Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you are having a good summer and have been able to spend time with family and friends. Several important items of interest have recently happened. I'd like to take a few minutes to provide an update in this e-newsletter.
Governor ignores bipartisan legislation, extends eviction moratorium to Sept. 30
Since March 18, 2020, residential landlords have been prohibited by emergency order of Gov. Jay Inslee from evicting tenants behind on their rent for any reason other than imminent threat to health and safety, active criminal activity, or if the landlord plans to sell or live in the property. Since then, many property owners have been forced to provided free or reduced-rent housing throughout the pandemic, with little to no relief for themselves.
I spent many hours during the 2021 legislative session in my role as ranking Republican on the House Housing, Human Services and Veterans Committee negotiating equitable rights for both rental property owners and tenants. This included amendments I authored to Senate Bill 5160 that would have provided $7.5 million in grants to eligible landlords for unpaid rent for tenants who are ineligible for other rental assistance. The amendments also would have ended the eviction moratorium on June 30 of this year. This bipartisan compromise legislation that passed the Legislature was far better than the original version of the Senate bill, which would have extended the governor's eviction moratorium for two years after the pandemic health emergency ends. Read the story about this legislation and my work on the bill in The Olympian.
When the bill reached Gov. Inslee's desk in April, he vetoed the sections that would ensure rental assistance was available until tenant protection programs were fully implemented. Surprisingly, he left intact the sections that ended the eviction moratorium on June 30. It is important to note that the governor's vetoes created the very crisis he says necessitated his new emergency order on June 24 (known as the “Tenancy Preservation Bridge”) that extended the eviction moratorium through Sept. 30.
This is extremely disappointing. Instead of being transparent and open to the citizens of Washington, the governor made them believe he would honor the June 30 moratorium deadline and the bipartisan work of the Legislature toward a solution. He broke faith with the Legislature and the public. And his vetoes created the very crisis the Legislature tried to avoid through passage of SB 5160.
There are some differences between the governor's original emergency order and the new proclamation extending the eviction moratorium through the end of September. You can view our comparison sheet here.
It is estimated nearly 195,000 Washington renters are behind on their rent, with an accumulated rent debt of roughly $1.2 billion total. That means rental property owners have carried this burden with little relief. This extension further exacerbates what is already an enormous financial challenge. Many providers are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in arrears, and financial assistance programs are woefully inadequate to cover their expenses. These actions will push smaller rental property owners out of this industry and lead to higher prices and a further shortage of rental housing properties once the moratorium finally does come to an end.
- Read my press release: Rep. Michelle Caldier speaks out against the governor's extension of the eviction moratorium
- Read the Kitsap Daily News story: Caldier criticizes Inslee for extending eviction ban
- Read my response to the governor's order in The Seattle Times: Inslee extends eviction ban in Washington through Sept. 30 to give more time for COVID-19 aid to help
Washington reopens, but governor extends his own emergency powers far beyond any other state
On June 30, Gov. Inslee finally lifted most of the pandemic restrictions and reopened Washington state. Many of our local businesses have waited for months as the governor continued to move the goalposts on restrictions that would allow them to operate. It's good to finally see help wanted signs as employers are now hiring so they can move to full capacity. We have waited far too long for this to happen.
Unfortunately, just before the full reopening, the governor also very quietly extended his emergency powers declaration through Sept. 30. He did this in the same emergency order that extends the renter eviction moratorium to Sept. 30. This is disturbing, especially since more than half the states have already ended their COVID emergencies. This new order now makes it so Washington state will have the longest continual emergency order of any state in the nation.
Washingtonians were never meant to be governed by proclamation and executive order for months on end. As I mentioned in my last email update, Republicans repeatedly tried during the 2021 legislative session to provide reforms to the governor's extensive emergency powers, only to be rebuffed by majority party leaders who blocked our efforts. Now that the governor has singlehandedly extended his own power into the fall, we hope majority Democrats will join with us the next time legislators meet to make thoughtful improvements to the state's emergency powers law.
KING 5 reports on further breakdown in state's foster care system, prompting legislative review
I wish to thank Chris Ingalls and the KING 5 Investigators for shining a bright spotlight on problems within our state's foster care system.
Back in February, Ingalls aired the first of several reports that foster kids, especially those most challenging to place in a foster home, are spending nights in hotel rooms across the state. In March, I spoke to him about House Bill 1347, a measure I sponsored to increase payments to foster care parents willing to take in hard-to-place children — many of whom are warehoused by the Department of Children, Youth and Families in residential group homes and hotels. It costs the state (you the taxpayer) up to $2,000 a night for hotels and on average about $15,000 per month per child in group homes, and even upwards of $37,000 a month per child. You can watch that report here.
