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Report: Washington State’s safety net serves workers better than any other state

A recent Oxfam America report ranks Washington State as having the best safety net in the country for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In determining its rankings, the report evaluated 27 policies and laws related to worker protections, health care, and unemployment in effect between February 15 and July 1, 2020.

The presence, and absence, of these policies in states are directly reflected in Oxfam’s scoring. 

Washington received an overall score of 76.41 points out of 100 possible points. New Jersey was second on the list with a score of 72.17 points. Alabama, which sat at the bottom of the list, only received 17.76 points.

Broken down by category, the report ranks Washington first in the nation for its unemployment policies, 2nd for worker protections, and 10th for health care. The state received positive scores for having expanded Medicaid, implementing a moratorium on evictions and utilities shutoffs, having mandated paid sick and family leave, and expanding telehealth services.

Bottom-ranked states like Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia haven’t enacted any of these policies.

Washington’s score was lowered due to a shortage of childcare options for essential workers and not having waived cost sharing for COVID treatment during the time evaluated.

The report also calculated unemployment offered in each state compared to the cost of living. According to Oxfam, Washington leads the way in this measurement, covering on average 86% of the cost of living for an unemployed individual supporting a family.

This measurement varied widely between states. Mississippi’s unemployment support covered an average 7% of the cost of living. Virginia ranked second to last on this measure, covering just 11%. Texas, Utah, and Arizona covered about 34%, California covered 36%, and Michigan covered 44%.

California, which the report ranked 3rd overall, received praise for being the only state at the time evaluated to provide funds to unemployed workers who are undocumented. In August, Washington followed California’s lead in providing state-funded public assistance to undocumented communities impacted by the pandemic.

The Oxfam report focuses on the impacts of state policy and does not evaluate bills and policies at the federal level. Looking toward the future of the United States as a whole, a recent brief from the Urban Institute estimates that elements in the recently signed American Rescue Plan will reduce the country’s 2021 projected poverty rate by more than a third.

Without the legislation, the Urban Institute estimated the US poverty rate would be 13.7%. With the bill, which extends pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits, extends higher SNAP benefits, and includes a new stimulus payment, the institute says the annual poverty rate will be about 8.7%.

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