Tag: state budget

State Legislature Funds Social Services, Will Revisit Drug Policy After Failing to Act

Photo by Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 4.0

By Andrew Engelson

With Democrats unable to pass a new drug possession law required by the Blake state supreme court ruling before the 2022 session ended, Gov. Jay Inslee, who revcently announced he won’t run for a fourth term, called a special session of the legislature, which will begin on May 16 and could last up to 30 days. In a statement, Inslee said he was “optimistic about reaching an agreement that can pass both chamber[s]. Cities and counties are eager to see a statewide policy that balances accountability and treatment, and I believe we can produce a bipartisan bill that does just that.”

Inslee’s emphasis on “bipartisan” seems to indicate he’lll be pushing for the more punitive version of the bill, which would make drug possession a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail. That bill failed to pass after 11 House Democrats voted against it and no Republicans voted for it. The House version set the penalty for possession at a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, and offered more options for diversion to services or treatment instead of jail.

The state’s long-neglected Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) cash grant program got multiple boosts, including passage of HB 1260, which ends the pay-back requirement for an assistance program that benefits some of the state’s poorest residents.

On his website, Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah), who favors a more punitive approach of the bill that includes coercive treatment, said he hoped legislators could resolve their differences in a one-day special session. 

However, for the bill to pass the House without progressive support, some Republicans will need to get on board. In a letter to Inslee last week, House Republicans said any new bill would need to make possession a gross misdemeanor, allow local governments to outlaw drug paraphernalia such as needles and smoking supplies, and require advance public notice whenever a new opioid treatment facility opened.

If progressive Democrats are going to pass a less punitive version of the bill without those Republican votes, they can only afford to lose four centrist Democrats.  

In the meantime, the legislature passed its two-year budget, with $9 billion in capital funding, a $13.5 billion transportation plan, and a $69.3 billion operating budget. Behavioral health services got a substantial boost of $603 million to $1.2 billion, and $140 million in opioid settlement funds will pay for services for people with substance use disorders. 

In the operating budget, the state’s long-neglected Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) cash grant program got multiple boosts, including passage of HB 1260, which ends the pay-back requirement for an assistance program that benefits some of the state’s poorest residents. The budget boosts funding for the ABD program by 8 percent, and includes $50 million to eliminate the requirement that people who received ABD while waiting to qualify for federal disability benefits pay the state back for the benefits they received.

The operating budget also includes a $26.5 million boost for the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) rental and basic-needs assistance program and a $45 million increase intended to improve wages for human services workers. House Bill 1474, introduced by Rep. Jamila Taylor, (D-30, Federal Way) creates a fund to provide assistance to first-time homebuyers adversely affected by a history of racist covenants and redlining. The $150 million fund will be financed by a $100 increase in the document recording fee, which is added to real estate transactions and which currently also funds much of the state’s operating budget for grants to nonprofits that run low-income housing, homeless services, and emergency shelters.

The state’s capital budget included $520 million for affordable housing, including $400 million for the Housing Trust Fund (a substantial increase over the $175 million allocated to the fund in the 2021-22 budget), $40 million to purchase land for affordable housing, and $14.5 million specifically for shelter and housing for youth.

The biennial budget, as well as HB 1260 and HB 1474, are still awaiting the governor’s signature.

Inslee, Senate Democrats Clash Over Housing Expenditures in Unusual Intra-Party Fight

Image via Gov. Jay Inslee’s office

By Ryan Packer

Governor Jay Inslee is pushing back on a budget proposed by the Washington state senate that he says fails to adequately invest in housing. The senate’s capital budget, released this week, would allocate $625 million to affordable housing, with $400 million going to the state’s housing trust fund, which provides financing to preserve and build housing for low-income residents across the state.

The governor’s budget, released in December, went much bigger on housing expenditures by proposing a ballot measure to increase the state’s bonding capacity, issuing another $4 billion in debt to fund more than 17,000 subsidized housing units, including nearly 5,000 in the next two years.

But that idea fell flat for many lawmakers, who said it could raise the cost of state borrowing in other areas. Inslee’s plan would raise the percentage of state spending on debt above the 5 percent recommended by state treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, potentially risking the state’s credit rating.

“The Senate’s capital budget proposal would take us backwards on housing,” Inslee said in a statement after the senate released its budget. “It’s less than what we approved last biennium. In the middle of a housing crisis, less is unacceptable. We need to go big, so people can go home.”

