The Districts Dime

How Will DC Shelter Families This Winter?

October 31st, 2014 | by Kate Coventry

Tomorrow marks the official beginning of hypothermia season, and an increase in family homelessness is expected, but the District has yet to release details of how it will meet the legal obligation to shelter families during cold weather months. Last year, insufficient planning and a large increase in homelessness led the District to place some families in recreation centers, yet preliminary court decisions stopped this practice because of its risks to children. And just this week, the DC Council gave preliminary approval to legislation clarifying that homeless families must be sheltered in private rooms.9-5-14-winter-plan-blog-f1

This means that other options are needed. There are three key issues that need to be addressed soon to avoid the crisis of last year: securing needed overflow shelter capacity, addressing a shortfall in homeless services funding, and improving services that move families from shelter.

Shelter Capacity:  The Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) predicted in its Winter Plan that shelter capacity would not be sufficient to get through the winter. Yet the District has not developed and shared how it will meet overflow needs, such as using motels or suitable DC properties. The Department of Human Services reported at a Council hearing this week that it was in contract negotiations for additional capacity but offered no details such as the number or location of this capacity.

Addressing the Funding Shortfall: The ICH also recognized that the homeless services budget was inadequate to pay for needed overflow shelter, and the Chief Financial Officer recently confirmed an $11 million shortfall in the family shelter budget.[1] This is partly because this year, the District does not have access to some sources of federal funds that were used last year. Identifying resources soon to fill that gap will make it possible provide appropriate services efficiently and effectively.

Read DCFPI’s testimony on the Winter Plan here.

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[1] Fiscal Impact Statement – Dignity for Homeless Families Amendment Act of 2014. October 15, 2014.

 

 

 

 




[1] Fiscal Impact Statement – Dignity for Homeless Families Amendment Act of 2014. October 15, 2014.

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Community Recommendations to Improve Access to The Healthcare Alliance Program

October 30th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The District’s Healthcare Alliance programs help low-income immigrant residents get needed health care, but many residents struggle to access their Alliance benefits simply due to burdensome eligibility procedures. That’s why DCFPI and other advocates sent a letter to the city’s health care leadership in support of needed changes to make the program more accessible. 10-10-14 Alliance

The District adopted a stringent requirement in 2011 that all Alliance participants recertify their eligibility every six months through an in-person interview at a service center. Since then, enrollment has dropped sharply (see Figure 1), and new data from the Department of Health Care Finance suggest that the six-month interview requirement created a barrier to getting services.

This is not surprising. Workers with limited access to child care and full-time work find it difficult to complete the frequent interview requirement. Beyond that, many families are forced to make multiple trips because of a lack of language assistance, long lines, and delays in staff processing information.  

In September, three major changes to improve the Alliance program were identified at a meeting between DC’s Department of Health Care Finance and community organizations. Our letter supports these actions:

Change the face-to-face interview to an annual interview.  An annual recertification period will help Alliance members who must take time off of work to do the interview. It will also help program staff by lessening the number of clients they have to see and improving their ability to assist individual cases.

Allow community health workers to assist with parts of the recertification. If Alliance beneficiaries can complete their recertification with community health workers, the applications will have fewer problems, be processed faster, reducing the need for residents to make multiple trips. These workers already have strong relationships with the Alliance community, and can help alleviate language and cultural barriers in the application process.

Allow Alliance participants to apply online. DC has a new online public benefits system for Medicaid that uses many existing databases to verify identity and residency. Yet the Alliance program still uses a paper application. Fully incorporating the Alliance into the electronic application process would mean that many beneficiaries would never need to visit a service center in person.

 The District takes pride in the fact that almost every resident has access to health coverage and services. The recommended changes to the Alliance program would ensure that residents not only have access to health care, but can keep their coverage. We hope the Department of Health Care Finance and the DC Council will approve these changes and continue their commitment toward health care for all.  

To view a copy of the letter, click here.

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DC Adds Health Insurance Protections for Workers in Small Businesses

October 29th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The DC Council took an important step yesterday to make sure that people who work for small businesses in DC have affordable and comprehensive health insurance envisioned by Obamacare, rather than a skimpy plan that is bad for workers and risky for their bosses. At the heart of it, the bill creates disincentives for small businesses to self-insure, which makes health insurance options less risky and higher quality for employees.

 Small businesses that choose to provide health insurance can offer a plan or set of plans through DC Health Link, the District’s health exchange, or they can self-insure. Self-insurance means that instead of purchasing a health plan from an insurance company, an employer creates a fund to pay for employee health expenses directly.

Self-insurance is incredibly risky for small businesses, especially for those who have employees with high health needs. So some small businesses buy insurance plans known as “stop-loss” – which cover a business’s health expenses above a set level for any individual employee.

 But self-insurance and stop-loss plans have major problems. To keep costs low, businesses that self-insure often do not provide all of the essential health benefits required of plans sold through DC Health Link, and they do not have consumer protections such as bans on pricing based on health and tobacco use status. Secondly, self-insurance and stop-loss are unregulated and pose a lot of risk for the small business owners. For example, if a business or employee are denied coverage or payment for a claim, there is no regulatory recourse to solve the issue. This could put the business or employee at high financial risk.

 The Council action yesterday was the first vote on a bill to regulate the use of stop-loss plans, making self-insurance less desirable. The bill bans the sale of stop-loss policies to small businesses, unless the small business is providing coverage of basic, essential benefits – like those sold on DC Health Link. Second, the bill requires employers to pay $40,000 in expenses per employee before stop-loss insurance can kick in. That makes stop-loss policies unattractive, and incentivizes small businesses to shop for more robust, less risky coverage on DC Health Link.

