Economic Survivial in the Pandemic - with Marcy Bowers

Economic Survivial in the Pandemic - with Marcy Bowers

Today  Crystal talks with returning guest Marcy Bowers from the Statewide  Poverty Action Network. Mary gives an update on the continued struggle  for low income families as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and how the  Washington State legislature is seeking to address this. A huge takeaway  from this episode: Get involved and give the legislature your input!


Follow the working families tax exemption discussed on the show here:

Provide your input by calling the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000.

Sign up to participate in committee hearings before the legislature here:

Read Marcy’s op-ed advocating for continued financial support for low-income communities in our state here:


Crystal  Fincher (00:13): Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal  Fincher. On this show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to  gather insight into the local politics and policy through the lens of  those doing the work and provide behind the scenes perspectives on  politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the  show are always available at and in our  episode notes.

Today,  I'm happy to announce that Marcy Bowers is our guest. She's the  Director of the Poverty Action Network, and we are thrilled to have her  with us today. I guess I would just start off by asking, what does the  Statewide Poverty Action Network do and what brought you to the  organization?

Marcy  Bowers (01:07): Well, hi. Thank you so much for having me today. It is  always a pleasure to talk to you and to be here. Poverty Action is an  organizing and advocacy organization. We believe that organizing is a  key component to doing advocacy work and policy change work. We work  with people with low incomes from around the state, we hear from them  about what policies we should change, and then we work with them to  share their stories and to change those policies. And that is at the  state level.

And  I got into this work, it goes back a long time. I grew up with a single  mom. She had to make all sorts of creative choices when I was a kid  about how we were going to afford some of the basic food items, and it  really stuck with me about - you really can't have real justice and you  can't address a number of sociological problems if you are not  addressing poverty as a key part of that challenge. And so I feel really  lucky that I get paid to do organizing on something I might do as a  volunteer without it.

Crystal  Fincher (02:16): This is so critically important right now. This is on a  lot of people's minds, even more now because of the pandemic and how  much this is stressing people's finances. More people than ever are out  of work. It's a very challenging time for people health-wise - lots of  people don't have insurance and they're trying to navigate through that.  That is a very oftentimes cost prohibitive and can put people in  financial jeopardy, just dealing with that system. And the housing  prices are through the roof. The minimum wage has not kept up with  inflation. And so everything has gotten more expensive. People are not  getting paid enough to keep up with it. This is a really big problem. I  guess when you're looking at the state of things right now in  Washington, where are we and what can help?

Marcy  Bowers (03:14): That's a big question, but I think you are absolutely  right, that it is harder and harder for people to meet their basic needs  to make ends meet. We travel around the state hosting listening  sessions - of course this year they've been on Zoom, to hear what people  have to say. And probably the number one and number two things that we  hear are, we don't have enough money and the costs are going up. So it's  a big economic observation that people make, but it's something that  people who are living with this reality day-to-day will also tell you  are their top two concerns across the board.

I  think one thing that is always interesting when you kind of look at  these big picture things is that often the big economic picture masks  some of the deeper disparities, whether that's looking at our economic  numbers, excuse me, as a state by race, whether that's looking at the  numbers of people who are living in deep poverty. Those numbers have all  gotten worse. Even before the pandemic, those numbers were moving in  the wrong direction. More people were living in deep poverty. The  disparities for black and indigenous women in particular were going up.  And those were trending in the wrong direction. And I would say that the  pandemic really has done two things there. One, it's made those things  worse. Amazon stakeholders and shareholders are doing great right now  because everybody also turned to online shopping, but that hasn't  changed in most low-income communities and communities of color.

The  other thing I think that the pandemic did was put a spotlight on the  disparities that we had before. I think for people who are falling on  hard times for maybe the first time in their life, they had the  opportunity to say gosh, maybe I do need to rely on some forms of  assistance every once in a while. Maybe there is a role for government  to play in some of this. Maybe we don't have to assume that businesses  will fix all of this and the private sector will fix all of this.

I  absolutely agree with you that we are in really difficult, hard times  economically for a lot of people, and there's a lot to be sad and  disappointed and frustrated about. And I think there are glimmers and  moments of hope to look for around how people's perspective on this is  changing. Obviously the pandemic does not care whether you are wealthy  or not, as it's attempting to infect your body.

