Reporter's Notebook

Women Win in Seattle’s Budget

womenFor once, women were the big winners in the 2016 Budget. If this were a football game, you could say that women rallied to produce solid gains few would have predicted.

 

While many may have missed most of the plays, I’ll replay the hard-fought wins:

 

  • First, we will plan and build a new daycare center at, or near, City Hall.  The project had the unanimous backing of all nine of the Seattle City Councilmembers.  This program is important since lack of affordable daycare continues to be a barrier to women participating in the workforce.

 

  • A second win for women was the promise by city planners to develop an “infants-at-work” pilot study. This was a suggestion from the Seattle Women’s Commission after noting that, in certain Washington State Government Departments, infants up to six months are allowed to accompany parents to work.  This would not be doable for all employees, but it could work in some office settings.

 

  • Another budget win for women was funding three computer programming paid internship positions with the City of Seattle for individuals without four year computer science degrees but who have gone through accelerated training programs. With thousands of high tech jobs moving into Seattle as we speak, women still are woefully under-employed in the field and these types of fast-tracked programs are a pivotal option to ensuring the Seattle region is known for its inclusive employment.

 

  • Fourth, Seattle will deliver on its promise to expand gender wage equity to the private sector. The City of Seattle has worked to become a model employer and now has set aside $25,000 to fund regional gender pay equity initiatives and training.

 

  • And finally, a fifth budget-funded boost for women throughout Seattle ensures that, with the new buildings and new families in Seattle, the increased need for childcare is met. This will be achieved by measuring the impact new buildings have on the demand for childcare and that funding is set aside with new projects to meet that increased demand.

 

Unfortunately, this more pervasive “good news” for women went beneath news radars as an 11th hour “Hail Mary” proposal by Councilmember Kshama Sawant got the media attention, leaving a lot of us women shaking our heads in sad astonishment. Her “plan” to expand the city’s paid parental leave from four to 12 weeks had no long-term funding, no critical support through labor negotiations, nor any research on how the City’s new leave policy is working (it only began in May, after all). She proposed taking a loan of $1.5 million from the city itself – one-time money that would likely not even fully cover the price tag. Estimates suggest that eight more weeks of paid parental leave, done well, could cost up to double what she proposed, some $3 to $4 million.

 

It was one of the saddest of days of my Council career – to find myself voting in what looked like opposition to increased paid parental leave. Jean Godden, who labored to hammer out the four-week benefit, opposed to 12-weeks?  Unbelievable? What was she thinking?

 

But, sickeningly, I knew it was essential to develop a doable plan, not one shakily based on one-time, borrowed money. If there is one lesson I have learned about a last minute, good-sounding but unfunded program is that, if it passes, the funding usually comes from cutting other critical services.

 

How could we set aside funding for a 12-week benefit without full information before us? Next year would we close homeless shelters? Hygiene services? Health clinics? Summer youth employment? 

 

We owe much to the women, who are equal partners in this city, who vote for parks and universal pre-K, fund transit for all neighborhoods and support strong human rights and environmental policies. But we win little if we act irrationally and demand costly expansion of programs (with no funding strategy) that could hurt an equally important need like human services.

 

I don’t believe for a minute that we won’t soon get to 12 weeks of paid parental leave, especially since the new Seattle City Council is going to have a majority of women. However I have confidence that the majority will do so in a responsible way with sound funding into the future. And I look to help them from my new position as a citizen observer and reporter.

 

In the meantime, I am so very pleased to have carried the ball downfield to help women win so many gains in the 2016 budget.  We are fortunate to have a City like Seattle dedicated to catching up with its real commitments to women.

 

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