Friday, December 21, 2012

Apple Health outreach gets national notice

Just 5% of Washington's children do not currently have health care insurance -- about half the national average.  A good deal of credit for that low number goes to the extensive outreach efforts of the Apple Health for Kids program and the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA).

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS) recently recognized those efforts with a bonus of more than $12 million.  This is the fourth year in a row that the state has received extra federal money for the good work they do, according to the HCA. In all, we've gotten $59 million additional dollars to make sure our kids are healthy and have access to affordable health care insurance.

This year, 23 states received a combined $306 million for meeting enrollment and renewal targets for children who are Medicaid- and CHIP-eligible. The awards ranged from about $1.5 million for Idaho to $43 million for Colorado.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Big Bertha Blossoms and Brings Business

Photo credit: WSDOT
Back in September, the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) was boasting—with reason—about its humongous, colossal and insanely gigantic 300-foot-long, five story-tall Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). Its 57½-foot diameter front-end will make it the world's largest machine of its kind… Heck, the universe's largest!

With its own Flickr page and animated YouTube video, the only other thing this machine needed was a name.

The Department figured the best people to ask for suggestions were our very own school-aged kids (K-12), who had until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, to propose a name along with a 200-words-or-less explanation of their choice.

The contest's rules were that, in keeping with the tradition of naming TBMs, the winning name had to be female and should "have significance to Washington State heritage, life, nature, transportation or engineering."
Bertha Knight Landes, 1926 Seattle Mayor
The judges had to make their pick from more than 150 entries. Earlier this month DOT announced the winning name is BERTHA, after the first woman to lead a major American City, Bertha Knight Landes, who was mayor of Seattle in 1926.

The name Bertha was submitted by two entrants: Darryl Elves' fifth-grade class at Poulsbo Elementary School and Elijah Beerbower, a second-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Hoquiam.

The winners will be invited to Bertha's official dedication ceremony in Seattle next summer, where they will receive special t-shirts and the thrill of seeing the name they chose emblazoned on the world's largest tunnel-borer.

Bertha and her voluminous dimensions are necessary to carry out the ambitious SR 99 Tunnel Project, but workers are also necessary to pull it off. Lots of skilled workers: DOT reports that the viaduct replacement program will sustain more than 3,900 jobs at the height of construction, so there's plenty to look forward to in the near future.

In the meantime, our TBM now not only has a name but also a voice, as Bertha already opened her very own Twitter account: @BerthaDigsSR99. In her latest tweet she laments that she's not on Facebook because DOT limits her social media time.

Learn more about the SR 99 Tunnel Project,

Read this story in Spanish here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stanford takes Capital position

A much larger, and more demanding, say-so in operating the state-government steering wheel is in the works for state Rep. Derek Stanford. The House Democratic Caucus recently selected Stanford to vice-chair the crucial House Capital Budget Committee. His new responsibilities commence with the Monday morning, Jan. 14, opening gavel of the 2013 legislative session.

"I'm looking forward to helping tackle fresh challenges facing our Capital Budget Committee, as well as other matters awaiting us in Olympia," said Stanford. "This committee manages significant investment-decisions for Washington's several-billion-dollar construction budget. As you can imagine, these decisions go a long way toward shaping job-creation and economic-development policies in our King and Snohomish county communities, and in other cities and towns all across our state."

Stanford, recently re-elected to serve his second term in office, said the Capital Budget Committee looks at money-saving strategies in the construction and repair of public buildings, as well as land-acquisitions and transfers. The committee also keeps a close eye on the state's public, capital-budget dollars that are given or lent to local governments or nonprofit organizations for infrastructure, housing, and cultural and heritage facilities.

He wasn't a member of the Capital Budget Committee in his first term of office. Still, Stanford did win committee-support last year for funding to assist with a substantial construction project in the 1st Legislative District - $800,000  to help pay the bill for building a new Scriber Creek Pedestrian Bridge in Brier. The old Scriber Creek Pedestrian Bridge was damaged in the December 2007 flood. 

According to Nicole Gaudette, city planning with the City of Brier, "rebuilding the Scriber Creek Bridge will protect salmon-bearing waters, critical infrastructure, and pedestrian pathway, and the public health.  The state's partnership in funding the project is crucial to its success."

We recycle more than we throw away

The Department of Ecology announced yesterday that for the first time in the history of our state, last year we recycled 50.7 percent of our solid waste. 

In 1989, the legislature passed the "Waste Not Washington Act," which established waste reduction and source-separated recycling as the fundamental strategies for managing solid waste. It set a goal of recycling 50 percent of Washington state's waste by 1995.