Crystal  Fincher (05:58): Right. And it doesn't care if you're wealthy or not,  or if your neighbors are. And the pandemic has definitely reinforced to a  lot of people that we're all connected in ways that maybe we didn't  appreciate enough before, and both the health and economic wellbeing of  our neighbors impacts our lives too. And the better we're all doing, the  better we all do. You talk about some glimmers of hope. Right now we  are at the beginning of the state legislative session and, as you  alluded to, people who are extremely well off, the uber rich have  actually gotten richer during this pandemic. And it's also made people  at the bottom struggle even more. The issue of income inequality and the  difference in what we're asking, the burden that we're asking the  extremely rich people to bear versus poor people, couldn't be more  different. And there are some proposals to address this in the  legislature. What can help?

Marcy Bowers (07:07):

I  think so my first glimmer of hope, and I appreciate that you just serve  that up to me on a T, is I do think the proposal to tax capital gains  and to use some of that to fund a Working Families Tax Credit or a state  version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, I think that's getting  more traction than it's ever had before. I think it is being talked  about fairly seriously now. I think there are more votes than we've  seen. I will tell you sort of on an organizational, personal note, we  worked really hard on getting the bill introduced to reform - reform's  not the right word. You can edit me out later. To update and modernize  the Working Families Tax Credit and make it more inclusive.

That  bill was introduced on Monday and by Tuesday we had 46 sponsors in the  House on that bill. That is almost 50% of the State House signing on to  create and fund and modernize an Earned Income Tax Credit. And that also  makes it eligible to ITIN filers, who are often, but not always,  immigrant tax filers. A little known other community of people who often  use ITIN filers are domestic violence and intimate partner violence  survivors. For confidentiality, they use a number that's different than  their Social Security number when filing. And so that would be opening  up the tax credit to them, but then also making it more available to the  people at the lowest income levels in our state.

That  is a big glimmer of hope to me. That's a ray of hope, maybe more than  even a glimmer, but that has so much traction and so much excitement.  And the governor has been talking about it, which is also really  exciting.

Crystal  Fincher (08:55): That is very exciting. And I'm really happy to hear  that it does include a lot of immigrant communities that are so often  excluded from safety nets and help, which doesn't make much sense  overall when we look at the impact that that has on our communities and  the benefit that it would offer our communities to take care of people  who are such a critical and instrumental part of our community. They've  been left out of previous COVID relief and so much, so that is very  welcome news to hear that they aren't being left behind this time.

And  other communities, like you talked about, the intimate partner  violence, people who've experienced that. Oftentimes there are several  groups who are overlooked, and so kudos for making sure that you're  bringing everyone along, which of course an organization like yours  should be doing, but sometimes it doesn't happen that way. So, that's  great.

What exactly would this do? If someone is in a position to receive this, what could they expect?

Marcy  Bowers (10:07): The short version of the story is they can expect some  cash. So the way we have modeled it is starting at the very lowest  income scales, you get the full benefit, which would be - around $500  would be the benefit, and then it scales up a little bit more with kids.  And one of the things, in addition to it just being cash that people  can spend however they want and need to meet the needs that they have in  their families, is that there's not hoops to jump through to get it. I  am a big believer in our state's safety net programs. I think it is  absolutely crucial to do that, and I am troubled by how many hoops  people have to jump through to just get basic assistance. And I think  one of the amazing things about something like this is it's a little bit  like a stimulus check, or we're calling it a recovery rebate, where you  just get it. You don't have to jump through hoops. You don't have to  spend a bunch of time proving your hardship. You don't have to tell your  trauma over and over and over again. You just get to receive cash  without a bunch of strings attached to it, that you can spend on  whatever you and your family need.

That,  to me, is also something that gives me a lot of hope - that that  conversation where we might, as a society, stop questioning the decision  making abilities of people who just don't have money, but somehow they  can't make a good position. That narrative needs to go. And I think this  is another glimmer of hope that this is getting traction and we are  beginning to see a shift in how people talk about this kind of stuff.

