The Districts Dime

DC’s Smart New Investment In Transportation Assistance for Adult Learners

June 20th, 2017 | by Ilana Boivie

Next year, DC residents in adult education programs won’t have to worry about whether they have bus fare to get to and from class, because the just-passed DC budget includes money to let them use public transportation for free. Thousands of vulnerable residents will have a better chance at getting the education needed to land a good job, and DC’s large investment in adult education will be more effective because attendance and completion rates will likely improve.

adultlearnersImproving adult education should be a top priority in DC. Some 60,000 DC residents lack a high school diploma or equivalent,[1] and over half of the students in adult education programs test at a sixth-grade level or below in reading and/or math. Adults without a high school credential are seven times more likely to live in poverty than those with a high school credential, and five times more likely to be unemployed than residents with a bachelor’s degree.[2] Most residents without a high school credential are black, reflecting one of the starkest racial inequities in DC.

Roughly 8,000 adults are currently attending adult education programs in the District. Yet the high cost of transportation has been a major barrier to participation in these programs. While Kids Ride Free allows students through age 22 to use Metrorail and bus for free, older students currently pay the full price. Informal surveys of adult learners show that one-third reported having to miss class or even drop out of school due to the cost of transportation. A 2016 report by the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) confirmed this problem and noted that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”[3]

These findings are backed up by national research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which found that services such as transportation or housing assistance “can help adults—especially those with caregiving responsibilities—complete job training programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing.”[4]

The $2 million included for transportation assistance in the FY 2018 budget will go a long way toward helping adult learners achieve their educational goals, enable them to get better jobs, and thereby help the District get the most out of its $80 million in local and federal dollars spent on adult education each year.

We applaud the DC Council for providing this assistance, and hope that implementation moves forward swiftly and efficiently.

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[1] DC’s WIOA State Plan. Available at

[2] Lazere, E., and M. Guzman. 2015. “Left Behind: DC’s Economic Recovery Is Not Reaching All Residents.” DCFPI. Available at

[3] The DME report notes that certain adult learners may have access to transportation subsidies through other programs, and provides descriptions of these various programs. However, the report goes on to conclude that due to “very narrow, specific eligibility requirements” there remains a very high unmet need in the city.




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DC Is on Track to Provide Better Oversight of The Housing Production Trust Fund

June 16th, 2017 | by Claire Zippel

Every dollar dedicated to affordable housing in DC counts, so it’s great news that the District is taking important steps to strengthen oversight of the Housing Production Trust Fund, our main housing tool. A few months after the DC Auditor called for stepped-up monitoring of affordable housing projects assisted by the fund, the city is on the right track to address the problems, including providing more staff to do the job right. The District should continue to move quickly to implement the audit’s recommendations.

The audit report, released in March, found several lapses in DC’s oversight of 14 affordable housing projects that received loans from the Housing Production Trust Fund. While there’s reason to believe the problems are limited to a subset of higher-risk projects that received only Trust Fund assistance (other financing sources often used in combination with the Trust Fund have clear-cut oversight procedures)—it’s unacceptable that any project didn’t fully live up to its requirements to provide affordable housing.HPTF2

That’s why it’s promising news that the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is taking several steps to respond to the audit. Perhaps most important, DHCD will have five more staff to oversee the Trust Fund and other affordable housing projects in fiscal year 2018. Inadequate staffing was a key reason projects slipped through the cracks, according to the audit. Mayor Bowser included funds for the additional staff in her proposed budget, and the DC Council supported this in its final budget vote earlier this week.

The added staff will help DHCD revamp its oversight of Trust Fund projects and implement the audit’s recommendations. DHCD already has started to clarify how those staff will manage Trust Fund projects, by applying the rigorous oversight procedures that the District applies to federally funded housing projects.

The audit also revealed a lack of consistent historical data on the number and amount of Housing Production Trust Fund loans. The DC Auditor, Chief Financial Officer, and DHCD are now working to review all the loan agreements (many of which haven’t ever been digitized) to compile an accurate and authoritative dataset.

