2018 Budget and Looking Forward to 2019
After a robust and respectful budget process, the Seattle City Council voted to approve a $5.9 billion 2019 City Budget on November 19, 2018. It was my privilege to serve my colleagues and the city as Budget Chair. While this was my first year in that role, it was my ninth budget while serving as a Seattle City Councilmember, allowing me to bring both experience and action-oriented determination to the table. I admit: I am impatient with the continual study of problems and solutions; I wanted to approach 2019 as the year we get major work done.
I thank my Council colleagues, the Council Central Staff and Mayor Durkan and her team for their diligent work and commitment to a civil process. Though we do not always agree on every detail, our willingness to work together for the people of Seattle is what I appreciate most about this year’s budget.
The Mayor’s Proposed 2019-20 Budget was transmitted to the Council on September 24th and my fellow Councilmembers and I began our deliberations immediately. My primary goal as Chair was to pass an action-oriented, balanced budget and bring critically needed services to more people. To do this, we prioritized 2019 expenditures that will expand services for our most vulnerable populations, extend treatment-on-demand services to address substance use disorders, build more housing, reform our criminal and legal system, and support social workers and the LGBTQ community.
Some budget items that address these goals include:
I am committed to take a coordinated, regional approach to address the issues arising from homelessness. In the 2019 budget, we provided more funding for shelter, targeted outreach, and access to vital services. These programs include outreach to people experiencing homelessness, expanded treatment for individuals facing substance use and mental health issues; added Navigation Team support services; expanded emergency shelter; homeless day centers; homeless services for Native and Alaskan Native women; and, LGBTQ homeless services as examples.
Criminal and Legal System Reforms:
I remain dedicated to making systemic changes to our criminal, legal, and first responder systems to create better outcomes for our community. We addressed this need in the budget by expanding the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program city-wide and providing legal defense services for vulnerable populations such as sexual assault survivors, individuals facing eviction, indigent persons, and immigrant and refugees. We also dedicated funds to analyze our legal system and over $1 million to implement those changes in the 2020 budget. I am committed to working with our courts, city and prosecuting attorney, police and public defenders among others to improve outcomes for individuals and reduce costs.
Health and Human Services:
After learning that 40% of the calls that Seattle Fire Department respond to are considered “low acuity calls”, we are re-thinking how to respond to low-acuity crises or chronic issues. This includes calls related to substance use, wound care, mental disorders, or smaller issues such as a cough, a fall, or back pain. While you or I may take these issues to a primary care doctor, many in our community do not have access to such care or do not know of the available options.
Under our current system, many individuals who are homeless or unstably housed are sent to Harborview’s emergency room or mental health unit, they are arrested and jailed, or sometimes they are simply left on the street if they are not deemed to be in a dangerous situation. Then, the individuals struggle with their issues without a plan for recovery. This is ineffective both for the individuals in need of care and be expensive and exhausting for our police and fire department first responders.
To address this, along with our Fire Chief Scoggins and union leader Kenny Stuart, I championed the effort to dedicate funding to create the Mobile Integrated Health Response Team in our Seattle Fire Department, as well as a triage tool called the “single portal.” These programs will work together to give specifically tailored support to individuals with low-acute or chronic needs. The Mobile Integrated Health Response Team is modeled after similar programs in cities across our country. These programs have successfully provided care to the community while allowing fire ladder trucks and more of our highly trained first responders to remain available for high-acuity calls like fires or accidents.
We envision the Seattle Mobile Integrated Health Response Team will be piloted by 2nd Quarter 2019 and address low-acuity health problems, chronic behavioral issues, or mental health crises in a more person-centered and effective way. If it works as we expect, the low acuity response team will include a medically trained person to answer the 911 calls, then a designated response team will include a case worker, Emergency Medical Technician and other specialized provider to focus on the individual’s needs. As we gather data, we can decide how and where to expand the program.
Additionally, I championed funding to support a first responder triage pilot program that will allow the Mobile Integrated Health Response Team, the Navigation Team, and others to access information about available resources tailored to the individuals in need. This broadens the options for those in crisis beyond the emergency room or jail, to available mental health and detox beds, the sobering center, health clinics and easily connects individuals to their existing care teams. This is a huge step in breaking the cycle of individuals cycling between the streets, emergency rooms and jails.
We have also added a behavioral health provider to the Navigation Team to help the team compassionately address these issues with individuals living in unsanctioned encampments.
Additionally, we raised wages for human service providers to better support them in their critical work with the city’s most vulnerable people. The fact that many of our human services providers are having to rely on welfare is a huge failure in our system, and this funding is just a small step towards getting our providers the wages they deserve.
Capital Improvement and Neighborhood Dollars:
We are funding improvements and activation in the ‘Yesler Crescent’ corridor between City Hall Park next to the Courthouse in Pioneer Square to Second Avenue south toward King Street Station. The goals are to improve public health and safety, add more affordable housing, improve the Prefontaine Fountain and Prefontaine Triangle area while making connections with several other neighborhood-funded projects such as the Waterfront and Sound Transit 3 links. I envision improvements in this neighborhood that retain the Pioneer Square historic charm and create a welcoming and invigorated neighborhood for all.
While these investments will help improve the lives of those who live in our city, I recognize that more work needs to be done. Thousands of housing units for all income levels across our city, county and Puget Sound are needed, and a regional response I have long promoted is underway. My goal in 2019 is to work with our local and regional partners to expand and sustain these investments. You can review all the changes the Seattle City Council made to the Mayor’s Proposed budget here.
Looking ahead to 2019
On Wednesday December 19th, Future Laboratories, a consultant hired by Seattle and King County, released a series of recommendations that will dramatically change how our city and region address homelessness. These recommendations include consolidating the City of Seattle and King County Homelessness funding and policy-making under a new joint authority. There is a lot of work ahead of us to achieve this, but the results will be a more effective, coordinated system that focuses on the needs of individuals to make homelessness rare, brief, and an isolated experience. You can learn more about the announcement here and read the entire set of recommendations here. I will be serving on a Client Group to help implement these joint governance recommendations and look forward to ensuring they are implemented in 2019.
As I announced earlier this month, I will be leaving the City Council at the end of 2019; however for all who know me, you know my staff and I will not be slowing down one bit. I look forward to actualizing the items we passed in the budget this year and continuing to work hard for District 7 and the city of Seattle as a whole.
I hope you have a great holiday season and are ready for 2019. Rest up and then get ready to work with me to make 2019 the year we get things done!