OLYMPIA – House Democrats unveiled the next step in their plan for community and economy recovery Friday, the 2021-2023 operating budget plan that utilizes state and federal funds to help us recover together by centering people most impacted by the pandemic and prioritizing needs of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities that have suffered the most health, economic, and education impacts and face the most barriers to recovery.
“It has been a roller coaster of a year for communities across the state. This budget reflects the sacrifices so many have made and reinforces our values. No matter your background or how much you earn, we will be there for you and help the hardest hit by this pandemic recover,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, chair of the Appropriations Committee.
“Our friends and neighbors have been held back and felt forgotten for too long. Parents living in poverty struggle to provide even the basic necessities for their children. Seniors feel even more isolated and alone as waiting lists and lines get longer,” said Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Mia Gregerson. “For too long the most vulnerable people have been left with inadequate resources and lack of opportunity. The ‘Washington Recovery Budget’ represents the end of austerity budgets and the harmful idea that people should pick themselves up and work harder just to survive.”
Below are some highlights of the two-year operating budget:
COVID-19 Response and Health Care: The two-year House Democratic budget utilizes state revenues and federal funding from the Biden/Harris American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to expand public health response to the pandemic, including:
- $1.185 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, contact tracing and testing.
- $100 million for local public health districts and regions.
- $94 million for primary care provider rate increases.
- $35 million for uninsured and underinsured care through federally qualified health centers, rural health centers, and free clinics.
- $11 million for school nurses.
Economic Recovery: House Democrats are allocating federal and state resources to address the needs of people who bore the brunt of the pandemic, with direct funds for families and small business owners, with $1.86 billion for housing and homelessness programs and $850 million in unemployment insurance rate tax cuts and business grants. In addition, the House capital budget proposal includes $296 million in housing and shelter programs and $8.7 million for food bank construction projects. Highlights include:
- $1.07 billion for rental assistance to continue the state goal of paying the back rent accrued during the governor’s eviction moratorium. Combined with the $325 million allocated in the Step One for Community and Economic Recovery bill (HB 1368) passed by the Legislature in February, that totals nearly $1.4 billion in rental relief this year.
- $600 million for unemployment insurance tax rate cuts and $250 million in small business grants.
- $166.6 million in mortgage assistance through the ARPA Homeowner Assistance Fund.
- $140.8 million in food assistance programs.
- $121.6 million in state housing/homelessness assistance.
- $37.63 million to increase TANF grants and $26 million to extend TANF benefits.
- A $26.5 million increase to the Housing and Essential Needs Program, with the goal of serving an estimated 1,700 people who qualify for the program but are waiting for the program to receive more funding.
- $26.2 million increase for the Emergency Cash Assistance
- $13 million for foreclosure assistance.
Building Equitable Communities: House Democrats infused equity into every part of the budget and are also committed to making targeted investments that uplift all communities, especially Black, Brown, elderly, disabled and low-income families that face the most barriers while recovering from the pandemic.
- $340 million for immigrant relief funds that provide unemployment assistance to undocumented workers and families who are vital to their communities, often serving as front-line and essential workers.
- $415 million for a temporary rate increase to long-term care and providers for individuals with developmental disabilities.
- $22 million to fund the Office of Independent Investigations.
Early Learning and High-Quality Child Care: House Democrats are funding the Fair Start for Kids Act and other expanded child care and early learning programs with $790 million, including:
- $400 million in child care grants and supporting providers for language access and navigators.
- $90 million for Working Connections Child Care co-pay reductions.
Behavioral Health: The two-year House Democratic budget addresses behavioral health needs to help neighbors and loved ones struggling with substance use disorder or behavioral health needs. Highlights include:
- $96.7 million to fund beds with community-based providers to replace Western State Hospital wards that will be closed.
- $90 million to improve the state’s suicide and behavioral health crisis response system through HB 1477, implementing the 988 national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.
- $69.38 million for substance use disorder treatment and response.
K-12 Education and Higher Education: This budget proposal keeps schools fully funded by combining state and federal funds to the tune of $2.2 billion. That pays for five additional school days in the upcoming school year to help address learning loss. Other education investments include:
- $53 million for additional special education funding.
- $52.5 million for additional counselors in high-poverty schools.
- $8.9 million to cover school lunch copays.
- Continuing our historic investments with the Workforce Education Investment Act, fully funding the Washington College Grant, and maintaining support for higher education institutions.
- $15.9 million for Guided Pathways to help community college students finish their programs.
- $14 million in higher education emergency assistance grants.
- $2.3 million for the UW Medical School and $5.9 million for the WSU Medical School.
Get Washington Connected: The pandemic exposed just how many families struggle with connectivity and digital needs, in a state with some of the largest technology companies in the world. The “Washington Recovery Budget” increases access to the internet devices, and digital literacy for families, on top of the $155 million in Broadband investments from the capital budget proposal:
- $33 million for student and child care connectivity.
- $7.5 million for statewide digital navigators.
- $1.3 million for grants to support broadband and digital equity planning.
- $1.5 million to fully fund the State Broadband Office and a digital equity forum.
- $204.7 million to expand the Paid Family and Medical Leave program (HB 1073).
- $144 million for a local government assistance account to help pay for court costs, ballot boxes, GMA planning, or police reform.
- $125 million to fund healthier, more wildfire resistant forests (HB 1168)
Some investments are temporary, relying on one-time funds from the Biden/Harris American Rescue Plan Act and the state’s Budget Stabilization Account (otherwise known as the “Rainy Day Fund”). Other investments are long-term and require permanent funding sources. To meet that need, help balance Washington’s tax code, and support working families who pay a disproportionate amount of their income to taxes, the “Washington Recovery Budget” relies on an excise tax on extraordinary capital gains to pay for the Working Families Tax Exemption.
“Low-income families who are barely keeping a roof over their head and food on their table — that’s who are currently paying for a disproportionate share of community investments in Washington,” said Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle), chair of the House Finance Committee. “The Capital Gains Excise Tax starts to undo some of that harm by asking some of the wealthiest among us to share more equitably in the responsibility of funding the programs and services our communities need. By using the revenue raised to fund the Working Families Tax Exemption, we’re putting money back into the pockets of working Washingtonians and helping balance the tax code.”
For more information:
House Democratic Caucus “Washington Recovery Budget” News conference available on TVW here
Budget details from the House Office of Program Research available at leap.leg.wa.gov
Public Hearing on the House budget proposal in the Appropriations Committee (Saturday, March 27, 9 a.m.) available on TVW here