Anti-poverty advocates had one of their first “winning seasons” in years in Olympia. Progressive legislation that had simmered on the backburner through a series of deadlocked legislatures was voted into law.
Victories include protections against source of income discrimination in the housing market, and reinforcing the state’s most important funding mechanism for homeless services. Our advocacy partner, Statewide Poverty Action Network, was an important part of the process, supporting low-income communities to make important gains. Following is Poverty Action’s initial review of the session, which ended last week.
Remember that feeling of holidays or birthdays, when you’d excitedly wonder what gifts you might get? Well the wait is over – the final version of the 2018 Supplemental Budget is out! Olympia lawmakers heard our demands and invested in our vision of a more equitable Washington state!
The 2018 Legislative Session has been filled with historic wins for Washington’s low-income communities and communities of color whose stories, emails, calls and visits to Olympia solidified this momentum, ensuring that lawmakers felt the pressure to finish out the session strong by negotiating a budget that prioritizes financial stability and opportunity for people with low incomes across Washington state.
The 2018 Supplemental Budget will fund:
- Higher education access for low-income students: Lawmakers voted to expand access to higher education for low-income students by adding $18.5 million to the State Need Grant. This infusion of additional funding will cut the current wait-list by one-quarter, and sets the course for fully eliminating the wait-list by the end of 2022.
- Resources and protections for student loan borrowers: Lawmakers channeled robust funding into newly passed Student Loan Bill of Rights (E2SSB 6029) to enact stronger, clearer protections for Washingtonians with student loans. This funding creates a Student Loan Advocate position to assist borrowers with dealing with student loan servicers.
- A grant increase and higher asset limits for TANF recipients: Through an allocation of more than $9 million, lawmakers not only fully restored the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant to the level it was at before the recession, they further raised the grant above prerecession levels in acknowledgement of the skyrocketing costs of rent and caring for a family. As a result, a family of four will see their maximum grant rise by $58 from $613 to $671. Lawmakers also funded E2SHB 1831 to significantly raise the asset limit for families seeking to access state assistance.
- Increased housing support for people experiencing homelessness: By funding SHB 2667, lawmakers expanded eligibility for the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program. Now people who are homeless and in treatment for substance use disorder or receiving cash assistance can qualify.
- Reforms to Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs): Ushered in by the passage of E2SHB 1783 (eliminating the 12% interest fee on nonrestitution LFO debt and clearly defining who can be assessed LFOs in the first place), the supplemental budget includes funding for the implementation of this bill, including $1.9 million to counties to shift the burden of paying for the criminal justice system away from people with low incomes and people of color, and back to the state, where it belongs.
- Increased access to legal representation: It adds $638,000 to the Office of Civil Legal Aid to update systems and add five additional statewide civil legal aid attorneys, taking an important step toward ensuring people living on low incomes have access to free legal representation.
Unfortunately, the final budget continues to uphold our state’s upside-down tax code that disproportionately taxes low-income families. In particular, lawmakers missed a vital opportunity to begin to correct this unjust system by failing to include the Capital Gains Tax that was proposed in the House budget.
Nonetheless, this is the best budget we have seen in years, and it is one that puts us on course to make meaningful investments that will truly address structural poverty and inequities in our state.
With your advocacy work, you’ve played an integral role in ensuring our state passed a budget that invests in families, children, and individuals struggling with the effects of incarceration and poverty.
Thank you for all you do. Let’s take a moment to celebrate our success!