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Session Update – Day 44 of 60

By February 21, 2024No Comments

By Aaron Czyzewski
Director, Advocacy & Public Policy

The sixty-day 2024 Supplemental Session of the Washington State Legislature is passed the halfway mark. Here is a report on the status of Food Lifeline’s advocacy priorities. See our full agenda here.

Lawmakers are staying truer to the intent of a “supplemental” session by limiting spending. Another influence is uncertainty created by several ballot measures slated for the November General Election. For instance, if the repeal of the Capital Gains Tax and Climate Commitment Act are passed, these would significantly reduce future state revenues and cause the elimination of currently funded programs. Taken together, these influences have caused several of our priority issues to not move forward.

In better news, we are finding progress in a few areas to address the high levels of food insecurity that persists throughout the state. Moving this session are investments in child and senior hunger nutrition programs, food banks and food pantries, and efforts to encourage food donation that have the potential to bring tens of millions of pounds of food to hunger relief, while helping the state achieve its climate and wasted food reduction goals.

First, the good news:

Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) – pending in operating budget, outlook promising. Our request is $15 million for WSDA’s grant program that offers funding to food banks and food pantries for things like equipment, staff, and food purchases. This investment is crucial to ensuring that food banks and food pantries have operational funding to help meet the high level of community need they face.

Encouraging Food Donation – passed House, now in Senate for consideration, outlook promising. If successful, this bill by Representative Beth Doglio will encourage and support food donation practices in Washington, including efforts to achieve the state’s goal of a 50% reduction in wasted food by the year 2030. The bill will scale up sourcing donated Washington produce, protein, and grains; create wasted food reduction capacity grants, and will foster statewide collaboration on grocery rescue best practices. All told, these efforts will divert tens of millions of pounds of donated food to hunger relief agencies.

Senior Nutrition Programs – pending in operating budget, outlook: a lesser amount may be funded. Our request is for $15.2 million to replace lost federal funding to continue senior nutrition services, including site-based, pantry, and home-delivered meals for approximately 18,000 seniors.

Summer EBT – pending in operating budget, outlook promising. Our request is for $12.3 million for start-up of new program that provides grocery-buying benefits to low-income families with school-aged children when schools are closed for the summer.

Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program at the Department of Health – pending in operating budget is $1.1 million for this program that helps families on limited budgets afford more fruits and vegetables and encourages healthier eating. At select health care sites and public health agencies, health care providers prescribe fruits and vegetables to patients who are food insecure and have, or are at-risk for, a chronic disease. The prescription is used like cash to buy fruits and vegetables at Safeway stores in Washington. Fruit and Vegetable Rx are currently offered by 11 partner organizations.

Capital Budget – a project request for the South Seattle Community Food Hub is included in the Senate Capital budget proposal. It would fund the purchase of warehouse equipment. A project for Food Lifeline was requested and is not presently funded in the House Capital Budget. This project would fund the purchase of warehouse pallet racking equipment that would be use to created dedicated disaster response preparedness supplies. Independent Prosecutor – pending in the Senate, HB 1579, passed the House and had a hearing in the Senate. This bill is moving on to Senate Ways and Means. The Senate unanimously passed SB 6009, a bill to ban hog tying across the state, which had a hearing in the House this Wednesday, Feb 14.

Basic Need Navigators, State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, and 4-year public colleges – pending in operating budget. Our request is $1.8 million.

And now, the bad news:

Expanding access to free school meals – died in committee. Bills by Representative Marcus Riccelli and Senator T’wina Nobles would have extended free meals from the current K-4 grades to all grades. Separately, there is money in the operating budget, $45 million, to cover expanded K-4 grades participation in school meal programs from the year before.

Expanding eligibility to the Working Families Tax Credit – died in committee. This bill by Representative My-Linh Thai would have expanded the tax credit to 114,000 more Washington households, reaching more young adults and seniors, and increasing the number of eligible households by 30%. The current age range for childless workers limits the credit to those who are 25-65 years old. Separately, there is a pending $2M budget request to help expand community outreach to foster more awareness and encourage uptake with the tax credit.

Guaranteed Basic Income – died in committee. This legislation by Representative Liz Berry would have created a pilot program for direct cash assistance to help Washington residents struggling under unprecedented income inequalities.

Attorney General Investigations – a social justice bill, did not make it out of its House of Origin and therefore will not become law this year. Bill info here: Attorney General Investigations and Reform bill, HB 1445.

Traffic Safety for All – aimed at community safety, Traffic Safety for All bill, HB 1513, did not make it out of its House of Origin and therefore will not become law this year.

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