Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of March 27
Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy
The Senate introduced their Operating Budget last Tuesday (March 21st) mid morning, and then conducted the committee hearing on it just hours later. The Housing Alliance testified con (you can watch testimony here). The budget proposal from the Senate Republicans completely eliminated the Housing and Essential Needs program, suspended the state from accepting $1.5 billion federal dollars for Medicaid innovation (including approximately $200 million for Permanent Supportive Housing services), it earmarked over $30 million of existing homelessness funds for programs that used to be funded out of the general fund, and assumed savings from a proposed new time limit on the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program. It also eliminated funding for the homeless student stability act, for young adult shelter and for young adult housing programs. Funds were swept from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) for other programs and new requirements were put on the extremely low-income families who apply for TANF benefits. The budget was an attack on homelessness and anti-poverty programs, which was especially troubling given the recent Trump budget release which also proposed extremely deep cuts to affordable housing, homelessness, and human services.
Despite this grim budget proposal, the good news is that it caused an uproar from advocates and from housing champions in the Senate. The uproar led to an amendment in the Ways & Means Committee by Senator Miloscia (R, 30th LD) which restored $10 million in funding for the Housing and Essential Needs Program. This still amounts to a cut of over 80% to this critical safety net program, which provides rental assistance to temporarily disabled, extremely low-income adults. More than forty additional amendments were offered by Democratic members of the Ways & Means Committee. The amendments offered would have restored funding to the safety net. Almost all were rejected, with the partial restoration of HEN by Senator Miloscia being the shining anomaly. The bill was voted out of committee with all Republicans voting yes, minus Senator Miloscia who voted no with every Democratic member. The bill was then sent to the Senate Floor.
Next, the Senate as a whole considered the bill on Thursday night. After hours of deliberation the bill was voted out of the chamber on a party line vote. Again, Democrats offered many amendments to restore the safety net. One by Senator Nelson (D, 34th LD) to restore funding for the Homeless Student Stability Act was adopted. The amendment restores $2 million in funding from the General Fund to this program, which addresses the needs of homeless public school students and their families. This amendment came at a time when homelessness is rising among public school kids in our state. In the last school year, the state identified over 39,000 students as experiencing homelessness. This recent article by the Kitsap Daily News highlights the importance of the homeless student stability act.
Please thank the following Senators for standing up for affordable housing and homelessness programs:
Senator Darneille (D, 27th LD), author of several committee and floor amendments to restore funding for HEN, ABD, TANF and homeless youth.
Senator Nelson (D, 34th LD) for restoring funding for the Homeless Student Stability Act.
Senator Billig (D, 3rd LD) for introducing amendments to restore funding to Working Connections Childcare for TANF families.
Senator Frockt (D, 46th LD) for introducing an amendment to fund higher ed grants from a source other than TANF.
Senator Miloscia (R, 30th LD) for introducing a successful amendment to partially restore funding for the Housing and Essential Needs program.
The House is set to release their Operating Budget proposal (SHB 1067) on Monday afternoon (March 27th) and hear it a little later the same day. The Housing Alliance will be testifying to weigh in on how key budget priorities are treated, including HEN, ABD (Aged Blind and Disabled) and the Medicaid Innovation Demonstration. Next the Senate will introduce their Capital Budget, most likely on Tuesday (March 28th). The Capital Budget funds the Housing Trust Fund so we are eagerly waiting its release. The House is expected to release their Capital Budget in the week of April 3rd.
More on the safety net programs under attack: Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) and the Aged, Blind, and Disabled Program (ABD).
