The Districts Dime

DC Residents and Businesses Can Still Get Health Insurance Through DC Health Link This Season

November 18th, 2016 | by Jodi Kwarciany

It’s important to remember that DC residents and businesses can still get insurance for all of 2017 through DC Health Link, our local insurance marketplace, despite uncertainty about the future of federal health insurance programs following the national elections. We don’t know what will happen to these programs, but it will not affect health care options for next year. Consumers should take advantage of their health coverage choices now.

Nationally, consumers are taking note. Over a million people have selected a plan this enrollment season through the federal marketplace,, ahead of last year at the same point. Several states with their own marketplaces like DC have also seen a spike in enrollment this year. Typically, this doesn’t happen until mid-December as people rush to get coverage that begins on January 1.

Having health coverage is important for a lot of reasons. Consumers can regularly receive preventive care like routine checkups or vaccinations, and are also protected if they face an unexpected illness and need to go to the emergency room. What’s more, consumers can enroll no matter what their health status is—a key provision of health reform referred to as guaranteed issue.

DC Health Link is offering 20 different private health insurance options for residents and their families, and 151 options for small businesses. It provides an easy and transparent way to compare plan benefits and prices, one of the key advantages of creating a health insurance marketplace. And many can use DC Health Link to get financial assistance to help pay for premiums. Residents with incomes below 400 percent of the poverty line ($47,520 for an individual or $100,000 for a family of four) may be eligible for tax credits to reduce their monthly premium payments. Others can use DC Health Link to determine whether they are eligible for, and can apply to, Medicaid.

With health insurance options available to virtually all ages, incomes, and citizenship statuses, it’s little surprise that DC has its lowest rates of uninsured residents ever, and one of the lowest rates of uninsured compared with states.

Open enrollment runs until January 31 for individuals applying for private insurance, or year-round for small businesses or those applying for Medicaid. For more information, check out the Health Plan Comparison Tool for 2017, or log on to directly.

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We Can Strengthen Democracy in DC Through Fair Public Campaign Financing

November 17th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

Legislation to provide public funding to candidates for major DC offices would increase the racial, gender, and economic diversity of people who give – and the people who run – for Mayor, the DC Council, and Attorney General. Public financing would encourage more people to donate to campaigns and to run for office. It would be especially helpful to candidates who do not have large networks of major donors, including first-time candidates. Bringing in more diverse voices to major DC elections would strengthen DC democracy.

fair-electionsDCFPI is proud to be part of the coalition supporting this bill and encourages the DC Council to adopt it.

The Citizens Fair Election Program Amendment Act would provide public funding to candidates for Mayor, DC Council, and Attorney General who collect a specified number of small donations from DC residents, a sign that they have a base level of support. Public funding would include both a base amount and 5-to-1 match for all donations under $100.  Candidates would have to agree to not accept donations above $100.

This would be good for the District for several reasons:

  • The Citizens Fair Elections Act would give low-and moderate income residents, communities of color, and women a much larger voice in DC elections. Most current donors to DC elections are white, and most have incomes above $100,000.  A majority of the largest donors are men. By contrast, half of donors who gave $25 or less in the 2014 mayoral race were people of color, while half of donors who gave $50 or less were women. Limiting donations to $100 would increase the role of low-and moderate income residents, communities of color, and women in DC elections.
  • The Citizens Fair Elections Act would encourage more people to give to campaigns, particularly low-income residents and residents of color. The public match of 5-to-1 would give residents the sense that their donation is meaningful. The $100 donation cap would help small donors understand that their donation is not overshadowed by large donations from higher-income residents.
  • The Citizens Fair Elections Act would encourage more people to run for office and increase the economic and racial diversity of candidates. First-time candidates and candidates from lower-income communities are less likely to have access to large donors than incumbents or candidates from higher-income communities. This creates a serious barrier to considering running for office, and thus restrains democracy. The public financing available under the Citizens Fair Election Act would enable many people to run for office who otherwise would not.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute encourages the Council to adopt this important legislation.


