A state program that provides poor people with household items like dental floss and dish soap continues to wither away. The Washington State Senate wants to cut Housing and Essential Needs (HEN), which pays emergency rent assistance directly to landlords and distributes household goods like mops and shampoo through local service providers.
The Washington State Legislature created HEN in 2011 to replace a cash-assistance program called Disability Lifeline. Legislators assumed poor people would spend the $197 a month they received from Disability Lifeline on drugs and alcohol, so they eliminated it. At the time, Disability Lifeline was serving 20,000 people.
The elimination of Disability Lifeline saved the state $115 million in 2011. Legislators allocated $64 million for HEN. But in 2012, the state cut HEN by $5 million.
Now, HEN is again on the chopping block as the House and Senate are heading into an extended session to iron out the major differences between their budgets. The state’s budget must include an additional $1 billion for education, as ordered by the Washington State Supreme Court.
The House found the additional money for education by increasing revenue and closing tax loopholes; so HEN survived unscathed. The Senate found the additional education money through cuts, including slashing HEN by half, bringing its funding to about $30 million.
Advocates for homeless people are fighting to preserve a program they say is already outstripped by demand.
But during this extended session, advocates have less of a voice. Most of the negotiations on the budget with Senate and House leadership will happen behind closed doors. It’s rare for anyone to get any face-to-face time with the legislators calling the shots, said Marcy Bowers, director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.
Bowers encouraged people to call their legislators and the hotline at 800.562.6000.
“You can always call and call and call,” Bowers said. “You can always send emails.”
To find your senators or representatives, visit app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder.