Photo Caption: At the last formal APA Legislative Day in 2011, medical interpretation was a primary issue to lobby. Photo credit: Dean Wong.
On Feb. 19, Olympia lawmakers will have to take a moment from budget crunching and bill-writing to hear the unified voices of API communities from across the state.
A thousand expected Asian and Pacific Americans (APAs) — some busing from all the way across the state — will unite in the state capitol to voice shared concerns.
Every year, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) organizes a statewide APA Legislative Day in Olympia, Wash., to lobby state legislators.
APIC, which has chapters in King, Pierce, Snohomish, Yakima, Spokane counties, South Puget Sound and Southwest Washington, formed in 1996 to counter anti-immigrant provisions in the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. Its first Legislative Day in 1996 attempted to counter the gaps left by the act. The annual Legislative Day is now endorsed by more than 100 APA organizations across the state.
While many of the issues remain the same from year to year, the coalition is particularly focused on health care and language barriers this year. According to Diane Narasaki, the chair of the King County chapter of the APIC and executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service, some of these issues include the proposed elimination of the State Food Assistance program, closing the racial disparities gap in K-12 education and pushing the proposed Voting Rights Act into law to improve political representation in communities of color.
“These are issues that are statewide,” said Lua Pritchard, chair of the Pierce County chapter of APIC. “These are the same issues we carry every single year. We have to talk about them … because if we don’t, [the legislators] just do whatever they want.”
After busing from as far away as Spokane and Yakima, more than 1,000 participants are expected to meet at the State Capitol Building for a rally at 10:45 a.m. Afterward, they will visit the legislators from their respective districts from 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Other issues participants will rally for include employment-training programs for limited English speakers, addressing language barriers to home care aide certification, as well as language barriers to accessing affordable coverage options through the health insurance exchange, which will come into effect under the Affordable Care Act in January 2014.
Pritchard said the group has been very pleased with how the legislators and the governor have taken their requests in the past. “We’re very much supported by many of our colleagues who also go to Olympia and advocate for many of the issues,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard said APIC is unique because it’s the only group that specifically represents immigrants and refugees, who are often forgotten and are the primary recipients of services like the State Food Assistance program. The program provides important nutrition assistance to lawfully residing immigrants who don’t qualify for federally funded food stamps, according to the Children’s Alliance. Last year, food benefits were cut by 50 percent for more than 13,000 beneficiaries throughout Washington.
APIC will also be looking at capital budget requests — though their eyes remain on health care for API communities. Another project APIC will be supporting is state capital funding for a new International Community Health Services (ICHS) clinic in Shoreline.
The new medical and dental clinic, scheduled to open in 2014, will be the first community health center in Shoreline. Ron Chew, ICHS foundation director, said the new clinic is a milestone both for Shoreline and ICHS.
“We’re mostly based in Seattle,” Chew said. “By moving up to Shoreline, it’s going to make us a truly regional center.”
The new clinic hopes to serve the large API population in Shoreline and North King County.
Chew said the timing is “perfect” because the Affordable Care Act is going into effect in 2014, — the year the Shoreline clinic hopes to open — and the state is hoping for more Medicald enrollees and Washingonians who can access affordable health coverage. He said more coverage options will expand the need for primary care clinics like the one in Shoreline.
“In this coming legislation session, health care is really going to be one of the priorities. … There’s a growing awareness that people need to be brought into the (health care) system,” Chew said.
ICHS hopes the Legislature will be responsive to requests to cover a portion of the clinic’s construction costs. The new clinic construction will total $12.8 million. Capital fundraising for the new clinic began in November, and Chew said about $250,000 in donation pledges have been collected. The project also has support from Shoreline Mayor Keith McGlashan and Rep. Cindy Ryu, Rep. Ruth Kagi and Sen. Maralyn Chase.
According to Narasaki, this event is typically the largest pan-Asian Pacific American legislative advocacy event in the nation. But it’s only one day.
What’s needed, Chew added, is grassroots efforts and lobbying specific legislators over time.
“The lobbying day is only one small piece of a larger effort,” he said.
Pritchard emphasized the importance of APIC’s effort being a statewide one in dealing with the Legislature. She said it’s significant for state lawmakers to hear from the actual people they serve.
“When you mobilize statewide, you get people from all over the state to speak up,” Pritchard said. “If you only come from one place, who’s going to listen from Spokane? Who’s going to listen from Snohomish? Who’s going to listen from Clark County? … They need to come out. There’s over 640,000 Asian Pacific Islander people in Washington. Where are they?”