History

Fighting For Fairness since 1996

In 1996, ten activists of color formed the Washington Welfare Reform Coalition as a unified response to the federal passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, or “welfare reform.” That November, nearly 300 community leaders and organizations from across the state came together to organize a unified response to this dramatic policy change that deepened poverty for already-struggling families across the state and country.

In 2001, the Washington Welfare Reform Coalition officially changed its name to the Statewide Poverty Action Network and expanded its focus to statewide poverty issues. In 2003, Fair Budget, a low-income advocacy organization, merged into Poverty Action bringing their rich history to our legislative and media advocacy work.

Since 1996, Poverty Action and our network of over 8,000 members across the state have worked to eliminate the root causes of poverty with real solutions. By strengthening the voice of people with low incomes, forwarding innovative state policy solutions, organizing communities to take action, and fostering public dialogue through the media, we demonstrate that widespread collective action can ensure everyone has the opportunity to prosper.

A Snapshot of Our Accomplishments

Opportunities to Prosper

  • Passed the Foreclosure Fairness Act in 2011 that creates a foreclosure mediation program to help families facing foreclosure stay in their homes. This new law will also triple the number of housing counselors in Washington state.
  • Passed Washington’s first law to rein in predatory payday lenders in 2009, giving borrowers more time and options to pay off their loans. Since the law went into effect in 2010, it has saved Washington consumers over $122 million in fees and may serve as a model for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Passed more consumer protection bills in 2008 than had passed in last two decades combined, including six bills that protect consumers against predatory mortgage lenders.
  • Passed the Savings, Earnings and Enabling Dreams Act (SEED) in 2005 to establish a state-matched savings account program for people with low incomes called Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). IDAs create opportunities for people to save to purchase a home, start a business, and pay tuition.
  • Passed the Opportunity Grants Program in 2007. This innovative program increases access to higher education by helping low-income students address typical barriers such as tuition, books, transportation and childcare.

Meeting Basic Needs

  • Prevented the elimination of critical safety net programs like the Disability Lifeline, Food Assistance for immigrant families, and the Basic Health Plan, all during the worst budget crisis in Washington history (2009 – 2012).
  • Raised eligibility for the food stamp program in 2008, ensuring that an additional 23,000 families in Washington will have enough to eat.
  • Led successful advocacy efforts to provide English as a Second Language (ESL)
    and job training for immigrants and refugees.
  • Launched an ambitious Save our Safety Net Campaign to prevent another devastating round of cuts to our state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2012.

Reclaiming Democracy

  • Passed the Voting Rights Restoration Act in 2009, restoring voting rights to over 400,000 previously disenfranchised people with felony convictions who had been denied the right to vote because they could not repay their fines.
  • Launched the first comprehensive effort to register, educate and mobilize voters with low incomes. In 2004, Vote For A Change increased turnout among low-income voters by 16%. Since 2004, the campaign has reached over 100,000 people statewide.
  • Ensured that people with low incomes were an active and consistent presence in Olympia, advocating for the issues that matter most. In 2011, we launched the Members in Action and the Teens in Action programs, providing our members across the state with additional ways to take action on the issues that matter most.

Poverty Action uses its position as our state’s most diverse and effective anti-poverty coalition to continue to work on state public policy—including Welfare and WorkFirst—and to connect the specific debates on those policies to the larger message of economic equality and security. While we strive daily to bring individual families out of poverty, we also work to bring access and accountability to Washington’s political environment.