August Public Policy Update

The late summer shows no sign of slowing down on the public policy front. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries released its menu of overtime pay options for comments by employers; The Columbian ran a pro-Johnson Amendment editorial specifically highlighting our work; and the Washington State Department of Commerce released a funding opportunity for census outreach. Additionally, this month’s policy update contains information about our September 5th Public Policy Advisory Call, tips on how to get started with your state budget advocacy, and an advocacy success story from our friends at The Mockingbird Society. Read on for the August Public Policy Update.

September 5: Washington Nonprofits Public Policy Advisory Call

Please join us as we discuss current policy issues impacting the nonprofit sector during our Quarterly Public Policy Call on September 5th. The call will discuss current federal and state policy developments as well as opportunities for your organization to take action. We will also use the call to get your feedback on how Washington Nonprofits can design its public policy work to benefit your organization. Click here to register.

Comment on WA Overtime Pay Policy Options

Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries is currently engaged in rulemaking to update our state’s overtime pay exemption threshold. The likely effect of this process is that more workers will be eligible for overtime pay, which will undoubtedly impact your nonprofit organization. Because of this, we strongly encourage your organization to join Washington Nonprofits in responding to the latest Draft Rule Concepts released by the Department before September 5th. Click here to learn more.

Census Outreach Funding Opportunity

(Description provided by the Department of Commerce) The Washington State Department of Commerce is offering small grants of up to $20,000 to community groups, non-profits, local governments, or other organizations that want to help ensure a complete count of Washington residents in the 2020 Census. Funding will help organizations develop plans for outreach and messaging to “hard to count” populations and areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. “Hard to Count” populations include:

  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Persons who do not speak English fluently
  • Lower-income persons
  • Homeless persons
  • Undocumented immigrants
  • Young mobile persons
  • Children
  • Persons who are upset with and/or distrust the government

Click here for more information and download the RFP here. Proposals are due by August 24, 2018.

September 5: Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign: Public Charge 101 Training

[Description from the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign] Efforts are currently underway at the federal level to strip immigrant access to critical safety net programs and services that make it possible for them to lead healthy lives and thrive. These efforts also seek to restrict legal immigration in the future, where those who might fall on hard times and need support cannot make the U.S. their home. Earlier this year, news leaked that the Department of Homeland Security was finalizing a proposed regulation regarding “public charge.” This draft rule would force immigrant families to choose between their health and safety and a path to a green card. This webinar describes public charge, how it would harm health and well-being, and what you need to know if you work with immigrant families. Click here to register. 

Petition to Oppose Expanded Public Charge Criteria

Under current immigration regulations, immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship who use a specific set of public support programs are deemed a “public charge.” This is a negative classification that typically leads to a denial of their citizenship request as well as possible denial of entry into the U.S. or deportation. The Trump Administration has signaled its intent to expand the list of services to include many programs and services that are administered by nonprofit organizations. The effect of such a change is that many immigrants will cease to use those programs because they are fearful of being deemed a “public charge.” In fact, we’ve heard from several Washington Nonprofits members that this effect is already happening based on the uncertainty surrounding the regulations. Click here to add your organization to a petition organized by the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign against the possible changes.

Washington Nonprofits Comments on Census Data Collection Plan

Washington Nonprofits submitted comments to the Federal Register regarding the Census Bureau’s proposed data collection plan for the 2020 Census. The comments convey two concerns on behalf of nonprofit organizations in Washington State: (1) opposition to the proposed collection of citizenship information; and (2) concerns regarding the switch to an “Internet First” response plan. Click here to read the comments.

Sign on to Support the LGBTQ Every Person Counts Act

One important omission from the 2020 Census is the collection of data regarding LGBTQ community. According to an NBC News report from March:

LGBTQ advocacy groups are outraged after proposed questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity were quickly removed Tuesday from a just-released draft of the 2020 U.S. Census. …

No previous U.S. Census has ever included LGBTQ Americans, which makes it challenging for federal agencies and researchers to accurately track the size, demographics and needs of the community. In addition, the more detailed American Community Survey also leaves out LGBTQ categories. Tuesday’s initial release from the Census Bureau proposed including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people on both surveys.

Advocacy groups have been campaigning for years to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, and were briefly elated when the 2020 Census draft was released. But hopes were dashed when the proposed addition suddenly disappeared, and a statement was issued by the Census bureau that called the LGBTQ inclusion a mistake.

To remedy this, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) are sponsoring the LGBTQ Every Person Counts Act. According to our friends at Win/Win Network:

This bill, would mandate testing and eventual inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity question on the Census and American Community Survey. … Including LGBTQ individuals in the Census and ACS will help ensure adequate representation, resources, and public policies that impact everyone’s lives.

Your nonprofit can sign on to Win/Win’s letter of support for the bill to help build momentum on this issue in Congress. Click herefor more information and to sign the letter.