Crystal  Fincher (11:45): I completely agree. The conversation around direct  cash assistance, which is the most effective way to provide help, and,  as you talked about, it has a direct stimulating effect on the economy.  So much data to back that up, that if we give people who need it the  most – money - they spend it on things they need in their communities.  It helps all of our local businesses who are employing our other  neighbors. It just makes sense.

You  talk about we don't make people jump through hoops. The conversation  has evolved on this and I have learned a lot over time on this. We talk  about, well, what if people get it who don't deserve it or who don't  need it? When we put so many barriers before people, it just makes it  harder to get it to the people who really do need it and it just  prevents it from helping the people who it needs to help and stimulating  the economy.

If  we need to claw back money, you want to do that. You can do that  through taxation on the other end, but it should not slow down how we  help people and the assistance that we provide. So I appreciate you  driving that conversation and you driving that policy, because it is  critically important and we need it now more than ever. Families need it  now more than ever, and it's really time we stop enabling conversations  that make it seem like being poor is some kind of moral failing, a lack  of education, that they're just not worthy of having nice things,  needing to prove that they deserve it somehow. People deserve to have  their basic needs met and to not be insecure with housing or food or any  of their other necessities. So thank you so much for doing work in that  area. I'm really excited to hear that it's had such a positive  reception so far.

What's  the bill number and what can people do if they want to support that, or  I guess, how should they contact their legislators? I assume it will be  having a hearing at some point in time, so how can they help advocate  for this?

Marcy  Bowers (14:06): Well, the bill number is... There will be a Senate bill  in the coming days, but right now the House bill number is 1297. So  one, two, nine, seven, and the prime sponsor of it is Representative  Thai, and I think she's done an amazing job. I think this is sort of  this other piece of the conversation that would give me a glimmer of  hope, and then I really will come back and answer your question about  how to be involved - is that I think after the 2020 election, we also  saw a new class of freshmen that is our most diverse in history. So  based on our most racially diverse, more women than we've ever had  before, more of a diversity of experiences, more people who have an  experience with poverty and hardship. There's a previously incarcerated  legislator now, there's organizers, and that is also very, very, very  exciting to me as an organizer, to see people who are excited to come to  the legislature and represent their history and their communities and  their stories, and speak up and upset a little bit of the status quo  that sort of holds things exactly where they've been.

Crystal Fincher (15:17):

You're  listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM. I'm your host, Crystal  Fincher. And our guest today is Marcy Bowers from the Statewide Poverty  Action Network.

Marcy  Bowers (15:32): As far as how to take action, there will be hearings  coming up, but probably the easiest thing to share over the radio about  how to take action is the legislative hotline number. And that phone  number is 1(800) 562-6000. And I love the legislative hotline number  because you literally call it and some actual live people answer the  phone and they take your address and they ask you what you want to tell  your legislators, and they literally type a message that goes directly  to your legislators.

Just  on a funny note, I made it my personal mission one year to have the  hotline receptionist, or the folks who answered the call there, to know  who I was, and so I called the legislative hotline every single day for  an entire legislative session. Until finally toward the end of session,  it was maybe sometime in March, I called and they said, "Legislative  hotline, what's your message?" And I said, "Hi, this is Marcy." And they  were like, "Hi, Marcy." I felt like I had had a big achievement.

Crystal  Fincher (16:48): Oh my goodness. That makes sense. And great tip  because super easy, super accessible, to call in and they will give your  message to your legislator. Because sometimes it can be hard to figure  out, who should I even talk to? Who are my legislators? What's going on?  Another thing, as I think about it, that is a little bit different this  year, that is definitely different this year, but that can make  engaging with your legislators more accessible, is that because we are  in this pandemic, they are having a lot of committee meetings and  committee hearings via Zoom. And people can sign in and testify via Zoom  from wherever they're at. So this has made it a lot more accessible and  possible for people to get involved. They don't have to drive to  Olympia to have a hearing.

They  just started not that long ago having satellite sites but still, you  had to get to a satellite site. Now you can sign on to Zoom, as so many  of us have done so often, especially since the pandemic. So that's  another option that's available if people are following the bill number.  And you can Google it, it'll take you to the page and it'll actually  just tell you when the - you can see when committee meetings and  hearings are coming up, if you want more information on that or any  other bills. So just ways to get more involved.

