The Districts Dime

Mayor Bowser Is Moving Forward on Key Investments, But Other Approved Funding Remains Frozen

January 27th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

As Mayor Bowser weighs the fate of additional investments in areas such as homeless services and child nutrition that have been put on hold, we hope that she will move forward with those that could make a big difference in the lives of DC residents.

Last week, Mayor Bowser gave a green light to several important housing, homeless services, and nutrition initiatives that had been put on hold by the outgoing Gray administration. Thanks to that move, more vulnerable families and youth will get help to get back on their feet and meet their basic needs. However, the mayor kept other critical investments on hold – or “frozen”– for now. The investments that remain on hold and have an uncertain future include:Frozen Funds

  • More case managers at the DC General shelter for homeless families;
  • The “Healthy Tots” initiative to provide more nutritious food at child development centers and to help centers do more to engage children in physical activities; and
  • Expansion of summer programs through the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Mayor Bowser indicated today that final decisions about whether to move forward with those initiatives will be made in late February or early March, after the next projection of the city’s revenue collections is released.

While there is some logic to that caution, because the city’s tax collections this year are running below initial projections, the mayor should move forward on the initiatives that would most help DC residents – particularly the new staffing at DC General Shelter and the nutrition and exercise supports for child care centers – while looking more broadly at the entire DC budget to identify efficiencies or other savings to keep the city’s finances in balance. Funding these two initiatives would cost less than $4 million and would not dramatically worsen the city’s budget challenges.

Here is the history of the frozen funding:  In late December, then-Mayor Gray froze $39 million for a variety of new initiatives to create affordable housing, improve nutrition, expand summer recreation options for DC children, and more. The mayor noted that because the city’s revenue collections were coming in lower than expected, he wanted to put new efforts on hold so that the new mayor could decide what to do.

Last week, Mayor Bowser made a smart move to release funding for three initiatives: $7 million for rental assistance, $1.3 million to serve homeless youth, and $1.3 million to ensure that all DC residents getting SNAP (formerly called food stamps) get at least $30 a month in benefits. These expansions address some of the most pressing needs of DC residents.

But other critical needs remain, and we hope Mayor Bowser will take further steps toward meeting them.

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


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Budget Season Is Nearly Here

January 23rd, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

Excitement is building around the DCFPI offices because DC budget season is nearly here. The season kicks off on Monday, February 2nd with the release of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), the audit of revenues and spending in 2014. We will find out how much more money was collected than was spent in fiscal year 2014 – the surplus. Then on Thursday, the Chief Financial Officer, Jeff DeWitt, will answer questions about the CAFR during a DC Council hearing.City Budget Graphic

Hearings on the performance of DC government agencies begin the next week. These hearings give you the opportunity to testify before councilmembers about your interactions with DC government, your ideas to improve performance or fill gaps in services that matter to you, and ways the agency could save money. The full calendar and instructions on how to sign up to testify is here.

The CAFR and performance hearings are the beginning of a process that will stretch into June and lead to adoption of a new budget for next year.  DCFPI developed a guide to the entire budget process to help you out. Find it here.

A few performance hearings to highlight

Feb. 13                          Department of Behavioral Health

Feb. 18                          DC Public Charter School Board

Feb. 19                          DC Public Schools

Feb. 20                          Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

                                        Department of Employment Services

Feb. 25                          Healthcare Benefit Exchange

Feb. 26                          Department of Housing and Community Development

                                        DC Housing Authority

March 5                         Deputy Mayor for Education                               

March 9                         Department of Healthcare Finance

March 10                      Office of the State Superintendent for Education

March 12                       Department of Human Services

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

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DC Leaders Deserve Credit for Keeping Taxes Down For Low-Income Residents

January 21st, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

The District has done a great job keeping taxes low for poor residents, according to a recently released study. DC’s leaders have put in place many tax provisions to help lower-income residents, who as a result pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than similar families in every state except Delaware. And if DC policymakers implement the remaining recommendations of the 2014 D.C. Tax Revision Commission, DC taxes on low-income families will be the lowest in the nation.

This is something to be proud of. Keeping taxes down helps struggling families keep more of their income and helps them make ends meet in a city with an incredibly high cost of living. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute and the Federal City Council issued a joint statement to trumpet these findings and to thank DC policymakers for making choices that make DC taxes more fair.

However, the study also found that middle-income DC residents, those with incomes around $50,000, face a higher tax rate than in more than two-thirds of states. Middle-income residents also pay a higher tax rate than DC’s wealthiest. This suggests that while the District has done a lot to keep taxes low for residents living on modest incomes, there is still more progress to be made.

DC families with incomes averaging $23,000 (the poorest 20 percent) pay 5.6 percent of income in DC property, income and sales taxes, according to Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in all 50 States, by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). That is well below the 10.9 percent rate low-income families pay in the average state, and lower than every state except Delaware. That means $1,200 lower taxes than if the city’s taxes were at the national average rate.

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy


The District uses a variety of tools to limit taxes paid by low-income families. These include an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that reduces taxes by as much as $2,000 for working-poor families with children, and a tax credit to hold property taxes down for low-income households. Just last year, the DC Council implemented several recommendations of the D.C. Tax Revision Commission (on which I served) that make DC taxes fairer. These include an expansion of the EITC for workers who are not caring for children, and an increase in the standard deduction in the income tax.

The ITEP report also found that DC’s tax rate for low-income families would fall to 5.3 percent, the lowest among the states, if the remaining recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission are implemented. This means that with just a little more effort, DC can be the best in the nation for how low it taxes families with limited incomes.

The findings show that decisions made by DC’s leaders can and have improved our tax system.  They also show that through further actions, the city can move even closer to having a tax system that asks the least of residents with the least ability to pay.

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

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New Data Center for Schools Could Help Parents Even More With a Few Tweaks

January 20th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

With the city’s budget season fast approaching, particularly for education, parents should have an easier time this year seeing how their schools are funded, thanks to a new interactive data center available on the DCPS website. But that data could be even more useful with just a few adjustments.

The data center lets parents see how their schools are funded for the current school year (fiscal year 2015) or to make comparisons with other DCPS schools. For example, the site shows what percentage of a school’s budget is to be spent on early childhood education staff, and also how that figure compares, on average, with other DCPS elementary schools in the city. Users can also see trends in student enrollment and funding in key budget categories, such as special education or afterschool programs, between 2013 and 2015. 1.20.15 DCPS

DCFPI knows it’s no easy task to show budget information in appealing and interactive ways, but we do have a few ideas for how the site could be improved:   

  • The data center should use actual expenditures that would show parents how much of the budget actually gets spent on various things. It currently uses allocated budget figures, or what the schools intend to spend on staff and different budget categories.
  • Showing budget and/or expenditure information on a per-student basis would also be an effective way to create clear comparisons between schools.
  • Additional detail would also be helpful to understand the source of funding for certain budget categories. For example, a new source of funding for students considered at-risk of failure is included in two budget categories, “FY 2015 priorities” and the “DC Council supplement.” Also, there is no breakdown of the source of funds – whether federal or local dollars – in any category.

Initial decisions about how much goes into each DC Public School budget are made in March. Therefore, it is critical for DC parents to be able to understand their school’s budget for the current year to help them advocate for better budgets next year.

In addition to the new data center, when schools receive their initial FY 2016 budgets and principals make funding decisions with their Local School Advisory Teams (LSATs) to produce final budgets, the key budget files are expected to be available online like usual, under the Budget and Finance tab of the DCPS website.

DCFPI encourages our readers to take a look at the new site and offer feedback using the “Contact Us” tab.

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Supports for Parents Can Help Kids Enter School Healthy and Ready to Learn

January 15th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

More District kids could start school healthy and ready to learn if the Mayor and DC Council expanded home-based child-rearing instruction for parents of young children to all eight wards. The Districts’ Maternal and Child Health Home Visiting program is an effective way to help hundreds of at-risk families, but it only operates in parts of the city due to limited funding. 

DCFPI’s home visiting transition brief details the benefits of the program and how further investments can ensure its success. The home visiting program is effective because it brings services to families in their most natural environment, the home. The District’s program uses three research-backed models which:12-11-14 HV1

  • Target expecting parents and families with children under age five.
  • Identify signs that children may be at risk for unhealthy development, such as a lack of prenatal care or a family history of substance abuse.
  • Teach parents ways to overcome barriers to success, like activities to help their child be ready for school and how to access community resources, health screenings and immunizations.
  • Improve cognitive development and learning.                                                        

Expanding this program will ensure that all at-risk children enter school healthy and ready to learn. We recommend the Mayor make a $10 million investment in the fiscal year 2016 budget to:

  • Provide services to 3,500 more children and cover all eight wards.
  • Improve training and certification of home visitors to increase the effectiveness and quality of programs.
  • Implement a common screening tool that all home visiting providers and the Department of Health can use to identify families in need and refer them to appropriate services.
  • Allow for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of home visiting practices and implementation of new practices that are proven to work.

To read a full copy of this transition brief, click here.

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