Tag Archives: Seattle

Unintended consequences of new Seattle minimum wage? Workers requested reduced hours to stay in subsidized housing

jess spear 15 now

KIRO: A Seattle-area nonprofit observed some workers recently asking for reduced hours, as they feared that their higher wages now put them at risk of losing housing subsidies.

Nora Gibson is the executive director of Full Life Care, a nonprofit that serves elderly people in various homes and nursing facilities. She is also on the board of the Seattle Housing Authority.

Gibson told KIRO 7 she saw a sudden reaction from workers when Seattle’s phased minimum-wage ordinance took effect in April, bringing minimum wage to $11 an hour. She said anecdotally, some people feared they would lose their subsidized units but still not be able to afford market-rate rents.

For example, she said last week, five employees at one of her organization’s 24-hour care facilities for Alzheimer’s patients asked to reduce their hours in order to remain eligible for subsidies. They now earn at least $13 an hour, after they increased wages at all levels in April, Gibson said.

“This has nothing to do with people’s willingness to work, or how hard people work. It has to do with being caught in a very complex situation where they have to balance everything they can pull together to pull together a stable, successful life,” Gibson said. Gibson said she fully supports a minimum wage increase but was not surprised when her employees asked for fewer hours. “The jump from subsidized housing to market rate in Seattle is huge,” she said.

Seattle Housing Authority told KIRO 7: “It’s important that the continuum of affordable housing options in our city and region allows for progression as people’s incomes increase. That needs to be addressed across the housing market so that people don’t feel they are in jeopardy of stable housing as they are able to earn enough to pay more of their housing costs.” The amount of public assistance one receives depends on the income and size of the family. The scale is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the qualifications are based on area median income.

Justine Decker, who is a full-time student at Seattle Central College, said she works part-time so she can still get subsidies for rent and child care. “A one-bedroom can cost upward of $1,200. And so imagine paying that, and paying child care which can be $900 something dollars,” Decker said.

She said she doesn’t want to work full time, or she wouldn’t be able to afford market-rate rents. Decker said she’s in school to become a teacher and hopes to eventually become a principal, to make well over minimum wage levels to be able to pay for everything on her own.

Mohamed Muktar drives an Uber and also receives public assistance for housing. He said he would love to work more hours. “If you can get more hours, I think you need to work more hours, so you can take care of your bills,” Muktar said.

Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata said he hadn’t heard of purposeful reduction of hours before. “We need more information, for one thing. This is anecdotal,” Licata said. Still, he said people need more options, especially after breaking the threshold that pushes them out of public housing.

“We do not want this to be an improvement on one side of the scale, and then decrease in living conditions on another,” Licata said. “We should not be using this as an excuse not to address the overall problem.”

DCG

“Progressive” govt in action: $20 rebate cards for car tabs may cost Seattle $37 apiece

drain

Seattle Times: To give low-income drivers $20 rebates on their car-tab fees, Seattle’s city government intends to spend as much as $17 each in overhead costs this summer.

The rebates, in the form of Wells Fargo debit cards, are meant to offset the pain of the $60 car-tab fee that voters approved last fall. That measure will increase bus service citywide for the next six years.

“The administrative cost is 85 percent. That is extremely high for something like this,” said City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the transportation committee. “For nonprofits, ideally the administrative cost is no more than 15 to 20 percent.”

Still, the committee — also including Councilmembers Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien — on Tuesday morning recommended going forward in June, by endorsing the budget amendment, proposed by Mayor Ed Murray. “The fact is, it’s expensive to give people rebates,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, transportation adviser to Murray.

Efforts are underway to reduce the overhead fee, Bill LaBorde, chief policy adviser for the city’s transportation department, said Wednesday morning. For months, the city has struggled with a “numerator-denominator” problem, he said, of certain unavoidable costs like income verification, to provide “a very low benefit” of $20 per driver.

The city also proposes spending $718,000 to promote and distribute King County Metro Transit’s new discounted fare card, called ORCA LIFT, which took effect March 1. It allows users to ride for $1.50 a trip, rather than $2.50 to $3.25.

King County already established a network of community agencies and public-health providers enrolling transit riders. But the county had signed up only 8,529 people as of last week.

