The Districts Dime

Working Group Recommends Strong Safety Net for Families with Children

October 27th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

A Working Group convened by Mayor Bowser has concluded that the District needs a stronger safety net for children. Twenty years of federal welfare reform – known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF – has shown that that strict time limits often fall on families with serious challenges, that most do not find sustainable employment, and that children often fall into extreme poverty as a result. Here in DC, many families on TANF have disabilities or health problems, and many others use welfare as a safety net as they cycle in and out of low-wage part-time jobs in industries marked by high turnover. When they leave TANF, they often do not leave poverty.

tanf-imageThat is why the Working Group called for a policy to guarantee some level of assistance, with no time limit, to ensure families have resources to meet the needs of their children. It also recommended that a portion of the grant – the parent’s portion – should be cut when parents are not taking steps to prepare for work.

Although the District has recovered from the recession, wage and job growth have been very uneven, and the economy is not providing great opportunities for all residents. Low-wage workers have seen their wages fall, and workers with less than a college degree face unemployment rates that are far higher than they were in 2007. About 18 percent of residents with a high school diploma are unemployed, compared with 10 percent in 2007 before start of the recession.[1]

The vast majority of parents who leave TANF for employment earn less than DC’s living wage. A majority earn less than $12.50 an hour and less than $250 a week, according to a survey conducted this year by the Department of Human Services.

The Working Group’s recommendation to maintain assistance for children is not only humane, but smart public policy. Most TANF recipients in DC get no housing assistance and use TANF to pay rent (or help pay rent in someone else’s home). Without this resource, many would be pushed closer to homelessness. Moreover, stable family incomes is critical to creating a healthy environment for children to grow. Boosting a low-income family’s income leads to better performance at school, which in turn higher graduation rates and employment as an adult.

The Working Group’s recommendation is just that. Mayor Bowser and the DC Council now need to turn it into law and provide the funding.

To read DCFPI’s testimony on the Working Group’s TANF recommendations, click here.


[1] Left Behind: DC’s Economic Recovery is Not Reaching All Residents. Ed Lazere and Marco Guzman. DCFPI. January 2015.


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Low-Income DCPS Schools Are Shortchanged When It Comes to Supplemental Resources for “At-Risk” Students

October 26th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

DC Public Schools (DCPS) is receiving millions this year to meet the needs of 25,000 low-income and other “at-risk” students, yet nearly half of that money is being used to support things that all schools are supposed to have. DCPS, Mayor Bowser, and the DC Council should work together to ensure that next year, all at-risk funds are used to supplement core school functions. That’s the subject of DCFPI’s testimony on Thursday before the DC Council Education Committee.

At-risk funds were added as part of the school funding formula in school year 2014-15, and are now allowing many schools to expand important services that support students and improve academic outcomes, including extending the school year and adding staff. But the funds are not helping as much as possible. That’s because 47 percent of DCPSs at-risk resources were allocated to items that all schools are entitled to have under the school system’s staffing model, according to an analysis by Mary Levy. For example, all high schools are supposed to get an attendance counselor, yet in some schools, the attendance counselor is being supported using at-risk funds.

This means that only half of the at-risk funds are supporting enhanced services to meet the needs of at-risk students, such as literacy initiatives.

The process should be improved next year:

  • Ensure at-risk funding supplements core functions at DCPS. DCPS should design its budget process so that at-risk funds can only add to what schools get in base funding and positions. This means clearly defining the core staffing formula that will apply to all schools and creating a firewall so that at-risk funds can be used only for staffing or services beyond those core services.
  • DCPS school leaders should have clear guidance and flexibility over the use of at-risk funds. School leaders, with input from Local School Advisory Teams, should be given flexibility to decide how to best use at-risk funds. This requires giving school leaders guidance on the opportunity provided by at-risk funds and enough time to decide how to use the additional resources in meaningful ways for their students.
  • DCPS should be subject to greater budget transparency. Budget documents for individual schools should clearly identify what is funded under DCPS’s comprehensive staffing model, and what supplementary services are supported with at-risk funds.

This does not mean that such funds must be used only for things that feel like extras – such as field trips – or that at-risk funds must be used only for a given school’s low-income students. DCFPI supports using at-risk funds for school-wide activities, particularly in high-poverty schools, and for activities that enhance a school’s basic functions. At-risk funds could be used, for example, to hire additional staff to support literacy initiatives, before- or after-school programming, or additional social workers.

The findings around use of at-risk funds suggest that the school funding formula may not be enough to meet the basic educational needs of all DCPS students. As the District’s leaders work to make sure at-risk funds are being used to add services for low-income students, they also should assess whether the core funding for all schools provides an adequate base.

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Boosting Schedule H Tax Credit Near Economic Development Projects Will Help Low-Income Residents Stay In Their Homes

October 21st, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

How can the city bring new investment to low-income communities, without displacing low-income residents? The DC Council is considering a bill that would take an important first step in protecting longtime residents from rising housing costs spurred by city-supported economic development projects. The Council should pass this bill, and the city should make sure that economic development projects include anti-displacement efforts, such as preserving nearby subsidized affordable housing.

In recent years, economic development projects have brought new investment to under-served neighborhoods – but have also kicked the surrounding real estate market into high gear. That risks displacing low-income residents from their homes – and from the jobs, amenities, and other opportunities created by the project.

displacement-prevention-actTo offset the impact of rising property values and housing prices on low-income residents, the Displacement Prevention Act would boost the amount of the Schedule H refundable tax credit available to residents of “designated displacement risk zones.” Schedule H helps low-income residents whose property taxes or rent are high compared to their income. In displacement risk zones, the bill would double the maximum Schedule H credit from $1,000 to $2,000, and would increase the share of rent that can be claimed toward the credit.

