By Molly Firth, PEPS Advocacy Consultant (Estimated reading time: 4 minutes)
The Washington State Legislature is over halfway through the 2023 Legislative Session! Over 2,000 bills have been introduced, and only 600 have passed out of their chamber of origin. Now things get interesting as the opposite chambers work bills and budget writers buckle down to write biennial budget proposals that will identify how the state can spend federal and state funds for the next two years.
Leading up to this year’s Legislative Session, PEPS continued to participate in three statewide advocacy coalitions and conducted an advocacy survey to better understand the most pressing issues for families in the PEPS community. Findings from the advocacy survey, coalition priorities, and the current legislative landscape helped inform and solidify the PEPS advocacy priorities for 2023.
The three areas where PEPS is prioritizing advocacy learning and work this year are protecting Paid Family and Medical Leave, securing affordable housing investments, and making childcare more affordable. These are areas where the Legislature can make substantial progress to impact Washington families. These priorities will help families and communities with the least access to resources meet their basic needs.
Protect Paid Family & Medical Leave
Washington was the fifth state in the nation to implement Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML). Many families depend on PFML when their babies are born. It also supports people needing time off work to care for a family member or when a serious health condition prevents them from working.
Like many new programs, adjustments are needed to ensure PFML can continue to be a source of relief for new and growing families. SB 5286 will change the premium rate calculation and make some other small changes. These are important fixes that will keep the program strong for families. This bill is supported by the Work and Family Coalition, which includes PEPS, the Economic Opportunity Institute, MomsRising, labor representatives, and others. Once the program is solvent, advocates will push for other important enhancements to increase program accessibility.
SB 5286 passed the Senate unanimously and is moving through the House. PEPS will continue to ask our community to take action on this bill to demonstrate support for paid family leave.
Secure Affordable Housing Investments
Families need roofs over their heads. But that is becoming increasingly challenging in many areas of our state as rents have increased, and housing supply is limited.
The state’s capital budget has directed funds to the Housing Trust Fund for nearly 40 years to provide capital financing for affordable housing projects. Investments in the Housing Trust Fund have failed to keep up with the need, and we have reached a homelessness crisis. Governor Inslee’s budget proposal included a $4 billion bond referendum to build thousands of housing units and shelters. The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance wants to see a $400 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund to get a jump start on increasing affordable housing. Investment in homeownership opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color is also a priority.
Make Childcare More Affordable
Many families are familiar with long childcare wait lists and astronomical tuition. Despite the cost, many childcare workers still don’t receive a living wage. Parents are desperate for childcare stability and childcare workers are leaving the field to embark on new career paths.
Many Washington families depend on state subsidies like Working Connections Child Care or the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) to afford childcare. But those programs fail to effectively reimburse childcare providers, resulting in underpaid childcare workers and less access for lower income families. The Legislature approved the Fair Start for Kids Act in 2021, which made substantial investments to improve childcare and early learning affordability for families. Adding $272 million for Working Connections Child Care reimbursement rates and $90 million for increased ECEAP rates to the state budget would uphold the vision of Fair Start for Kids.
Current Status in Olympia
We are continuing to monitor progress on SB 5286 to improve the PFML program. As legislators continue to work on bills, they will simultaneously be considering how their values will be represented in the state budget. A state’s budget is arguably the most important policy document. It demonstrates the values, choices, and priorities of government. PEPS hopes the final budget will prioritize equitable outcomes for Washington families.
The finish line is April 23, 2023 — everything that will get done during this year’s Legislative Session needs to be done by this date. As we continue to track the progress of PEPS advocacy priorities and identify key moments to engage, we will share opportunities to advocate as part of the PEPS community by email.
Get involved by joining the PEPS advocacy email list to receive updates and take action in support of equitable policies for Washington children and families!