An activist for Statewide Poverty Action Network

Seattle Foundation Grantees Change Policy in Olympia and Improve Our Region

Current grantees are making significant progress in legislation

By Dionne Foster, Program Officer

Seattle Foundation is excited to share the 2019 legislative wins of our current grantees from select Community Programs Initiatives. The work of these organizations in their communities and in Olympia furthers our collective vision for racial equity in Seattle, King County and beyond.

The sweeping policy and budget wins our grantees achieved in the state legislature come after years of organizing, and sometimes decades of communities raising their voices to demand better, more just systems.

These wins were possible not just because of Seattle Foundation funding, but because our grantees listened to their communities, built relationships with elected officials, effectively advocated and brought community-based strategies to the table.

Budgets are moral documents. And so are grant investments. We’re proud to highlight their success.

Civil Survival

Civil Survival activists with the governor.

Civil Survival brings the leadership and experience of people who have experienced incarceration to the political process. Led by Tarra Simmons, who spent two years in prison before becoming a lawyer and the Executive Director of the organization, Civil Survival brings game-changing leadership to people who have been incarcerated.

This legislative session, Civil Survival collaborated to develop and pass The New Hope Act, a bill to support formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society. The New Hope Act:

  • Allows multiple misdemeanors to be vacated from a criminal record and expands judicial discretion for vacating certain felonies. Vacating convictions on criminal records lowers the barriers to employment and community participation for people who have completed their sentences.
  • The New Hope Act also improves the process for obtaining certificates of discharge, the process and document that certifies completion of a sentence.

On any given day there are 36,000 people living behind bars. Eight to ten percent of those leaving prison directly enter into homelessness, according to the Washington Statewide Reentry Council. With the passage of this bill, those who have served time will face fewer barriers to housing and employment.

Learn more about the Washingtonians this bill impact by watching Cathy’s Story.

Seattle Foundation supports Civil Survival as part of Communities of Opportunity and Resilience Fund.

Statewide Poverty Action Network

Grantee advocates in Olympia

For over 20 years, Statewide Poverty Action Network has been working alongside people with low incomes to win policy changes, build collective power and change the narrative on poverty. This legislative session, Poverty Action passed a slate of debt reform bills in Olympia. As a result of their advocacy and organizing, low-income consumers will have more equitable protection under state law. Poverty Action’s successes include:

  • Ending Pocket Service for Debt Collection: House Bill (HB) 1066 ends pocket service – a practice where debt collectors confused Washingtonians by issuing a debt collection summons without filing it in court. Without an official court filing, many Washingtonians believed the summons to be invalid and did not respond. Under the previous law, debt collectors were able to obtain and garnish wages from individuals who did not respond.
  • Medical Debt Protections: HB 1531 lowers the maximum interest rate on medical debt from 12% to 9%, eliminates arrest warrants for medical debts, and requires collectors to provide information about Charity Care resources that can cover medical debt.
  • Debt Collection Interest and Garnishment: HB 1602 increases protection from wage garnishment by allowing individuals to preserve $2,000 in savings (up from $500) and wage exemptions to 35 times the state minimum wage or 80% of disposable earnings (whichever is greater).
  • Stopping Zombie Debt: HB 1730 ends debt collectors’ practice of attempting to collect on debt older than the statute of limitations.

Seattle Foundation supports Poverty Action as part of Communities of Opportunity.

WA Census Alliance

The Washington Census Alliance is a statewide coalition of over 70 organizations led by, and who serve communities of color, focused on ensuring a fair and complete count of historically undercounted communities throughout Washington State.

In order to make sure all of our families and neighbors are counted, the Washington Census Alliance advocated for and successfully won a $15 million budget commitment from the Washington State Legislature to fund an accurate count of Washington residents.

Seattle Foundation invested seed funding for the Washington Census Alliance through our Catalyzing Community Impact Strategy.

Tenants Union

Tenants Union of WA is thrilled to have helped pass SB 5600. This law creates much needed eviction reform across Washington State. The law allows judges to use discretion in evaluating eviction cases and giving tenants 14 days to catch up in rent, instead of the previous 3 days. Tenants Union members also advocated for HB 1440 which doubles the amount of notice landlords have to provide tenants when increasing their rent – from 30 days to 60 days, Both laws go into effect July 28, 2019, but the fight for tenant protections continues. The bill that will create Just Cause eviction protections across Washington (HB 1656) was not brought to a full vote in 2019 but will be revived in the 2020 session. In the meantime, tenants in many local jurisdictions are organizing to win Just Cause in their cities.

Seattle Foundation supports Tenants Union as part of Communities of Opportunity and the Voter Education Fund

Community Health Board Coalition

A newly formed coalition of 12 health boards came together and collectively advocated for the passage of SB5846. This bill creates a workgroup to deliver recommendations on reducing barriers international medical graduates face in integrating into Washington’s health care delivery system. This important bill passed the legislature during the first session it was introduced, an uncommon occurrence and a testament to the power that communities build when collaborating with one another in search of a common goal.

Seattle Foundation supports Community Health Board Coalition as part of Communities of Opportunity.

Advocates meet with Representative Orwall
Advocates meet with Representative Orwall

The Washington Bus Education Fund

The Bus supported passage of a bill that allows counties to invest in programs and facilities in order to improve education outcomes. The bill broadens the use of the Puget Sound taxpayer accountability account from strictly educational services to a more comprehensive definition. This significantly opens the door for King County, and other regional transit authority counties, to create endowments and fund early learning, k-12 and higher education.

The work of our grantees is as diverse as the communities they represent, but it is united around our shared values of advancing racial equity and building the leadership of people of color and people with low incomes. We will continue to invest in the critical organizing, research and advocacy it takes to move our communities, our region and our state to achieve racial equity for all.

Seattle Foundation supports Washington Bus Education Fund as part of Communities of Opportunity and the Voter Education Fund.