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When Federal Policy Goes Low, DC Should Stay High

November 16th, 2016 | by DCFPI Staff

At a time when many DC residents—including those of us at DCFPI—are deeply concerned about the national election outcomes, it’s important to remember that the District has a track record of pursuing its own path. DC was a leader in expanding health insurance well before the Affordable Care Act, for example, and can ensure that our residents maintain health insurance if the ACA is repealed or scaled back. And there are important progressive policies moving forward in DC—including reforming a harmful TANF time limit, creating a paid family leave program for all workers, and mandating fair scheduling for retail and restaurant workers—that would support DC residents and strengthen our economy. Adopting these local solutions will not only help our residents immensely, but would also serve as an important reminder that we still control our destiny.

We hope that the District government will take the following actions:

Reform the TANF Time Limit to Protect Children: Across the nation, strict welfare time limits often hit the families with the most serious challenges. Research shows that most time-limited families are not able to find sustainable employment, and that time limits often push children into extreme poverty. 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. When they leave TANF, they often do not leave poverty.

That is why a working group convened by the Bowser administration (on which DCFPI served) called for reforming DC’s time limit, which under current law will cut families off after 60 months regardless of their circumstances, with no chance to ever get back on. The working group recommended guaranteeing 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 TANF grant—the parent’s portion—should be cut when parents are not taking steps to prepare for work.

Mayor Bowser and the DC Council should adopt the working group’s recommendation and fund it in the upcoming FY 2018 budget.

Create a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program: The DC Council will soon consider legislation to create a paid family leave program that will help workers when they have a child, face an extended illness, or need to care for an ill relative.

Paid family leave helps workers care for themselves and their family at important moments, while keeping their job and maintaining economic stability. The program will be especially helpful for the city’s most vulnerable workers who often struggle to get back in the job market after a job loss. Promoting family economic stability is important to the city’s future. Poor parents face numerous challenges in creating a nurturing environment for their children, like poor nutrition, unstable and unhealthy housing, and exposure to violence. All of these can have adverse impacts on the physical and cognitive development of children. Children who live in poverty have worse outcomes in a range of areas, including physical and mental health, cognitive development, school achievement, and emotional well-being. On the flip side, modest increases in income for poor families lead to academic and employment gains for children.

For these reasons, the DC Council should adopt the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.

Adopt Fair Scheduling: Legislation before the DC Council (though recently tabled) would require retail and restaurant employers with more than 40 locations nationwide to offer additional hours to current employees first, before they look for a new hire. It also would ensure that employees get advance notice of their schedules. Encouraging and enforcing these stable work scheduling practices will help hard-working DC residents provide for their families and continue the education they need to advance their careers.

In the new legislative session in January, the City Council should quickly re-introduce and pass the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015.

Protect Health Insurance: Fifteen years ago, the District created the Healthcare Alliance program to cover low-income residents who were uninsured but could not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. The Alliance helped bring DC’s uninsured rate to one of the lowest in the nation. After the adoption of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), many residents getting care from the Alliance shifted to Medicaid, funded primarily by the federal government. The District has also positioned itself well by choosing to create its own state-based health insurance marketplace, DC Health Link, where moderate- and higher-income folks can purchase health plans.

It is clear that the ACA will be under attack in 2017 and will likely face cutbacks, although there also will be extensive advocacy to preserve its progress in expanding health care coverage.

If the federal government cuts Medicaid, the District should maintain health coverage for affected residents through DC’s Healthcare Alliance program. (The District should also take steps to reduce current barriers to getting on the Alliance.)  And DC should preserve its own marketplace so that individuals and families can continue to more easily access health insurance options.

Looking Ahead to the DC Budget for 2018: The full extent of the changes in the federal landscape will not be clear by the time Mayor Bowser submits her budget for FY 2018—in late March or early April—or even by the time the DC Council approves the budget in June.