These programs comprise the heart of what is often referred to as “disability lifeline”, assisting disabled and extremely low-income adults. As Senator Darneille, 27th LD, said on the Senate floor on Thursday night, “every one of us needs a helping hand at some point in our lives.” Housing and Essential Needs provides rental assistance and access to an essential needs bank where people can get basic sanitary items. The Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) program provides a cash grant of up to $197 per month. People cannot be on both programs at the same time and DSHS determines which program they are eligible for. If someone is deemed to have a permanent disability and likely to qualify for federal social security benefits, they are offered ABD. If someone moves from HEN to ABD because their disability status changed, they often face homelessness because of the loss of the housing assistance. This is just one problem with these safety net programs that needs to be fixed, but instead we often find ourselves fighting for the very preservation of the programs themselves because of attacks on them.
The Senate’s budget adds a new time limit on ABD, which would terminate benefits for approximately 2,395 people in the first month the time limit is implemented. On Thursday night, the Senate also passed a corresponding bill, SB 5898, to implement this change in statute and to implement other harmful changes to TANF and to Working Connections Childcare. The Housing Alliance testified con on the bill in committee. To learn more about these safety net programs, check out this excellent work session from Friday. The Housing Alliance’s Kate Baber organized the work session, which was requested by Representative Kagi (D, 32nd LD), chair of the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee. The work session provides an overview of HEN, ABD, and TANF and features Housing Alliance 2015 Advocate of the Year, Kirk McClain. Kirk shares his story of homelessness and how HEN helped him by providing a path into housing (Kirk’s part starts at about 52 minutes in, followed by Kate who discusses the implications of the Senate’s budget proposal).
New Bills Introduced
In addition to the budget and the associated budget bills, a couple of other important bills were also introduced last week. SB 5911 by Senator Nelson (D, 34th) would invest $60 million into homelessness services, including HEN rental assistance, $95 million into the Housing Trust Fund for housing for people experiencing homelessness, and $5 million for the Operations and Maintenance of affordable housing. The bill is strategically tied to a strategy in the Senate’s budget that uses “rainy day” funds to cover a specific item in their budget ($700 million needed for a public employee retirement plan). A 60% vote is required to transfer money from the rainy day which means that Democratic votes will be required to pass this central component to the Republican’s budget bill. The bill was referred to Ways and Means.
SB 5903, the “housing for all act” was introduced by Senator Darneille (D, 27th LD). Key elements of the bill include the elimination of the sunset on the Homeless Housing and Assistance surcharge and an increase of $50. It would also make the Housing and Essential Needs program an entitlement and double the ABD cash grant for the biennium. The bill creates a new local sales tax option for chemical dependency, mental health, and housing services for people experiencing homelessness. The bill was referred to the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee.
Ask a lobbyist!
This week’s question is “What is the difference between the Washington Housing Trust Fund and the Washington Housing Trust Account?”
This is a timely question given that the legislative budget proposals are now rolling out. The Washington Housing Trust Account is a budget account for the Department of Commerce that is legally set up to accept funds for certain purposes, including for the Housing Trust Fund and for administration of the Housing Trust Fund program. Loans for affordable housing development that are paid off also go into this account. The Housing Trust Fund is a program created in law that is subject to appropriations from the Capital Budget. Each year, the Housing Alliance advocates for new investments into the Housing Trust Fund to expand the state’s supply of affordable housing.
The Department of Commerce has several different accounts under its authority that are used for certain purposes. One of the things that make the Operating Budget bills difficult to read is that there is often a lot of fund transfers from one account to another, making the overall impact on affordable housing and homelessness difficult to discern. The main accounts we watch are the Housing Trust Account, the Home Security Fund and the Affordable Housing for All account. Again, the Housing Trust Account holds funds for purposes related to the Housing Trust Fund program. The Home Security Fund is where the money from the Homeless Housing and Assistance surcharge goes, and the Affordable Housing for All account receives funds from the original $10 document recording fee, often referred to as “2060” reflecting the bill number which created the account and the program back in 2002. These funds generated by the 2060 surcharge can be used to provide housing and shelter and operations and maintenance for affordable housing programs serving extremely low-income people and related programs. Commerce accounts are often raided by the legislature for earmarks for specific programs, which has particularly impeded the ability of Commerce to provide operations and maintenance support over the years.