The Districts Dime

Welcome to DCFPI’s Fall Interns!

September 15th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

I am excited to welcome Marco Guzman and Sean Reilly Wood to DCFPI as interns for the fall.  Marco and Sean will be spending their time this fall analyzing unemployment, wage, and health disparities in DC, as well as getting to know the ins and outs of DC government.  We look forward to having them on board!9-15-14-intern-f1

Marco Guzman graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Communication. He lives in DC and is in the second year of a Masters of Public Policy program at George Mason University. There, he is focusing on U.S. economic policy and also enjoys following fiscal and housing policy issues. Marco recently interned on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter.

9-15-14-intern-f2Sean Reilly Wood hails from the scenic mountain valley of Brunswick, Maryland. A senior at American University, Sean is majoring in Economics with minors in Sociology and Arabic Language. Previously, he worked for UNITE HERE! as a research intern and Public Citizen as a communications intern. Sean has studied abroad in Irbid, Jordan where he participated in an intensive Arabic language program. Between school and interning with DCFPI, Sean finds time to support social justice student organizing on campus. 

 

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Better School Meals Are Reaching More DC Students

September 11th, 2014 | by Guest Blog: Alexandra Ashbrook, D.C. Hunger Solutions
Source: D.C. Hunger Solutions

Source: D.C. Hunger Solutions

DC is taking important steps to make sure students don’t come to school hungry and that they get healthy breakfasts and lunches during the school day. Connecting students to school meals is a “magic bullet” that reduces hunger, improves nutrition, and boosts academic achievement all at the same time.

The benefits of school meals go beyond filling a hungry child’s belly, which is why it is great that the District is trying to get as many students as possible participating in school breakfast and lunch programs. These programs have the added advantage of being paid for largely with federal funds.   

Children who eat school meals have increased concentration, fewer behavior problems, and improved academic achievement than their peers who skip meals. Children who eat healthy breakfast at school—closer to test-taking time—perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home. 

At a time when schools are under tremendous pressure to raise students’ academic performance, the positive outcomes associated with participation in school meal programs cannot be overlooked, especially when more than 75 percent of students across DC qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The nation’s capital deserves praise for two initiatives that are connecting more students to healthy school meals:  

  • Free breakfast for everyone:  The D.C. Healthy Schools Act of 2010 (HSA) makes breakfast free across the city. This continues to fuel the number of children eating school breakfast, and it has led to improvements in food quality: more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and local produce. Click here for school breakfast participation rates at D.C. Public Schools. School year 2013-2014 rates are listed under our Making Breakfast Work report.
  • More schools offering free lunch to all students:  DC is taking widespread advantage of a federal option, known as “community eligibility,” to provide free meals to all students in eligible high-poverty schools, without making families fill out paperwork. DC has made all meals free at 77 D.C. Public Schools and 45 public charter schools. Click here for a list of schools taking advantage of this provision in the District.

Children are the District’s greatest resource, and ensuring access to nutritious meals by increasing participation in school meal programs is one of the best investments we can make in their future and ours. For information on how you can support efforts to connect kids to healthy school meals, contact Alexandra Ashbrook, D.C. Hunger Solutions at aashbrook@dchunger.org

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DC’s Winter Plan: A Step Forward, But Much More Work to Be Done

September 5th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

DC should expect an increase in family homelessness this winter, according to a plan passed this week by the city’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH). That may not seem especially surprising, but it’s actually very important.

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That’s because last year’s plan failed to acknowledge the scope of the problem, with disastrous results: District officials, facing an unplanned-for surge in homelessness, chose to place families in recreation centers – which courts later ruled illegal – and to put families out of shelter any winter day that didn’t fall below 32 degrees, even if they had no safe place to go. 

By better predicting the scope of the problem, this year’s ICH plan includes several recommendations to make sure the city is better prepared when winter comes.  The ICH – made up of government officials, advocates, homeless services providers and residents who are or have been homeless – produces a winter shelter plan each year. (DCFPI’s Kate Coventry is a member.) 

Some key highlights of the plan:

  • A realistic estimate of the expected need: The plan projects 840 families will seek shelter this winter, an increase of more than 100 from last year. This projection was prompted in part by a large increase in the number of families seeking help this summer. 
  • Acknowledgement that DC will need overflow shelter:  The District has 409 shelter units for families, fewer than half the number needed this winter, and they probably will be full at the start of hypothermia season. The ICH plan calls on DC’s Department of General Services to identify options to pursue now for meeting this challenge, from using DC-owned buildings to short-term apartment leases to motels. DC will need to act quickly on this recommendation if the units are going to be available this winter and make additional resources available to operate them.
  • A call for system improvements:  Many families stay in shelter for too long, exacerbating their problems and making it hard to serve newly homeless families. The ICH recommends that the officials who run the city’s homeless services programs, like Permanent Supportive Housing, take steps to make sure those programs can be used throughout winter. Last year, PSH and other programs could not be fully used, despite available funding, due to administrative problems. 

These recommendations, if followed, will help ensure DC’s homeless services work better. In particular, the District should focus on moving families more quickly out of shelter into appropriate housing, while allowing families to stay in shelter until such housing is identified. 