I  mentioned before we started recording, speaking of the new legislators  that are in, we have a very diverse class and just elected a number of  black women into the legislature. I just received Representative Kirsten  Harris-Talley's first legislative email update, and so that just made  me feel warm and fuzzy as I was reading that, so that was a little  exciting shortly before we started recording today.

I  guess that goes into other questions. So we've got capital gains, we've  got tax credit relief. What else is there that can help, either in the  legislature or even looking at policies that could be helpful at the  more local level, whether it's through cities with city councils or  county councils. What are policies that we need to be implementing right  now and what are policies that people can go to their elected  representatives to say, this is what we are expecting you to do to help?

Marcy  Bowers (19:29): I think it's a good question. It's a big question,  again. You're good at the big questions. I think if I were to try and  think about kind of what a theme is for this - and it is that individual  families and small communities cannot do this alone. And what we need  are some of the bigger institutions of our world to play a part in this.  Part of why I frame it that way is that during the last recession,  almost across the board, states and counties and municipalities did a  ton of cost cutting and austerity measures. They gutted their budgets.  And some of our priorities this year are still pieces of undoing the  mess that was done during the great recession a decade ago. And so I  think that if I were to try and think about thematically what is it that  the state and local governments need to do, it is to recognize that now  is the time for investing in our communities, for bolstering and  shoring up the economic situations of our institutions and of our  communities and our families. That this is not the time for sort of belt  tightening and all of those other weird euphemisms we use for  essentially eliminating social programming. Now is not the time for  that.

I  think that message is being heard. I think that's being heard at many  levels at this point. And I think that it needs to be a continuous drum  beat. And I think one of the key clear components, in addition to direct  cash assistance, that I am probably most worried about at just about  every level of government is what to do when the eviction moratoriums  end. How are we going to ensure that people have some way to pay their  back rent, to pay their current rent, to pay their future rent, and not  have an incredibly huge spike in homelessness. That it would be not only  cruel, but it would also be a public health nightmare in addition to  that and on top of that.

I  think cities are looking at this. I think counties are looking at this.  I know the state is looking at this. Theoretically Congress is looking  at this. And I think that that component of having a plan for what  happens when eviction moratoriums. And when eventually when these sort  of state of emergencies end, all of these measures that we have  rightfully put in place during this emergency at all levels of  government - at some point they're going to end - and it would be a  gigantic mistake and incredibly cruel and set us back in a public health  measure if we don't have a plan for what happens when the state of  emergency is officially over.

Crystal  Fincher (22:33): What should that plan be? I mean, is it wholesale  forgiveness? There are questions related to that in terms of small  landlords versus large or corporate landlords. It seems like there needs  to be rent forgiveness and some mortgage relief for smaller landlords.  What is the package of remedies that you're looking at to actually  address this? Because you're exactly right. We're kind of kicking the  can down the road - we're literally kicking the can down the road, and  pressing a pause button, but we are not undoing the accumulation of  debt.

As  we all know, if people are having a hard time paying their bills right  now, there's no way they're going to come up with oftentimes 5 or 10, a  multi-thousand dollar balloon payment on top of all of their other  bills. That's just not realistic. So we're going to be looking at an  eviction tsunami whenever this ends. And, like you said, it would be a  public health crisis. It would be a public budget crisis. As you talked  about, those austerity measures are actually more expensive in the long  run. It costs less to keep someone in their home than to remedy the  situation once they do become homeless and experience all of the other  challenges that are related to that. We do pay for that as a society. We  cannot act like we don't experience consequences from allowing our  neighbors to become homeless.

If  we can take action to prevent that, that is the responsibility, and the  lesson that we've learned from going through this before, as you  mentioned. So what should be put into place in tandem with the ending of  the eviction moratoriums?

Marcy  Bowers (24:34): I should be clear, I'm not a housing policy expert.  We've got some good friends who do that. But I do think it is probably  some combination of rental assistance, some forgiveness in some  settings, probably some payment plans, some additional work on building  more housing, because I think that's one of the aspects that isn't  talked about quite as much - is that rightfully there's fewer evictions,  but that also means that the people who were homeless at the beginning  of an eviction moratorium didn't actually see any turnover in the  existing housing stock, so they have been having a much harder time  finding a place to live.

