WA offered scholarships from the budget to attract low-income board members

New efforts by government officials are aimed at ensuring that low-income people can afford to work on government councils and commissions, so that voices at the table are heard from a greater variety of life experiences.

In his proposed budget for 2022Democratic Gov. Jay Insley recommends allocating $ 50,000 in scholarships to help low-income people participate in government advisory groups. The proposal says that those who experience poverty and inequality should be compensated for providing their understanding, noting the “value of the experience”.

In support of this budget plan presented by State Senator Claire Wilson, D. Auburn Senate Bill 5793 at the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The bill provides for scholarships of $ 200 a day for any member of a low-income government group or a representative of demographic groups underrepresented.

“I’ve spent the last 40 years working with families who are farthest from the opportunity, who are often asked to share their experiences in councils and groups, but at the same time this work is voluntary for them,” Wilson said. on a January 19 hearing before the Senate State Government and Election Committee.

Several members of state groups testified in support of the bill, many of whom shared that sometimes they are the only participants who are not compensated for time during meetings of state groups. Everyone who testified at the hearing supported the purpose of the bill, although one concern was that the suitability of the bill was not broad enough to ensure adequate accessibility for low-income people.

Jackson, who co-chairs Insley’s Working Group on Poverty Reduction, said the $ 70 he receives for each meeting helps him make ends meet by putting that money into bills. However, the vast majority of states boards, commissions, councils, committees and working groups currently do not offer scholarships to participants.

“People don’t understand that my life experience is something very unique that the book can’t tell you about,” he said.

Jackson has served on various state councils and commissions for many years, but only after joining the steering committee of the Working Group on Poverty Reduction did he feel that his contribution and experience were truly appreciated.

“This was the first time my contribution was taken very seriously,” Jackson said. “My voice matters. What matters is what the steering committee brings to the table. Do you want to know why? They pay professionals. We are specialists in our field. “

Republicans are not necessarily against the idea. Drew Stokesbury MP, R-Auburn, praised efforts to provide more secure wages for board members.

“These people dedicate most of their lives to this and receive a rather modest sum,” Stokesbury said. “I believe this is a very noble goal. I think we want to encourage people who are capable and interested in service to be able to serve. ”

Although he is still generally supportive, Stokesbury has raised questions about the necessity and cost-effectiveness of the program. In particular, he wishes to see more data on how often qualified board members give up this position because of the associated cost of participation.

At a public hearing on Jan. 19, Republican Sen. Brad Hawkins of East Venatch asked about the possibility of expanding access to scholarships for all board members – not just those on low incomes. Most recently, however, Hawkins voted against the bill in the Senate State Government and Election Committee.

In her work as a senior political adviser in the office of Governor Rachel Davis, she found that low-income people who are asked to serve on state councils are resigning because of the costs of repeated absences and childcare.

Assuming SB 5793 is held, the State Capital Administration will compile a report on best practices and recommendations for agencies to measure scholarship effectiveness. In two years, lawmakers will be able to analyze the effectiveness of expanding access to scholarships. Davis suggested that scholarships lower barriers to people’s participation and increase the diversity of board members.

“I think the evidence will show that this is the right approach because, anecdotally, when we talked to people, they said that a scholarship would definitely help them and make it easier for them to participate,” Davis said.

The Office of Equity report will also serve to measure the appropriate amount of funding needed to effectively increase the diversity of boards.

Jackson pointed out the irony that the government pays researchers and consulting companies for collecting poverty data, if government officials could instead pay low-income people for their participation.

“When they pay people with experience, they help us get out of poverty,” Jackson said. “And I don’t think that’s enough.”

Jackson believes that paying low-income people for their experience will also reduce the stigma that is often associated with poverty. Jackson, a member of the Kitsap Central School District Board of Directors, recalled one moment during his campaign when a woman asked how he manages to run for office when he is poor.

“Society as a whole puts people living in poverty and people with life experience in this box of ignorance when it is often untrue,” Jackson said. “It’s one of the things you start to hear from people with living experiences: what matters is my vision, what I’m going through.”

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