New approaches to housing and behavioral health top Inslee’s budget takeaways list
As legislators convened for the start of the 2022 legislative session in early January, Gov. Jay Inslee called on elected leaders to continue their bold charge on housing and homelessness, reducing poverty, and tackling climate change.
The themes may sound familiar, but the updated operating and capital budgets the governor signed this week show a willingness in Olympia to stake out new approaches to these increasingly urgent challenges.
Inslee lauded legislators for prioritizing programs that will address many of the most pressing issues facing Washington families and communities.
“Thanks to Washington’s strong economic recovery and an infusion of federal COVID-19 relief funding, we are scaling up much-needed resources to help communities across the state get back on their feet and focus on building for the future,” Inslee said.
Rapid housing funding allows communities to build ‘in a matter of months, not years’
One clear example of state leaders taking a new approach is on homelessness.
For decades, the state’s biggest investments in housing happened through the state’s Housing Trust Fund. Grants and loans from the HTF go to community organizations and Tribal and local governments to build or preserve shelters or permanent housing units for low-income people.
These investments are especially important as the state’s population has grown but housing inventory hasn’t kept pace.
Since 2013, the Legislature has approved somewhat modest HTF increases. But during the 2021 session, in the wake of COVID-19, legislators added a historic $113 million to the $173 million from the prior budget.
The investment showed the Legislature was willing to prioritize funding for housing. The problem?
New permanent housing units can take years to build.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 forced shelters to close their doors to new residents and leave thousands of people living outdoors with nowhere to go. Job losses put thousands of Washingtonians at risk of homelessness due to eviction or foreclosure. Available housing inventory shrunk, further adding pressure to an already stressed housing system.
The state’s point-in-time count from 2020 indicated approximately 23,000 Washingtonians experiencing homelessness.
It was time to do something different.
In 2021, legislators passed the first budget to fund an entirely new approach to housing: rapid capital acquisition funding. These funds allow communities to purchase properties, including hotel or apartment buildings, and quickly turn them into a shelter or housing facility.
Already within its first year, these facilities are opening and helping people transition out of homelessness. Inslee visited several such facilities this year, including True Hope Village in Seattle and Skagit First Step Center in Burlington. He’s heard from residents who have secured permanent housing thanks to having a safe place to live and connection to services.
In this recent session, legislators added more rapid acquisition funding that will almost double the number of new rapid acquisition units to 4,460.
“There is no question these investments will help ease our affordable housing crunch over the coming years,” Inslee said. “But while we work on our long-term housing solutions, we also need options for today. These rapid acquisition investments significantly improve the ability of communities to build thousands more units in a matter of months, not years.”
Legislators funded several other housing related priorities including:
- Over $170 million to help families and individuals remain in their homes. This includes $100 million that Inslee proposed for a grant program to cover unpaid utility bills, which will help renters obtain and keep housing.
- More than $50 million to transition people living in unsanctioned encampments on the public right of way to permanent housing, and to work with local governments and social service organizations to remediate encampment sites.
- More than $30 million to expand behavioral health services to reduce the barriers that often prevent people with behavioral health needs from being housed or employed.
Behavioral health transformation expands to better support Washington’s youth
In 2018, Inslee joined a bipartisan group of legislators to announce a plan to transform and modernize Washington’s behavioral health system. Inslee’s vision was to move away from providing care at large, century-old state hospitals to smaller, community-based facilities better equipped to meet the unique needs of patients. Legislators supported the effort the following year with major policy and budget actions.
The investments are beginning to take shape as community-based facilities have started serving patients in recent years. To continue the transition, legislators approved $98 million in the updated budget to build up additional capacity at community-based behavioral health facilities, including for crisis triage and stabilization facilities for adults. About $26 million will fund a variety of behavioral health services projects including long-term civil commitments, triage, crisis diversion, detox, and adolescent services.
State leaders are now ramping up new kinds of behavioral health support for children and youth.
