Dear friends and neighbors,
Earlier this month we wrapped up an intense 60-day legislative session. My focus was on pandemic recovery, workforce development, and helping build a strong economic future for everyone. This newsletter provides an update on this work and what it means for our district and state. It is a post-session update so it will be a little longer than my regular updates, but I hope you will find it useful.
I also want to acknowledge that for many of our Ukrainian American neighbors and their families this is a terrifying and uncertain time. We made additional investments in our budget this year to provide support for refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan who may find a home here. And as we witness Ukrainians fighting to defend their own right to self-governance, I am reminded of the fragile yet remarkable resilience of our own democracy and system of government.
I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to serve you in the People’s House, the WA State House of Representatives. Thank you for your continued engagement and feedback on many issues. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together. As always if you have any questions, comments, or feedback please reach out to my office.
College & Workforce Development Committee and my priorities as Chair
In my role as chair of the College and Workforce Development Committee, I guide the work to make post-secondary education more attainable for all students. An apprenticeship, degree, or credential can give students a path out of poverty to long-term financial stability. When these opportunities are accessible to everyone across the state, we’re able to grow a skilled and educated workforce that drives our state’s economy and builds economic stability for all.
This session we worked to improve enrollment and retention rates and help eliminate barriers so our students can get the credentials they need to succeed. This includes things like:
- FAFSA Completion: Washington ranks 49th out of 50 in FAFSA completion. Unless families know about and complete this application, they can’t access the financial assistance that would make post-secondary education free or significantly more affordable. This year we passed legislation to increase outreach, so no one is leaving money on the table. (HB 1835)
- Low interest Student Loans: Even with one of the most robust financial aid programs in the nation, some students still need to take out student loans, and when they do, they shouldn’t be burdened with excessively high interest rates. This year we established a state student loan program for low-income students that will provide loans capped at a 1% interest rate. (HB 1736)
- Bridging cost and need: We also made investments this year to increase grant amounts for our low-income students. We added $34 million dollars to expand the Washington College Grant and establish a new $500 bridge grant program for low-income students to help cover costs like transportation or phone bills that could be the tipping point for making post-secondary education unaffordable.
We also made some substantive investments in our budget to help increase workforce development. This includes investments in:
- Nursing: There was a nursing shortage before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and that shortage has only become more obvious in recent years. By providing student loan repayment options for nurses who teach and train the next generation of healthcare staff we can train more nurses and help prevent future shortages. I was proud to sponsor this legislation, HB 2007.
- STEM: $2 million to grow the computer science program at UW, and $455,000 for the startup program within the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering to help first generation, low income, under-represented students navigate effectively in college and have access to STEM careers.
- Cybersecurity: $7 million to increase cybersecurity enrollment by 500 students annually at community and technical colleges.
- Trucking/supply chain: $2.5 million in grants to promote workforce development in trucking and trucking-related supply chain industries by growing apprenticeships and training programs.
This year’s transportation budget package was a historic investment, focused on moving Washington towards a more sustainable and inclusive future—and all without increasing the gas tax.
This package was two years in the making. As a member of the Transportation committee, I was present in over 90 listening sessions with people across the state to talk about what they needed from a transportation budget, and we created this package to meet 4 basic goals:
- Preserving our infrastructure (roads, bridges, ferries, and sidewalks), because our economic well-being depends on people and goods moving efficiently across our state
- Reducing carbon emissions because we need to address the climate crisis and move towards technology of the future like zero-emissions ferries, electric vehicles, and active transportation.
- Expanding safe, accessible, affordable options to get around because Washingtonians deserve convenient, accessible transportation options they can rely on.
- Addressing the harm caused by past transportation policies because communities of color and low-income communities have faced a disproportionate impact from previous policies, from highway placement to emissions to services.
I’m incredibly proud of the work we were able to do with this package of legislation. If you have questions, you can learn more about the transportation budget here. Within the budget we were also able to secure funding for projects specific to the 48th legislative district, including:
- $33.5 million for pedestrian and bike safety projects, including $18 million for an Eastrail multi-use corridor through Bellevue, $8 million to add a crossing and improve bicycle/pedestrian safety on SR 520 & 148th Ave NE, $6.9 million for the “Bellevue Gap” in the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail, and $650,000 for pedestrian crossing and sidewalk expansion in Bellevue.
- $380 million over the next 16 years for I-405 and SR 167 corridor improvements, including funding to prevent delays in Bus Rapid Transit development and ensure alignment with Sound Transit timelines, as well as $406 million for SR 520.
- $5.5 million in funds to expand bike share options in Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond.
Other investments in our district
I’ve been proud to work with neighbors, community organizations, local businesses, and more to help boost our local economy and meet the needs of the 48th Legislative District. This includes:
- $2 million from the capital budget for the Illahee Affordable Housing Project in Bellevue to preserve affordable housing, avoid displacing residents, and provide immediate housing opportunities for families experiencing homelessness.