The Housing Production Trust Fund is the cornerstone of DC’s affordable housing efforts, so it’s important to stay on track, and get this housing tool right.  DHCD should keep up its work with the DC Auditor and the CFO. And when FY 2018 begins, DHCD should fill the newly funded staff positions quickly, and consider dedicating at least one employee entirely to improving Trust Fund oversight procedures.

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DC Pursues Promising Approach: Shared Business Services for Home-Based Providers of Early Care and Education

June 14th, 2017 | by Marlana Wallace

Home-based child care is an essential resource for working District families—and a great way for residents to run their own business—yet many providers struggle to stay afloat amid high costs and low payments in DC’s child care subsidy program. Dramatically increasing reimbursements to educators caring for low-income children is part of the solution. But so is smarter use of those dollars. The good news is that the District is starting to do both. In addition to raising payments, the District is creating a “Shared Service Alliance”—an innovative model to help small providers pool resources, maximize efficiency, achieve economies of scale, and improve quality.

child careChild care providers are both essential educational institutions and local businesses. Yet tensions can arise from these dual purposes. Low student-teacher ratios and intimate relationships are critically important, but also costly. Holding early educators accountable for the highest standards necessitates extensive record-keeping that takes adults out of the classroom. Providers must contend with thin margins, frequent turn-over, and inconsistent, inadequate revenue streams that rarely cover the full costs of educating young children.

Investing in efficiency—like data automation, budget management, or website development—can help providers maintain the ‘iron triangle’ of early care finance: full enrollment, full fee collection, and revenues that cover per-child costs. Yet investments like these can be nearly impossible, particularly for small, home-based providers.

One promising answer to this challenge, which the District is starting to pursue, is to help small providers work collaboratively to reduce costs. A Shared Service Alliance can support things like hiring a centralized enrollment specialist to help families verify subsidy enrollment, collect fees from parents, and maintain full enrollment across multiple home sites. Another Alliance could choose to buy a camera to stream professional development trainings, or software to automate the collection of attendance data. The time and resources saved from better business practices can free up educators to focus on their mission and improve quality.

DC government representatives recently announced that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is reviewing competitive grant applications to develop a Shared Services Alliance for home-based child care providers in the District. The Alliance will ease administrative difficulties and maximize business efficiencies, enabling educators to focus on the children in the classroom. Grant winners will be announced soon and will receive up to $500,000, supported by local funding in the budget.

The District needs more successful homes and centers to educate infants and toddlers. Establishing a Shared Service Alliance is one of the many strategies required to better support teachers building the educational foundation of DC’s youngest learners and empowering their parents to participate in the workforce.

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House Health Bill Would Push Costs to DC And Put Health Care for Thousands at Risk

June 9th, 2017 | by Jodi Kwarciany

Congressional plans to scrap the Affordable Care Act and revamp Medicaid could cost the District over a billion dollars in just a few years—with costs continuing to rise every year—which in turn would jeopardize the District’s efforts to expand Medicaid and provide near-universal health coverage. If anything like the House bill passes the Senate, it would be devastating to DC residents and our city’s finances.

us capitalThe American Health Care Act (AHCA) was passed by the House in May to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with dramatic consequences for Medicaid. It drastically cuts program spending over 10 years in a two-part punch: by changing the way the federal government shares Medicaid costs with DC, and by ending enhanced funding DC has received under the ACA to expand Medicaid to able-bodied adults without children.

DC and the states currently share the cost of their Medicaid programs with the federal government, and DC receives 70 cents for every dollar it spends. The ACA allowed the District to expand Medicaid to adults without children who are not elderly or disabled—who previously had not been eligible—with the federal government paying 90 percent. This would change in fundamental ways under the House bill.

First, it would end the enhanced funding for DC’s Medicaid expansion. Beginning January 2020, the federal government would only pay DC’s regular matching rate, 70 percent, instead of 90 percent for any new Medicaid expansion enrollees.

