The long 105-day state legislative session ended on Sunday, April 23. While budgets were tight this year as revenue is down, there were still a lot of wins for students, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Building Changes kicked off the session by expanding its policy and advocacy team and hiring recent UW law school graduate, Aaron Yared, as our new Senior Housing Policy Specialist. He hit the ground running to help advocate for the largest budget requests Building Changes has ever made to the state. This year, we requested an additional $5.6 million for the Homeless Student Stability Program (HSSP) and an additional $6 million for the Washington Youth and Families Fund (WYFF) to bring them to a total of $10 million each.
Final budget includes increased funding for HSSP and WYFF
Despite it being a very difficult budget year, especially for housing and homelessness services, funding for both HSSP and WYFF was increased:
- HSSP received an additional $4.6 million in a mix of ongoing and one-time funding for a total of $9 million for the program.
- WYFF received an additional $1 million in one-time funding for a total of $5 million for the fund.
Just as session was coming to a close, articles in The Seattle Times, The Columbian, and The Spokesman-Review highlighted the importance of these statewide resources and why more funding is needed. We are extremely grateful that legislators recognized this and increased funding for HSSP and WYFF because it means that school districts and community-based organizations across the state will have more resources to support students, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. We also appreciate the significant support we received from partners, grantees, and advocates across the state who took action and helped us advance our funding requests this session. Thank you!
HSSP bill on its way to the Governor’s desk for signature
One of our biggest wins this session was the passage of House Bill 1622, which helps improve the Homeless Student Stability Program (HSSP). Sponsored by our passionate legislative champion, Representative Fey (D-Tacoma), this bill does three important things:
1) Increases collaboration between agency partners.
2) Ensures funding is used flexibly to effectively meet the unique needs of students and families experiencing homelessness.
3) Makes it easier for nonprofits to apply for grants.
Building Changes worked for more than a year on this bill, meeting with stakeholders, holding ideation sessions with state agency partners, and partnering with grantees to ensure that House Bill 1622 met their needs. Council for the Homeless was a key partner in this work, testifying at hearings on the bill and speaking to how HSSP works in their community. This bill would not have passed without strong advocacy support from dedicated partners like them. We are excited to see how this bill will lead to positive changes for both grantees and students and families experiencing homelessness.
Other important legislative wins
Our partners also had many wins across the housing, education, and health systems, which we supported:
- We testified and helped advise on Senate Bill 5599 led by Senator Liias (D-Mukilteo), which supports unaccompanied homeless youth who are seeking gender affirming care or reproductive care and need a safe place to stay because they are not supported at home.
- We testified on House Bill 1679 led by Representative Rule (D-Bellingham), which would help improve the Project Education Impact (PEI) workgroup that Building Changes co-leads with Treehouse. PEI is composed of nonprofits, state agencies, and legislative partners with the goal of improving educational outcomes for students experiencing homelessness or foster care. This bill would add students in or exiting juvenile rehabilitation facilities to PEI’s focus, require representation from data partners and people with lived experience, and extend the workgroup to 2028.
- We testified on House Bill 1238 led by Representative Riccelli (D-Spokane) on free school meals. This bill, over a phased-in approach between the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years, requires certain public schools serving grades K-4 to provide breakfast and lunch each school day free to any student. Schools covered under this bill are those where 30 percent and 40 percent or more of their students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under federal meal programs.
- We continued to support the Housing Trust Fund, a state fund that supports the building and preserving of permanently and deeply affordable homes. Under the leadership of our advocacy partner, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, the final budget included a historic $400 million for this crucial fund.
This was a very tough year for housing and homelessness bills, despite unprecedented advocacy levels. Revenue is down in Washington State and national and global issues are driving many in our state to be more fiscally conservative. Strong corporate opposition lobbies were hard at work this session, too. Unfortunately, important housing bills that we thought would have helped better protect renters against unfair, abusive, and extreme rent increases (HB 1388 and HB 1389/SB 5435) and create a permanent funding source for the House Trust Fund (HB 1628) died this session. We were also disappointed that an important bill on equity and maternal health (SB 5580) did not make it pass the finish line this session.
With additional funding now secured, we look forward to expanding our WYFF grants portfolio and getting resources to more communities across the state to help support youth and families experiencing homelessness. We are also excited to continue partnering with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Office of Homeless Youth (OHY) to expand HSSP into more school districts and communities, as well as implementing the improvements to HSSP through the passage of House Bill 1622.
Sustaining these essential statewide resources is even more important now, as we hear about federal and local budget cuts to education and housing programs that support students, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. We are currently working to help ensure that homeless student liaison positions and key school programs remain in place, so that students and families are supported and receive the care they need to thrive in their schools and communities. We will be releasing more information and advocacy materials on this soon, so stay tuned!