Inslee Announces $365 Million in Equity Budgeting for 2021

by Carolyn Bick

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a slew of budgeting measures meant to address racial injustice across a broad swath of areas. These proposals, totaling $365 million, target everything from healthcare inequities — which the current novel coronavirus pandemic has laid bare — and environmental disparities to homelessness and even how insurance companies handle clients.

In a press conference on Dec. 14, Inslee said that his office would be rolling out these proposals throughout the week. Among these proposals is for Juneteenth to become a legal state holiday, for which 29th District Rep. Melanie Morgan has sponsored a bill. Morgan joined Inslee at the press conference and said that the next step is to bring the bill to the legislature. She said she was bringing about “racial reconciliation,” and believes that “all of Washington should celebrate the end of an atrocity that we had in this country.”

Inslee also announced a proposal to use $2.5 million to fund a state equity office, which the legislature created this year. Inslee said that this $2.5 million would go towards an office of eight people, which Inslee said would “develop and implement a five-year equity plan for the state. 

“It will also assist agencies in developing their own diversity and equity inclusion plans. This office will create an online performance dashboard that will monitor agency progress toward goals set out in their diversity, equity, and inclusion plan,” Inslee said.

Rep. Mia Gregerson, of Washington’s 33rd Legislative District and co-sponsor of the bill that created the office also spoke at the press conference, noting that “what rings true now, more than ever, is that the data tells us over and over again that we aren’t serving the most vulnerable and the most marginalized communities well enough.

“It’s not overt racist practices and policies, but it’s about looking at all of them, to identify and implement effective, well-thought-out approaches,” Gregerson said.

Inslee also announced a joint proposal with state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler that would ban insurance companies from using credit scores in determining automobile, homeowner, renter, and boat insurance rates.

“This bill addresses systemic racism within the credit system, which disproportionately affects communities of color. … People with poor credit are expected to pay more than twice as much as those with excellent credit — and, often, they even pay more than someone with excellent credit whose rate went up for being charged with [driving under the influence],” Inslee said, referring to a graphic, which the Emerald has included below.

From Gov. Inslee’s budgeting proposal announcement on Dec. 14, 2020.

Kreidler said that insurance companies look at credit scores to determine whether people will file future claims, “and they are using that information to make a determination as to what you pay in monthly premiums.

“It makes absolutely no sense. It’s unjust, it’s unfair, it is especially hard on people as they struggle with the devastating impacts of a pandemic that we are going through right now. People with lower incomes and minorities are the hardest-hit by the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Their income is disappearing, and their credit scores drop,” Kreidler said. “What causes people to have a loss in their credit scores? Generally, it’s because of unemployment, natural disasters, and unexpected medical expenses. That’s exactly what we are looking at right now.”

Inslee also announced the creation of an Office of Independent Investigations to provide independent police oversight and committed $10 million more to the Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund. Inslee’s other proposals also include equity investments such as the creation of grants and investing in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community-based organizations. The proposals will also address career development, expanding access to outdoor recreation for Black Washingtonians and improving access to school athletic fields and facilities across the state.

Inslee’s budget proposals will go to the Washington State legislature in 2021.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them on Twitter, and check out more of their work here and here.

Featured image from the Emerald archives.