Legislative Update - Session Wrap Up!
The regular 2023 legislative session ended on Sunday after legislators approved the budgets necessary for the state to operate effectively for the next biennium (which starts July 1). There is a lot to be thankful for regarding progress on United Ways of Washington’s legislative framework for this session. But going forward, we have more work to do. Read on to see how our issues fared this year based on our legislative framework.
Increase Access, Affordability, & Quality of Child Care and Early Learning for Working Families
Washington’s new two-year budget will include funds for child care rate increases for providers. The budget also provides rate increases for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and expands the program’s number of school day slots. Also, the following bills were passed by the Legislature and have been sent to the Governor.
- SB 5225: Child care subsidies for immigrant families, child care employees, and those participating in therapeutic courts,
- HB 1106: Providing unemployment insurance to those who voluntarily leave work due to a gap in care services.
- HB 1199: Allowing child care centers in HOAs.
- HB 1525: Child care subsidies for those enrolled in apprenticeships.
- HB 1204: permanent program for Family Connections program, which centers foster children.
The Imagination Library of Washington, United Ways of the PNW hosted program which puts books into the hands of young children, will receive $2 million in the next biennium. We had requested $5 million, which was included in the Governor’s proposed budget. Given the projected state revenue picture, we are happy for the $2 million investment.
Increase Access to Affordable Housing and Invest in Solutions to the Homeless Public Health Crisis
The Legislature committed over a half billion dollars in affordable housing investments through the Capital Budget, including:
- $400 million to the Housing Trust Fund (more detail here)
- $60 million to connect affordable housing developments to infrastructure;
- $40 million for the Housing Finance Commission Land Acquisition Program; and
- $14.5 million for youth shelters and housing.
The new biennium’s operating budget will include funding for:
- An 8 percent increase in the Aged, Blind and Disabled cash grant starting in 2024.
- A permanent ongoing increase of $26.5 million for the Housing and Essential Needs rental assistance program.
- An ongoing homeless services increase of 6.5 percent for our state’s frontline provider workforce.
- $5 million to the Office for Civil Legal Aid for eviction prevention and increased funding for tenant’s right to counsel.
- $150 million for HB 1474 to create the Covenant Investment Act to provide homeownership opportunities for people harmed by racist real estate practices like racially restrictive covenants and redlining.
While these efforts are welcome and greatly needed, there is still a sense that our state is treading water, and perhaps even losing ground, in the effort to catch up with affordable housing needs. The Governor's proposed $4 billion bond measure did not get approved but it helped fuel the debate on how our state can get ahead of this issue.
Invest in Policies to Advance Economic Justice and Equity
The Legislature made it possible for 6,000 additional households to be eligible for the Working Families Tax Credit by eliminating the injustice that prevented married people who filed their taxes separately from receiving this benefit. Now the many survivors who rely on this status to avoid financial or physical abuse from a partner can access this benefit. The same bill, H.B. 1477, also gives applicants three additional years to claim their refunds.
Tacoma’s guaranteed basic income program (GRIT), a successful demonstration between United Way of Pierce County and the City of Tacoma, will live on thanks to a $1.8 million appropriation to continue operations through the 2025 fiscal year. Here’s a recent Seattle Times article by Mayor Victoria Woodards and Pierce County Council Chair Ryan Mello, citing United Way’s ALICE standard on the importance of funding guaranteed income programs
Ensure Efficient Access to Human Services and Resources by Expanding the Capacity of the 2-1-1 Call System.
Washington 211 has been hammered over the last few years with growing call volumes and greater complexity of calls. In addition, the emergence of the 988 suicide and crisis line has generated the need for more coordination and longer service hours in handling referrals. Plagued by chronic underfunding, the 211 network decided this year to come in with a bold funding request that would have more than tripled its previous allocation. While awareness was raised, the appropriation for 211 will stay at $3 million for the next biennium. United Ways and the 211 network will be working hard to generate concrete support to an increased funding commitment in 2024 and beyond.
Thank you to all who engaged with your legislators on these and other issues. We have heard repeatedly that sharing our support with elected officials can make a difference in generating interest in our issues.