O’Brien called the low enrollment disappointing. “I feel like we need to do a better job making sure everybody knows this is available,” he said. “Every food bank should have a big banner right there, that you can enroll.”

Besides helping people with their transportation, the discounts shielded the city from complaints on both the political left and right that a car-tab fee, along with a 0.1 percent sales-tax hike, were regressive.

Social-equity advocates, including the Seattle Transit Riders Union, have pushed the city and King County Metro Transit for fare discounts. “It’s good the city’s taxpayers stepping up to help,” said Katie Wilson, the riders union’s general secretary.

Proposition 1, to raise about $45 million per year, specifically requires the $20 rebates, along with $2 million annually “to improve and to support access to transit service” for low-income riders. What hasn’t been widely known until Tuesday is how much money might trickle away in the pursuit of doing good.

“There are always arguments for running government more efficiently, but it’s unusual for the administrative costs to be almost equal to the amount of the benefit,” said Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the conservative Washington Policy Center, who notes that each rebate requires $37. “It was a poorly thought-out policy.”

math is hard

Given the expense, could the City Council just skip them? To cancel those $20 payments, which are named in the ballot title, would require another citizen ballot measure, Glass Hastings said. Expenses include processing costs from Wells Fargo, the debit cards themselves, verification of low-income users, enrollment workers, marketing and informational mailings, staffers said.

The $17 figure is a high estimate and could wind up lower, said Christie Parker, representing the city budget office. However, the costs and benefits won’t be clear until they try.

For instance, Parker estimated 51,000 eligible motorists might enroll — but O’Brien said he’s skeptical, considering that’s three times the number of households that signed up for city utility discounts, which are far greater. To keep a lid on fixed costs, Parker said, the city ordered only 1,000 debit cards for the first month, and will seek more as needed.

A simpler method might be just to lower the price on a car-owner’s bill, but state Department of Licensing computers are too old to adapt, she said.

As for transit fare cards, the $718,000 amounts to one-third of the yearly $2 million voters approved for low-income aid — but the overhead is likely to shrink after the first year. The city’s launch plan includes $500,000 to publicize the reduced fares, including ads in radio broadcasts and ethnic media; some $161,000 for outreach and enrollment staff; and $31,500 to distribute preloaded, $6 fare cards as a way to get customers started.

O’Brien said later Tuesday his instincts are to spend more money at social-service sites and less on advertising. Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok said, “We have been talking with the city for months about how they can improve or accelerate ORCA LIFT awareness with those designated revenues.”

Previously, King County has guessed that somewhere between 45,000 and 100,000 people might enroll with ORCA LIFT. Residents soon will see what Glass Hastings called “a drumbeat of improved transit.”

More buses are coming in June and then in September, along with transit lanes in South Lake Union, light-rail extension next year from downtown to the University of Washington, and a $930 million Move Seattle ballot measure that offers a Madison Street bus-rapid-transit corridor, among other projects.

DCG

Seattle Mayor: We need more tent cities

lauren bacall

KOMO: Mayor Ed Murray says there’s been a recent spike in the number of illegal homeless encampments in Seattle, and he wants additional “tent cities” approved to help address the issue.

A press release from the Mayor’s office states that the mayor will send proposed legislation to the City Council next month “to make a limited number of unused, vacant lots on private and public land” available for encampments. The areas included are not in residential neighborhoods or parks.

A task force Murray convened in October recommended that Seattle make it easier for tent cities to operate with oversight and legal services. “In recent months, more illegal encampments have popped up on our streets and sidewalks than ever before and the need for alternative spaces has grown immensely,” the mayor wrote in a letter to the task force last week.

Encampments have stirred controversy around Seattle, with politicians and advocates disagreeing about whether they save people from the streets or siphon resources away from safer, cleaner, more permanent options.

A handful of authorized encampments and many more unauthorized ones already exist in Seattle. Religious institutions are allowed to host tent cities with few restrictions, but encampments are allowed elsewhere only under temporary-use permits. The city funds 1,724 shelter beds in Seattle. An annual count of homeless residents in January found 3,123 people living on the streets of the city and King County.

Murray did not say how many lots should be opened, and his press secretary, Jason Kelly, declined to give a number. The task force called for seven.

Last year, a bill sponsored by Councilman Nick Licata would have allowed tent cities for up to a year on nonreligious properties in industrial and commercial zones. The council voted against it.

Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Murray said his proposed legislation will build off Licata’s. It calls for organizations operating the encampments to collect data about their clients; city money should only go to organizations that comply, he said. The mayor also said he would push for 150 additional shelter beds by early 2015, including at least 15 reserved for youth.

Murray balked at the task force’s proposal that some community centers be used to provide shelter, saying the centers must continue to focus on services for seniors and children, such as the city’s new preschool program.

The council last month set aside $200,000 in the city’s 2015 budget to help carry out the task force’s recommendations and $100,000 to support encampments.

Murray wrote that he has a separate advisory group working on long-term solutions to the city’s affordable-housing crisis.

Maybe Murray should set up a separate advisory group and task force to evaluate policies that lead to homelessness? He just might find a common thread.

DCG

Seattle City Council Member: Free abortions an issue of “racial and economic justice”

Author/city council member Harrell

Author/city council member Harrell

The Stranger: Over 41 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that every woman has a constitutionally protected right to make her own personal medical decisions about when and if to become a mother. For almost as long—nearly 38 years—the Hyde Amendment has undermined Roe v. Wade by barring public funds from covering abortion care, effectively cutting off access for most women enrolled in public government insurance. Many of those most affected are low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women, who already face significant challenges to accessing safe, respectful, timely health care. This isn’t just a matter of reproductive freedom—it’s an issue of racial and economic justice.

Though the Hyde Amendment frames reproductive healthcare as a political bargaining chip, it is in fact a vital part of women’s health care overall. In a country where 99 percent of women who have had sexual intercourse use or have used birth control, and 1 in 3 will seek abortion care at some point during their lives, safeguarding access to these health care services is crucial to every woman’s safety and well-being, and a requirement for building a society in which all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their income.

This is why we are proposing a resolution to the Seattle City Council today, Monday, September 8, calling upon President Obama and Congress to overturn all federal bans on public coverage of abortion, and to improve access to public and private insurance coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health care options.

If we pass this resolution, Seattle will become the first jurisdiction in the Northwest—and the sixth nationally—to declare its support for overturning the Hyde Amendment and restoring access to reproductive health care for every woman, regardless of her income or what kind of insurance she has.

The timing is critical. There were 205 abortion restrictions passed nationwide from 2011-2013, including state bans on public and even private insurance covering abortion. As women’s reproductive rights are deliberately and strategically eroded in other states, passing the resolution shows that the Hyde Amendment and attacks on women’s health do not reflect Seattle’s values.

As a state that values reproductive justice, we cannot afford to stand still. Passing a resolution against the Hyde Amendment is a reasonable, proactive step we can take as a community to reject laws that come between women and the healthcare they need, and to build momentum until all women across the country can meaningfully exercise their rights. Thirty-eight years is too long to wait for health care.

See also:

DCG

Seattle tax dollars at work: New protected bike lane in downtown

How the City sold it: “This new facility will more safely connect Pike Place Market to Pioneer Square for people biking. Protected bike lanes are especially attractive to people who might be willing to bicycle but are concerned about safety. The City Council prioritized the design and implementation of a safe network in Center City for people of all ages and abilities. The bike signals will let cyclists know when to move and the left turn signals for eastbound streets will alert drivers when they can safely move through the intersection. This could be a game changing project to help Seattle better understand how to build and operate great protected bike lanes. Reduce conflicts of left turning vehicles and people biking and walking.

Watch this video and: 1) note how many cyclists are using the bike lane and 2) see if you can decipher the traffic lights on the left hand side.

The report on the day the bike lane opened: New, protected bicycle lanes opened through Downtown Seattle on Monday, realizing a long-awaited goal for cyclists who previously had to endure a dangerous route.  They opened Monday morning, providing a separation from traffic for cyclists going both directions between Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square.

The Seattle Department of Transportation said that for the next couple of days it will have ambassadors wearing vests out on the street helping people understand how the bike lanes work.

At Second and University, flowers and mementos still stand in honor of bicyclist Sher Kung.   The 31-year-old attorney and new mother was killed more than a week ago when she was struck when a truck turned into her, less than two weeks before the new bike lanes opened.

