Equal access to opportunity begins with access to affordable education and healthcare. Gael knows what this means. She worked her way through college and took out student loans to pay for tuition, room and board, transportation, and books and fees. Throughout her working life, Gael has changed career fields a half-dozen times. And her number one consideration for all those career moves? Ensuring she and her husband had access to employer-provided health insurance. There were several times she opted for less salary, limited retirement contributions, and fewer hours of sick and vacation leave in order to have a job that provided health insurance. It was terrifying to think that one serious injury or illness combined with no health insurance would wipe out retirement savings and potentially result in losing their home.
- Gael co-sponsored legislation and voted to expand Medicaid health and adult dental coverage in 2013, guaranteeing access to healthcare for an estimated 1 million Washingtonians under the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. Since October 2013, nearly 500,000 previously uninsured residents of our state now have healthcare. This change is transforming the quality of life of all our people and communities.
- For some, healthcare starts with treatment for their immediate injuries and needs; for others, it means intensive addiction and mental illness treatment. Gael has been fighting to invest in the solutions for our critical opioid and mental health crises.
- Gael secured $3 million in the 2018 capital budget for Evergreen Treatment Services, one of the largest treatment centers in the state, serving those struggling with substance abuse and drug addictions in King County, parts of Snohomish and Pierce Counties, and Grays Harbor County. This funding allows Evergreen to buy the building on Airport Way, which the owner has put up for sale, and continue to operate mobile vans that take treatment services directly to the homeless in different parts of King County.
- Gael passed legislation to establish a free annual health clinic on Key Arena and Seattle Center grounds beginning in 2014. Run by Seattle and King County with Seattle Center staff, the clinic has served more than 15,000 people coming from every corner of Washington State to address the critical needs of the homeless and families and individuals who are struggling to pay the bills and who spend their healthcare benefits on their kids instead of themselves.
Access to quality education can be the starting point for equitable economic opportunity. We must make higher education accessible and affordable for all who wish to attend, at any point in their adult lives. We must support life-long learning opportunities for our residents—without life-long debt repayments. Gael is recognized as a leading champion for equitable and accessible higher education. Her recent legislative victories include:
- Securing nearly $200 million over the next three years (2018-2020) to fully fund the State Need Grant, providing financial aid to the nearly 25,000 students in our higher educational institutions who qualify for financial assistance to pay for college. This will be the first time since before the great recession that the state will meet the financial needs of every student who qualifies. This removes one enormous barrier to thousands of Washington students and reduces the risk of students taking on crushing student debt. Just ask our Dreamers how much it means to them that they qualify for state financial assistance. The dream of college is still their chance to build a future here in America.
- Protecting the State’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program, which gives working families a long-term college savings plan. This college savings program is for those families that don’t qualify for financial assistance, but also would never be able to have their kids go to college without taking on crushing student loan debt. Gael serves on the GET Legislative Advisory Committee to make sure GET stays healthy and honors the promise of a college education for these students.
- As a member of the House Higher Education committee and a former Research Adviser at the University of Washington’s College of Engineering and I-School, Gael is one of the few legislators who has been consistently successful at getting funding into the operating budget to support our university research teams.