Tacoma lawmakers seek a child's story of the recession

The words “recession” and “economic downturn” mean hardship and belt tightening to an adult, but two Washington lawmakers are asking: “What does it mean to a child?”

Sen. Debbie Regala (D-Tacoma) and Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma) are leading the planning of “A Children’s Forum: A Community Forum on Children in the Recession” to be held at Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma on Tues., Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m., with public comments taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The forum is modeled after a similar program held by the Connecticut Commission on Children in 2009. Following interviews with several children from different age groups, the commission released a report suggesting that “children will feel the impact of the economic crisis far into the future.” The findings also suggested effects of the recession put children at risk in several areas, including hunger, education and safety. Realizing the value of this information, Regala and Darneille agreed to work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Conference of State Legislators to hold a similar forum in Pierce County.

“Our goal is to provide a forum for children and families to tell us what the recession has meant to them — their challenges, their insights, their concerns, their hopes,” said Darneille. “The results of the Connecticut experience was bipartisan support for sweeping new legislation that passed nearly unanimously. We expect we will learn about similar impacts on children in Washington and what we can do to take action on their behalf.”

Many of Washington state’s services have been severely impacted by the recession due to the state’s dependence on sales tax dollars, according to Regala and Darneille. Following a string of negative economic forecasts, state legislators have been forced to make crippling cuts to many state programs including health and human services.

“These services impact many children in our state,” said Regala. “Without that assistance, many children will suffer effects that can be devastating and lifelong. We hope their stories at the forum will help illustrate just how important those services are.”

The two legislators are joined in their efforts by six other legislators: Senator Steve Conway (D-Tacoma), Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), Representative Connie Ladenburg (D-Tacoma), Representative Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), and Representative Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup), as well as a large group of community organizations.