“This work is not free. Building tiny home villages is not free. This is an issue that you can’t nickel and dime. Baby steps won’t cut it. The Legislature cannot just do half measures this year.”—Gov. Jay Inslee

Senator Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah), the capital budget lead on the senate’s ways and means committee, has said it would be fiscally irresponsible to increase the state’s bond limit. “To borrow $4 billion above the state’s constitutional debt limit right now, we would need to spend nearly $2.4 billion in additional interest payments going into the future,” Mullet wrote in an op-ed in the Seattle Times. “Yes, $2.4 billion in interest payments! That’s a lot of money! That’s billions of dollars spent on interest payments to our lenders instead of priorities like education, health care and, yes, affordable housing construction.”

Inslee argues that slowing down on investments in housing would push the state further away from making progress on homelessness. “This work is not free. Building tiny home villages is not free,” Inslee said during a visit this week to an encampment on state-owned property in South Park, where residents were removed last week. “This is an issue that you can’t nickel and dime. Baby steps won’t cut it. The Legislature cannot just do half measures this year.”

Democrats in the Senate, who have touted their proposed investments in the housing trust fund as “historic,” are pushing back.

“I was really disappointed to see both the specific content of what the governor said, and the tone of how he said it, because I didn’t think that was in any way collaborative or productive,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-3, Spokane) told PubliCola at a media availability last week. “We all have the same goal, which is to build more housing, to have a home for everyone. … We hope the governor will be collaborative and be part of the team to bring home the final proposal in the end.”

Billig disputed Inslee’s claim that state spending on housing would decrease under the senate budget plan. But that dispute seems to hinge mostly on how federal dollars, which the state can’t control, factor into the overall state budget. Out of the $415 million in total housing investments in the state’s 2022 budget, $350 million was one-time federal grants, not state funding.

Democratic senate leaders in the senate also say Inslee is making an apples-to-oranges comparison by comparing the full 2021-2022 biennial budget, which the legislature added onto in 2022, to the first year of the 2023-2024 budget.

“Taken together, we believe these numbers show that it would be misleading to claim that our 2023 Senate budget proposal reduces our state’s commitment to addressing our affordable housing challenge,” Alex Bond, a spokesperson for the Senate Democratic Caucus, said.

Inslee has described investments in affordable housing as one leg of the Democratic legislative strategy this session, along with bills to increase the supply of market-rate housing and provide new protections for renters. Most of the market-rate housing bills are moving forward, including House Bill 1110, a centerpiece bill that would require cities to allow more density in most of their single-family zones; that bill cleared the Senate housing committee last week.

Bills to beef up renter protections didn’t fare as well. Legislation that would cap annual rent increases at 7 percent, or require six months’ notice of rent hikes greater than 5 percent, both failed to advance before legislative deadlines this year.

This week, the House will release its counterproposal to the Senate budget. Inslee seems unlikely to give up on his bond proposal, setting up a rare intra-party fight over housing and homelessness.


Inslee Vetoes Bill Requiring Minimum Standards for State Services, Homelessness Authority Canceled Meeting with Legislators Amid Budget Debate

1. Last Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed legislation (HB 2075) that would have required the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to meet minimum service requirements by keeping their physical offices open, come up with a plan to achieve phone wait times of 30 minutes or less, and generally ensure “that clients may apply for and receive services in a reasonable and accessible manner that is suited to the clients’ needs, including but not limited to, technology, language, and ability,” according to a staff summary of the legislation. The bill passed both houses with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, adding to its sponsor, Rep. Strom Peterson’s (D-21) surprise at Inslee’s veto.

“I had zero idea that this [veto] was even being considered, so getting over the initial shock and confusion took at least half a day,” Peterson said.

The legislation was aimed at addressing a persistent problem at DSHS, which administers state benefits ranging from direct cash assistance to food stamps: Because DSHS, unlike most other government agencies, had never reopened its physical offices, clients—many of them homeless—could only access the agency by phone, and wait times were often several hours.

DSHS secretary Jilma Meneses agreed to reopen most of the agency’s 181 physical offices in March, which eliminated much of the cost associated with the legislation; eliminating a 30-minute wait time mandate and replacing it with language saying DSHS should “strive for” 30-minute wait times made that issue a debate for a later time and reduced the bill’s short-term cost to nothing. 

“We all know a significant investment needs to be made into upgrading the systems that they use—the phone system, the ability for people to access [DSHS] online, and the in-person service, which was the crux of the bill,” Peterson said. He said he trusts that Menenses will keep her word and keep the offices open, but added that the legislation provided a guarantee that would have lasted beyond the tenure of a single DSHS secretary.

In a statement, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness director Alison Eisinger said, “We wish we had not had to advocate so forcefully to get the CSOs to reopen, and that the governor had not vetoed this commonsense bill. Together with our service and advocacy partners across Washington, we look forward to working with the governor, DSHS Secretary Meneses, and the legislature in 2023 to guarantee that never again will the state lock its doors on people in need of services, especially in an emergency.”