The basic rate paid to foster parents to take in a child 12-years and older is $810 a month. Those levels may increase to just over $1,600 a month for children at Level IV, who exhibit the most extreme forms of physical, mental, behavioral and emotional conditions that require more work, care and supervision. However, the formula to allow for those higher levels is defective and cumbersome. Most foster homes never receive that level of support. My bill would have corrected this problem and ensured increased support for parents who accept challenging foster kids. The private care agencies fought the bill because, as I noted above, they receive as much as $15,000 a month for each child, and they didn't want that financial loss. Unfortunately, the bill did not advance out of committee this year.
Chris Ingalls' latest report further digs into the state's foster care system, in which kids are also sleeping in cars and in offices of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). You can watch that report here.
I am a foster care provider and often take in challenging foster kids, so I have first-hand understanding of the issue. I have been in direct contact with DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter and am working with his accounting team to find ways to recruit more foster homes for hard-to-place children, as well as conducting discussions for providing support for families with children who are developmentally disabled. We need to ensure these kids are no longer warehoused in offices, hotel rooms and even group homes. Instead, they need secure placement in a foster home, which provides a better and more stable environment for young people with severe behavioral or medical problems.
Watch the KING 5 Investigator reports on the state's foster care system:
- Feb. 24: 'A hopeless feeling': Former Washington foster child spent more than 100 nights in a hotel
- March 4: Washington spent $37,000 per month caring for foster child, records show (Includes Caldier interview)
- March 25: Foster family told to vacate Renton home to make room for migrant children (Includes Caldier interview)
- May 20 (updated July 20): No bed, no blanket: Social workers blow whistle on state forcing foster youth to sleep in cars, offices as punishment
- July 13: Washington social workers claim lack of support from state in after-hours foster care
- July 15: DCYF oversight board grills state child welfare leader about alleged punishment of foster youth
Transportation Commission considers new toll rates and ferry fares
Meeting last Tuesday via Zoom, the Washington Transportation Commission discussed new rates on three of the state's toll roads/bridges, including the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and new ferry fares.
For the Narrows Bridge, which is already five dollars with a Good to Go pass, the commission agreed on a 25-cent increase for pass holders, people paying with cash and pay by mail. That increase, if finalized and approved, would go into effect Oct. 1. Toll increases are also being considered on the 520 bridge across Lake Washington and the 99 tunnel. You can get more information about the toll increases here. The commission will hold its final hearing on tolls on Aug. 24 at 10 a.m. via Zoom. Register here if you wish to attend.
During the legislative session, as we were debating the original transportation budget proposal, I offered amendments to backfill the loss of revenue from COVID traffic reductions over the Narrows bridge and prevent the 25-cent toll increase. Unfortunately, both were rejected. However, we were able to get money in the final budget for the bridges to prevent higher tolls. My amendments prompted the final transportation budget to receive $16 million in federal money to reduce the impact of the losses. Another $30 million in the form of a loan from the Transportation Partnership Account was also applied to the Narrows Bridge account.
In June, the commission proposed increasing passenger and vehicle fares by 2.5 % on Washington ferries in October 2021 and again in October 2022. You can get more details here. The commission will hold its final hearing on ferry fares on Aug. 10 at 10 a.m. via Zoom. You can register here if you wish to attend and/or comment. The final fares are expected to be adopted Aug. 30.
Long-term care insurance benefit program begins in January
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are among the fastest growing age groups in the United States. As more of our state's population reach their golden years, there will be heavier demand on services for senior citizens, including long-term care.
Many Washingtonians are unprepared financially to pay for long-term care and often they have to spend themselves into poverty to access Medicaid long-term care. It's estimated that seven in 10 Washingtonians over the age of 65 will need long-term services and supports within their lifetimes.
A new program, known as the WA Cares Fund, is a new long-term care insurance benefit for workers in Washington state, which will help pay for eligible long-term care related expenses. Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, Washington workers will pay $0.58 per every $100 of income, which will fund the program. Beginning in January 2025, eligible participants can begin to utilize the benefit, which provides access to $100 per day, up to a lifetime benefit of $36,500 that will be adjusted annually for inflation.
For those who do not wish to participate in the program and its payroll tax, there is a short window this fall to permanently opt out. To opt out, an individual must purchase a qualified long-term care insurance plan before Nov. 1, 2021. Once an eligible private plan is purchased, an individual must apply for an exemption from the program to the Employment Security Department (ESD) between Oct. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022. If ESD accepts the application, the individual is permanently exempt from the payroll tax and ineligible for future coverage from the Trust Program. Once approved, individuals must provide all current and future employers with notice of the exemption to maintain exemption from the payroll tax.
You can get more information about the program, the benefit and the opt out feature by going to this page: FAQ: Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program or visit: WA Cares Fund.
Stay in touch!
Even though it is summer and the legislative session has been concluded since April, I work for you throughout the year. Your input is vital to help me in representing the 26th Legislative District. Please call, write or email my office with any comments, suggestions or ideas. Let me know if you'd like to meet with me or if you'd like me to speak with a group in the district.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve and represent you and the citizens of the 26th District.