The Districts Dime

Improving the Quality of Child Care One Neighborhood at a Time

December 18th, 2014 | by Soumya Bhat

Education doesn’t begin at Pre-Kindergarten. The first years of a child’s life, starting at birth, are critically important to healthy development. If families who use child care are able to place their infants and toddlers in high-quality settings with a focus on child development, their children receive a solid foundation to succeed when they start school.

Source: greatstartdc.org

Source: greatstartdc.org

The good news is the District is taking steps to address this by engaging groups with child development expertise to help child care providers improve their services. The new Early Learning Quality Improvement Network will fund three community-based partners as “neighborhood hubs” to support 14 child care centers and up to 15 family child care homes serving infants and toddlers. Low-income families will be prioritized for enrollment in these programs.

A main goal is to help child care centers and homes meet federal standards that have proven to be effective in improving child development outcomes. The hubs will also deliver other services for low-income children and families, including mental health consultation, family engagement and support, health and nutrition, and early intervention for children with developmental delays.

DCFPI looks forward to watching the progress of these new hubs to ensure all DC families have access to quality child care slots.

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When Being Last is Okay: DC Residents Pay the Lowest Taxes in the Region

December 17th, 2014 | by Ed Lazere

This is something worth repeating: The taxes paid by DC residents generally are lower than in both Maryland and Virginia, often by thousands of dollars. And this is true for a wide spectrum of residents, according to a new report from DC’s Chief Financial Officer. Whether you are a moderate-income renter or a middle-income homeowner, taxes in the District are now lower than in every nearby county.

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This low-tax ranking is likely to continue into the future, given that the District took steps this year to cut income taxes for most residents. 

Consider a homeowner family with income of $100,000. If they live in the District, combined income, sales, property and car taxes totaled $8,600 in 2013, according to a November 2014 report by the DC Chief Financial Officer. That is over $1,000 less than in Montgomery County or Arlington County, $1,600 less than in Fairfax County, and almost $2,000 lower than in Prince George’s County.

Why are taxes on DC residents so much lower than outside the city’s border? It’s largely because the District has the lowest property tax rate for homeowners in the region and offers a number of measures to limit homeowner property taxes and their growth from year to year. DC income taxes for a family making $100,000 also are lower than in the Maryland suburbs, when both state and county income taxes are counted, and only about $300 a year higher than in Virginia, despite its reputation for income taxes that are low.

Looking into the future, taxes for DC residents are likely to drop even lower. This is because several recommendations of the DC Tax Revision Commission will go into effect in 2015 – a cut in the income tax rate for middle incomes, an increase in the standard deduction, and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. If the full set of tax commission recommendations are implemented, taxes paid by a family making $100,000 will fall $1,400, most likely creating an even bigger gap between taxes paid by DC residents and the higher taxes in the suburbs.

Having the lowest household taxes in the region may seem like a great thing. But it’s important to keep in mind that lower taxes also means less revenue that could be going to schools, health care or public safety. And a great deal of research confirms that people generally do not choose where to live based on taxes. Instead, location decisions tend to focus on factors such as jobs, schools, proximity to family, and climate.

To read the entire report, click here.

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Family Health Home Visiting: A Cornerstone For Effective Early Childhood Policy

December 11th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

Mayor Bowser and the DC Council will start next year with lots of great ideas to make DC stronger, but will face budget realities that force them to make choices. That means focusing on smart investments known to produce results. One of those smart ideas is DC’s home visiting program for at-risk families with young children. Every dollar spent helping families has been shown to save almost $6 down the road by leading to better education and health outcomes for children. Yet the city’s program only serves one-quarter of the families in need and could be expanded to serve more. 

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Maternal and child health home visiting targets services to expecting parents and families with children under age five. Families are identified due to factors such as late or no prenatal care, preterm delivery, low parental education, or family history of substance abuse. The District uses models that been studied carefully and shown to be effective by focusing on maternal and child health, a child’s physical and cognitive development, parenting practices, school readiness and access to community resources and immunizations.  

These early investments in the lives of vulnerable families pay off. Every dollar invested in the program today could produce $5.70 in savings related to health and academic outcomes down the road. 

