The Districts Dime

The Need for Fairer Scheduling Practices in DC Emerges from Hearing

July 16th, 2015 | by Ilana Boivie

A public gathering this week served as an important reminder that far too many workers in the District face inadequate hours and unpredictable work schedules that erect barriers to providing for their families and furthering their education.

The Workers’ Rights Board Hearing, convened by DC Jobs with Justice, featured testimony from workers, advocates, and researchers about how such practices harm workers, and, as a result, are bad for businesses, too.

WRB HearingThe powerful workers’ stories included:

  • Samantha Davis, from So Others Might Eat (SOME), spoke of Lawrence, a homeless man who worked in food service. He often is forced to walk the streets all night because scarce shelter beds usually are full by the time his shift ends at 9:30 p.m.
  • RasImani Diggs, an employee at Marshall’s in Columbia Heights, said two of her co-workers were denied time off to attend family funerals, because management did not consider the deceased “immediate family.”
  • Claudia Esteve, from the Carlos Rosario International School, noted that erratic work schedules make it impossible for many people to both work and attend school. Often they end up dropping out of school, damaging their long-run economic prospects.

These stories added a personal touch to the recent joint research on unfair scheduling conducted by DC Jobs with Justice, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Georgetown University Kalmanovitz Initiative. The report found that many service sector companies use “just-in-time” scheduling—where employee schedules are changed frequently in an attempt to match customer foot traffic, reservations, or sales volumes—and that this creates many problems for workers.

Those at the hearing noted that using more fair scheduling practices, such as giving workers schedules two weeks in advance, is helpful not only to employees but to employers as well. When employees receive schedules that are more predictable and manageable, their morale is higher, and they stay on the job longer. This results in higher productivity and reduced turnover costs, according to a new report by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Several retail and food service employers in the District—such as El Camino Restaurant and Beadazzled—already practice these measures to improve employee retention and morale, CLASP reports.

Yet because many employers do not see the potential benefits of implementing such changes on their own, the District’s elected leaders should advance legislation to ensure that workers have access to fair, predictable schedules. These standards should include giving workers sufficient advance notice of their schedules, encouraging stable work schedules in place of just-in-time practices, and protecting part-time employees from being discriminated against with regard to pay, leave, and promotion opportunities.

The hearing also generated an idea for reforming DC’s paid sick leave requirements to help workers. Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who spoke at the event, was so moved by Ms. Diggs’ story that she suggested reforming DC’s law to allow workers to use sick leave for bereavement.

Such actions would go a long way to helping hard-working DC residents provide for their families and continue the education that they need to advance their careers.

The DC Council will likely take up fair scheduling legislation when it reconvenes in the fall. Stay tuned to the District’s Dime for updates.

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Making Sure DC Residents Don’t Go Hungry

July 15th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

Federal nutrition programs help low-income residents have the healthy diets they need to succeed, but improvements to these programs are needed, along with policies that address the root economic causes of hunger. To address hunger in DC, the city and its federal partners should work together to boost nutrition benefits to help residents keep up with the cost of living in DC, but also invest in programs like affordable housing and job training to improve household stability.

Yesterday, DCFPI testified before the National Commission on Hunger on the importance of federal nutrition programs, like SNAP, in helping residents stay fed and economically stable. SNAP, formerly called food stamps, serves more than 140,000 residents or 20 percent of DC’s population and is responsible fo4.7.2015 supplemental photor lifting 14,000 residents out of poverty since the recession. Likewise, 91 percent of District schools are “community eligible” for free and reduced price lunch through the National School Lunch Program – meaning that because 40 percent or more of the students are eligible, all students can receive free breakfast and lunch. These programs, along with federal nutrition education programs help ensure that kids have a healthy diet and enter school ready to learn – boosting academic achievement and ability to seize other economic opportunities later in life.

That’s why it is so important that our federal partners look to increase benefits, especially SNAP.  Higher benefit levels will improve District residents’ ability to purchase healthy foods throughout the month and give them flexibility in purchasing healthy and locally sourced options. Higher benefits will help more residents navigate the high costs of living in DC, freeing up money for housing and transportation, and will lift more residents out of poverty.

However, nutrition benefits alone cannot solve hunger in DC. The District must look at the root causes of hunger like unemployment, low-wages, and unaffordable housing. Over the last decade, average income for the poorest 40 percent of DC residents has been flat. Many low-skilled workers still face unemployment or underemployment. Yet rents have increased steadily in a booming housing market. Low-cost housing in the private market has virtually disappeared, and as a result, 64 percent of low-income renters spend more than half of their income on rent.

Not surprisingly, when families face high housing costs, they are forced to cut back on other necessities, including food. A study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies showed that low-income families with severe affordable housing cost burdens spent $160 a month less on food than low-income households that do not face severe housing burdens. This suggests high housing costs make it even harder for families to get enough nutritious food.

 

As a community, we must address economic determinants of hunger in conjunction with improving national nutrition programs. DC has already made strides, like increasing the minimum wage to $11.50 (to be fully implemented in 2016) and putting $100 million towards affordable housing production, but there is more than can be done.

To read the full testimony, click here.

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The Need to Better Manage DCPS School Modernization

July 13th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

All students deserve to go to school in a safe, accessible, and well-maintained building but in DC, the process for selecting which DCPS schools are modernized, in what order, and at what cost is far from transparent, according to a new report from the Office of the DC Auditor.

