The Districts Dime

DC Council Should Act Quickly to Pass Unemployment Modernization

April 29th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

The DC Council took a step closer this week to improving benefits for people who need help when they lose a job. DC’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits haven’t been raised in a decade and are lower than in most states. But this week, the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs held a hearing on a bill that would go a long way to address this neglect. The DC Council should act quickly to improve UI benefits, by writing this legislation into the fiscal year 2017 budget.

UI is an important part of the safety net for workers and their families, helping them avoid falling into poverty after a job loss. Workers who get UI are those who lost jobs through no fault of their own and are actively searching for work. If they do not get UI, some will fall back on other public assistance programs, and others are at risk of increased credit card debt, eviction, and other consequences. UI also helps the overall DC economy by maintaining consumer spending in times of high unemployment.

However, DC’s current Unemployment Insurance program falls short of these goals, as benefits provided are grossly inadequate to meet unemployed workers’ needs. The legislation would improve DC’s UI program in four key ways:

  1. Raise the maximum weekly UI benefit amount to $430. The current maximum weekly benefit is just $359, below Maryland ($430), Virginia ($378), and 38 other states. $359 per week translates to a wage of less than $9 per hour. This is below the federal poverty line for a family of three, and far below the living wage in DC.
  2. Incentivize workers to retain part-time employment. The bill would allow workers who have part-time employment to receive a modestly higher amount of partial UI benefits. For instance, a worker earning $100/week from part-time employment while receiving UI benefits will have her benefits reduced by $33 instead of $64.
  3. Ensure that the most vulnerable workers who have an uneven or low earnings history can get UI benefits up to the maximum length of 26 weeks.
  4. Adjust the maximum weekly benefit each year for inflation to ensure that workers’ purchasing power would keep up with inflation. The maximum weekly benefit was last raised in 2005. Since then, the benefit has lost roughly 26 percent of its purchasing power.

Several witnesses who have lost their jobs gave powerful, emotional testimony about how difficult it has been for them to make ends meet and provide for their families while they continue to look for work. Each of the benefit provisions listed above would have helped these workers in different ways.

We hope that the Council will act quickly on behalf of unemployed workers in the District to pass this important legislation, by writing all of its provisions into the BSA, so that benefits can be raised as quickly as possible.

To read DCFPI’s full hearing testimony, click here.

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

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A Changing Landscape: Examining How Public Charter School Enrollment Is Growing in DC

April 28th, 2016 | by Peter Tuths

Enrollment in the District of Columbia’s public charter schools has leapt from a quarter of all DC students a decade ago to nearly half in the 2015-2016 school year. While the speed of growth between DC Public Schools and public charter schools has narrowed in recent years, the charter sector is still growing faster, according to a new report from DCFPI.

These findings highlight the importance of better coordination and planning between the DC public school and public charter school sectors. As enrollment in public charter schools continues to grow, efforts to ensure that students across the city have good access to schools is important.

Key findings from the report include:

  • The share of DC students enrolled in public charter schools has nearly doubled since the 2005-06 school year. Ten years ago, 18,000 students were enrolled in a public Charter-School-Paper-Figure-1charter school, just one-third of the 55,000 students in DCPS. In 2015-16, the 39,000 students in public charter schools was much closer to the 48,000 students in a DC Public School.
  • The growth rates of traditional public schools and public charter schools have narrowed greatly in recent years. From 2005-06 to 2010-11, public charter enrollment grew 65 percent while DCPS enrollment fell 17 percent. In the most recent five years, by contrast, the charter sector grew 32 percent compared with 6 percent for DCPS.
  • Enrollment in Ward 5 and Ward 8 public charter schools has grown the fastest in recent years. Enrollment in both Ward 5 and Ward 8 public charter schools increased about 50 percent between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years, while enrollment in Ward 1 charter schools shrank 16 percent.
  • Public charter school enrollment is growing fastest among elementary and Pre-Kindergarten grades. Enrollment in public charter elementary school grades grew at more than triple the rate of middle school grades in the last four years, and seven times the rate of high school grades.
  • “At-risk” students are a majority of the student population in nearly all Ward 8 and Ward 7 public charter schools. More than half of the students in each of the 19 public charter schools in Ward 8 are low-income or otherwise at-risk. Nearly all Ward 7 public charter schools also enroll mostly at-risk students. By contrast, almost no public charter schools located in Wards 1 and 4 had a majority at-risk student body.

Our report also found that improvement is needed in access to information related to public charter school enrollment, despite recent steps taken by the DC Public Charter School Board. Better information is needed, for example, on each public charter school’s grade termination dates – i.e., when a charter school LEA will expand to its highest authorized grade level. In addition, charter school application files prior to 2011 should be posted online, as well as more charter renewal files than the limited number that are currently available.

Charter-School-Paper-Figure-3

To read the full report, click here.

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

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More Funding Needed to End Chronic Homelessness

April 27th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

Tomorrow, DCFPI and other members of The Way Home campaign will be visiting Councilmembers urging them to allocate the funding needed to end chronic homelessness in DC. These are residents who have been homeless for a long time and suffer from chronic health conditions. The District is not on track to end chronic homelessness by 2017, a goal embraced last year. Without additional investments now, the District won’t be able to meet this goal even in 2018.

This delay has devastating effects. Being homeless often leads to a life that is cut short. People who don’t know where they’re going to spend the night struggle to receive medical treatment or homeless services graphiccounseling. And often they must stay in places that make their illnesses worse or do not keep them safe from violence. These shorten the life expectancy of people facing chronic homelessness.

On the flip side, we know that helping people who are chronically homeless improves their stability and health – and leads to tremendous savings. A Seattle study found that permanent supportive housing saved the city almost $30,000 per person, per year.1

The proposed fiscal year 2017 budget increases funding to help individuals move out of shelters and into their own homes, but falls short of what is needed. With an additional investment of just over $14 million, the DC Council can help more than 1,100 residents and put the District on a path to end chronic homelessness.

  • Permanent Supportive Housing: The proposed budget provides Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) to up to 300 homeless individuals. PSH combines long-term affordable housing and case management, like counseling and connecting folks with community services. An additional $3.9 million would serve 242 individuals.
  • Rapid Re-Housing: The budget also includes funds to help 455 individuals find housing and employment and helps them pay rent for a period of time, generally up to 12 months. With an additional $4.9 million, the program can help 455 more individuals move out of shelter, getting closer to meeting the need.
  • Targeted Affordable Housing: Additionally, the budget helps up to 100 individuals through Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH), which provides long-term affordable housing with no or minimal support services. The program serves residents who need help paying rent after their short-term RRH rental subsidy ends and PSH residents who reach a point of no longer needing the intensive services provided by PSH. An extra $5.5 million is needed to house 455 individuals.

Finally, $250,000 in one-time funding is needed for a flex fund to cover the costs associated with moving people into housing, like fees for IDs, rental application fees, and security deposits.

With these investments, the District can meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable residents and be on a path to end chronic homelessness in 2018.

1http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/fact-sheet-chronic-homelessness

Kate Coventry is a DCFPI Policy Analyst and voting member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

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

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Council Should Protect Vulnerable Families with Children in the FY 2017 Budget

April 20th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

The proposed fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget extends benefits and employment assistance for one year to 6,200 families who otherwise faced the loss of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits and services in October 2016. While this protects families from being cut off for one year, it does not make any progress to reform policies that already have left families with incredibly low benefits. It also does not fix a rigid time limit policy that puts vulnerable families in dire circumstances at risk of losing all assistance.

DCFPI will be testifying today to urge the Council to take steps now, in the FY 2017 budget, to address these issues.

Under the proposed budget, families who have received assistance for 60 months or more will receive just $154 a month for a family of three in FY 2017. This reflects benefit cuts due to time limits that have been implemented since 2011. Given that most TANF families do not receive housing assistance, this is far too low for families to make ends meet.TANF is a lifeline

And under the proposed budget, all families who have received assistance for more than 60 months will lose both cash assistance and employment services in October 2017, regardless of their circumstances, with no opportunity to receive assistance again.

Getting the TANF time limit right – modifying it to ensure that it provides stability to families and children who need it the most – is important to child well-being and to the success of other mayoral initiatives, such as ending homelessness. Nearly 300 families in DC’s Rapid Re-Housing program, which helps families exit shelter, have received TANF for 52 months or more, putting them at risk of going over the cliff. Losing their entire income source would make it incredibly hard to successfully exit homelessness.

Legislation to reform DC’s TANF time limit was introduced in the DC Council in 2015. While that bill, the Public Assistance Amendment Act of 2015, has not been adopted, it could form the basis for time limit reforms. The bill would create extensions to give families access to TANF’s help when they face difficult situations – such as domestic violence – even if they have reached the time limit, with extension eligibility reviewed periodically. The legislation also would continue assistance to children when a family reaches a time limit without qualifying for an extension, to ensure that a time limit focuses on parents but does not hurt children.

DCFPI urges the Council to take steps this budget season to adopt time limit reforms and fund as many of these reforms as possible. This will ensure that some vulnerable families will be restored to full benefits this year and will put the District on a path to adopt a comprehensive TANF policy that protects all vulnerable children.

To read the full testimony, click here.

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

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Additional Needs for Early Care and Education, Early Intervention, and Adult Education Services in OSSE Budget

April 19th, 2016 | by Soumya Bhat

The proposed FY 2017 budget included significant investments in education, but more could be done to improve access to quality early care and education, services to identify and address young children with developmental delays, and improvements to adult education and training. DCFPI testified on these issues at yesterday’s budget hearing for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Our key recommendations are below.

  • Early Care and Education – The FY 2017 budget does not include funding to increase reimbursement rates paid to early care and education providers, even though rates are well below market rate. Providers that serve mostly low-income children, and rely mostly on the child care subsidy program, struggle to provide quality care and make ends meet due to these low reimbursement rates. A recent report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and DC Appleseed cites the need for at least $38 million more – which could be phased in over time – to help providers cover the costs of providing quality child care, including the need for salary supplements to improve compensation of the early care and education workforce.
  • DC Early Intervention Program/Strong Start – The District recently adopted a policy to expand early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays, to allow services to be provided before delays become severe. Unfortunately, this expansion is not yet funded. The proposed FY 2017 budget adds $2.3 million more towards early intervention services, to restore a cut made last year, but is not sufficient to fund the expanded services. An additional $3-5 million is needed to fund the expansion of the DC Early Intervention Program/Strong Start next year.
  • Adult Education and Training – Per the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), adult education costs per participant are likely to increase, as Adult and Family Education programs will be required to integrate education with job training. This means that without additional funding, the number of residents that can be served will decline.

To read our full testimony, see here.

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

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