Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How did the special session turn out for people with MS?

Well, there is good news and bad news about the special session that ended last week in Olympia...

The good news? The legislature didn’t do much of anything, which means that the programs that we have been working to protect were NOT put on the chopping block yet. Legislators did talk about reform and how to move forward in balancing the budget, but they weren’t able to agree. Making these drastic changes is not a simple process.

The bad news? Since the legislature wasn’t able to agree on much, the fight to save Basic Health, Disability Lifeline, Medicaid, and long-term care programs is going to start again in January.

Many people living with MS and other chronic diseases rely on these pieces of the public safety net to stay in their homes, live independently, and have access to healthcare. Up until recently, Washington’s assistance programs were a genuine source of relief for our community. The last few years have seen cut after cut and even near elimination of some of these crucial programs.

The MS community has many partners in the legislature who understand the challenges of the chronic disease and disability communities and consistently fight to protect safety net programs. As referred to in a prior post, Senator Brown and Senator Keiser are helping us fight our fight, along with many others in Olympia. It is up to us – the MS Activists – to keep up the pressure and keep talking about our issues with our legislators and the public.

On the other hand, many of our legislators and much of the general public do not understand what it is like to live with a chronic illness and do not see a need for these expensive programs. It is up to us - the MS Activists - to educate those who may support cutting or eliminating these programs. Write letters to the editor, talk to your friends, email, call, and meet with your state legislators. If you aren’t sure who your representatives are, click here http://apps.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/default.aspx to find out.

Or join us as we bring the MS community to the state legislature for the Day of Activism on Monday, January 30th! Please plan on attending and register at http://wasmain.nationalmssociety.org/site/Calendar?id=270894&view=Detail. The more activists we have at the Capitol on the 30th – the stronger our voices will be.

Remember – It’s Time for Action Washington!

How do you feel about how the legislature is handling the budget crisis?



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meeting with Legislative Leadership

This morning, I had the privilege of meeting with Senator Lisa Brown, the Senate Majority Leader of our state legislature. Senator Brown has been a long time advocate for health care issues in our state so it was fitting that she met with a number of health care advocacy groups to talk about the budget.

In particular, Senator Brown spoke to the importance of saving many important health care programs - like Basic Health, Disability Lifeline, Medicaid, and Apple Health for Kids. Many people may wonder why the state has so many programs to take care of people's health care needs. A disease like MS has many faces and so do the citizens of our state. The health care needs of a child differ greatly from that of someone who can't work because of a disability and those may be different needs than a low-income worker who doesn't get health insurance through their job. Together, these programs make up the state's safety net. And they are carefully coordinated, because we know that today's worker may be unemployed tomorrow and their health care needs won't change even though their employment situation does.

When we see cuts in one state program, it impacts another. And for the last three years, we've been seeing deep cuts to all sorts of programs in the state's safety net. Plus cuts to K-12 education, colleges & universities, public safety & corrections, and our state parks. Nothing has been spared from the economic downfall.

During the economic downturn, legislators have been making significant reforms to deliver state services more efficiently. They've saved taxpayer money by reforming services like Disability Lifeline and Basic Health, but they likely can't keep reform their way out of our current $2 billion budget shortfall without significantly impacting people who depend on the state's safety net - including many people who live with MS.

At the meeting, health care advocates, including myself, urged Senator Brown to stop making cuts to our state's safety net. Too many people with MS rely on the state for their health care needs and they don't have anywhere else to turn if these cuts go through. In the afternoon, we shared this same message with Senator Karen Keiser, the Chairperson of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee. She's on our side, but it won't be easy to convince the public that these programs must be saved, no matter what it takes.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Time for Action

Welcome Activists to the first posting for It’s Time for Action! - the Washington edition. As Chair of Washington's Activism Committee and a member of Washington's Government Relations Committee of the National MS Society, I am hoping that this blog will be your go-to spot for information and the Call to Action for legislative activity in Washington state and beyond.

In Washington, three chapters of the National MS Society have a presence: the Greater Northwest Chapter, covering western and central Washington, the Inland Northwest Chapter covering eastern Washington, and the Oregon Chapter which includes Clark County in southwest Washington. We join forces in our advocacy efforts so while you may see some references to the Greater Northwest Chapter in our advocacy work, we actually represent all three chapters.

In addition, the Greater Northwest Chapter covers Alaska and Montana - two states with their own Government Relations Committees made up of locals who understand the issues facing people in their states. You'll hear more about these states on this blog as we move ahead.

For now, back to Washington state - With the toll our damaged economy is taking on the state budget, it is more important than ever that our legislators hear from this community. Washingtonians living with MS and other disabilities have been particularly hard hit over the last several years and Olympia needs to hear us and protect us!

There is an opportunity coming up for you to get your voice heard. Add this to your calendar, wear your orange scarf, and show Olympia that our community is vast, strong, and WE VOTE!

January 30th – Day of Activism in Olympia at the Capitol Building
If you have never attended the Day of Activism – you are in for a treat! This event includes an intensive educational session, speeches from legislators/staff members, and a lot of camaraderie among fellow activists before we head out to meet with our Senators and Representatives. Our legislators know that when the orange scarves arrive on campus, it’s time for business! Please bring along a few others – strength in numbers!

Maybe you want to carpool? Put it out there and see if someone else in your area needs a ride or wants some company for the drive to Olympia.

The special session is already underway and legislators are already considering how to balance the budget in light of the expected $2 billion shortfall. This is the place to find updates on the status of issues crucial to the MS community. Please take action when you see the Action Alerts. The Action Alert system is an easy and effective way to tell our state government that we are here and we are paying attention!

Again – welcome! Check back soon for more information about upcoming Activism events and remember…It’s Time for Action!

Cheers! - Holly Hawker