Inslee’s veto message shed little light on the reasons for his veto. “The executive branch always strives to manage state programs in the best manner possible, within the authorization and resources provided by the legislative branch,” Inslee wrote. “Identifying specific performance metrics, in particular without the necessary resources, is an overreach in our respective roles.”

Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Gov. Inslee, said the “performance metrics” Inslee referred to in his veto letter include “not only having offices open but also tracking call wait times and dropped calls with the aspirational goal of keeping that response time to 30 minutes or less. Costing that out is very difficult. … Secretary Meneses has her team working on outreach to advocates and those who access our systems to determine what the buildout should look like.”

2. Back in February, as state legislators were working on a capital budget that would include hundreds of millions of dollars for new housing and services for people experiencing homelessness, state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43) proposed—and Rep. Noel Frame’s (D-36) office set up—a meeting between King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones and the 45 members of King County’s legislative delegation (not all of whom were expected to attend). Until that point, legislators had not met formally with Dones, and the KCRHA had not provided a list of legislative priorities for the 60-day session.

The meeting was set for 12:30 on February 17. At 9:40 that morning, KCRHA intergovernmental relations manager Nigel Herbig sent an email to the 45-member delegation to cancel.

“As you may have read in the Seattle Times this morning, the KCRHA will be making an announcement about our plans to address unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle,” Herbig wrote. As we reported, the announcement was about private donations totaling $10 million to fund, among other things, 30 “peer navigators” in downtown Seattle.

“Because of this announcement, and how busy you all are right now with session, we are canceling today’s 12:30 meeting,” Herbig continued. “We appreciate your understanding, and look forward to opportunities to introduce ourselves and answer any questions you have about us or our work after Sine Die,” the end of the legislative session.

“I am inferring from your cancellation [that] KCRHA is not interested in engaging with legislators who will have a big influence in these budget considerations. Perhaps your friends in philanthropy will address the needs of people experiencing homelessness and you have no need for legislative action?”—State Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), in an email to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority

Macri, who works for the Downtown Emergency Service Coalition when the legislature isn’t in session, called the cancelation “a slap in the face” in an email response to Herbig. “Tell me why I should not read it as this—’Sorry, elected officials, we have no time for you because some billionaires are giving us a small shiny thing, which they can only do it on the one day we have a meeting with the group who collectively represents the interests of 2.3 million people from our region,'” Macri wrote.

“I am inferring from your cancellation,” Macri continued, that “KCRHA is not interested in engaging with legislators who will have a big influence in these budget considerations. Perhaps your friends in philanthropy will address the needs of people experiencing homelessness and you have no need for legislative action?”

In a followup email, State Sen. David Frockt (D-46) added, “Our proposed Senate capital budget has over 470m for housing and stabilization investments, so I concur with Rep. Macri it would be good to connect since I presume KCRHA and key agency partners will be seeking some of this money at some point. … [P]artnership with the key budget writers and the former speaker,” Frank Chopp (D-43), “would be helpful and will help me relate to all of my more conservative colleagues in the Senate why these investments toward King County are worthwhile.” Continue reading “Inslee Vetoes Bill Requiring Minimum Standards for State Services, Homelessness Authority Canceled Meeting with Legislators Amid Budget Debate”

Democrats Try to Counter Their Meek Housing Policy Achievements with Major Investments in Homelessness Programs

Low-Income Housing Institute tiny house village
Tiny houses, like this one in a village operated by the Low-Income Housing Institute, are a form of non-congregate shelter—the type of shelter Governor Jay Inslee says he wants to prioritize statewide.

by Leo Brine

As a counter to their meek policy achievements in Olympia this year, Democrats loaded their capital and operating budgets with historic investments in housing and homelessness response—$829 million, nearly half of which will go to local governments and nonprofits to develop new shelter and permanent housing. Governor Jay Inslee estimates the state will add 3,890 new housing units or shelter beds with $413 million in funding from the Housing Trust Fund and appropriations for rapid capital acquisitions.

The rest of the money ($416 million) will go to things like rent, mortgage, and utility debt assistance. An Inslee-backed bill to create a new office inside the Department of Social and Health Services to address homeless encampments in state-owned rights-of-way, like freeway underpasses, failed, but the budget includes $52 million that will go to local governments for the same purpose, including $7 million to help prevent future encampments in places where encampments have been removed.

Democrats killed several pieces of their own progressive housing legislation that would have created incentives for denser housing development after those bills were watered down by amendments from Republicans and other Democrats. In the house, they  killed Rep. Jessica Bateman’s (D-22, Olympia) denser housing bill (HB 1782) at the first legislative cutoff of the session. At the next cutoff, senate Democrats killed Rep. Sharon Shewmake’s (D-42, Bellingham) accessory dwelling unit legalization bill (HB 1660).

