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. 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 at least 15%. The Senate has included this level of increase in its budget while the House has included 10%. We are urging them to reconcile to the Senate level.
- 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.
We also support funding the Working Families Tax Credit (HB 1297; passed by both House and Senate), the Universal Basic Income Pilot (a study for this is included in both current versions of the budget), and maintaining eligibility that was expanded during the public health. 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 have been supporting legislation that provides an off-ramp from the moratorium with help for both tenants and small landlords.
We have therefore worked actively to support…
- SB 5160 – mediation on evictions, legal assistance for tenants, and help for landlords. This has passed both House and Senate and the two versions are being reconciled. 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 is scheduled for action in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on April 12.
Other priorities include
- 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 has been passed in both House and Senate;
- 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 gone to the Governor for signature).
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 was passed in the Senate, but is waiting for Finance committee action in the House.