Source: profiles.dcps.dc.gov

Source: profiles.dcps.dc.gov

The audit points to significant problems with the city’s school modernization program, including a lack of accountability, transparency, and financial management. DC should adopt these recommendations from the report:

A clear process for selecting schools for modernization is needed: The city has a Master Facilities Plan (MFP), which covers a 10-15 year time period and provides an estimate for the schedule and budget for the school modernization process. But, the audit noted that there is no link between the MFP and the selection of schools that receive modernization each year. It found that of the 62 projects scheduled between 2010 and 2012, about half did not abide by the schedule and process outlined in the MFP. In addition, many projects were not completed on time, others were moved up in the schedule, and DCPS closed some schools that had already started work. A clear process should be developed, and aligned with the MFP, with one entity responsible for selecting schools.

The Modernization Advisory Committee should be reappointed: DC law required this committee with expertise in planning, design, or public finance be formed to help monitor the program’s spending and ensure the work being done is consistent across the city’s various capital plans. However, due to inadequate support, the committee disbanded in 2008. It should be brought back.

Better tracking of scheduled projects and expenditures on a school-by-school basis: The report makes suggestions to improve transparency, including making project descriptions for the next six years and expenditures for the past three years available online for the public. It also recommends better tracking of expenditures on a school-by-school basis to match appropriations.

The reality is, DCPS schools saw decades of disinvestment before the modernization program began, and 24 schools are still waiting for their turn. The city is also reaching the limits of the debt it can incur, so funding for school modernization is not unlimited. However, these financial struggles are not a signal to stop investing in better school facilities, but instead a reason to develop a clear, rational system to ensure the government agencies are held accountable for the dollars being spent.

You can find the full DC Auditor’s report here.

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Affordable Housing Could Be Coming to the U Street Area Thanks to New Law

July 9th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

Legislation adopted last fall to turn city-owned land into mixed-income housing is already at work! Thanks to the new law, nearly one-third of the homes in a proposed development at 965 Florida Avenue, NW will be affordable to residents struggling with DC’s incredibly high housing costs.

The DC Council will vote next Tuesday on the disposition of land needed to move this project forward. Given the many benefits of this development, we hope the Council will support it.

7.9.15 965 FL Ave Public LandsThirty percent of the apartments – 106 of 352 – will be affordable, following requirements of the Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Act adopted last fall. Twenty-six apartments will be for residents with incomes below $29,000 for a family of three (30 percent of the Area Median Income) and 79 will be for residents with incomes under $49,000 (50 percent of Area Median Income). The project will help singles and small families, as one-third of the apartments will have two bedrooms and the rest will be studios or one-bedroom units.

The 965 Florida Avenue project highlights the many benefits of the new law. The families that move in there will have high-quality housing that is permanently affordable, Metro accessible and close to job opportunities and neighborhood amenities. Without housing help, many low-income families now spend more than half their income on DC’s high and rising rents.

Importantly, no tax dollars will be spent on the affordable housing at 965 Florida Avenue, though it won’t be free. The developer will pay the city less than full market value for the land to offset the costs of setting rents at affordable levels. In effect, the land value of the land – rather than tax dollars – will pay for the affordable housing. Even before this law, the District often sold its land at below-market levels in return for amenities such as affordable housing.

With low-cost private housing virtually non-existent in the District, and many neighborhoods like U Street rapidly developing, the District needs to pursue affordable housing in a variety of ways. As the 965 Florida Avenue project shows, the new law to build mixed-income housing on city-owned land is a key way we can meet this important goal.

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Which Tax Reductions Are Likely to Go Into Effect in the Fall?

July 8th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

Last week’s announcement of growing city revenues, combined with recent Council action to speed up the implementation of tax cuts recommended by the Tax Revision Commission, makes it likely that the District will soon cut income tax rates for middle- and upper-income residents and also reduce income taxes for businesses.

The budget passed last week by the DC Council devotes every dollar of revenue growth through this fall to tax cuts, and the new revenue forecast from the Chief Financial Officer showed that revenues for 2016 and beyond will be $38 million more than expected. If that is maintained in the next revenue forecast in September, $38 million of tax cuts will be implemented in 2016.

Earlier this week, the District’s Dime commented on how the aggressive implementation of tax cuts could limit DC’s ability to cover with rising costs of services. Using every dollar for tax cuts means we have less revenue to make investments in affordable housing, schools, or homeless services and we have less cushion to deal with unexpected occurrences like lawsuits or weather emergencies.

Today, we want to highlight the precise tax cuts that would go into effect. (See Table for full list of “tax triggers.”) If the revenue forecast does not change dramatically in September, DC will make the following tax changes, effective January 1, 2016.7-8-15 Forecast-Trigger

  • Reduces the income tax rate for the newly created middle income tax bracket. The individual income tax rate falls from 7.0 percent to 6.5 percent on taxable income between $40,000 and $60,000 (or $80,000 to $120,000 for two-earner families). The rate reduction results in maximum tax bill savings of $100 for single filers and costs $11.4 million.
  • Cuts income taxes for those making more than $350,000 a year. The individual income tax rate falls from 8.95 percent to 8.75 percent on taxable income between $350,000 and $1 million. This results in a maximum tax bill savings of $1,300 and costs $4.5 million.
  • Cuts the corporate and unincorporated business franchise tax. The business income tax would fall from 9.4 to 9 percent. As the tax triggers move forward, the rate would fall to 8.25 percent, equaling the rates in Virginia and Maryland. This will cost the District $18.4 million.

If the September revenue forecast shows a further increase in revenues, additional tax cuts would be triggered. The next items on the list including increasing the standard deduction in the income tax, which largely benefits low- and moderate-income renters, and eliminating estate taxes for estates worth $1 million to $2 million.

When the September forecast arrives, we hope that DC Council will reexamine the pace of implementation of the tax revision package – weighing our ongoing needs with the expense of tax cuts.

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