Well, that didn't happen.

But 16 years later we finally made it! If you contributed to reaching this goal, you ought to be proud of yourself. 

So what does 50.7 percent mean on a per-person basis? According to Ecology's report, state residents recycled an average of 3.64 pounds of material each day, while throwing away 3.54 pounds of waste. 

That's not all the good news. It turns out that all this recycling helped the state avoid emitting 3.2 million tons of greenhouse gasses, the equivalent of keeping 1.9 million cars off the road. 

Thank you for doing your part to keep our Evergreen State... well, green! 

Read Ecology's release. Learn more about recycling in Washington state.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Governor Gregoire released her final budget today

After eight years, three biennial budgets, many supplemental and "special" budget bills, Governor Gregoire sent her final budget proposal to the Legislature this morning.  According to her press release, she addressed the looming McCleary decision this way:

A $1 billion down payment in 2013-15 -- a 12.3% increase over the current K-12 budget.  That funding would:
  • Reduce class sizes in grades K-2
  • Step-up the phase-in of full-day kindergarten programs across the state
  • Improve professional development for teachers and principals
  • Increase funding for maintenance, suupplies, and operating costs
  • Fully-fund the state's new pupil transportation funding formula
House Appropriations Committee Chair, Ross Hunter, issued this statement in response to the governor's proposal:

“I’d like to thank Governor Gregoire for the thoughtful work she’s put into this budget. Her proposal exposes the basic structural problems that will make it difficult to build an operating budget that meets the needs of Washington’s citizens and business community without changing the revenue picture.

“It also points out the big issues the Legislature will have to address this year: Medicaid expansion, educational requirements coming from the McCleary decision, and the impact of the recession on the state’s revenue picture. We have a lot of work to do to resolve these issues and create a stable platform for continued economic growth.”

Read this story in Spanish here.

The governor proposed a new ‘capital budget’ – so what is that?

You’ll hear about three budgets down at the state capitol, and yes, there’s a different between capitol with an “o” and capital with an “a.”

Today, the governor proposed operating, transportation and capital budgets for the next two years.

The operating budget is the biggest one. It’s like your family’s main checking account, how you pay the bills every month. The operating budget pays for ongoing things like health care for kids, state troopers, prisons, parks and public schools.

The transportation budget is just what you think: highways and ferries, buses and trains.

The capital budget is the one that trips people up. So what is it?

 “Capital projects” are construction projects around the state. Here’s an example: You pay the salaries of state troopers and prison guards through the operating budget, but when you need to build a prison – or an elementary school, state park or university lecture hall – it comes out of the capital budget.

One of the ways we’ve tried to maximize the number of jobs and construction projects is to focus on funding things with local and federal matching dollars. So that’s one of the reasons why the capital budget gets complicated. You can read the highlights of the governor’s proposed capital budget here.

Last year, as part of the Jobs Act passed by lawmakers, our state tried to jump-start these construction jobs by front-loading the construction projects. Instead of taking the money we usually spend and spreading the work out over many years, the idea was to create jobs in a hurry by doing all those projects at once. The Jobs Act created an estimated 20,000 jobs around the state.

The governor’s proposed capital budget would also create thousands of jobs – as would the transportation budget – but her proposal is just the first step.

Next, the House and the Senate will make their own proposed budgets, which will have public hearings in the House and the Senate, then votes in committee and on the House and Senate floor.

In the end, though, the result of the capital budget will be folks in hard hats building schools, lecture halls and parks.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Grant will help fund mental health care for foster kids

You may have missed the news when it came out last month, but with renewed national focus on mental health issues in the wake of a tragic school shooting in Connecticut last Friday, we think it's worth posting.

Our state is the recipient of a federal grant that will help fund the enhancement of mental health services for children in our foster care system.

While the amount - $639,000 - may not seem very large, every dollar goes to improving the process for identifying children in need of such services, streamlining coordination between mental health professionals and child welfare workers, and increasing our state's capacity to deliver care to those kids who need it most.

Even better, there is the possibility that the grant will expand over the next four years.

Children who enter the foster care system are at a high risk for mental health problems due to abuse, severe neglect, and the trauma of being removed from their family homes.  Identifying those children who may have a mental health disorder and getting them the services they need - the sooner, the better - greatly improves their chances for a positive outcome.

Here is the press release from the Department of Social and Health Services, and here is a brief piece the Columbian newspaper published about the award.

Read this story in Spanish here.