The Districts Dime

Council’s Budget Proposal Includes Both New Investments And Reductions in Affordable Housing and Human Services

May 27th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

The budget crafted by the DC Council, which will be voted on today, includes both important enhancements and notable reductions to investments in affordable housing and human services proposed by the mayor. Most notably, the Council’s budget adds resources to fully fund a plan to end long-term homelessness and expands rental assistance to very low-income residents. However, the Council’s budget also scales back proposed funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund. The Council’s budget, as developed by Chairman Mendelson, also rolls back sales tax and parking tax increases proposed by the mayor.  Finally, the budget includes a last-minute proposal to provide a $90 million economic development subsidy for a project in a rapidly growing part of the city – Union Market – that raises concerns

As the Council moves to complete its work on the spending plan for the coming year, it should look to find a way to maintain the Housing Production Trust Fund – the main source for building and renovating affordable housing in DC – while also supporting its new investments to address the city’s urgent housing and homelessness crises. And it should hold off on the Union Market development subsidy so that it can receive a full legislative review.

The Council’s budget would maintain most of the mayor’s proposals and make several additions to help residents make ends meet and move ahead:

  • Fully funds the Interagency Council on Homelessness Strategic Plan ($3.5 million).
    • $1.8 million for Permanent Support Housing, which combines long-term affordable housing and case management for residents who have been homeless a long time and have significant disabling conditions.
    • $1.7 million for Targeted Affordable Housing for formerly homeless residents.  This helps residents after their short-term Rapid Re-Housing ends, and PSH residents who no longer need intensive services but still need help paying rent.
    • Restores a cut of $500,000 to Emergency Rental Assistance Program and adds $500,000 to support shelter and intensive services for minor-headed households.
  • Helps more residents pay the rent through the Local Rent Supplement Program ($5 million). This funding would help 330 families from becoming homeless and chips away at DC’s affordable housing crisis.  
  • Restores Some of the Cuts to the DC Office on Aging ($200,000). This would help fund meals for home-bound seniors. 
  • Makes additional investments in education ($1.2 Million). This will put additional money towards the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust, which will help fund afterschool and summer programming. 
  • Invests in new job training models:  The Council’s budget invests $500,000 to start developing a “career pathways” approach that blends adult education with occupational training.

However, amidst these increases the Chairman’s budget mark also includes a $9 million reduction in planned funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund. The proposal would take funds expected to go to the trust fund this year, and instead use them next year to count toward a planned $100 million funding level. That amounts to a $9 million reduction this year.

The DC Council made all of these investments, but they did not adopt the Mayor’s proposal to increase the sales tax rate from 5.75 percent to 6 percent or to increase the commercial parking tax rate from 18 percent to 22 percent. Instead of raising new revenue, the DC Council found additional savings elsewhere in the budget – including special purpose funds that have unneeded funding.

Finally, the DC Council’s proposal includes a large economic development subsidy that has not been fully vetted and could negatively impact the city’s finances for years. The budget proposes a $90 million subsidy to the developer Edens for a project near the thriving Union Market. The city would repay the subsidy using revenue generated from the completed project’s property taxes and sales taxes. Yet this proposal raises a number of couple of reasons.  First, the subsidy would count as debt for the city and put the city near the debt cap — the limit on how much it can borrow. This could limit the ability to borrow funds to pay for school, library, and other construction projects.  Second, economic development subsidies like these typically undergo a thorough review from, the Chief Financial Officer to assess if and how much subsidy is needed to move a project forward. With that said, the area is already developing quickly, and there is no evidence that the developer needs the incentive to complete development.  

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If a Surplus is Found, Council Should Fill in Budget Gaps

May 26th, 2015 | by DCFPI Staff

When the DC City Council votes tomorrow on next year’s budget, any extra money should be used to fund services important to DC residents, such as housing, homeless services and health care. Although the budget proposed by Mayor Bowser contained significant new investments in many of these areas, and changes were made during DC Council “mark-ups” last week, substantial gaps still remain.

DC residents understand that investing in things like schools and housing are important to improving the quality of life in the District and giving all residents the chance to thrive. In a recent poll, some 62 percent of DC residents responded that they would favor increasing services rather than rolling back the modest sales tax increase proposed in the budget.