In addition, the bill would set up a Displacement Prevention Assistance Fund to help residents at risk of eviction or foreclosure know and exercise their rights through improved access to legal representation and tenant organizing resources. Access to legal assistance has been shown to reduce evictions, which are immensely harmful to families.[1]

Yesterday, we testified that the Council should pass the Displacement Prevention Act, and to follow the example of the bill and incorporate anti-displacement efforts in every economic development project or real estate deal it supports. Additional steps to protect low-income residents could include:

  • Begin each project with an equitable development plan. The 11th Street Bridge Park began with such a plan, which is now linked to a $50 million effort to build and preserve affordable housing within the future Bridge Park area.
  • Preserve nearby subsidized affordable housing ahead of time, before the market pressure becomes too much. Ways to do this include providing financial assistance to improve housing conditions in return for extended subsidy or affordability periods, and utilizing the District Opportunity to Purchase Act to buy key buildings that come up for sale.

[1] Matthew Desmond, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Crown Publishing, 2016.

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DC Residents in the Criminal Justice System will Benefit from Free I.D. Legislation

October 20th, 2016 | by Linnea Lassiter

Legislation before the DC Council to help low-income residents to get ID documents for free would be especially helpful to the thousands of DC residents involved with the criminal justice system, most of whom are African American and low-income. Having an ID is critical to helping these residents get back on their feet. Access to free IDs would eliminate a barrier that prevents many from taking the first steps. The legislation should be approved and funded in DC’s next budget.

id-picThe District provides DMV-issued photo ID cards free-of-charge to some groups of underserved DC residents, namely homeless residents and certain returning citizens recently released from jail or prison. The FY2017 budget also added a new fee waiver program so that homeless residents can obtain DC birth certificates at no cost.

While these efforts help some of the District’s most needy residents, there are still gaps. Currently DC provides a free temporary six-month ID to returning citizens released from jail or prison within the last 6 months. However, most of the people seeking a temporary ID are denied because they are not recently returning residents, but instead are on probation – whether they’ve been incarcerated before or not – or are people with prior felony convictions. These non-reentry individuals often face the same extreme barriers to housing, employment and mental health services that recently returning citizens do, but are not currently eligible for no-cost photo ID programs.

Even returning citizens who qualify for the temporary ID card can use it for only six months. After that, they need to supply documents such as birth certificates, social security card and proof of DC residency. And they are required to pay for an ID like everyone else, even though most are still unemployed at that point and often unable to afford transportation to the DMV, let alone pay $47 for an ID.

The majority of justice-involved DC residents represent the groups least likely to have valid photo ID or a birth certificate: African Americans and other people of color and people living in poverty. Even those who previously had a valid form of ID often lose it because of incarceration or other reasons specific to criminal justice populations. In other words, they are among the residents most in need of help to get an ID.

The Improving Access to Identity Documents Act would allow all residents with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or about $40,000 for a family of three – to get DC birth certificates, driver’s licenses, or non-driver’s ID cards free of charge. We hope that the Improving Access to Identity Documents Act gets approved and funded soon, so that DC residents involved with the criminal justice system and others can start getting the IDs they need to get through daily life.

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Behind the Numbers: Understanding DC’s 2017 Insurance Rate Changes

October 14th, 2016 | by Jodi Kwarciany

When it comes to health insurance, you want to know what you’re paying for – especially if prices are changing. As District businesses and residents look ahead to the upcoming health insurance enrollment season, understanding the factors that affect rates is helpful for anticipating costs and selecting appropriate plans.

health-insurance-ratesRecently, we wrote about the changes ahead for health insurance sold on DC Health Link, the District’s insurance marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The final rates approved by DC’s Department of Insurance and Banking include plans with an average decrease of 2.2 percent to plans with an average increase of 22.8 percent – and some plans with premium increases of as much as 75 percent.

There are many reasons DISB has identified to explain rising health insurance costs, including basic inflation in health care, changes in the level of health services used, and the expiration of some ACA provisions that helped limit rate increases:

  • Updated membership assumptions. Prior to the ACA, insurers could use beneficiaries’ health information to set the price of premiums or determine what coverage could be offered. This practice has been largely abolished, and insurers must now perform rigorous analyses to estimate the health of beneficiaries and the amount of services they’ll use, and price premiums accordingly. As insurers get a better understanding of their consumers, they can price more accurately.
  • Changes in cost and utilization of health services. Although insurers do their best to price plans, these assumptions may change – especially if consumers are incurring costs or utilizing services more or less than expected, like if beneficiaries are going to their doctor’s office more frequently, or if the cost of their prescription drugs have increased.
  • Completion of the transitional reinsurance program. This program, which   was meant to help stabilize the insurance market in the ACA’s first years, will expire at the end of 2016. It has imposed a tax on most insurance plans, and uses the funds to subsidize insurers for their consumers with higher costs.
  • Change in expected risk adjustment transfer payments. This program is another feature of the ACA that will expire. It provides payments to health insurers that attract high-risk enrollees, like those with expensive chronic conditions, to lessen the incentive for insurers to avoid those consumers or charge higher premiums.
  • Changes in utilization of health services when switching tiers. All marketplace health plans are organized by tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Bronze plans tend to have the least expensive monthly premiums but more out-of-pocket costs, while Platinum plans typically have the most expensive premiums, but fewer out-of-pocket costs. If consumers switch from one tier to another (like Bronze to Platinum), insurers anticipate that consumers will change the amount of services they use based on what is now covered under their new health plan.

Open enrollment for DC Health Link begins on November 1 and runs through January 31, 2017. For more information on selecting the right plan for your budget and health needs, check out DC Health Link’s Plan Comparison Tool for Individuals and Families.

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