The legislature cut $4 billion from the state's budget in the session that ended April 26, giving everyone something to hate, in the words of the governor, who plans to call a special session to take care of some unfinished business.
But, for the state's poorest of the poor -- about 18,000 people dealing with a physical or mental disability that keeps them from working and, in many cases, has made them homeless -- House Speaker Frank Chopp kept his promise: Their $339-a-month checks will still come in the mail, intact.
Funding for the cash grants, which recipients can get for up to a year, took an $18 million cut, about $14 million of which is supposed to come from moving people to Social Security disability, says Tony Lee, advocacy director for the anti-poverty programs at Seattle's Solid Ground.
GAU also provides medical coverage that will be switched to a managed care system, saving the state $38 million. But, given that legislators were facing a deficit of $9 billion in 2009-11 and had originally called for cutting the program entirely, "we came out really well," Lee says. "Essentially, there were almost no cuts."
Low-income people in need of health care, housing and other services weren't as lucky. Among just a few of the cuts, legislators reduced the rolls of the state's Basic Health Plan, which provides medical coverage to 100,000 wage earners, by more than 40,000 people, cut Medicaid payments for community mental health services and patients with no other funding by a total of $47 million, and took $12 million out of drug and alcohol treatment for the poor.
The legislature provided $10 million for emergency shelter and $8.5 million for rental assistance for homeless families, but the Housing Trust Fund, the state's primary source of money for building affordable rentals, was cut in half, to $100 million.
Many housing and homeless advocates say they're relieved the cuts weren't worse, but express fear the reductions will lead directly to more people being pushed into the streets by a lost job or medical emergency.
The cut to Basic Health "was pretty awful," says Robby Stern, lead organizer of Healthy Washington, a coalition pushing for health care reform. "Lots of people are going to suffer."
A bill proposed near the session's end by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Seattle Democrat, would have backfilled the health care losses with a two-year sales tax increase of three-tenths of 1 percent. But the measure, along with a proposal to tax those in upper income brackets, died.
A so-called "supplantation bill" that's on its way to the governor, SB 5433, would allow counties that collect an extra portion of sales tax for mental health services, such as King County does, to use the money to plug holes in older treatment programs for the next five years -- something that is prohibited today. But mental health advocates caution that could cut funding for new programs, such as a $6 million jail diversion center the county is planning for the mentally ill [RC, April 8-14].
The good news, Stern points out, is that the legislature passed a bill put forward by Sen. Karen Keiser, SB 5945, which sets a goal of providing health coverage for all Washingtonians by 2012. The bill creates a committee that will start meeting in October to coordinate federal and state efforts, which may include the state covering everyone under Medicaid up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Before it does, the federal government would have to grant the state's Department of Social and Health Services a waiver for expanded service.
Cuts to the Housing Trust Fund won't be felt as quickly, but could forestall 164 low-income housing projects across the state at a cost of 2,700 units and 3,100 construction jobs, according to the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. Projects that could be stopped in Seattle include Holden Street, a 30-unit building planned for homeless families, and 40 apartments that Capitol Hill Housing plans for working families at 12th Ave. and Jefferson St.
"A 50 percent cut in funds for affordable housing," says WLIHA Director Rachael Myers, "means we're missing an opportunity to help Washington families through this recession by creating both homes and jobs."
Among other triumphs and defeats of the session:
* Funding for Homeless. Anti-poverty advocates point to the passage of HB 2331 as a major success. The bill, which is awaiting the governor's signature, adds another $20 onto document recording fees in property transactions, not only maintaining $20 million in state funding for homeless programs but generating a new $32 million that counties can use to reduce homelessness.
* Marijuana Reclassification. A bill that would have reduced the penalty for possessing 40 grams or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a ticket-only civil infraction never got a floor vote.
* Payday Loans. HB 1709, which provides consumers with payment plans of 90 days or 180 days, is on the governor's desk. She has already signed SB 5164, which curtails harassing collection calls in the workplace.
* Tenants and Foreclosures. SB 5810, which is also awaiting the governor's action, is designed to help both homeowners and tenants caught up in foreclosure. The law makes lenders give homeowners an extra 30 days prior to issuing a notice of default so that they'll have a chance to negotiate a loan modification.
If the property is foreclosed, the new owner has to give the tenant 60 days' notice to move before being able to file eviction. Current law allows tenants to be evicted in 20 days. Another bill that would have prohibited landlords from discriminating against people based on their source of income never got a floor vote.
* Tent Cities. Olympia Democrat Brendan Williams' House measure to allow churches to shelter the homeless outdoors never got a vote in the Senate.
* Transit Development. HB 1490, a controversial bill that would have encouraged higher-density zoning within a half-mile of designated light-rail stations, never made it to the floor.
* Voting Restoration. If the governor signs HB 1517, it will automatically restore the franchise to ex-offenders when the Department of Corrections releases them from prison or parole -- something the ACLU has fought for for years in court and in the legislature.