Important areas where spending could be increased include:

5.26.15 Budget Asks

  • $1.8 million for Permanent Support Housing. PSH combines long-term affordable housing and case management for residents who have been homeless a long time and have a significant disabling condition. This funding would serve 115 individuals and would meet the targets laid out in new Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Strategic Plan to End Homelessness.
  • $1.7 million for Targeted Affordable Housing for formerly homeless residents. This new initiative helps residents after their short-term Rapid Re-Housing ends, and PSH residents who no longer need intensive services but still need help paying rent. The additional funding would house 138 individuals, meeting the targets laid out in the ICH Strategic Plan. 
  • $5 million in Rental Assistance through the Local Rent Supplement Program. LRPS helps working poor and households on low fixed incomes pay rent in private market housing. This funding would help keep more than 300 families from becoming homeless and chip away at DC’s affordable housing crisis.  
  • $2.4 million to Restore Cuts to the DC Office on Aging. This would feed 390 seniors, provide 2,000 additional free rides to medical appointments, and keep wellness center programming intact.  
  • $2 million to restore funding for tobacco cessation and control. This would include investments in tobacco quit-lines and outreach campaigns for Medicaid beneficiaries. 
  • $10 million to help immigrant families get health insurance through the Healthcare Alliance. Healthcare Alliance participants must recertify their eligibility every six months through an in-person interview. New data suggest that this requirement creates a barrier to getting services. Switching to an annual recertification period would improve access to health services and reduce uncompensated care. 
  • $700,000 to Expand Kids Ride Free through age 24 for disconnected youth. Older youth (ages 22-24) who seek educational opportunities lack access to free bus and rail transportation offered to their younger classmates. Three-fourths of youth coming through the DC Re-Engagement Center identify transportation cost as a primary barrier to their sustained reengagement.

The District’s Dime will report back on the final budget later in the week.

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Guest Blog: Cutting TANF Would Harm Domestic Violence Survivors

May 22nd, 2015 | by Tamaso Johnson, Policy Attorney at DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

When a mother loses her job because of domestic violence, or when she flees an abusive partner who has prevented her from working outside the home or keeping her own money (frequent forms of financial abuse), safety can depend on having access to economic resources. Domestic violence affects individuals and families in the District at every socioeconomic level, from all wards and walks of life, but low-income parents are especially vulnerable to the impact of abuse. For victims without financial resources or family to fall back on, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other public benefits provide a financial separation from abuse—and a bridge to independence.
TANF graphic

Because of the importance TANF can have for survivors of abuse, domestic violence advocates supported creating TANF time limit exemptions that ‘stop-the-clock’ for domestic violence survivors who have not hit the 60-month time limit. This was passed in 2012 and became accessible to survivors in late 2014 when funding was included in the budget. The exemption recognizes the safety and economic challenges faced by survivors and is a national best practice.

But that is not enough to make the District a safe place and help empower survivors. Victims of abuse could still reach the 60-month time limit if the abuse occurred before the stop-the-clock exemption went into effect. And if abuse occurs after a family has been cut off due to time limits, the District offers no way for a family to get back on temporarily. Domestic violence survivors who reach the time limit more frequently return to abusive partners than other survivors in a time of desperate financial need. [1] 

More than 6,000 District families face elimination of TANF benefits this October unless the Council supports the mayor’s proposal to delay these harmful cuts for one year. Among these families are survivors of domestic violence who would be eligible for a time limit extension in most other states, which recognize that some families need more time to move to self-sufficiency.

Delaying the benefit cut for one year will give the Department of Human Services time to improve services and develop a time limit extension policy that ensures particularly vulnerable families, including domestic violence survivors, have the extra time they need to move to self-sufficiency.

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[1] Scott E., London A., and N. Myers. 2002. “Dangerous Dependencies: The Intersection of Welfare Reform and Domestic Violence.” Gender and Society 16: 876-898 at 882.

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Most DC Residents Support Modest Sales Tax Increase To Fund Important Services, Poll Shows

May 21st, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

5.21.15 sales tax poll tableSeventy percent of District residents are in favor of Mayor Bowser’s proposal to raise the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6 percent, as part of an effort to address a $200 million budget shortfall and pay for services like schools, housing, and homeless services. This is a key finding of a poll conducted on May 18 and 19 by Public Policy Polling for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

The poll also finds that most residents want the DC Council to invest more in services, rather than roll back the sales tax increase, when the Council votes on the budget on May 27.

The proposal would put DC’s sales tax rate in line with Maryland and Northern Virginia, and was recommended last year by the DC Tax Revision Commission. It would add 25 cents to every $100 of purchases made by residents, commuters, and visitors. 

