Legislators cut $20 million in funding for the next biennium from Washington state’s Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program, but housing advocates are still calling it a win.
The Washington State Legislature completed its biennial budget at the end of June, which included $800,000 in additional funding for public education required by a state Supreme Court ruling finding that public schools were underfunded.
With nearly $1 billion needed for education, social service advocates were prepared for the worst this session, particularly for HEN, a state program that provides poor people with housing vouchers and household items such as toothpaste and dish soap.
The $64-million program was poised to get slashed in half this session but due to low usage it lost just $20 million. The clients who use the program now will be able to continue receiving the same services, said Michele Thomas, policy director for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
“That’s a tremendous shift from what the Senate was originally demanding,” Thomas said. “We consider it an incredible victory.”
The state also allocated an additional $23 million for adult dental services and retained cash grants for seniors, blind and disabled people.
During any other session, social service advocates would have wanted to find more funding and revenue for these programs, Thomas said.
The legislature fell short, however, on creating new revenue. Much of the savings came from one-time fixes, Thomas said.
“There’s going to be a significant need for revenue next year,” she said.