The winter plan doesn’t address the larger issues of the family shelter system, and in many ways leaves us with the same system as last year. It is not a long-term solution to family homelessness.

But the ICH will complete a new strategic plan over the next year, which will identify the changes needed for a long-term fix. It will then be up to a new mayor and Council to act assertively to implement the reforms and make them a reality. 

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An Update on the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative

September 4th, 2014 | by Nathan Harrington

9-4-14-dcpni-blog-f1DC and a number of communities across the nation have launched “Promise Neighborhoods,” built on the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone. These initiatives bring community partners together to address education, health, and social services supports in targeted low-income communities. DC’s Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) – in the Kenilworth-Parkside community of Ward 7– has received substantial federal and private funding, launched a number of activities, and recently hired a new leader. It also has faced some challenges, such as the closing of a public school within its boundaries. 

What is happening at DCPNI? DCPNI is working to tackle poverty with over 40 partners that offer services for children and their parents, from early learning programs for young children to workforce development and technical training courses for parents. The DC Promise Neighborhood staff act as a coordinator and convener for these partners. 

Two partner organizations, the Educare DC Early Learning Center and Unity Health Care, opened new facilities there in 2012. DCPNI also helped launch summer and out-of-school-time services that year, including its Digital Media Academy, the Tiger Woods Learning Center, the Boys and Girls Club, and Save the Children. 

How is DCPNI funded? The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative received a planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, and it landed a $20 million, five-year federal implementation grant in 2012. It has received additional support from Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, the Consumer Health Foundation, the Lois and Richard England Family Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, and DC LISC, among others. It does not receive funding from the DC government. 

New leadership at DCPNI. Mary Brown was announced as DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative’s new Executive Director in June 2014. In an interview with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Ms. Brown highlighted her ambitious goals and hopes, noting that “this community inherently has everything it needs to uplift itself…We [DCPNI] will serve as a backbone, a catalyst, and a broker.” 

Ms. Brown emphasizes the need to address issues of privilege and cultural conflict that are bound to be present in such an effort.  Partners are now required to go through an orientation that addresses issues of race, class, and gender. 

What challenges has DCPNI faced? The DC Housing Authority’s application for a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant to overhaul the Kenilworth Courts housing project was turned down. However, the community still hopes to attract a grocery store and other retail, to avoid having residents cross a major highway to access these amenities. 

The recent closing of Kenilworth Elementary School, one of three schools in the Promise Neighborhood, was another setback. The school boundary changes recently adopted by Mayor Gray includes a recommendation to reopen Kenilworth, which would enable more residents to send their children to school in the neighborhood. Nearly 70 percent of children in Kenilworth-Parkside now attend school outside the neighborhood. 

What’s next for DCPNI? In the coming months, DCPNI’s Parent Advocates program will begin assigning case workers to children in the community and launch a program focused on parents, which will include everything from accessing GED and job training to financial management and involvement in their children’s education. Moving forward, DCPNI aims to become a leading employer of Kenilworth-Parkside residents and expanding the programs that are most successful in lifting residents out of poverty. 

For more information on the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, see http://dcpni.org/

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DC’s Minimum Wage and Earned Income Tax Credit Go Hand-in-Hand in Making Work Pay

September 3rd, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The District’s economy is strong, but not everyone is benefiting. Hourly wages for low-income workers have fallen in recent years, making it more difficult for families to cope with DC’s rising cost of living. That’s why the District’s efforts to help low-wage workers – the recent increase in the minimum wage and a substantial DC earned income tax credit (EITC) are so important. They are helping making work pay and helping low-income workers make ends meet. 

The District is one of three jurisdictions to make improvements to both in the last year, according to a new report. The city raised the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by 2016 and expanded the DC EITC for childless workers. Together they make an enormous difference. Consider these examples. 

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  • A DC single mother of two, working 36 hours a week at an $11.50 wage will take home $4,400 more – equal to a 20 percent boost — than if the District followed the federal minimum wage and had no EITC of its own (see Table 1).
  • A single adult will take home $4,700 more than if DC simply followed federal minimum wage and EITC rules. That reflects the city’s effort this year to expand the EITC for workers without children, in addition to the minimum wage increase.

The tag-teaming of a strong earned income tax credit and a meaningful minimum wage has other important advantages. 

The EITC and minimum wage help all workers but support different workers in different ways. About half of District families who will benefit from the higher minimum wage have incomes below or near the poverty line – a group that also benefits from the EITC. However, the EITC is most targeted on families with children, while single workers are the largest group that will benefit from DC’s minimum wage increase. 

Residents benefit from the EITC and minimum wage at different times. The higher minimum wage will mean more in paychecks, helping workers cover monthly expenses, such as rent, utilities, and child care. The EITC benefits families at the end of each tax year, and the lump-sum refund can be used to pay for large ticket items, like home repair or tuition.  

With recent improvements, DC has made important strides to making work pay in the District. But as we move forward, the District must make sure that the minimum wage rises with the cost of living and includes all workers – especially workers with tipped wages who are now exempt.  

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