Lawmakers in Washington state should heed the wisdom of community advocates, who know from both research and personal experience that greater funding for schools, health care, childcare, early learning, and the environment will strengthen families. This greater funding will also ensure communities – especially those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) who have been hit hardest by the economic downturn and public health crisis – have the resources needed to get through and beyond these difficult times. But to make these important investments, lawmakers must reject costly tax cuts that would unnecessarily benefit the wealthy and disadvantage BIPOC and lower-income Washingtonians by permanently draining funding from their communities. Investing in community foundations, as proposed by Governor Inslee, will set the state up to thrive in the long run.
State lawmakers can and should do more for their communities
Washington state lawmakers have the opportunity to make historic investments in their communities right now. Over the past 25 years, the state has seen significant growth in its population and economy. But relative to that growth, state funding for community needs has declined since the mid-1990s. As Figure 1 shows below, under Governor Inslee’s proposed adjustments to the 2021-23 state budget, total funding (including federal stimulus funds) would be nearly $1 billion less than what was allocated in the 1995-1997 budget (adjusted for economic growth). And total state-only funding would be nearly $10 billion less under the governor’s proposal compared to mid-1990s levels.
Only with substantial COVID-19 relief from the federal government has the state budget been able to rebound from the deep funding cuts enacted following the Great Recession. However, these funds are temporary – intended only to address the current public health and economic crises. As a result, lawmakers cannot rely on federal support to meet long-term community needs. Instead, to maintain community investments after federal relief expires at the end of 2024, state lawmakers must find new and equitable sources of funding.
Lawmakers should reject tax cuts that reduce funding for communities and unnecessarily benefit the wealthy
Even with temporary federal relief, the pandemic continues to present obstacles: schools are struggling to remain open due to staff shortages; parents are struggling to find affordable childcare; many people are losing their homes because of rent increases and a lack of affordable housing; and hospitals are still overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. Yet some anti-tax organizations and lawmakers are irresponsibly calling for tax cuts that would permanently reduce the funding available to address these and future challenges.
Broad-based tax cuts are a short-sighted response that would slow Washington’s recovery and worsen the state’s racial and economic inequities. By lowering the revenue collected from taxes, these tax cuts would take away funding for schools, public health, affordable housing, and other priorities for everyday Washingtonians. States that have enacted large tax cuts have experienced reductions in K-12 funding, increased tuition for college students, health insurance losses, delays in highway repairs, and other harmful effects. Instead of draining funding from critical community needs, any surplus funds should be put toward heeding the calls from community advocates who have demanded greater investments in communities of color for years to address generations of institutional racism. Now is the time to ensure the well-being of Washington families by protecting funding for the things residents need to live healthy, happy lives.
How the governor’s budget supports Washingtonians’ well-being
The governor’s 2022 supplemental budget proposal invests in schools, early learning, housing, and public health. Figure 2 shows state funding allocations, using the Budget & Policy Center’s Progress in Washington framework, under the governor’s proposed adjustments to the 2021-2023 state budget. Over half of the budget would be dedicated to investments that improve education and job opportunities. One quarter of the budget would be allocated to programs that improve health outcomes and protect the environment. Another 13% of the budget would further efforts to ensure community funding is allocated efficiently, effectively, and equitably. Only 2% of the total budget would help residents to have financial security and access the opportunities they need to build a strong foundation in life. Frustratingly, 5% of the budget would be used to fund prisons and policing, structures that disproportionately harm BIPOC residents and those with little or no income or wealth.
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Utilizing both state and federal stimulus funds, Governor Inslee has proposed a range of important new investments for communities, above and beyond those enacted in early 2021. These new funding opportunities include (but are not limited to):
Education & Job Readiness
- Increasing the number of school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists needed to help students who are facing uncertainty, fear, and grief amid the pandemic and who need robust social-emotional support ($184 million).
- Boosting funding for the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), including summer ECEAP so that young learners can have continuity in services between school years ($16.5 million).
Healthy People & Communities
- Heightening investments in Rapid Capital Housing and the Housing Trust Fund to acquire about 2,460 rapid housing units and build 1,500 permanent supportive housing and permanent affordable housing units ($434.7 million). This historic investment will help thousands of Washingtonians who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
- Extending COVID-19 pay raises for personal care providers so that individuals with long-term care needs or developmental disabilities can receive the care they need at home ($500 million).
- Permanently increasing the Aged, Blind, or Disabled program monthly benefit from $197 to $417 for a single person ($37.5 million). This will help participants, many of whom experience houselessness and behavioral health problems, be able to better meet their needs.
Much more can be done to create a just and robust recovery
While Governor Inslee’s proposed budget wisely increases support for many community needs, more must be done to ensure an equitable and robust recovery for all residents. Accordingly, lawmakers should build on the governor’s approach in the following ways and allocate additional funding for other needs that were not included in his proposal.
Ensure that all Washingtonians receive essential medical care
- Fund the implementation, outreach and enrollment, and initial programmatic costs for an immigrant health coverage program that includes undocumented people ($80 million). Health care is a basic need that everyone should be able to receive regardless of immigration status.
- Extend the COVID–19 pay raise to nursing home workers. The current rate enhancement for personal care providers has allowed thousands of people to continue receiving care at home. Extending the rate enhancement to nursing homes will help them keep their staff so that they can provide care for their residents.
Ensure Washingtonians are economically and food secure and that children have adequately paid teachers
- Build a strong foundation for the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) by making a one-time equity investment in outreach and language access so that the credit reaches more eligible households ($7 million). Funds would support community-based organizations to do specific outreach to communities that may not know they are eligible for the WFTC, especially those most at risk of missing out on this critical tax refund.
- Provide individuals with low incomes a monthly, unconditional cash payment so that they can have greater freedom and dignity in deciding how to best take care of themselves ($10 million). Guaranteed basic income programs help recipients achieve greater financial security and have been proven to improve health outcomes.
- Serve free school meals to an additional 92,000 students by expanding participation in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) ($166,000). During the pandemic, nearly one in three Washington families have struggled to put food on the table, and households with children have been among the most likely to experience hunger.
- Increase the cost-of-living adjustment for K-12 educators to make sure that all schools are adequately staffed and that students can continue to receive a high-quality education.
- Boost funding for childcare centers and family homes to support implementation of the Fair Starts for Kids Act, a historic investment in expanding eligibility and supporting childcare providers ($175 million). This investment will help ensure that childcare workers are paid rates that align with the current costs of living.
Prevent homelessness and enhance current housing conditions
- Increase funding to address the critical workforce shortages and improve workforce sustainability of frontline homeless service providers ($78 million). This will assist Permanent Supportive Housing and homelessness service providers to support their workforce and fill critical vacancies. The effort to prevent and end homelessness rests on the shoulders of frontline workers who deserve adequate investments.
- Allocate additional funds to provide pre-eviction civil legal aid ($2 million). A gap in service is impacting the ability to keep cases from escalating to an unlawful detainer. Pre-eviction civil legal aid is already underfunded, but this problem will be compounded in July 2022 when current funding is set to expire. The additional $2 million would fund local providers and keep many tenants from entering the court system.
- Support healthy homes and preserve affordable housing by investing in home weatherization and energy efficiency improvements ($37 million).
Divert funds from prisons and policing to health and housing
The governor’s proposal maintains high levels of funding for prisons and policing, including $2.4 billion to the Department of Corrections, even though these systems disproportionally target and harm Black and brown communities through arrests, incarceration, and legal fines and fees. Funding for the carceral system is more than twice what the state spends on programs that improve Washingtonians’ economic security, such as the Employment Security Department, Department of Labor and Industries, and Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (see Figure 2). Spending billions of dollars to uphold these systems is an ineffective use of public dollars. More of these funds should be diverted to programs that are shown to keep communities safe, such as behavioral health services, substance use treatment, affordable housing, and other social and health services.
Washington needs broader investments and equitable new revenue
Federal relief packages have allowed Washington state lawmakers to make much-needed community investments that at least return the state to pre-recession levels. However, pre-recession spending isn’t enough to meet today’s needs. Further, these one-time funds cannot sustainably fill the gaps in funding essential state services. Washington lawmakers must expand on the governor’s budget proposal, which prioritizes funding for schools, childcare, and health care. They must also enact new taxes on the wealthiest households and corporations to ensure the state is able to maintain community investments for years to come. And at every part of the process, legislators should continue to listen to community advocates, who are best suited to identify what their communities need to thrive.