Cyclists say it’s about time the new, improved lanes are installed. “I think it’s long overdue. People have gotten killed. I bike this street all the time and it’s one of the most dangerous streets in the city and it’s because cars have to go around in front of you. It’s terrible.  So yes, it absolutely has to happen,” said bicyclist Jan Campbell.

On the first day, KIRO 7 found considerable confusion among drivers using the new left turn laneParking is allowed in parts of the turn lane during the day, resulting in drivers trying to turn unknowingly backing up behind empty, parked cars. “I think it’s ridiculous. I couldn’t even imagine that, so I’m sitting behind parked cars,” said driver Harvey Rosene, when KIRO 7 alerted him to the parked cars in front.

We also noticed drivers and cyclists running red lights on the first day. The new system includes separate lights for cyclists, drivers going straight and those turning.

An SDOT spokesman said a period of adjustment is always to be expected with a new traffic configuration. He said traffic engineers would watch how the revamped street is working and, if necessary, make changes.

Total cost? $1.2 to $1.5 million and is being paid for using Bicycle Master Plan Implementation funds. The estimate includes design, outreach, infrastructure, construction and contingency funds.

Good job Seattle!

DCG

Seattle City Council to consider Columbus Day name change

columbus

KOMO: The Seattle City Council will consider changing the name of Columbus Day after a resolution initiated by tribal community members.

The federal holiday should be recognized in Seattle as “Indigenous Peoples Day” according to the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

“This move would put the City in good company with Minneapolis, which took similar action in April, and other cities such as Berkeley that have already made the change,” the Human Rights Commission said in a news release Thursday.

For the second year, Matt Remele is calling on the Seattle City Council to rename the holiday. “It’s just an ongoing fight and struggle, and I’m just continuing on in that legacy,” Remele said.

Seattle City Council members Bruce Harrell and Kashama Sawant are co-sponsoring the measure.

For Remele, a Lakota tribal member, Columbus Day represents what he calls mass killing and genocide by Christopher Columbus. He also says the purpose of the resolution is to celebrate the thriving indigenous cultures, honor their history, and educate students.

We can’t change the course of history to what has happened in the past, but we can change the future and move forward together,” Remele said.

The council will vote September 2 at Seattle City Hall. The observation of Columbus Day dates from a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892. It became a federal holiday in 1937.

DCG

Seattle City Council approves historic $15 minimum wage

15

Seattle Times: The Seattle City Council unanimously approved a $15 minimum wage Monday, giving its lowest-paid workers a path over the next seven years to the nation’s highest hourly pay.

The outcome was not in doubt as a progressive mayor and City Council throughout the spring vowed to address the national trend of rising income inequality and a city that has become increasingly unaffordable for many of its residents.

But amid the celebration outside City Hall after the vote, cautionary notes also were sounded about Seattle’s leap into the unknown.

“No city or state has gone this far. We go into uncharted territory,” said Seattle City Council member Sally Clark before the council agreed to give workers a 61 percent wage increase over what is already the country’s highest state minimum wage.

Within minutes of the vote, an organization representing national franchises vowed to sue over the law’s treatment of them as large businesses.

And 15 Now activists, who are collecting signatures for a charter amendment that would speed up the phase-in to three years, said they haven’t yet decided whether to go forward with the measure for the November ballot.

A standing-room-only crowd made up largely of fast-food workers, union activists and 15 Now volunteers cheered the council’s vote.

“We did this. Workers did this. Today’s first victory for 15 will inspire people all over the nation,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant, whose election in November on a $15-an-hour minimum platform helped galvanize the Seattle effort.

Mayor Ed Murray praised the vote as a bold step to address what he called more than three decades of economic policy that resulted in a dismantling of the middle class. “Today we have taken action that will serve as a model for the rest of the nation to follow,” he said.

Council members acknowledged it would take more than a gradual pay increase to make the city more affordable.

Both business and labor representatives who worked on the compromise plan said they would continue to lobby for strong education and enforcement of the higher wages that take effect in April.

Some fast-food workers, whose walkouts a year ago launched the campaign to win workers’ higher pay, cried after the vote. Brittany Phelps, who makes $9.50 an hour at a Seattle McDonald’s, brought her 5-year-old daughter to the council hearing to witness the historic vote. “I’m really happy. This means a lot,” said Phelps, brushing tears from her eyes.

