By Jennifer Bereskin / For The Herald
My path out of poverty started with secure housing and will finish with a fair tax system for all.
My son, a 10-year-old with autism, and I were homeless twice when he was younger. I promised myself I would ensure he would always have stable housing, and it would never happen again. It is only with a fully funded housing voucher that we now have access to a clean, safe and stable place to call home. Housing stability has allowed me to work on my higher education with intentions to obtain a higher-paying career.
At an early age, I also experienced chronic poverty and homelessness. We slept in cars, hotel rooms, shelters and crowded in with extended family. I often felt hungry and struggled in my K-12 education, it led to me dropping out of high school to get a job to support myself. Our family’s poverty was not a personal choice or caused by a series of poor choices. It was a product of generational trauma stemming from policies and laws meant to ensure erasure of our cultural identity, removal from ancestral lands and divestment of generational wealth. I have often said, no one chooses to live or remain in poverty, it is a larger systemic issue that requires intentional systemic change.
Thankfully for my son and myself, the future can look different. It requires the system to change so that every person in Washington has the tools to build a life that thrives for themselves and their family. It starts with something fundamental, which affects all of us and every aspect of our life. It starts with a fairer tax system.
Taxes are what we all pay to fund the services we all rely on, including roads, schools, hospitals, housing and more. Unfortunately, the current system is designed in favor of the super-rich. Right now, working people who are living paycheck to paycheck and barely scraping by are paying up to 18 percent of our income in state and local taxes. At the same time, the wealthiest people in our state — millionaires and billionaires — are paying just 3 percent of their income. In fact, Washington’s tax code puts a greater burden on working families than any other state in the country. When it comes to tax fairness, we are dead last.
It does not have to be this way.
In 2021, I joined teachers, tech workers, small business owners, nurses, child care providers, seniors and others who spoke out and won a momentous change: a capital gains tax on massive profits the super-wealthy make when they sell Wall Street stocks and bonds. Despite an attempt by a handful of the wealthiest Washingtonians to get out of paying the tax, the Washington state Supreme Court recently ruled that the capital gains tax is constitutional. That is a big win because that tax is an important first step in leveling out our tax code. It’s no surprise that most hard working people support it.
The capital gains tax will bring in $500 million every year into programs that hard-working Washingtonians rely on; such as affordable childcare, secure access to early learning and investments in public schools and technical colleges. These benefits will be felt here in Snohomish County and in every community across the state. At the same time, we are starting to tip the balance and require the wealthy to pay what they truly owe in taxes.
The work is not done, we need to continue work on our tax system so that every person in our state has what they need to thrive.
For families like mine who have struggled for generations, a fairer tax code will mean we can finally stop living in constant stress and start building a strong foundation for a better life. We can break cycles of generational poverty and trauma. We can plant roots in one place with intention and without the constant worry the rug will be pulled out from under our feet once again. Our kids can grow up within the same schools and build strong, healthy community members and future leaders.
We can come together, as we have in the past, to make a tax code that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.
In our traditional teachings in the Lushootseed language of the Snohomish people we say “Yəhow,” which means “to push forward together; it can only be completed together.”
Jennifer Bereskin, a member of the Snohomish Tribe and Qawalangin Tribe, has lived experiences with childhood poverty, domestic violence, systemic racism and chronic homelessness. She is the mother to a special needs child who gives her strength. Her advocacy includes Indigenous and sovereign inherent rights protections, eliminating multi-generational poverty, housing justice, and continuing work on anti-racial and anti-discriminatory policy reform in Washington state.