With the short legislative session more than halfway over, legislators are negotiating a final budget. This session has been unusually rich with opportunity for addressing homelessness, with significant proposals to help students, a new proposal from Senator Nelson to increase investment, and the possibility of welcoming new federal investments. We are heartened that young people and families experiencing homelessness are top of mind for so many legislators.
We are thrilled that the Homeless Student Stability & Opportunity Gap Act (HB 1682) passed the House and is moving through the Senate. Funding for this bill is also included in the House proposed budget. More than 35,000 students experienced homelessness in the 2014-2015 school year, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Federal efforts to help homeless students are underfunded, such as the McKinney-Vento Act, which gives states dollars to help students enroll and get to school, along with other assistance. HB 1682 would connect very low-income families and young people on their own with stable housing and transportation to school, via grants to school districts. It would also improve the type and amount of data collected, so that the State and schools can better understand and address student homelessness.
UPDATE—Great news: on March 8th, the Washington State Legislature officially passed the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act. HB-1682 now heads to Governor Jay Inslee to be signed into law! Read more in this Columbia Legal Services alert.
Building Changes is eagerly following Senator Nelson’s Bring Washington Home Act, which is currently in the Senate. This bill would transfer money from the State’s “Rainy Day Fund” to a new Homeless Assistance Account to be used for housing assistance, support services, treatment for mental illness and/or chemical dependency, family services, and other purposes that will help Washingtonians leave homelessness behind. The proposal to tap the Rainy Day Fund for homelessness is facing opposition, and other bills on homelessness are competing with Sen. Nelson’s bill. We believe the Bring Washington Home Act would be a significant and meaningful step forward on homelessness this session.
Finally, Building Changes is supporting the State’s final application and prospective implementation of the Medicaid Transformation Waiver. This waiver allows the federal government to invest millions of dollars in Washington to create a permanent supportive housing Medicaid benefit, and help people with chronic behavioral health problems and disabilities to connect with employment opportunities. Both could be critical in helping people who struggle the most to stay safe and housed. You can learn more about these ideas in Building Changes’ brief, Health Reform Housing Providers Should Know About, from November.
Building Changes works closely with advocacy partners to champion support for vital programs that make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring. Please go to our State Policy & Advocacy page to learn more about out 2016 Legislative Priorities and related updates.
Our partners at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance are a helpful resource for tracking progress on homelessness and housing during the legislative session. Stay updated here.