With home foreclosures rising and revenue forecasts falling, state lawmakers in Olympia were hit with a projected budget shortage of $423 million in their 2008 supplemental budget. Despite that, advocates for housing and human services say, it's been a great session so far in the House for working families and the poor, the Senate less so, with the House, Senate, and governor to reconcile their budgets over the next two weeks.
At the top of the list, the House budget that passed Feb. 25 included an additional $90 million in capital funds this year for building affordable housing, with $50 million of that going to the Housing Trust Fund, the main pool of state money that supports affordable housing projects. The remainder would be split between two new funds: One is a $20 million Rapid Response Loan Program that nonprofits or local housing agencies can borrow from to quickly secure land or existing housing stock when it's up for sale. The other is a $20 million Nonprofit Equity Program, which would provide nonprofit housing developers with grants to help them qualify for large bonds to finance their construction.
In the Senate's budget proposal, which came out Feb. 26, only $30 million would go to the Housing Trust Fund; the Rapid Response Loan Program would still get $20 million and the Nonprofit Equity Program would get nothing.
Among other bills and budget items:
* Family time-out: The House and Senate budgets both include $6.2 million to get the paid family leave program passed by last year's Legislature up and running.
* No wolves at the door: Gov. Christine Gregoire has already signed Senate Bill 6272, which will provide an additional $6 million over the next 10 years to the Washington FamiliesFund, a public-private partnership that helps prevent families with children from becoming homeless.
* THOR scores: House lawmakers budgeted an additional $3.5 million for the Transitional Housing, Operating and Rental program, which provides rental assistance and services to homeless
families with children. The Senate proposes $2.5 million.
* Mortgage test: The governor also has signed a $1.5 million Senate bill to provide loan counseling to help families avoid getting in over their heads when buying a home, with the Senate going one better and throwing in an extra $250,000 to help low- and moderate-income families facing foreclosure.
* Condo game: HBHB 2014 would increase the time tenants get to move (from 90 to 120 days) and the amount a building's owner has to pay in relocation assistance (three times the rent, up from $500 now), but lacks amendments that would allow cities to limit how many apartments can be converted to condos. It's now in the Senate.
* Healthy study: The closest Washington might get to real health care reform this session is Senate Bill 6333, which would create a working group to study various health care plans. It's now in the House.
* My income's legit: EHBEHBEHB 1956, which would prevent landlords from discriminating against people based on income sources such as welfare, is scheduled to get a Senate Policy Committee hearing Feb. 29.
* Resting up: HBHB 2602, a bill that would prevent employers from firing workers who take leave to address a domestic violence situation, is up for hearing in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Feb. 28.
* In doubt: Worker rebate: It was big news that the Senate passed SSB 6609, the Working Families Credit, which would provide very low-income workers with a state check equal to 5 percent of their Federal Earned Income Tax Credit in the next biennium and 10 percent in subsequent years. Neither the Senate nor House, however, budgeted money for the program.