A Supplemental Session with Lasting Impact

The halls of Olympia are quiet now, free from the usual hustle and bustle of advocates and lobbyists. Legislators have returned home to their districts, while the Governor is busy signing or vetoing budgets and bills, meanwhile, advocates are already strategizing for the next session. Despite being a supplemental session, there was significant activity with lasting effects. Typically, these sessions focus on policy adjustments and budget tweaks, but this time, there were some notable exceptions. Here are the highlights:

 

 

Housing

This biennium witnessed a historic investment in DD Housing. A December 2022 report by DDA projected a need for 37,000 units for people with I/DD, and a recent national report, “Priced Out,” highlighted the unaffordability of housing for individuals on SSI across the US. Thanks to powerful advocacy and compelling stories, legislators allocated $25 million in the supplemental budget for DD Housing. This includes $19 million for DD in the Housing Trust Fund, $5 million for Open Doors for Multicultural Families housing village, and $1 million for The Arc of King County’s Legacy project with Mercy Housing. This is in addition to last year’s $25 million for a total of $50 million for the biennium.  This is a nearly 10-fold increase from previous biennia which ranged from $3-5 million.

 

Although HB 2276, The Affordable Housing Act,  which would have provided an ongoing revenue source for the Housing Trust Fund and included a 15% DD set aside housing did not pass, the bill helped to elevate the conversation about the importance and need for DD Housing.

 

 

Operating Budget Highlights

Modest increases were made, including reducing the highest DDA case management ratio in the US. Additionally, smaller policy issues were addressed, including strengthening Parent to Parent and Informing Families and creating an overnight planned respite program in the Tri-Cities. Investments in Project Echo, Start Programs and the University of Washington Autism Center of Excellence will help to increase provider professional development, so they can better diagnose, serve, and support children with I/DD.

 

Although Supported Living received a $2.5 % rate increase, it still is not reflective of the recent cost study that shows a much higher increase is needed to adequately maintain the needed workforce. Supported living has a turnover rate of 57% and there are 450 people waiting to receive Supported Living services.

 

Employment and Community Inclusion programs did not receive any rate increases, although their cost study showed a need for a higher rate to be able to attract and retain qualified staff and to build capacity to serve individuals who are waiting to receive employment services or Community Inclusion services.  The budget did include legislative direction to do a caseload forecast of employment and community inclusion to help plan for the next budget cycle.

 

 

Education

Significant policy changes and investments were made in education, particularly in special education. Notably, SB5883, “The Burden of Proof” bill, which shifts the responsibility onto school districts when families file for due process.

 

The legislature enacted HB 2180 which Increases the Special Education funding Cap from 15% to 16%.  $71 million was provided for 2SSB5882  which increases “prototypical school staffing” to better meet student needs.  It is important to note that this staffing includes paraeducators.

 

The Early Support for Infants and Toddlers  HB1916 addresses a billing issue, ensuring that Early Support for Infants and Toddlers agencies will be paid for their work in the first month of a child’s enrollment.

 

The legislature added 2 additional Special Education Ombuds to the Office of Education Ombuds.  Special Education cases are a high percentage of the work they do, and this should help provide relief.

 

Although the Restraint & Isolation bill E2SHB 1479 did not pass, there was funding for professional development and training and to create best-practice demonstration sites. In addition, there was $5 million to continue the inclusionary practices project with an emphasis on districts that have the highest percentage of students in segregated settings. Policies around restraint and isolation will be a priority for advocates for the next session.

 

Also of note is the inclusion expansion project to train staff in early childhood and daycares in best practices for children with I/DD who have challenging behaviors.

 

 

Policy

The Preservation of Records and Artifacts at Lakeland Village  SB6125 was a priority issue for advocates.  Funding was provided in the budget to implement 6125 so that these records will be made visible, and the hidden stories of those who lived there will not be forgotten. Future advocacy will focus on expansion to other RHCs and finding funding for the unmarked graves at Lakeland Village and other RHCs.

 

The “Nothing About Us Without Us”, E3SHB 1541 bill has passed and is on the Governor’s desk waiting to be signed. The advocates who worked so diligently are excited to attend the upcoming bill signing. Going forward, when workgroups or planning happens, people with lived experience, including those with disabilities will be at the table.

 

Legislative sessions always come with reasons to celebrate and disappointments.  There were several highly anticipated bills that died early in the session, including HB 2080, The Day Habilitation Bill and HB 2184, The Paying Parents of Minors bill.  Although they died, they generated a lot of discussion and legislators heard that families have real needs which need to be met. There was funding for a workgroup to study the issue of Day Habilitation. The conversation will continue during the off session about how these and other needs may be addressed.

 

For more detailed information on the budget and bills, visit the Arc of Washington’s bill tracker.

 

What you can do now:

  • Send legislators a thank you note/email for sponsoring or contributing to bills or budgets.
  • Attend Town Halls in your local community.
  • Stay informed through the Olympia Reporter and The Arc’s News to Know.
  • Sign up for alerts from The Arc of Washington’s Action Center.
  • Connect with your Congressional Representatives.
  • Read “Hot Tips for Advocates” to improve your advocacy skills.
  • Keep an eye out for The Arc of Washington’s candidate questionnaire.
  • VOTE!

Together, let’s create a community where every individual, regardless of ability, can thrive and contribute. You can make a difference!

 

If you have any questions or need more information, feel free to email cathy@arcwa.org.

 

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