 DC’s program began a few years ago with federal grants provided by the Affordable Care Act. This year, the DC budget includes $2.5 million in local funds to replace those federal funds as they expire and allow home visiting to continue.

However, this is enough to serve only a fraction of the families that could benefit. Home visiting in DC is limited primarily to families in Wards 5, 7, and 8, with capacity to help about 935 families per year. But 3,500 more children could benefit, according to estimates from the Home Visiting Council

To serve those families and to expand to all eight wards, the District will need to increase ongoing support for the program. An investment of $10 million annually would ensure that the program reaches all at-risk families, some of which could be covered reimbursed with federal Medicaid funds.

Family health home visiting shows a lot a promise – it is effective in improving health and academic outcomes for kids and it is a good deal for DC taxpayers. We hope our new mayor and the DC Council will support the expansion of DC’s Home Visiting Program in the fiscal year 2016 budget. 

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DC Gets Mixed Grades for its Response to Family Homelessness: More Progress Is Needed

December 10th, 2014 | by Kate Coventry

The District has made improvements to services for homeless families in response to the crisis that occurred last winter, but progress has been uneven and large gaps remain, according to a new report by a coalition of community organizations, including the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. The Helping Families Home Roadmap: A Report Card on DC’s Progress in Helping Homeless Families assesses what DC has done since last winter to help homeless families – and what more the new mayor and DC Council need to do to build a high-quality homeless services system.

12-9-14 HFH graphicThe report card notes progress in some important areas: a new homelessness prevention program is being launched, there are new investments in affordable housing for families, and the District is securing additional shelter capacity for this winter. The District has released a plan for a new system of smaller shelters to replace the DC General Family Shelter, although it is not clear if this plan will yield enough shelter capacity to meet the need.

Yet, there has been a tremendous lack of progress in key areas. Many children are not receiving the case management support they need while in shelter. The plan to replace the rundown DC General Family Shelter lacks funding and a timeline. The District is planning to fund homeless services using $10 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) budget, and it is unclear whether this will lead to cuts in other vital programs. Finally, DC has made little progress towards the goal of providing access to shelter year-round.

The report outlines the steps the new mayor and Council should take to provide families access to decent shelter and help families quickly move from shelter to a safe and stable home. These include:

• A detailed shelter replacement plan should be released this winter so funding can be included in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget, scheduled to be released in March 2015. 
• Strengthening Rapid Re-housing can help families get into housing more quickly and reduce the number of families in shelter.
• Funding for licensed social workers to help kids at DC General is available, but the District needs to hire them.
• Creating more affordable housing in the FY 2016 budget, using rent subsidies and the Housing Production Trust Fund, will help more families avoid homelessness and create more options for families who need help after Rapid Re-Housing ends.

Over the next four months, DC has the capability to make major improvements to its family homelessness system. We hope this report card contributes to efforts to help all families find a safe and stable home.

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To read the complete Report Card, click here

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

 

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Budget Season

December 4th, 2014 | by Soumya Bhat

Even though DC’s budget season isn’t officially here yet, discussions on how to influence next year’s budget are already underway. Today, we are highlighting two upcoming opportunities for you to get involved in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget for health and education.

  •  City Budget GraphicDC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (HBX): The HBX will lead a FY 2016 budget discussion at DC Fiscal Policy Institute next Monday, December 8th at 11:00 a.m. HBX staff will be on hand to discuss their funding priorities and how they will support important consumer assistance mechanisms such as information technology for DC Health Link and in-person application assistance. They will also take input from the community on consumer priorities. Please send an RSVP to Wes Rivers to attend.
  • DC Public Schools (DCPS): DCFPI and the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, or S.H.A.P.P.E., will hold a meeting to discuss the FY 2016 DCPS budget on Tuesday, December 9th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The discussion will include DC Public Schools’ Chief of Operations Lisa Ruda, and it will take place at McKinley High School, located at 151 T St. NE. There is no need to RSVP.

DCFPI encourages you to get informed and start voicing you priorities early to inform the budget the Bowser administration will put together by April. And stay tuned to the District’s Dime for more budget related updates!

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