By a 62%-to-28% margin, residents want the Council to devote any money it identifies to services such as affordable housing, rather than rolling back the modest sales tax increase.

The poll reveals strong support for the sales tax increase across all wards, among both White and African-American residents and all age groups

Last week, the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue recommended repealing the sales tax increase, and a repeal proposal may come before the full Council during the May 27 vote. Yet the poll shows that this would be contrary to the wishes of most residents. 

The results are clear: DC residents understand that building a city where everyone can succeed requires new commitments to housing, schools and other needs. And they support raising revenues to meet those goals. In this case, DC residents would rather see investments in affordable housing and schools than save 25 cents on a $100 purchase.

The poll results are here. The poll of 674 registered DC voters has a 4 percent margin of error.

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Guest Blog: Cutting TANF Would Harm DC’s Kids

May 20th, 2015 | by Kimberly Waller, Policy Attorney at Children's Law Center

All too often, the policy conversation surrounding TANF – the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that provides temporary cash assistance, job training and other services for struggling families – focuses on adults. But here in DC, there are 13,000 children from over 6,000 families who are poised to lose this critical safety net on October 1, 2015 due to existing time limits on the program if the Council does not support the mayor’s proposal to extend TANF benefits for one year.
TANF graphic

Given this horizon, it’s an important time to step back and understand the population that TANF helps most in our community: our vulnerable children.

Today, one in four DC children live in poverty – that’s less than $24,000 a year for a family of four – and in our poorest neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, the figure is closer to one in two. The meager cash benefits that TANF provides is often the only reason a child may have food for dinner and heat in the winter.

It’s no secret that the District is struggling to provide affordable housing and good paying jobs that offer pathways to the middle class for low-income families. Cutting children off of TANF support even as DC struggles to transition their parents to work will lead to devastating consequences. These children are already living in poverty and, for many, TANF payments are their family’s means of meeting their most basic needs, including housing and clothing.

Further, we don’t have to guess about how the loss of TANF will impact DC’s kids. The experiences of families in other jurisdictions tell us that cuts in TANF benefits have resulted in increased hunger and poor health outcomes among children.[i] Additionally, children in families who have lost TANF support do worse in a number of developmental areas and score lower on tests of quantitative and reading skills, resulting in long-ranging effects on these children’s ability to finish school and find meaningful work as adults.[ii]

While the direct impact on a child’s future well-being can be devastating, what is equally alarming is the link shown between cuts to TANF and child abuse and neglect.

There are many factors that contribute to child neglect. However, every year in the District, hundreds of children come into contact with the child welfare system because of the instability that results when their parents do not have adequate housing. If thousands of parents lose benefits and are unable to pay their rent, it seems likely that many of these families will become homeless, tearing apart the fragile stability in their children’s lives. And in fact, studies in multiple states have shown that TANF cuts correspond to increased housing instability and increased contact with the child welfare system.[iii]

If we are to use other states as a guide, if the TANF cut-off takes effect without transitioning these families to jobs and other support, our child welfare system, homeless services and other human services functions must be prepared to absorb a significant increase in demand. Many of these families will face an increased risk of instability and others will immediately fall into crisis.  Unfortunately, none of our health and human services agencies are currently in a position to absorb a sudden spike in families.

The bottom line: eliminating TANF payments to families is the wrong thing to do. It will hurt children and will strain our social safety net.

All too often, the Children’s Law Center sees the impact that poverty can have on our most vulnerable youth. We believe it’s time that the District steps up to provide the necessary safety net to prevent children from falling into crisis. It is for this reason that Children’s Law Center urges the Council to support the mayor’s proposal to extend the time limit for one year for our struggling families while the Department of Human Services expands access to employment services and develops new service options, such as closely linking employment and mental health services.

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[i] The Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program, The Impact of Welfare Sanctions on the Health of Infants and Toddlers (2002) available at: http://www.childrenshealthwatch.org/upload/resource/welfare_7_02.pdf.

[ii] Review of Research on TANF Sanctions, Report to Washington State WorkFirst SubCabinet, available at: http://www.docin.com/p-93913888.html.

[iii] Linda Burnam, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Welfare Reform, Family Hardship, and Women of Color (2001). See, also, Sandra Butler, TANF Time Limits and Maine Families: Consequences of Withdrawing the Safety Net (2013), available at: http://www.mejp.org/sites/default/files/TANF-Study-SButler-Feb2013.pdf.

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