Ubah Aden, a Somali immigrant who works as a home-health-care worker earning $10.95 an hour, also celebrated passage of the ordinance. “A lot of people thought, ‘Oh no, it’s not going to happen.’ It’s happening,” she said.

But the same activists jeered and chanted “Shame!” as the City Council voted down several amendments introduced by Sawant to make the final measure more worker-friendly.

As she did Thursday when the bill was voted out of committee, Sawant attempted to remove provisions that create a training wage for teenagers and disabled workers, that allow tips and health-care benefits to be counted for up to 11 years, and to move the start date from January to April.

After her efforts failed, Sawant denounced her council colleagues as corporate representatives posing as the progressive alternative to the Republican Party, and gave parts of the same speech she made Thursday after the bill passed out of committee.

But even as labor activists began celebrating, the International Franchise Association announced plans to sue Seattle to overturn the ordinance.

Steve Caldeira, the association’s president and chief executive officer, said it unfairly counts local franchise owners as large employers because of their ties to national or global chains and gives them only three years to phase in the increase, while many of their nonfranchise competitors have seven years.

In all, 600 franchisees employ 19,000 workers at 1,700 establishments in Seattle, he said.

“These are independently owned small businesses who have their own skin in the game. They’ve either invested their life savings or taken out loans, or maybe done both, to take a shot at the American dream,” he said in an interview at City Hall.

“We intend to aggressively sue the city of Seattle for what we believe to be an extremely unfair and discriminatory policy against those hardworking, jobs-creating small-business owners.”

Local franchisee David Jones, who owns two Subway stores in Seattle, puts his cost of a $15 minimum at $125,000 annually. He pays the stores’ 18 employees $10.50 an hour, on average; he figures he’ll have to raise sandwich prices by a dollar or more to maintain profits.

“I’m going to increase prices and work hard to provide the best service possible so that I don’t lose sales,” he said, noting that his nonfranchise competitors will have four more years to phase in the increase. “The playing field is not even.”

Murray and representatives of SEIU Local 775 said their legal research showed that franchises can be treated as part of the corporations that license them.

“We never expected the lawyers from McDonald’s to agree with us,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU, one of the unions that backed the fast-food workers strike and helped pass a $15 minimum wage in SeaTac.

Some small-business owners praised the city’s move toward a $15 minimum wage. Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s ice cream, said the mandate will drive up her labor costs by $100,000 a year, but she expects to benefit from workers with more money to spend locally.

“A hundred thousand people next year will have more money in their pockets,” she said, referring to the estimated number of workers who now make less than $15. “They’ll have more money to buy ice cream.”

Neitzel has about 80 employees at six stores in Seattle. Last fall, she raised pay for her non-tipped employees to $15 from between $11 and $13.50.

She said another probable benefit from the higher minimum wage is reduced employee turnover. “They’re so appreciative of the raise,” she said of her non-tipped employees. “Retention is great, and their quality of life has increased.”

David Watkins, general manager at the Inn at the Market in downtown Seattle, said his 50-employee hotel will begin paying a $10 minimum next April, as required under the plan, and work toward $15 by 2021.

“I’m glad it’s not $15 Now on Jan. 1. I’m glad it’s phased in. There are some good compromises,” said Watkins, who also is president of the Seattle Hotel Association and a member of Murray’s advisory committee. “We as an industry will have to learn to adjust.”

He said prices will go up in the face of higher labor costs, but no layoffs are planned at his hotel. “We don’t want to sacrifice service for labor costs,” he said.

Under the $15 minimum-wage ordinance, minimum-wage workers will get raises starting April 1, the date set by the council.

Employees of businesses with more than 500 workers will start at $11 and reach $15 in 2017. Large businesses that provide health care will have an additional year.

Businesses with fewer than 500 will be required to pay $15 in 2019. Small businesses that claim a credit for tips and benefits will reach $15 an hour in 2021. The wages increase each year under all plans.

By 2025, according to city projections, all workers will be earning a minimum wage of $18.13 an hour, nearly double the state’s current $9.32 an hour.

Kaylee Bond, 19, who works at a Seattle Subway store, said that earning more than her current $9.32 minimum will mean she can save for a car and move to a better apartment.

“On one hand, it could mean inflation,” Bond said. “At the same time though, people would have more money to spend more. “It could be better for the economy,” she said.

DCG