 Both of these changes will help ensure that more employees are covered by higher quality, affordable plans. We hope DC Council continues to adopt consumer friendly policies for the private health insurance market and vote to approve this legislation on second reading next month. 

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DC Council: Don’t Weaken a Bill That Will Develop Affordable Housing across DC

October 28th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

The DC Council will take an important vote today to use DC-owned land to create affordable housing throughout the District—provided the Council doesn’t approve amendments that weaken the bill. One of the possible amendments could potentially remove affordable housing in one-quarter of the city’s land dispositions. 

The Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Act would allow DC’s public land to be sold below market value and in return require developers to make a portion of the new housing there affordable. This smart approach pairs private and public resources, creates mixed-income communities, and helps low-income residents live in developing areas with better job, school, and retail opportunities. 10-7-14 Public Land

The bill would use public land value to generate mixed-income communities with a substantial amount of affordable housing. It would require 30 percent of new housing built near public transportation to be affordable. Elsewhere, 20 percent of the units would need to be affordable.

For rental properties, a quarter of the affordable units would be for people with incomes under $29,000 for a family of three (30 percent of AMI), and the rest would be for residents making up to $48,300 for a family of three (50 percent of AMI) For homeowner properties, the affordable units would be split between residents earning under $48,300 and those earning under $78,200 for a family of three (80 percent of AMI).

Yet, three potential amendments could significantly weaken the bill and should be opposed: 

#1: Oppose raising the threshold of when the bill would apply. The bill applies when 10 or more residential units will be built, but one amendment could exempt all developments up to 80 units. This could eliminate affordable housing in many projects, especially in areas of the city where larger developments are not likely to occur.

DC land dispositions in recent years resulted in anywhere from 9 units to 1,200. But nearly one-quarter of the land dispositions resulted in fewer than 20 units.  Exempting these buildings would eliminate many opportunities to get affordable housing in DC neighborhoods.​ 

#2: Oppose limiting the CFO’s independent role to guarantee affordable housing.  The bill allows the affordable housing set-aside to be reduced when land value is not enough to cover the cost. But it relies on the CFO to provide an independent, expert analysis in these cases that the scaled-back requirements maximize the affordable housing that can be leveraged — and that the goal of the bill is fully met. An amendment to make the CFO analysis purely advisory would be no way to ensure that affordable housing is maximized, because a non-binding CFO analysis could be ignored under pressure to get a deal done. 

# 3: Oppose allowing affordable housing units to disappear over time. Another amendment could allow the mayor to waive the requirement that units be affordable for the life of the building. In DC and across the country, communities struggle to replace affordable housing when requirements end before the end of a building’s useful life. The bill recognizes D.C. land as a public asset that should be used to create housing that is affordable for as long as possible. 

Another amendment to the bill represents a reasonable compromise and should be supported: 

Allowing the land value to be apportioned between affordable housing and a government facility.  In some instances, DC may want to dispose of land to build both housing and a new government facility such as a library, recreation center, or police or fire station. It is reasonable to allow the land value to be apportioned based on square footage so that it can subsidize both the affordable housing and the library or fire station.

The District’s publicly owned land presents a unique opportunity to use the rapid growth in property values to create a greater number of affordable units. By offering land at a discount, the District can create affordable housing units without using tax dollars. In return, low-income residents get to live in mixed-income areas that have greater economic opportunities such as access to job centers, higher-quality schools, and greater public amenities.  

That is why the DC Council should vote support this bill but vote no to the proposed amendments that would significantly weaken its ability to create low-cost housing across DC.

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DC United and New Mayor Need to Play Fair with Community Benefits

October 22nd, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

It is common for large developments like a soccer stadium to include amenities that protect surrounding neighborhoods and provide benefits to area residents. Yet despite almost $200 million in proposed subsidies for a new stadium, the mayor and DC United recently dismissed nearly all of the requests made by community members for community benefits. The team committed to supporting 25 spots at a summer camp, but that was about it.

It is likely that any stadium deal will be completed under a new mayor, and the Council will have to approve the deal, too.  The Southwest community will need to look to them ensure that everyone wins with the new development.   10-22-14 Soccer

The residential neighborhoods adjacent to Buzzard Point have a lot of needs, which did not improve with the development of Nationals Park and the Navy Yard. Residents experience high rates of unemployment, rising rents, game-day transportation issues, and under-resourced parks and recreational facilities. A new soccer stadium for DC United would add strain to the transportation system and put affordable housing at risk.

That’s why a coalition of community leaders sent a proposal to the city and the team for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) – a legally binding contract to address specified community needs. CBAs across the country have helped low- and moderate-income neighborhoods benefit from big development projects. For example, a CBA tied to the development of Staples Center in Los Angeles led to new parks and recreational space, job readiness programs, and affordable housing.

Among other things, the proposal calls for:

  • A commitment to preserve affordable housing in the area.
  • A $5 million community fund to support recreational and educational programming.
  • Increased access to public transportation and parking/traffic alleviation
  • Mitigation of environmental hazards that have had effects on residents’ health in the past.
  • A set aside for some of stadium’s construction and operation jobs (ticketing, concessions, guest services) and job-training slots to go to residents living in the immediate neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the mayor and DC United dismissed these requests, making empty reassurances that existing programs could alleviate potential issues. Despite a substantial proposed commitment of city resources to benefit the team, neither the District nor DC United has offered much to the community.

A stadium deal is unlikely to be completed this year, which means that a new mayor and DC Council will review and approve any deal. This will offers another chance to pursue a meaningful CBA that mitigates the risks to the Buzzard Point residents and ensures that existing residents can live and thrive with the new development. 

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