The Columbian Editorial: “Red flags color Trump, GOP backdoor effort to weaken Johnson Amendment”

Citing Washington Nonprofits’ advocacy in support of retaining the Johnson Amendment, The Columbian editorialized in support of keeping nonprofits nonpartisan. The editorial board wrote:

As Washington Nonprofits, an umbrella organization in the state, wrote to Congressional representatives: ‘Weakening the Johnson Amendment would be a major mistake. The law is a vital shield that allows nonprofits to focus on their missions instead of diverting their time or charitable resources to support or oppose candidates for public office.’ … In truth, the Johnson Amendment does nothing to limit speech; advocates are free to donate to any number of political organizations, and pastors are free to weigh in on the issues of the day from the pulpit. Attempts to undermine the law amount to straw man arguments designed to politicize nonprofits.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Take Action Now: Urge Delay of New Tax on Nonprofit Transit Benefits and Support for New Legislation

Hidden in the weeds of the federal tax law enacted in December are two new taxes on nonprofits’ “unrelated business income” that are surprising just about everyone. One provision requires tax-exempt employers to pay a 21 percent income tax on its expenses for employee transportation benefits such as transit passes and parking. Another tax change requires nonprofits with business income to pay the tax on each separate “trade or business” and prohibits the blending of profits and losses across lines of business. Both technically became effective on January 1, 2018, with quarterly tax payments due on April 15 for many nonprofits. Unfortunately for all law-abiding nonprofits, the IRS hasn’t told anyone which transportation benefits are taxable or what types of activities constitute a separate “trade or business.” Please consider submitting comments to the IRS requesting that they delay implementation of the new unrelated business income tax on employee transit benefits. Our action alert, with a template for you to use, is available here.

In addition, there are three new bills in Congress that would address this issue:

  • Representative Michael Conaway (R-TX) introducedR. 6037, which is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee and has no cosponsors from Washington State.
  • Representative Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced R. 6460, the LIFT for Charities Act, which is also in the Ways and Means Committee and has no cosponsors from Washington State.
  • Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) introduced R. 6504, the Stop the Tax Hike on Charities and Places of Worship Act, which is also in the Ways and Means Committee and has no cosponsors from Washington State.

Call the Capitol Switchboard today at (202) 225-3121 and ask to speak to your Representative to urge them to cosponsor these bills. It is especially important for you to call if Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) represents you. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bills. Washington Nonprofits has spoken with his staff on this issue and they are very interested in hearing from nonprofit organizations based in his district that are impacted by the new tax.

August Advocacy Tip: Relationships are the Key to a Budget Request

If your organization is seeking state funding during the 2019-2020 biennium budget, now is the time to start your advocacy and relationship building. As you can see in the chart below and the document here, there are a number of steps that state agencies, the Governor, and the legislature go through before passing the final budget in 2019.

The summer months – June through September – are when the budget process starts up. State agencies begin work on their budget requests in order to meet the Governor’s September submission deadline. During this period, your organization should be building relationships with the state agencies that would distribute the funding you are seeking. For example, if your organization is a human service provider, you will want to start building relationships with the Department of Health and Social Services. Or, if you are a community development organization, you will want to be building relationships with the Department of Commerce. If you are unsure which state agency is the right one to approach, then identify the agency that seems like the best fit and start there.

Regardless of what agency you engage, you will want to speak with them to let them know who you are and what services you provide. You will want to learn what the agency’s funding priorities will be for the budget. This will help you determine if there are opportunities for your organization to take advantage of existing pots of money to bid for contracts or apply for grants. You could also use your conversation as a starting place for suggesting new dollars for services not currently funded by the state.

You can supplement your state agency outreach by reaching out to the staff in the Governor’s office and emphasizing the importance of the department’s budget request. For example, if the state agency is planning to request extra money to fund your service area, you will want to convey to the Governor’s staff why the funding is necessary. This will increase the chances that Governor Jay Inslee includes the money in his final 2019-2020 budget proposal that he submits to the legislature in January. It is important to note though that the Governor’s budget is just a starting point. The legislature has the final say over the state’s spending priorities. Therefore, your organization will want to start building relationships with key legislators that can help make the case for the money you are seeking during the upcoming legislative session.

The best legislators to start with are those that serve on the House Appropriations Committee. This is the committee that drafts the budget that the legislature ultimately passes. You will also want to approach the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is the committee that reviews the budget in the Senate. If a committee member from either chamber does not represent your organization, ask your district’s elected officials to make an introduction to one of their colleagues on the committee. You can also meet with the committee staff to gain insight on the budget process and what the priorities for the committee will be during the legislative session.

The ultimate key to a successful budget requests is relationship building.Now is the time for your organization to start building relationships with state agencies, the Governor’s office, and legislators that serve on key committees. This will help you build momentum for your budget request so that it is included in the final budget that will be passed in June 2019. If you are successful, make sure to thank everyone who helped you along the way. If you are unsuccessful in your budget request for this budget cycle, still thank the folks you met with and keep up your engagement so that when it comes time to draft the next budget you are ready to repeat the process.

Note: Meeting with legislators in their official capacity (discussing legislative business, not their campaign) during an election year is a permissible lobbying activity that you should feel free to conduct. Even if the official has a competitive challenger, you should still meet them — they are still a public official with constituents to serve.

Upcoming Town Halls and Events

August 7: U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler Guide to Federal Grants Event

August 18: U.S. Representative Adam Smith Town Hall

September 10: Washington State House Tax Structure Work Group Meeting (Seattle)

September 11: Federal Overtime Pay Rule Listening Session

[Description from U.S. Department of Labor] In the upcoming weeks, the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor will hold public listening sessions to gather views on the Part 541 white collar exemption regulations, often known as the “Overtime Rule.” Issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, these regulations implement exemptions from minimum wage and overtime-pay requirements for executive, administrative, professional, and certain other employees. The Department plans to update the Overtime Rule, and is interested in hearing the views and ideas of participants on possible revisions to the regulations. Click here to learn more and click here to register.

About David Streeter 42 Articles
David Streeter is Washington Nonprofits’ Director of Public Policy and Advocacy.