And on the final night of the session, the clock ran out on the year’s last hope for housing policy reform—a bill sponsored by Rep. Davina Duerr (D-1, Bothell) bill (HB 1099) that would have required cities to adjust their growth plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled. The bill, which would have updated the state’s Growth Management Act to respond urgently to climate change, was a top priority for the environmental advocacy group Futurewise.

Inslee’s senior adviser for housing, Jim Baumgart, said Inslee wants to move away from “mats on a floor,” and “cots in a big open room” shelter model and toward a system where people get their own space. “If we can, the goal is always to get people into permanent housing. The way to end homelessness is to get people into permanent housing,” Baumgart said.

“It’s really hard to know what projects will come in and what those proposals will be for. Thomas said. “Our hope is the vast majority of the funds are for permanent housing solutions.”

Unfortunately, it’s not clear how much permanent housing the state will add with the Democrats’ investments. According to Baumgart,  “housing units” refers to “all non-congregate housing options,” from shelters  and transitional housing to permanent housing, supportive and otherwise.

Baumgart said it’s “really hard to estimate” that figure because of the rising cost of building materials and they don’t know which projects local governments and nonprofits will submit for grant funding.

Michele Thomas, from the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance, is also trying to figure out how much permanent housing the budget creates, but says she won’t know for a while. She said the grants in the budget can go to a variety of projects that deal with homelessness, not just permanent housing. Continue reading “Democrats Try to Counter Their Meek Housing Policy Achievements with Major Investments in Homelessness Programs”

Effort to Extend Eviction Moratorium Fails; House, Senate Budgets Differ on Housing, Homelessness

1. The Seattle City Council rejected a proposal by Councilmember Kshama Sawant to extend the citywide eviction moratorium until the end of the city’s declared emergency on COVID, which is currently indefinite. The legislation was a last-ditch attempt to thwart an executive order by Mayor Bruce Harrell ending the moratorium at the end of this month. Councilmembers Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, and Lisa Herbold voted for the extension.

In her comments before the vote, council president Debora Juarez argued that there are already plenty of protections for renters seeking to avoid eviction, including rental assistance, a guaranteed right to legal counsel, and the just-cause eviction ordinance, which restricts the reasons for which landlords can evict a tenant (nonpayment of rent among them). “We cannot have a healthy economy when nobody pays rent,” Juarez said.

The council also rejected, on a different 5-3 note, a proposal by Herbold to extend the moratorium to April 30 “in order to allow the council to consider alternative measures for tenants that they have been unable to pay their rent due to financial hardship.” Mosqueda and Councilmember Dan Strauss joined Herbold in voting for the shorter extension, while Sawant joined the majority and voted against it, telling her supporters “we cannot trust the establishment” to protect renters’ rights.

Councilmember Tammy Morales, who supported Sawant’s proposal, was absent. Had she been at the meeting and voted for Herbold’s amendment, Sawant would have been in the position of casting the tiebreaking vote to either extend the moratorium two more months or defy “the establishment” by killing the compromise proposal and ensuring an earlier end to the moratorium.

2. House Democrats included Rep. Nicole Macri’s (D-43, Seattle) $78 million budget request to provide homeless service workers with $2000 stipends in their 2022 supplemental operating budget proposal, which they unveiled at a press conference on Monday. As PubliCola reported last week, Macri proposed the stipends as one-time assistance to service providers who often make poverty wages themselves.

Thanks to higher-than-anticipated tax revenues this year, both the House and Senate budget proposals increase funding for K-12 schools, public utilities, transportation, and human services, among other program areas.

The House Democrats’ budget proposal committee includes more than $520 million for housing and homelessness, including $400 to quickly acquire properties that would be converted into shelters and permanent housing. Buying up existing properties is faster and generally cheaper than building new housing from scratch. Michele Thomas, of the Washington Low-income Housing Alliance, said the investment was “what a response to an emergency looks like.”

Another area where the House and Senate budget writers differed was rent assistance. The House budget allocates $55 million for rent assistance programs throughout the state, while the Senate includes no funding for rent assistance. However, the Senate does carve out $5 million for the landlord tenant mitigation programs they created last year. The funding should help King County continue their rental assistance program past February 28, when the Seattle eviction moratorium expires.

In the Senate budget, Democrats took a different approach to homelessness, allocating $46 million to Sen. fund Sen. Patty Kuderer’s (D-48, Bellevue) bill (SB 5662) that would create a new office inside the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to focus on encampments in public rights-of-way. The bill requires the state to reduce the number of encampments by moving people into shelter and permanent housing, but doesn’t specify a mechanism for doing so.

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness argue that the bill is primarily about sweeping encampments, not identifying and investing in places for people to live.

—Erica C. Barnett, Leo Brine