The updated state budgets more than double the state’s capacity for children’s long-term inpatient beds from the current 37 beds to 84 beds by 2024. It provides new community-based supports such as school-based health centers, youth behavioral health navigators, and youth suicide prevention.
The budget also includes funding to plan for 32 new short-term youth crisis stabilization beds. The state currently has none.
For youth within the state’s foster care system, legislators provided funding to help providers deliver therapeutic approaches that help families stay together, services that support the timely reunification of families, and offer more specialized placement options for high-needs foster youth. In addition, the budget provides important financial supports for youth transitioning out of extended foster care.
The operating budget also funds more counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers in our K-12 schools.
To ensure facilities can hire the folks they need, the operating budget includes a 7% rate increase for behavioral health providers and $100 million in provider relief to support the behavioral health workforce.
Other budget successes include climate, education, broadband and more
Last week, Inslee signed the Move Ahead Washington package and transportation budgets that included billions of dollars for clean transportation options.
The updated operating and capital budgets further support the state’s climate, clean energy, and salmon recovery efforts. The operating budget, for example, includes more than $113 million for electric vehicle incentives and infrastructure, and $57 million for community solar installation and battery storage grants.
The supplemental operating and capital budgets provide almost $227 million to bolster state salmon habitat restoration and recovery efforts.
The capital budget dramatically boosts the spending authority for the Weatherization Plus Health program, which upgrades low-income homes with energy-efficient improvements and leverages matching dollars. And legislators added $20 million for the state’s Clean Energy Fund to support important clean energy projects, one at an aluminum smelter restart project in Whatcom County and the other to help Grant County Public Utility District develop infrastructure for a solar manufacturing facility in central Washington.
Other notable budget updates include:
K-12: An additional $800 million for schools and newly-passed education policies. This includes $100 million for much-needed seismic safety enhancements. It also includes funding for compensation for educators, funding to hire new nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists at schools, and to expand outdoor learning and education opportunities.
Early learning: Funding to increase the availability of full-day preschool options with a gain of 366 new slots, as well as funding for grants and loans that providers can use to purchase or upgrade facilities.
Post-secondary education: Additional funding for the state’s Career Connect Washington program, launched by Inslee in 2017 to connect employers and students to registered apprenticeships and technical training. Legislators expanded apprenticeship opportunities in areas such as education and health care, and funded the creation and expansion of programs to train more people for careers in cybersecurity.
In addition, legislators provided funding that allows the Washington Student Achievement Council to help more students apply for federal financial aid. Fewer than half of eligible Washington students apply for federal aid, leaving millions of dollars unclaimed. WSAC will also be able to partner with community organizations to recruit more students to post-secondary opportunities.
Broadband: $100 million in federal funds to build broadband infrastructure in places without access, and $50 million for digital equity. These funds will ensure more Washingtonians have affordable service, access to a device, and basic digital literacy skills. Inslee and the state’s broadband office have set a goal of universal high-speed broadband access by 2028.
Community reinvestment: $200 million for a new Community Reinvestment Account. Inslee proposed this program to provide grants to communities that experience inequitably enforced criminal laws and penalties regarding drug sales, possession and use. The grants will begin next year and will be used for economic development, legal assistance, reentry programs and more.
Poverty reduction: Expanded food assistance and hunger relief programs to help serve about 2.5 million Washingtonians. University of Washington and Washington State University issued a report last summer affirming that food insecurity surged in Washington during the pandemic with more than one in four Washingtonians reporting difficulty affording food.
For the first time in over 10 years, legislators significantly increased the very small cash benefits that support more than 21,000 low-income, vulnerable Washingtonians, such as those with disabilities. The maximum cash benefit under the state’s Aged, Blind or Disabled program will increase from $197 to $417 per month for a single-person grant, and from $248 to $528 per month for a two-person grant.
Infrastructure: $120 million from the Public Works Assistance Account to finance loans for local projects related to sewer, drinking water, solid waste, street, and stormwater projects statewide.