So  we still have, even with all the temporary measures, we still have this  problem of a lack of affordable housing. I don't want to totally take  our eye off the prize of the need, it's not even a prize, take our eye  off the larger problem of needing more affordable housing overall. I  suspect, not being a housing expert, that it will be a variety and a  combination of things. I know our parent agency provides nonprofit  housing and it was a pretty interesting budget conversation when we had  no income from our very low income tenants for 8 months of a 12 month  fiscal cycle. And I'm aware of that challenge across non-profit housing  as well. And I don't think they should be evicted and have to pay their  rent right now when there's no opportunity for work.

Crystal  Fincher (26:18): Part of this conversation as a society that we have to  reckon with, that, I think, our common discourse does not currently, is  we have to be realistic about what the consequences are of the actions  that we take. And we hear so often, there was just another very online  conversation about raising the minimum wage and all of the various  reactions to that going, "It's going to put everyone out of work and  it's going to make a Big Mac cost $20," which is all of the conversation  that we hear every time that the minimum wage is raised. And as we saw  in Seattle, the sky did not fall. In fact, it helped a number of people  and businesses.

As  we are navigating through this, I think we need to be realistic in  that, yeah, we are asking people who have $60 million to maybe have $57  million. That we're going to ask them to carry some kind of tax burden.  We don't have an income tax in this state. We have the most regressive  tax structure, meaning that we ask poor people to pay a much higher  percentage of their income in taxes than we ask rich people, and we have  a system of fees to compensate for the taxes that we are not asking  from people who can so easily afford them.

We  have billionaires that are here in our state, who have gotten billions  of dollars richer just during the pandemic, and what we're really  talking about is, should we be putting people onto the street or should  we be asking people like Jeff Bezos to maybe deal with $298 billion  instead of $300 billion. That's what we're talking about. And I think  that we just have to continue to focus on really having the scale of the  conversation and what is a consequence of asking for a tiny percentage  more in taxes for people who actually can't spend the amount of money  that they have in their lifetimes versus the consequences of not  providing those taxes and not having any way to keep people in their  homes, or keep them fed, or to have those necessities in life. That's  certainly a soap box that I have hopped on before, I'll continue to hop  on, but I am comfortable asking someone to scrape by with $57 million  instead of $60 million, because it can benefit so many other people.

I  guess as we are wrapping this up, what message would you send to people  who are listening, whether they're in the position of being in need of  help right now or wondering what they can do to help?

Marcy  Bowers (29:17): I think my message is, in some ways, it's always the  same, which is that now is the opportunity to speak up. Now is the  opportunity to tell people why this is important, to speak your truth to  power, to stand up. I think as the Trump administration comes to a  close, I think we saw the consequences of staying silent when voices  really needed to come out and say something different. And this is the  time. This is our time. This is the time to come out and say, this is  what we want to see, this history is unjust and it can be fixed. Policy  problems and a decision to not have a capital gains tax or an income tax  is what got us into this mess and changing that policy can help be part  of the strategy to get us out of this mess.

It's  time to stand up and say something and to not be afraid that your voice  doesn't matter. I've heard often over the years, "Well, I don't know.  I'm just one person. Does it really matter?" And it really does.  Legislators hear a whole lot of facts and figures, they get a lot of  statistics, they get a lot of dollar amounts, but what they don't  necessarily get a lot of are people telling them why a change is needed  and how it would impact them. Whether that's calling the hotline number,  whether that's signing up to testify via the legislative website. Even  if it's not, even if you're not ready to testify, you can still sign up  and say, I'm pro this bill, or I'm con this bad bill. You don't have to  be ready necessarily to speak up. You can just be ready to put your name  out there, excuse me, and say you support something. But now's the  time.

Crystal  Fincher (30:58): Well said. Very well said. Thank you so much for  joining us today. We will include in our show notes, as we do all the  time, a full text transcript of the show in addition to the audio, and  we will include links to both the information about the bills that we  talked about and information on how you can sign up to testify or just  to signal that you are for or against a particular bill. So make sure to  make your voice heard, the legislature is considering these issues  right now, and it really does matter if they hear from you or not. That  does make a difference. Thank you so much, and we'll talk to you next  time.

Marcy Bowers (31:43): Thank you so much.