and policy decisions, proposals should be accompanied with a racial equity analysis. Policy decisions must be informed by data and analysis of the benefits and costs to communities of color and people with disabilities.

2.   Prioritize state services that people rely on to meet their basic needs.

Persons with disabilities rely on state services to participate fully in their communities, whether they live in a private residence or a facility. Students with disabilities need fully funded special education and transition to jobs with state-funded employment support.  Many disabled persons rely on Medicaid not just for health care but for community-based services provided through waivers. Programs and services that help people find and maintain housing must be prioritized and new housing must be barrier-free and universally accessible. Public transportation and paratransit options should be free and accessible to maintain mobility and independence. Changes to eligibility criteria and cuts to these programs must be avoided because of the consequences to all people with disabilities. People of color with disabilities already experience increased institutionalization and reduced access to services. Cutting eligibility criteria adds yet another hurdle to meeting their basic needs. Once cuts are made to eligibility they are difficult to restore due to the resulting increased cost. Where programs are cut due to current revenue shortfalls, they must be temporary cuts that expire once the emergency is passed.

3.  Invest in effective, accessible state services and systems. Divest from inequitable structures.

The current service delivery systems have many limitations and gaps. The Legislature must reexamine and begin the process of dismantling existing systems and structures which have caused harm to disabled people of color. The Legislature must guard against implementing cuts that undermine the already fragile service system and harm the disabled people who rely on it.

  • Systems that oppress, institutionalize, and criminalize disabled people of color should be dismantled. This means taking money from police, prosecutors, jails, prisons, and institutions and giving it to community services such as behavioral health, schools, and housing. Placing disabled people of color in jails, prisons, and institutions is expensive. The Legislature should instead invest in more cost-effective services that help people thrive in their own homes.
  • The bureaucracy of determining which disabled individual is most deserving of services is expensive and ineffective. Instead of investing in gatekeeping procedures, systems should invest in all individuals seeking help. 
  • Service recipients and applicants need simple eligibility criteria and accessible application processes that take both disability and language access into consideration.
  • Ombuds programs must be supported to ensure essential services are maintained. Ombuds help people with disabilities find and keep the services they need and make sure their problems and complaints are addressed.
  • Many providers are people of color who care for several different people to make ends meet. Providers should be paid well so they can provide quality care and not worry about their livelihood.
  • Services should be prevention-based, not crisis-driven. Frequently, the consequence of cuts to basic services is a loss of income and housing, resulting in homelessness, incarceration, and institutionalization.
  • Services must meet the needs and choices of people with disabilities. The legislature should prioritize funding community placements, rather than maintaining obsolete institutions and systems.
  • Service recipients should have true choices. Individuals shouldn’t have to choose between a service that will meet their disability needs but deny other human needs.
  • Services should follow individual needs instead of an individual’s services being dictated by source and amount of funding.
  • Services are often most effective when provided by individuals with lived experience. Employment of people with disabilities as peers (Certified Peer Counselors) should be maintained and expanded. Employment of people of color serving their communities of color should be encouraged and institutionalized.
  • Services should build independence of individuals, not just reliance.

4.  Improve Access to State Government.

Now is the perfect time to improve meaningful public access to the state legislature. COVID-19 gatherings are moving to remote platforms, which improve access for some and limit it for others. The Legislature must be accessible to all.

  • Make remote testimony options available for all public hearings
  • Caption all TVW programs in real-time
  • Provide bills in alternate formats including audio, visual, translated, and interpreted.
  • Ensure Legislative and state government websites are accessible by a screen-reader and translated.
  • Provide free statewide Wi-Fi for constituents to connect with the legislature.
  • Orient legislators and staff on best practices of accessibility and language access.
  • Affirmatively offer accommodations and language support and create one central and location for ease of access.

5.  Move towards a sustainable future.

We need equitable, sustainable revenue to fully invest in our economic and social infrastructure so that Washington residents and communities can thrive, and reach their full potential. Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country which means that we tax the poorest residents the most[4]. At the same time, these are the individuals who rely on State services to survive. This is fundamentally unfair. We believe the solution to this budget crisis is multidimensional and encourage the legislature to balance the budget without sacrificing disabled people of color. Not only does Washington State need to balance the budget, we need to reimagine what communities need to prosper.

In addition to these five principles, we endorse those set forth in the Washington Anti-Poverty Advocacy Group statement, and the Washington State Budget and Policy Center’s Principles for a Just and Inclusive Future. 

Contact: Darya Farivar; David Lord

[1] Vallas, R., Hoynes, H., Cárdenas, V., Boteach, M., Hamm, K., & Fremstad, S. (2018, March 05). Disability Is a Cause and Consequence of Poverty. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from

[2] Wiehe, M., Davis, A., Davis, C., Gardner, M., Christensen Gee, L., & Grundman, D. (2018). Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis Of The Tax Systems In All 50 States. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 6, 23-24. doi:

[3] Ben-Moshe, Liat. “Abolition in Deinstitutionalization: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition.” Decarcerating Disability, University of Minnesota Press, 2020, pp. 98–99.

[4] Wiehe, M., Davis, A., Davis, C., Gardner, M., Christensen Gee, L., & Grundman, D. (2018). Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis Of The Tax Systems In All 50 States. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 6, 2-5. doi: