The Districts Dime

Adult Learners Should Have Access to Kids Ride Free

April 26th, 2017 | by Ilana Boivie

The District’s signature “Kids Ride Free” program was created to make sure that public school students can get to class without worrying about the cost. This great program is only open to “kids,” though, not to adults in education classes who need the same help to achieve their goals and get better jobs.

Adult Learners Getting Ready To Testify on the DC Budget

Adult Learners Getting Ready To Testify on the DC Budget

Extending Kids Ride Free to adult learners would cost just $1.5 million to $2 million, but would accomplish big things: improving the impact of the city’s substantial investment in adult education, strengthening the DC economy by helping more residents live up to their potential, and shoring up WMATA’s finances.

Adult learners frequently cite transportation cost as a major barrier to attending and remaining in educational programs, according to several surveys[1] and recent testimony at the WMATA and Department of Transportation (DDOT) budget hearings. This significant financial burden often leaves them stuck in a cycle of enrolling and dropping out.

Last fall, the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office released a report recommending “expand[ing] the unlimited bus and rail component of the School Transit Subsidy program to all District residents enrolled in a publicly funded adult education program.”[2] It found that this would serve some 7,500 adult learners in the District.

The District currently invests over $80 million in local and federal dollars to support educational instruction for adult learners. The relatively modest cost of expanding Kids Ride Free to adult learners—which the surveys suggest could lead to 30 percent higher completion rates—seems a smart investment.[3]

Expanding Kids Ride Free also would be cost-effective, because it would use the low negotiated cost with Metro, currently just $0.65 daily for each pupil. This is much less expensive than other ways of funding transportation assistance. For example, the Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School spends $20,000 per year providing bus fare for students, because they pay the full fare of $1.75 per ride—nearly three times the negotiated Kids Ride Free rate of $0.65—and they are only able to do so on an “emergency only” basis.

The additional ridership could also help shore up WMATA’s finances, even at the modest negotiated rate. Many learners ride at non-peak hours, when Metro has excess capacity. At the WMTA budget oversight hearing, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld noted the added revenues and stability of ridership would help.

Looking longer term, the economic effects are likely to be even more positive. When adult learners are able to achieve their educational goals, they are likely to find better quality employment, which will help them to support their families, pay more in taxes, and need less public assistance.

The Adult Learners Transit Subsidy Amendment Act of 2017, introduced in February, would provide free public transportation for adults in education programs, based on the recommendations of the DME report. DCFPI hopes that this bill is fully funded and incorporated into the FY 2018 budget, so that this important program can be implemented as quickly as possible.

[1] Including surveys of adult learners in the District conducted by the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition, Fair Budget Coalition, and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, between 2015 and 2016.

[2] Available at http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/36809/RC21-0140-Introduction.pdf. 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.

[3] The DME report notes that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”

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Introducing DCFPI’s Budget Toolkit! The FY 2018 Budget in Pictures, Numbers, and Words

April 20th, 2017 | by DCFPI Staff

We’ve spent the past few weeks at DCFPI working to understand and uncover the story of Mayor’s Bowser proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget, by poring through budget books and spreadsheets. And we’re happy today to share with you what we found.

The DCFPI Budget Toolkit is ready for you, with detailed analysis of funding for many things you care about – from education to job training to housing – and highlights how you can get involved now to support the budget or work to make it better.

Here’s what you’ll find in the Toolkit:

  • Detailed Analysis of Key Elements of the FY 2018 Budget: The Toolkit includes an overview of the mayor’s proposed budget, plus detailed looks at education, housing, homeless services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), employment and training, health care, and Interim Disability Assistance (IDA).
  • Chartbook: We highlight key budget trends through easy-to-understand charts.
  • Tips on Understanding the Budget: The Toolkit includes a timeline on the budget process, and primers to understand how the city sets its budget, how it raises, revenues, and how schools are financed.

We hope you find the DCFPI Budget Toolkit  and Chartbook useful and look forward to seeing you at a budget hearing soon!

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DC Taxes: Three Fun Facts!

April 18th, 2017 | by Ed Lazere

You probably know a thing or two about DC’s taxes, assuming you recently filed a return for 2016. (If you haven’t, stop reading this right now and pull up those tax instructions, since today’s the deadline!)

But I bet there are a few things that you still haven’t learned yet, starting with the fact that taxes paid by DC residents—counting income and other taxes—are the lowest in the region.

final tax day imageOn this Tax Day, it’s important to remember that thriving communities are made possible by taxes, and the evidence is all around us. You literally cannot leave your home without using the sidewalks, roads, bike lanes or public transportation created with tax dollars. Families in DC know that the city has made important investments in DC Public Schools and a major commitment to public charter schools. DC now has great playgrounds and rec centers, so families don’t have to look far and wide for something fun to do. Our libraries are beautiful spaces and open 7 days a week—what other community can say that? And the District has one of the highest rates of health insurance coverage and one of the most successful health care exchanges.

It’s also encouraging to know that DC brings us these great things with taxes that are either lower than or similar to taxes in nearby jurisdictions.  Here are three fun DC tax facts.

1) Taxes on DC Residents Are Lowest in the Region! DC residents at a wide range of income levels—from $25,000 to $150,000—pay less than our suburban neighbors, according to DC’s Chief Financial Officer. At income of $100,000, combined DC taxes are $500 lower than in Fairfax County, almost $1,000 lower than in Arlington County, and $1,500 lower than in Prince George’s County or Montgomery County.

2) Taxes on DC Business Are Similar to Maryland and Virginia Taxes!! A study done for DC’s Tax Revision Commission concluded that “the tax burden in the District for C‐corporations is not significantly different from its Maryland and Virginia neighbors.” The study noted that you shouldn’t just compare DC’s business income tax rate—now 9 percent—with the 6 percent Virginia rate and 8.25 percent Maryland rate, because that’s an incomplete picture of the taxes businesses pay. In particular, Virginia businesses pay a gross receipts tax in addition to their basic income tax. DC has no gross receipts tax.

3) Taxes on Low-Income DC Families Are among the Lowest in the Nation!!! The District has done a great job keeping taxes low for poor residents, through tools such as an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working residents who don’t earn much, and a tax credit (Schedule H) to hold property taxes down for low-income households. Taxes on DC families earning around $20,000 are second lowest among DC and the states, and $1,200 lower than if DC taxes were at the national average rate.

Doesn’t that make you feel better? Happy Tax Day!

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More Legislation Introduced to Reduce Health Coverage Barriers for DC Immigrants

April 14th, 2017 | by Jodi Kwarciany

Many District immigrants would find it easier to access health care coverage under a bill recently introduced in the DC Council, the second piece of legislation on the topic in a matter of weeks. The legislation seeks to fix a longstanding problem that has made it hard to get health coverage through the DC Healthcare Alliance, a program that serves mostly immigrants. The DC Council should be applauded for its renewed interest to addressing this gap in the District’s otherwise-impressive efforts to create universal access to health care.

Adopting this proposal would not only help DC move even closer to ensuring all residents have health insurance, it would also strengthen DC’s health system and save money. Right now, many eligible residents don’t get health insurance until they face severe health problems, raising health care costs for us all.

The Healthcare Alliance program is for low-income residents who are not eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or subsidies on DC Health Link – which is now mostly documented and undocumented immigrants. This is important because Latino residents in DC are three times more likely to be uninsured than District residents overall, and people who are non-citizens lack coverage at higher rates than naturalized citizens.

allianceYet in 2011, DC implemented a strict eligibility rule that requires Alliance beneficiaries to visit a Department of Human Services (DHS) service center every six months and complete an in-person interview to maintain their eligibility. Within a year, participation in Alliance shrank from 25,000 people to about 15,000, a strong indication that this policy has made it difficult for residents to maintain coverage for which they are eligible. People may not be able to take the time off from work or find child care to spend a day twice a year re-certifying.

There are several other problems with the current recertification process:

  • DC’s social service centers are overwhelmed. The frequency of the requirement leads to a large volume of people coming into public benefit service centers, causing some to make multiple trips if they cannot be seen and contributing to administrative problems like lost paperwork.
  • It costs DC money. DC has had to hire more staff to manage the increased volume. What’s more, the requirement appears to have a direct impact on higher health costs, as many residents avoid primary care and only sign up for the Alliance when they are medically very needy.
  • It sends mixed messages to the immigrant community. The District has long been a welcoming city for immigrants, but it’s difficult to encourage use of vital programs like Alliance when the District imposes unneeded barriers to participation.

The proposed legislation eases the eligibility requirements by having beneficiaries instead reapply for the program once every year instead of every six months, and would also permit them to complete the re-certification requirement with a qualified community health organization or over the phone. This would give beneficiaries greater flexibility when it comes time to reapply, and would ease the personal and administrative hassle with the current process.

DC’s leaders should be applauded for providing health insurance options to virtually all ages, incomes, and citizenship statuses. That means no one should go without coverage. The new proposal would break down barriers and help make universal coverage a reality. The bill will next be taken up in the Health Committee.

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Here’s Why Workers Need Paid Family Leave ASAP

April 11th, 2017 | by Ilana Boivie

Maya Warren recently had a baby via C-section and was back to work just eight days later—because she couldn’t afford to take time off. Her story is a powerful reminder of how urgent it is to get DC’s paid family and medical leave program underway. With paid leave, Ms. Warren could have spent time bonding with her baby and recuperating.

pflThe Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA) is now officially DC law—the mandatory 30-day congressional review period ended on April 7. It cannot move forward, however, until $20 million is set aside to develop an IT system and support other startup costs. Unfortunately, Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget failed to allocate this funding. It is now up to the DC Council to find the money to fund this program, so that workers can begin receiving benefits in 2020, per the law.

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.

Heartbreaking stories like Maya Warren’s, a home health aide who earns only about $20,000 a year, are far too common. Paid family and medical leave is rarely offered by employers—especially to the lowest wage and most vulnerable workers. This leaves far too many workers the impossible choice of either addressing their family’s medical needs or being able to make ends meet.

UPLA was designed to be especially beneficial to workers like Ms. Warren, by replacing 90 percent of wages for the lowest-paid workers. This means that paid family leave will be most helpful to low-income communities of color, including residents east of the Anacostia River. Working DC residents in Ward 7 and Ward 8 will, on average, get more of their wages replaced under paid family and medical leave than workers from other parts of the city.

Also, UPLA will have positive public health impacts without slowing DC’s economic growth, according to a thorough analysis by the DC Council Budget Office.

The $20 million needed this year to fund the start-up costs of paid family leave (on top of $20 million allocated last year) could be funded by small changes to DC’s capital budget, or by changing DC’s fiscal policy to allow spending some of the recent surplus.

Once the start-up costs are provided, the program will be self-sustaining through an employer payroll tax.

UPLA will help the vast majority of DC residents, improve public health, and address economic disparities. We urge the DC Council to find the $20 million needed in the FY 2018 budget to get this important program off the ground.

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