The District will need to prepare by making sure it has resources to absorb the federal cuts, and replace services as much as possible. This should include putting tax cuts on hold and establishing plans to use the District’s reserve funds, which have swelled in recent years, or by creating a one-time reserve fund in the FY 2018 budget to cope with cuts.

With these steps, the District can continue to move forward on important efforts to support our residents and our economy—regardless of what the federal government does.


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DC Has a Great New Plan to Save Affordable Housing: Let’s Put It into Action

November 11th, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

A “strike force” assembled by Mayor Bowser just issued a great set of recommendations on how DC can hold on to the city’s shrinking stock of affordable housing, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With 13,000 low-cost apartments at risk of turning into market-rate buildings, the District has no time to lose. Mayor Bowser and the DC Council should work together to put the Strike Force’s conclusions into action—by providing the needed funding  in the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget.

preservation-strike-force-blogHere’s why housing that is now affordable through subsidies doesn’t stay that way forever: Many subsidized housing programs have an expiration date, meaning that landlords can shift to market-rate rents after a specified time period, unless they choose to renew the subsidy or enter a new subsidy program. These days, more and more subsidized buildings are going market-rate or being converted to condos.

By stepping in to work with subsidized buildings that are “on the fence,” DC can preserve the low-cost housing we have left. Here are three key strategies outlined by the Strike Force, along with DCFPI’s take.

  • Establish a public-private affordable housing preservation fund. The fund would bring together “seed funding” from the DC government with private and philanthropic investments. The fund would help developers or tenants buy properties that they will renovate and preserve as affordable. Using local dollars to bring other sources of funds to the table is a fiscally smart move that gets a good bang for the city’s buck. The Mayor and Council should put money into the preservation fund in the FY 2018 budget.
  • Use the District’s opportunity to purchase affordable buildings. This tool, known as DOPA, has been in place since 2009, but has never been used. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will issue the draft regulations needed for the city to use this tool in FY 2017, and then the Mayor and Council will need to find the money to start buying buildings—perhaps with the public-private fund.
  • Form a preservation unit within the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The unit will track at-risk affordable buildings, and reach out to owners to discuss options to keep the building affordable. That unit, which DHCD will be setting up this year, will need to work closely with all housing agencies in the city—and with the federal housing department, too.

The Strike Force also recommended creating a program to preserve small affordable buildings, provide more assistance for tenants using the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act rights, and create programs to help seniors age in place.

The District also can help by making sure that all newly developed affordable housing is designed to be affordable forever. The less time we have to spend keeping affordable housing from being lost, the better.

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

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Let Us Help You Get Ready for DC Budget Season!

November 10th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

The District’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 is barely underway, but it’s a good time to think about your goals for the DC budget for FY 2018 – and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute wants to help. Like you, we care a lot about the District’s investment in schools, housing, health care, job training, homeless services, and more, and we have a lot of resources to help ensure that next year’s budget reflects your priorities.

budget-screenshotDCFPI’s Budget Primer offers practical advice on the budget process and tips on how to get involved. The primer was just updated and provides a detailed description of the budget season calendar, highlighting opportunities for advocacy along the way, as well as a handy one-pager with the most important pieces. The primer also helps you understand DC’s budget documents, the key terms, and the major actors involved in shaping the budget.

DCFPI’s just-completed analysis of the FY 2017 budget (the current budget) details the District’s current investment in education, human services, public safety and more. It also highlights things that will affect the upcoming budget. Most important, our review describes how automatic tax-cut triggers could make it hard to meet the needs of a growing city and the many residents who struggle with high costs of housing, transportation, and child care.

And DCFPI staff are ready and excited to do a DCFPI Budget 101 presentation with your group to help plan your budget advocacy. In just the last week, we met with three different groups to talk budget. Would you like to be next? Please reach out to me ( or any other staff member if you’re interested.


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