The 2020 Session is officially over! Although this year’s session was only three months long, we are happy to report that lawmakers passed a good number of significant anti-poverty bills, and made several noteworthy investments in social services and economic assistance programs in their Supplemental Budget. In short, the 2020 Session was a solid success for Washington’s low-income communities– and a success that we will build off of in years to come.

Before we get to the recap though, we’d like to extend a huge thank you to our statewide network of community advocates. All of YOU, who took action on bills, contacted your lawmakers by email or phone, showed up in Olympia to rally or testify– you are the real force behind these policy wins. None of this could be done without you!

And now, for our recap.

Basic Needs

These three moms testified in support of HB 2411 in February.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): We advocated this session for the passage of three TANF-specific bills that would ease and eliminate several harsh Recession-era program policies. These policies, namely full-family sanctions and time-limits, prioritized family compliance within the system to the detriment of family financial security. We sought to address these issues by advocating for the following:

  • House Bill 2441 (PASSED): This bill, which was sponsored by Representative Debra Entenman, eases the full-family sanction policy. Previously, families found to be “out of compliance” with program policy had their grant entirely revoked, leaving them without access to cash. HB 2441 allows parents a 2 month grace period to “cure” their sanction status and come back into compliance. If a family is still found to be out compliance, they have 12 months to fix their status, while receiving 40% of their grant, and DSHS then has discretion on whether to terminate their grant completely. HB 2441 originally included language that entirely eliminated full-family sanctions, but unfortunately this was revised to the current 12-month sanction cap. This is still an important step in the right direction!
  • Senate Bill 6478 (PASSED but not concurred upon): This bill, sponsored by Senator Joe Nguyen, would have allowed broad-based time-limit extensions to the TANF program. This means that families would have been allowed to continue receiving TANF assistance under some extenuating circumstances past the typical 60-month cut off point. Although SB 6478 passed both chambers, the language allowing broad-based time-limit extensions was not concurred upon. However, language was added that allowed families experiencing homelessness to qualify for time-limit extensions, using a broader definition of homelessness. Whereas previously, families could only qualify for a time-limit extension if they were staying outside or in a shelter, this bills allows families who are couch-surfing or in other temporary housing circumstances to receive an extension to their TANF assistance. This bill also includes funding for a study that will examine racial disproportionalities in TANF policy.
  • Senate Bill 5144 (PASSED): This bill allows families to also receive a portion of their child-support payments alongside their TANF grant. Previously, families who were on TANF and would have received child-support from a non-custodial parent were not allowed to receive their child-support, which was instead collected by the state. Now, custodial parents will receive between $50-100 a month of child-support, depending on family size.

Shelter Penalty: Prior to 2020, participants of Washington state’s safety net programs — such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) — who had access to a no-cost housing arrangement found that their monthly cash grants were slashed as a result of a shelter penalty imposed by the state’s Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS). We advocated for the elimination of this shelter penalty and succeeded. Now, all recipients will receive a standard monthly cash grant for the program they are eligible for– regardless of their housing situation.

Homelessness Prevention Pilot Program: The state’s Supplemental Budget allocated $5 million toward a Homelessness Prevention Pilot Program, which will offer a shallow rent subsidy for people living on Social Security in high cost of living areas of the state.

Poverty Reduction Workgroup: Lawmakers provided funding in the Supplemental Budget for bias training and for reimbursement for the steering committee members of the Governor’s Task Force on Povery Reduction who are experiencing poverty. 

Housing & Essential Needs: An extra $15 million was added into the Supplemental Budget for increased funding for the state’s Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) program, which offers housing assistance to adults with temporary disabilities.

Consumer Protections

House Bill 2476 (PASSED): We advocated this session for increased consumer protections via House Bill 2476. This bill requires that debt buyers first must prove that the debt is actually owed by the person they are naming in the lawsuit before they can file a claim. HB 2476 will address the issue of debt buyers sometimes falsely naming people in lawsuits without actual proof that they are the person who owes that debt.

Foreclosure Prevention Funding: $607k was added to the state’s Supplemental Budget to fund foreclosure prevention services. This money will pay for legal aid attorneys, mediators, housing counselors, and other foreclosure relief and prevention services.

We’re also happy to have successfully advocated against the passage of two separate bills that, if passed, would have significantly reduced the quality of consumer protections in Washington State. These bills were:

  • House Bill 2635 aka Pay-to-Pay (NOT PASSED): This bill would have allowed debt buyers to charge a fee for all payments made electronically. This bill did NOT pass.
  • House Bill 2636 (NOT PASSED): This bill would have increased protections for collection agencies by adding language stating that if a debt buying company did something illegal to collect a payment, but didn’t “know” this was illegal, they would be exempt from repercussions. This bill did NOT pass.

Justice Reform

Members of Civil Survival, I Did the Time, and Freedom Project, some of Washington’s justice reform coalition, at our 2020 Lobby Day.

House Bill 2793 aka the Clean Slate Act (PASSED): The original version of this bill, which we advocated for, would have created a process for automatic record clearing for people with certain felony/misdemeanor convictions. However, during the course of session, the language of this bill was fundamentally changed. The version that ultimately passed has appropriated funding toward a study of how automatic record clearing would work in the state’s court system, and will allow a pilot program in one county after the study is completed. This study and pilot program will therefore inform the efficacy of expanding automatic record clearing statewide.

Looking ahead to 2021

While we are celebrating the wins of the 2020 Session, we also unfortunately had some priority bills that did not pass this year.

Dental Therapy aka House Bill 1317: This bill would have expanded affordable, accessible dental care by allowing dental therapists to work in clinics statewide. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass.

Funding an expanded and modernized Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC): We continued our work to advocate for a funded, modernized WFTC in 2020– including an expansion for people who file taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), who are often immigrants, some visa holders, and survivors of domestic violence. Unfortunately, neither the ITIN expansion bills (HB 2521/SB 6557) nor the bills to fund the WFTC (HB 1527/SB 5810) passed.

Raising the Aged, Blind, or Disabled cash grant: The cash grant for the ABD program– which is meant to support adults living with a permanent disability– is only $197/month. We advocated for raising the cash grant to $363, which would bring it to parity with other state assistance programs. Unfortunately, no movement forward was made on this front, although we are happy that the ABD Shelter Penalty was removed (see above, in Basic Needs).

In 2021, those three items– plus other policies that prioritize the economic stability of Washington’s low-income communities and communities of color– will be on our policy agenda. We look forward to continuing to advocate alongside you all for increased economic opportunity and justice in Washington State, and hope to continue this work with you throughout the rest of 2020!