It is hard to believe that last week was just seven days long. It started with the House passing the Fair Tenant Screening Act - SSB 6315. Tuesday brought the Senate budget proposal that preserved the Housing and Essential Needs program. On Wednesday we celebrated the amazing victory of the document recording fee bill - ESHB 2048. Then Friday morning two important Housing Alliance support bills passed: ESHB 2592 - extending important supports to some youth aging out of the foster care system, and SHB 2194 - clarifying provisions of the mobile home landlord tenant act. But then the week ended with a Friday evening coup by Senate conservatives who used a procedural motion to force a vote on a surprise budget that slashes safety-net services to the bone. “Victorious”, “historic” and “tumultuous” – all describe the last week for affordable housing and homelessness.
But Did You Want Proof that Advocacy Works?
The passage of the Fair Tenant Screening Act, the preservation of Housing and Essential Needs in both the House and Senate majority budget proposals and then the passage of the document recording fee bill were all won from hard fought battles sustained and elevated by the persistent advocacy that kept coming from every corner of the state. But as the budget coup on Friday night made clear, we have a lot more work to do. Lets savor our victories and harness our energy to save Housing and Essential Needs, TANF, and other critical safety-net programs, and to secure $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund.
“Skipping a pension payment, gutting state services and subverting the public process is not how you write a budget. Ignoring the stories of the people who spent 12 hours in committee hearings talking about how their lives would be changed by the budget cuts we faced, the people who would lose a quality education, the people who feared they would become homeless – disregarding our citizens – that is not how you write a responsible budget.” – Senators Murray and Brown in a public statement Friday night.
A Gated Community Approach to Budget Writing
When Senator Murray (Chair of Ways and Means) and the Senate Majority party released their proposed Operating Budget last Tuesday, many human services advocates were stunned that it was missing the deep cuts to the safety net that have almost become commonplace. But then there was a dramatic, and perhaps historic, Friday night takeover of the Senate that allowed a secret budget written by the minority party to be brought to the Floor and voted on. The Zarelli budget (so called because Senator Joe Zarelli, R 18th, is the author of it) was kept in secret and the normal process that allows public comment was intentionally bypassed. No stakeholders had a chance to comment before it was voted out of the chamber and sent to the House. It is fair to call this a "gated community approach to budget writing" because the process was seemingly used to protect the budget writers from hearing from the poor and vulnerable who will be deeply impacted by these cuts.
The budget coup also undermines both chambers’ Capital Budget proposals. The Zarelli budget redirects over $70 million from a solid waste tax that traditionally funds Capital Budget expenditures and was relied on as a funding source for both "Jobs Package" proposals.
“If you are a poor woman, let me just say, tonight is not your night.” – Senator Brown on the Zarelli budget.
There were over 30 amendments to the Zarelli budget offered on the Floor during the budget debate and it is very significant that the first amendment was to restore funding for Housing and Essential Needs. Each successive amendment tried to restore some part of the safety net, public school cuts or environmental protections. All failed on a consistent 25-24 vote, except for one that restored a cut to a scholarship program for low-income public college students. Highlights from other amendments include one offered by Senator Brown that would have protected the Working Connections Childcare program from the significant cuts in Zarelli’s budget. Senator Hargrove introduced an amendment that would have saved Disability Lifeline Medical from complete elimination, and other Senators made passionate proposals and speeches in defense of TANF and other important programs.
Click here to view a particularly galvanizing moment from the debate when Senators Nelson, Kilmer, Harper, Brown, Haugen and Chase challenged a budget that allocates money for prizes at fairs, while cutting services to the bone.
Every Senator that voted against the Zarelli budget deserves thanks for their passionate defense of the safety net and for their righteous anger. Although the budget meltdown was horrifying, it was also galvanizing and heartening to hear speech after speech defending the role of our government in supporting safety-net programs. After years of cuts and anti-government rhetoric, Friday night could mark a turning point in the broader debate on how to solve budget deficits and on the role of government in meeting basic needs. Please take action today to send your message on how the cuts proposed by Senator Zarelli will hurt your community.
To see the differences between the Zarelli budget that passed Friday night and the Murray budget that was heard last Tuesday, click here for a PDF. Note, both proposals were offered as striking amendments to SB 5967. Senator Murray's is referred to as the "Sen Chair Proposed" while Senator Zarelli's is referred to as "Alt Striking Amd".
A Look at Some of the Proposed Cuts
The following are highlights of some of the cuts proposed by the Zarelli budget. Please note that the descriptions include comments by nonpartisan legislative staff (obtained from budget documents) and should not be construed to reflect an opinion by the Housing Alliance. Some of the cuts below may be exacerbated by cuts to federal matching funds. The amount given below should be read as the minimum cut and in some places may not be entirely accurate, as some programs have multiple funding sources and could have been cut even further.
Housing and Essential Needs: $42.565 million cut
Funding is provided for the Housing and Essential Needs program, pursuant to Chapter 36, Laws of 2011 (ESHB 2082) to reflect 25 percent participation beginning April 1, 2012 for the remainder of the biennium.
CSHD Homeless Assistance: $1.575 Million cut
Funding from the state general fund for homeless assistance is eliminated in FY 2013. These funds go into the Consolidated Homeless Grant and fund shelter, rent assistance, transitional housing.
Home Security Fund: $6 Million cut
Over the years, more and more programs have been taken out of the general fund and put into the Home Security Fund which is funded by document recording fees. The Home Security Fund supports emergency shelter programs, emergency rent assistance, programs for foster youth and more. $6 million is allocated from the account to fund the meager amount left for the Housing and Essential Needs program.
Disability Lifeline Medical and DL/ADATSA programs: $50.743 Million cut
The Disability Lifeline and the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Treatment Support Act (ADATSA) medical care services programs are discontinued effective June 2012. The programs provide medical coverage for approximately 15,500 low-income persons per month who have disabilities considered not sufficiently severe or too temporary to qualify as disabled under the federal Social Security Act.
TANF and Working Connections Childcare: $202 Million cut
Funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) programs is adjusted to reflect caseload and per capita projected under expenditures. Additionally, a $11.8 million contingency reserve is provided in the event there are changes in caseload or per capita costs. Funding is also adjusted within the TANF and WCCC programs to reflect a 4,000 slot decrease in WCCC, a 2 percent reduction in the grant, and instituting a 48 month time limit for TANF clients. Funding is reduced for WorkFirst activities.
Eliminate the State Food Assistance Program: $13.884 Million cut
The State Food Assistance Program will be eliminated on July 1, 2012. This state-funded program provides food assistance to approximately 12,000 families per month who are not eligible for federal food assistance.
Reduce Weatherization Activities: $3.348 Million cut
Funding is reduced. This will result in less home weatherization assistance activities provided for low-income individuals.
The extreme differences between the House budget and the Zarelli budget will almost surely take longer than the next four days to resolve. The House passed their version of the budget last Wednesday the 29th and the session was scheduled to end on Thursday March 8th. Many are now predicting that it will take at least another month to reach agreement. This likely means that final decisions on the Capital Budget and the Jobs Packages will be dragged out to the bitter end. However, delaying a decision on the Trust Fund allocation also means we have more time to make our case for it.
Stay tuned for more opportunities to weigh in. And keep taking action. The many victories last week illustrate how incredibly powerful and effective advocacy is. Let's keep it going -