Smoking on the job

SPOKANE -- It's the stuff cop shows are made of: Undercover government agents buying goods in a sting. This time, the agents are teenagers, their agency is the Spokane Regional Health District and the goods are cigarettes.

Eight of 24 clerks approached sold cigarettes illegally in a recent series of controlled buys -- "spot compliance checks" in bureaucratese -- in Spokane, the SRHD reports. The 67 percent compliance rate on the recent stings "is lower than we usually see" -- about three times lower, says Melanie Rose, SRHD spokesperson. The problem is that enough of these sales could someday imperil millions of federal grant dollars for drug and alcohol programs, she says. States must maintain an 80 percent compliance rate to get the money.

Health officials carried out the stings on Oct. 16 and 18. Among the retailers whose clerks illegally sold tobacco to minors were several gas station mini-marts and two South Hill Rosauers supermarkets, the SRHD says.

One percent solution

SPOKANE -- One percent sounds so small. In the Spokane city budget, however, it's around $1.2 million. A coalition of social service groups, including the Salvation Army and the Spokane AIDS Network, want the city to pledge 1 percent of its general fund in social service grants -- double the current amount.

Mayor John Powers says he's going to do just that. Powers releases his 2002 budget to the city council in a few weeks. His budget will include a one percent allocation to human services, and, he says, "I expect it to get passed."

The city spends about $644,000 in human services, with about $450,000 actually granted to various groups -- or just $2.32 per citizen on human services grants. Tacoma spends closer to 12 bucks, and Seattle, $45.

Where will the extra money come from? Powers won't give specifics, but says his "reprioritization of resources" will be felt in every city department via belt-tightening, smaller salary increases and perhaps job cuts.

"It's too early to tell," he says.

"There's been a lot of frustration among advocates for the poor about how little the city spends on human services," says Austin DePaolo, organizer for the low-income advocacy organization Voices.

In 2000, the City Council agreed to set aside that one percent for human services, then reneged in January. Social service groups formed a committee to push a ballot initiative to force the city to spend three percent. Powers met with the committee in May, convincing the members to abandon the initiative given his support for a one percent allocation, says DePaolo.

More recently, Voices organized meetings with council members. The campaign culminated in an Oct. 17 meeting with several councilors, speakers and about 200 people in the audience.

The end result, says DePaolo, is that four council members have promised to support the one percent set-aside: Cherie Rodgers, Dean Lynch, Steve Eugster and Steve Corker.

The ink's not dry, though -- in fact, it's not even been put on paper. "It's a tight budget year, so pressure's coming from all sides," says DePaolo, adding that with poverty, social services are necessary but not the ultimate answer. "Living-wage jobs are the answer."

Christmas Tree Elegance Holiday Luncheons @ Historic Davenport Hotel

Tue., Dec. 6, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Wed., Dec. 7, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
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