A new ordinance introduced by King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles would require businesses in unincorporated King County to accept cash payments. It went up for a vote in the Local Services and Land Use Committee on May 23.
Many businesses went cashless at the height of the pandemic and have stayed that way, which is part of what prompted Kohl-Welles to introduce the measure. Proponents of the ordinance joined the council’s Zoom meeting to comment that refusing to accept cash unfairly excludes unbanked and underbanked populations, like homeless people and undocumented immigrants.
“When a business refuses to accept cash, they’re essentially refusing to serve members of our community who do not have, or cannot use, banking services – a group that disproportionately includes BIPOC, undocumented immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, and people experiencing homelessness,” wrote Shalimar Gonzales, CEO of Solid Ground, in an email after the hearing.
Real Change Advocacy Director Tiffani McCoy used her testimony to relay the story of Vendor Eric Jarivs, who stopped for a coffee on his way to his selling location and tried to pay for it in cash. The barista told him that the shop didn’t accept cash and then said, with a sneer, “I guess you can just have it, because I already poured it.”
Only one person gave testimony against the ordinance, a manager from the local burger chain Lil Woody’s. Her arguments were that the chain processes too few cash transactions to make maintaining a till worthwhile and that keeping cash on the premises puts them at higher risk for robbery. As proof, she cited a robbery at a cannabis store near the White Center Lil Woody’s location.
Lil Woody’s was in fact the victim of a robbery, although it was a nonviolent affair. In 2013, its Ballard location was burglarized by someone who snuck in through an open back door and made off with a laptop. Cannabis stores, by contrast, have been repeatedly robbed at gunpoint because they are forced to accept only cash, creating the false impression that there is an abundance of the stuff in the back offices.
The committee ultimately voted 3-1 to forward it to the full council with no recommendation. Conservative Councilmember Reagan Dunn was the sole “no” vote.
It appears that Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison’s drug criminalization bill will be skipping a committee hearing and going straight before the full Seattle City Council on June 6. The bill would make public use of drugs a misdemeanor, which it already is thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature on Senate Bill 5536, a state-level drug criminalization bill that was the focus of a recent special Legislative session invoked by the governor. However, offenses against state law would be handled by the county. If the Seattle bill is passed, it would allow Davison’s office to also prosecute the offense in the Seattle Municipal Court.
In response to the proposed ordinance, the Decriminalize Seattle Coalition (DSC) tweeted, “Ann Davison wants the city of Seattle to spend our city’s (limited) resources on policing, prosecuting, and locking up drug users. She can’t get her wish unless City Council passes a city version of the state legislature’s new drug law.”
Word of the move began circulating in homelessness advocacy circles on May 24, with the Stranger’s Ashley Nerbovig tweeting out the news the following day. Though the bill does not yet appear on the council’s introduction and referral calendar and the council has yet to publish an agenda for that meeting, City Council spokesperson Dana Robinson Slote confirmed it has been scheduled for a vote for June 6.
Advocates are already up in arms. The DSC, in the Twitter thread containing its thoughts on Davison’s motives, urged readers to attend an “emergency teach-in” on the topic, set for May 30, and suggested that citizens contact their councilmember to voice opposition to “bringing the War on Drugs to Seattle.”
Health care imperiled
Roughly 31,000 people in King County could be kicked off their health care June 1 after COVID-19 emergency measures came to an end earlier in May.
During the three years of pandemic emergency, the federally funded Medicaid program — known as Apple Health in Washington — suspended its periodic eligibility verification process, ensuring continued coverage to all enrollees even if they technically no longer qualified.
Now that these rules have been revoked, thousands of people could lose their coverage if they fail to submit renewal documentation or if they no longer qualify for the program. Households can receive coverage through Apple Health if they make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, translating to an annual income of $20,121 for a single person or $41,400 for a family of four.
According to Public Health – Seattle & King County spokesperson Kate Cole, Apple Health enrollees will have received notices for renewal 60 days before the date they need to submit applications to maintain coverage. If a person covered by the program does not submit renewal paperwork within 90 days of receiving notice, their coverage will lapse and they will have to reapply as a new client.
In March 2020, when eligibility verification was paused due to the pandemic emergency, just under 399,000 people were enrolled in Apple Health in King County. As of January 2023, that number had increased to more than 527,000 people covered by the program.
However, Cole cautioned that it wasn’t all bad news. The county’s health department offers free support to help residents navigate the health insurance system, including accessing other programs such as the state’s public option, Cascade Care plans. Cole wrote that these plans, which have higher eligibility thresholds, could cost as little as $10 a month.
“And, again, our King County insurance navigators are here to provide free help! Kingcounty.gov/outreach,” Cole wrote.
The Seattle Social Housing Developer (SSHD) kicked off its inaugural meeting May 23, convening its 13-member board for the first time. This marks a milestone in the implementation of I-135, the initiative to establish a public housing developer, which passed in February with 57 percent of the vote.
House Our Neighbors! (HON!), a political committee of Real Change and main backer of the initiative, wrote about the first meeting on Twitter. “We are hearing from each of the board members present on why they wanted to be on the board,” the group wrote. “Deeply inspiring.”
Seven of the members of the board are renters who have demonstrated a commitment to social housing. Other members of the board include a representative from the local labor federation, a green housing expert and public finance professional.
On the agenda of the first meeting were introductions, a discussion of the new governmental authority’s charter, hiring a consultant to help get the group going and selecting the board’s leadership.
“Much respect and gratitude for the organizing of [HON!] and to my fellow SSHD Board members,” wrote Kaileah Baldwin on Twitter, who was elected as board chair. “Let’s do this!!”
The SSHD also got a boost from the state this spring, with the Legislature authorizing $200,000 to aid in the startup of the group.
According to HON!, the four pillars of social housing are permanent affordability, public ownership, cross-class communities and resident leadership.
Read more of the May 31-June 6, 2023 issue.