Washington state’s House of Representatives released its two year operating budget proposal on Monday, March 25. We applaud the House for taking critical steps to ensure our tax code is balanced and the wealthiest people and corporations pay their fare share. The House also made a number of critical — though modest — investments in our state’s basic needs assistance programs that will help more low-income kids and adults achieve economic stability.
In Washington state, low-income people pay the highest share of their income in taxes, while the wealthiest people and corporations get the biggest breaks. The House budget takes important steps to turn this terrible tax code right-side up through the following proposals:
–Closing the tax break on capital gains, which come from the sale of high-end assets, like stocks, bonds, and property.
–Rebalancing real estate sales that will raise the tax on properties selling for above $1.5 million, and lower the tax on properties selling for $500,000 or less.
–Creating other progressive revenue streams, such as eliminating the business tax preference for tour operators and travel agents.
The House’s budget proposal also includes very necessary investments in state assistance programs. These investments allow for low-income kids and adults to meet their basic needs and find more stable economic footing. The House budget proposes:
–$2.7 million in funding to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which will allow the program to end the harsh policy of permanent disqualifications and serve the low-income kids and adults for whom its resources are a lifeline. This will also provide a funding increase to Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), a critical support that helps low-income parents access and afford child care so they can enter and advance in the workforce.
–$12.7 million in funding for Housing & Essential Needs (HEN). HEN is one of our state’s most effective anti-homelessness programs, and it has not received a funding increase since 2011—even though housing costs and homelessness rates throughout Washington state have risen. This investment in HEN will allow the program to begin to address the thousands of HEN-eligible people on waitlists across the state.
-$150 million towards the Housing Trust Fund, which will support homelessness resources and housing affordability throughout the state.
–$1.9 million for civil legal aid, which will add 10 full-time attorneys to provide legal representation to low-income people.
–$146,000 to add a dental benefit for the Medical Care Services (MCS) program, which serves elderly and disabled immigrants.
–$300,000 for a $166 grant increase to the Pregnant Women’s Assistance program, which will provides modest support to pregnant women who are ineligible for TANF.
The House budget proposal is a good start. It makes necessary changes to the state tax structure and important investments in basic needs programs. However, we know that to truly address poverty the legislature must be willing to make bold, targeted investments in Washington’s low-income communities.
To truly move the needle on addressing poverty in Washington state, lawmakers must get serious about:
–Funding the Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC), a tax break that would provide a refund of about $350 to about a million of Washington’s lowest-income households. Not only would the WFTC would provide a vital income boost to low and moderate income households, it would also give low-income people a break from our upside-down state tax code.
–Making bold investments in the Housing & Essential Needs program. The House’s investment of $12.7 million falls far short of the $69 million needed to meaningfully address Washington state’s housing and homelessness crisis and ensure HEN-eligible people on waitlists can be served. Without an investment that meets the level of need, the waitlist for HEN resources will continue to grow.
Stopping the sweep of money from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Our state’s recession-era time-limit and sanction policies that routinely disqualify so many low-income families from receiving TANF means that the state will sweep $19.7 million out of the program in “savings” due to caseload declines. This sweep would be on top of the $220 million in funding over the last decade, even as the number of families with children living in deep poverty in our state has grown by 30% in the same time span. We urge lawmakers to reinvest TANF dollars back into the program so families with children in poverty get the support they need
The House budget is heading in the right direction with progressive revenue proposals and vital investments in programs that support low-income families and individuals. But we can’t let up now – let’s make sure the House hears from us that their number one priority this session must be making bold, deep investments in low-income communities!