Legislative Advocacy in the Time of COVID-19

Crystal Shen, MD, MPH, FAAP
Co-chair, WCAAP Legislative Committee

In light of the projected Washington revenue shortfall of $4.5 billion dollars, multiple budget cuts have been proposed by the Health Care Authority (HCA) which would impact children. These cuts include funding for access to care for undocumented children, interpreter services, maternity services, the PAL referral line, and more. Since learning of these proposed cuts, WCAAP members have become active in reaching out to legislators and advocating for children. Meetings have been held in districts across the state, including the 2nd, 3rd, 10th, 23rd, 37th, 40th, and 43rd districts.

COVID is impacting how legislator meetings are held, as meetings are now typically via Zoom or other virtual platforms rather than in person. Although different in format, this has some benefits with flexibility from both a timing and location standpoint; some members have joined meetings during lunch on a clinic day and one member even joined a Zoom meeting from a boat!

In the meetings, it has been useful to hear our legislators’ perspectives, plus it is clear how interested they are in hearing from pediatric health care providers.  Pediatricians and pediatric providers are on the frontlines working with families and bearing witness to the impact of COVID-19 on children across Washington state. For example, it has been powerful when WCAAP members have shared stories about families affected by COVID infection, families with increasing socioeconomic needs, youth with behavioral health needs, and more. It has also been helpful when pediatricians have shared about the impact of COVID-19 on their clinics, from staffing changes due to budgets, to starting telehealth, to encouraging families to bring in children for vaccinations, and more.

Sharing these stories plays a valuable role in showing legislators the needs we see in our clinics and our communities. Highlighting these needs helps WCAAP advocate for access to care for all children and support for resources for safe and essential care. One legislator specifically mentioned that one of the most valuable things we could do is to keep sharing our experiences. There are multiple ways through the WCAAP to help share our stories, and ongoing opportunities to engage with legislators to advocate for children. As we see how COVID and proposed COVID-related budget cuts impact children, our advocacy is now more important than ever.

We encourage you to consider holding a meeting like this in your own legislative district! It is easy and gratifying. If you want to learn more or connect with us about setting this up, email Jennifer Donahue at jdonahue@wcaap.org. You can also email your patient and practice stories directly to Jennifer Donahue at jdonahue@wcaap.org or share them via this link: WCAAP Story Bank.