- $2.5 million in funding for Friends of Youth in Redmond to provide emergency shelter and transitional housing for our youth.
- $650,000 for Centro Culturo Mexicano to expand rent assistance, vaccination efforts, COVID-19 outreach, microbusiness supports, and other community services.
Our Operating and Capital Budgets
Budgets are about investing in our priorities and what we can accomplish as a community. Last year, we passed a budget that focused on those hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic because we didn’t want to leave anyone behind on our path to economic recovery. This year we worked on a supplemental budget to adjust and make new investments based on what we heard from you.
Some of the priorities I heard from you were: increasing economic stability, fixing our healthcare system, growing affordable childcare, supporting behavioral health, building sustainable infrastructure, helping people find housing and keeping people housed, making higher education more affordable, and so much more.
This budget was also unique because we had a significant amount of one-time funding from the federal government that helped make these investments possible. With that funding, and the robust economic growth our state has experienced over the last year, I’m very proud that we were able to make these investments without any general tax increases. Importantly, we’ve also ensured that we have a healthy reserve in our Rainy Day Fund.
Small business economic stability – We know that many of our small businesses bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, from keeping employees and customers safe to navigating gaps in the supply chain. This year we continued to find ways to help our small businesses recover and expand, investments like:
- $100 million in funding for restaurants and hospitality businesses.
- $75 million in disaster response, innovation, and resiliency funding.
- $25 million in funding for small business assistance for arts, heritage, and cultural organizations.
- Funding for a permanent increase in the B&O tax credit reporting threshold, which will reduce the tax liability for businesses making less than $125,000 annually.
Homelessness and Housing – Our state is in the middle of a housing crisis. There’s no single answer to solve this problem, but we’ve invested money to grow our housing stock, assist with rent and utilities, and help get people housed. Some of those investments include:
- A record $500 million transfer from the Operating to Capital budget to address housing needs.
- $318 million in the operating budget for housing and homelessness, including: $45 million in additional rental assistance funds, $55 million in homeless provider stipends, and more.
- $439 million in the capital budget for housing and shelter, including: $300 million for Rapid Capital Acquisition to make more housing available ASAP, $113 million for the Housing Trust Fund, $15 million for homeless youth projects, $2 million for the mobile home preservation program, and more.
- $2.9 million to support students experiencing homelessness at our community and technical colleges.
We know that keeping people housed will require more than just investments in housing itself, which is why we also directed money towards kitchen tables costs for families. Things like:
- $160 million for utility assistance (broadband, energy, water, garbage, and recycling).
- $94 million for additional food assistance.
- $11 million to expand Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- $4 million in the capital budget for food banks.
Childcare and K-12 Education – The pandemic has been particularly challenging for our children and families, between pivoting to online education and trying to find affordable, steady childcare, we’ve asked a lot of parents in our state. We clearly heard the need to expand and support our childcare and K-12 systems. That’s why this year we expanded on previous investments and added:
- $48 million for early learning facilities, and $22 million in grant funding for distressed public schools in the capital budget.
- $50 million for Working Connections Child Care provider rates.
- $13 million to expand ECEAP slots and add summer slots.
- $45 million in increased rates for family childcare providers.
- $360 million to stabilize enrollment and transportation funding at our public schools.
- $91 million for additional counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers in our schools.
- $28 million for a learning assistance program.
- $44 million in funding for school nutrition programs.
Healthcare Costs – The last two years have put an immeasurable additional strain on our health care workers and the healthcare industry as a whole. This year we focused on investments that will make a real difference for many Washingtonians, whether you’re seeking care or work in the health care industry, things like:
- $125 million for continued COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts.
- $25 million in additional funding for community health centers.
- $22 million to increase children’s Medicaid dental rates.
- $425 million to continue COVID-19 rate increases for long term care and developmental disability providers.
- $263 million to raise wages for people working in supported living facilities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.
Behavioral Health – We continued work this session to address our state’s behavioral health crisis. I’ve heard from many of you in-district about how important this area is, especially as we continue to navigate the stress and mental health challenges posed by the pandemic. Our state has shown remarkable resilience, but we need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of all Washingtonians. This includes our youth, who have been particularly impacted. Investments this year include:
- $100 million to support behavioral health providers.
- $51 million in mental health and substance use disorder provider rate increases.
- $35 million for crisis, outreach, and diversion programs.
- $23 million to expand opioid response programs and supports.
- $111 million in capital budget investments, including $72 million for residential crisis triage and stabilization facilities, $26 million for community behavioral health capacity grants, and $13 million for capital investments at state-run behavioral health facilities.