The economy of Washington was thrown into recession by the pandemic. Millions of residents have been out of work, hundreds of thousands hungry, and tens of thousands thrown behind on rent or mortgage payments. Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic households have been carrying more than their share of the load. Small businesses are struggling and going under; their jobs and taxes are disappearing from the state economy. The state’s budget was for a time under severe pressure, caught between loss of revenue and high levels of need. During the session, more optimistic revenue forecasts made some advances possible on long-standing issues in the safety net programs. Under these conditions, the Economic Justice Working Group focused its legislative advocacy during the current session in three areas with a combination of short and longer-term priorities.
SAFETY NET PROGRAMS
The experience of the last recession shows that states that continue providing direct cash assistance to households recover better economically, as compared with those that cut human services. The reason is easy to see – low-income households spend the cash they receive right away on their basic needs and through that spending they help the rest of the economy to recover. This message seems to have been heard by legislators during this session.
Quaker Voice worked actively on
- Protecting Human Services in the budget (TANF, SNAP, HENS, ABD, DCAP). We energetically supported a grant increase of 15% in TANF, which was included in the budget sent to the Governor. The grant had been largely unchanged since 1996 and the 15% increase was the largest in at least 40 years. The TANF/WorkFirst program includes the State Family Assistance Program, which reaches some immigrants excluded from the federal benefits.
- We have also been working towards more realistic standards of need over the long term, a concept that was included in HB 1151. This bill was passed and signed by the Governor late in March, making $15 million in federal funding for disaster cash assistance available in the state.
Our citizen lobbyists talked to their representatives about funding the Working Families Tax Credit (HB 1297), which eventually passed both House and Senate and will go into implementation in 2023. The budget also included a pilot study on Universal Basic Income Pilot, a provision one of the Young Quaker Voices helped us follow. See background material.
The eviction moratorium (now extended by the Governor through the end of June) was necessary but has put both tenants and landlords in precarious positions. To prevent a spike in homelessness, we supported legislation that provides an off-ramp from the moratorium with help for both tenants and small landlords.
We therefore worked actively to support…
- SB 5160 – mediation on evictions, legal assistance for tenants, and help for landlords. This bill passed the legislature and went on to the Governor for his signature. We also supported SB 5139, temporary limits on rent increases after the end of the moratorium, but it is not moving forward.
- HB 1277 – a permanent state-funded rental assistance and housing stability program with revenue from an increased document recording fee on real estate transactions. This bill passed in both House and Senate and went to the Governor for signature.
Other priorities included
- the Housing Trust Fund ($290 million currently included in the budget),
- immediate rental assistance (SB5156, which died in committee in the Senate);
- the Just Cause bill (HB 1236), which was passed in both House and Senate and is waiting for action by the Governor;
- the Housing Justice Act (banning asking about criminal record on rental applications),
- and several creative proposals for local funding for housing assistance and projects (including SB 5033 and HB 1035 which are not moving forward and HB 1070 on use of local tax revenue for affordable housing, which has been signed into law).
See Chris Ferguson’s blog on Housing Justice for details on other steps forward this year.
NEW EQUITABLE REVENUE
Washington state has the heart to take care of all of us but not the money. Revenue must increase for us to be the kind of community we want to be. We therefore actively supported most of the revenue proposals in the Governor’s budget, including the capital gains excise tax (SB 5096). This bill is surviving the stiff headwinds of Washington’s anti-tax movement and moved on to the Governor for signature.