Second, it would end federal Medicaid funding entirely for 13,000 of the 80,000 people who are currently covered by DC’s Medicaid expansion. That’s because the ACA generally allowed states to expand Medicaid coverage for able-bodied adults without children with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty line (or individuals with incomes at $16,040 or less) but the District received federal permission to extend this, covering individuals with incomes up to 210 percent of the poverty line (or those making up to $25,330). Under the AHCA, DC would get no federal funds for residents with incomes between 133 percent and 210 percent of the poverty line.

But there’s more. Over time, the AHCA also would ultimately end the practice of reimbursing DC based on share of expenses and instead provide a fixed amount per person, or per-capita-cap. This would leave DC on the hook to cover additional or unexpected expenses – which is especially problematic if health care costs rise faster than the capped amount adjusts for. And the costs to DC would be expected to rise over time as the gap between actual health costs and capped federal funding grows.

All of these changes leave DC to foot an ever-increasing bill, and the additional costs to DC just to maintain its full Medicaid expansion would be over $1.5 billion between fiscal years 2018 and 2024, according to the DC Department of Health Care Finance.

With these kinds of financial constraints, DC would have three choices: devote far more local dollars to the Medicaid program, limit Medicaid enrollment, or reduce Medicaid benefits. None of these options would bode well for District residents, and it could critically increase the number of uninsured.

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With Paid Family Leave Fully Funded, It’s Time to Move Swiftly to Implement It

June 7th, 2017 | by Ilana Boivie

The budget adopted last week by the DC Council will provide the funding needed to implement DC’s new paid family and medical leave law. This means the DC government can—and should—start moving forward, so that that workers can begin receiving benefits in 2020 as required under the law. Progress could be slowed, however, by bills to “repeal and replace” the new law with alternatives that raise serious concerns. The DC Council should spend the summer resolving those alternatives—we think they should be rejected—to prevent any unnecessary delay in workers being able to take paid leave when they have a child, or need to care for themselves or an ill relative.

pflThe Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA) will give 8 weeks of paid leave for new parents to be with their children, 6 weeks to workers who need to care for an ill relative, and 2 weeks for workers to address their own health needs.

Like all states that currently offer paid family and medical leave, UPLA uses a social insurance model, similar to Unemployment Insurance and Social Security. Private-sector employers pay a modest payroll tax into a government-run fund to cover the cost of benefits for all of their workers. Then, when workers need to access the benefits, the employers are essentially “off the hook”—the employee comes off the company’s payroll, and the government processes claims and pays benefits. This has several benefits:

  • It offers a predictable and modest tax to employers. For a worker making $50,000, the tax is just $310 a year—about $6 per week.
  • It has low administrative costs.
  • It places virtually no administrative burden on employers.
  • It uses a neutral third party to decide whether a claim for benefits should be approved.

Notably, UPLA will be a great gain for workers without altering “the upward trajectory of the District’s economy,” according to a thorough analysis of the program by the Council Budget Office. They concluded the economy will be at least 99.9 percent as large as it would be without adopting this program.

Recently, however, several alternative proposals have been introduced at the Council to “repeal and replace” UPLA. All would include an “employer mandate,” in which employers would be required to provide family and medical leave benefits directly. They would have to either “self-insure”—pay benefits directly out of pocket—or try purchase insurance, even though no such insurance product exists in DC, or elsewhere. Two proposals rely entirely on an employer mandate, while one bill would maintain a UPLA-type government-run fund for small business. Sadly, one bill would entirely leave out workers in businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

Like federal “repeal and replace,” the alternatives are risky. Costs would be unpredictable and could vary a lot from year to year, which is a big risk for employers. And workers would be at risk that employers will not allow them to fully use their benefits, just as many workers currently cannot access their paid sick leave, or don’t get paid all they are owed.

In fact, an extensive, bipartisan report on paid family leave issued yesterday from a working group convened by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution found that, while there were disagreements within the group about policy specifics, “no one in [the] working group favored an employer mandate.

We urge the DC Council to stick with the law that has been adopted—with guaranteed benefits for workers and predictable costs for businesses—and to move quickly to implement it, so that workers can access their benefits as quickly as possible.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

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