Equal Justice Coalition, Politics, State Funding

Session Recap: Big Wins for Low-Income Families

By Jay Doran

Thanks to your efforts, we continue to have success in the Legislature.  Yesterday – March 8, 2018 – marked the end of the 2018 Supplemental Session, and this short session was full of historic wins for low-income families across our state. Legislators heard from you and they are responding to your insistence on “justice for all.”

The Legislature increased the budget for civil legal aid by $638,000. This increase will fund five new civil legal aid attorneys and an automated family law document assembly system. Bottom line: more people will have access to the civil justice system because of this new funding for civil legal aid.

Please join us in taking a moment to contact your members and thank them for increasing funding for legal aid.

While we are pleased with every increase in funding, the reality is we still face a significant gap between the need for civil legal aid and our ability to serve those who need it. We expect to ask legislators next session (which is a full budget year) to fund a significant increase for civil legal aid. Your continued commitment to contacting your legislators today helps lay the groundwork for success next session.

In addition to increased funding, the Legislature passed a number of bills that will positively impact the lives of marginalized Washingtonians, including:

  • HB 2308: Removes many limitations on use of state money for civil legal aid, meaning state funds may now be used to assist clients on critical issues, such as consumer financial protections, medical debt, employment issues, and discrimination.
  • HB 1783: Makes a major change to one of the biggest barriers to re-entry for individuals who are incarcerated by eliminating interest accrued on legal financial obligations (LFOs) during incarceration, providing LFO repayment plans, and limiting courts from arresting individuals who cannot pay their LFOs.
  • HB 1831: Raises the asset limit eligibility requirement for families applying for state public assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Now, families can have $6,000 in savings and a car valued up to $10,000, allowing families to obtain temporary assistance without losing all of their assets and burying themselves further in debt.
  • SB 6002: Mandates equal voting opportunities for traditionally marginalized communities and provides avenues for communities to challenge offending cities or counties that don’t comply.
  • HB 1506: Requires employers to pay the same rate for the same work regardless of gender.
  • HB 1239: Ensures free access to personal health care records for individuals appealing their case after being denied disability benefits.

We anticipate Governor Inslee will sign these bills into law.

Thank you for all you do to support low-income families in Washington. Your activism is the reason we are making progress on civil legal aid and many other issues that threaten people’s access to justice.