The Districts Dime

Council Should Protect Vulnerable Families with Children in the FY 2017 Budget

April 20th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

The proposed fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget extends benefits and employment assistance for one year to 6,200 families who otherwise faced the loss of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits and services in October 2016. While this protects families from being cut off for one year, it does not make any progress to reform policies that already have left families with incredibly low benefits. It also does not fix a rigid time limit policy that puts vulnerable families in dire circumstances at risk of losing all assistance.

DCFPI will be testifying today to urge the Council to take steps now, in the FY 2017 budget, to address these issues.

Under the proposed budget, families who have received assistance for 60 months or more will receive just $154 a month for a family of three in FY 2017. This reflects benefit cuts due to time limits that have been implemented since 2011. Given that most TANF families do not receive housing assistance, this is far too low for families to make ends meet.TANF is a lifeline

And under the proposed budget, all families who have received assistance for more than 60 months will lose both cash assistance and employment services in October 2017, regardless of their circumstances, with no opportunity to receive assistance again.

Getting the TANF time limit right – modifying it to ensure that it provides stability to families and children who need it the most – is important to child well-being and to the success of other mayoral initiatives, such as ending homelessness. Nearly 300 families in DC’s Rapid Re-Housing program, which helps families exit shelter, have received TANF for 52 months or more, putting them at risk of going over the cliff. Losing their entire income source would make it incredibly hard to successfully exit homelessness.

Legislation to reform DC’s TANF time limit was introduced in the DC Council in 2015. While that bill, the Public Assistance Amendment Act of 2015, has not been adopted, it could form the basis for time limit reforms. The bill would create extensions to give families access to TANF’s help when they face difficult situations – such as domestic violence – even if they have reached the time limit, with extension eligibility reviewed periodically. The legislation also would continue assistance to children when a family reaches a time limit without qualifying for an extension, to ensure that a time limit focuses on parents but does not hurt children.

DCFPI urges the Council to take steps this budget season to adopt time limit reforms and fund as many of these reforms as possible. This will ensure that some vulnerable families will be restored to full benefits this year and will put the District on a path to adopt a comprehensive TANF policy that protects all vulnerable children.

To read the full testimony, click here.

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

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Additional Needs for Early Care and Education, Early Intervention, and Adult Education Services in OSSE Budget

April 19th, 2016 | by Soumya Bhat

The proposed FY 2017 budget included significant investments in education, but more could be done to improve access to quality early care and education, services to identify and address young children with developmental delays, and improvements to adult education and training. DCFPI testified on these issues at yesterday’s budget hearing for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Our key recommendations are below.

  • Early Care and Education – The FY 2017 budget does not include funding to increase reimbursement rates paid to early care and education providers, even though rates are well below market rate. Providers that serve mostly low-income children, and rely mostly on the child care subsidy program, struggle to provide quality care and make ends meet due to these low reimbursement rates. A recent report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and DC Appleseed cites the need for at least $38 million more – which could be phased in over time – to help providers cover the costs of providing quality child care, including the need for salary supplements to improve compensation of the early care and education workforce.
  • DC Early Intervention Program/Strong Start – The District recently adopted a policy to expand early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays, to allow services to be provided before delays become severe. Unfortunately, this expansion is not yet funded. The proposed FY 2017 budget adds $2.3 million more towards early intervention services, to restore a cut made last year, but is not sufficient to fund the expanded services. An additional $3-5 million is needed to fund the expansion of the DC Early Intervention Program/Strong Start next year.
  • Adult Education and Training – Per the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), adult education costs per participant are likely to increase, as Adult and Family Education programs will be required to integrate education with job training. This means that without additional funding, the number of residents that can be served will decline.

To read our full testimony, see here.

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

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DC Residents Pay the Lowest Taxes in the Region

April 18th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

On this tax day, as you may be scrambling to file your returns, remember that DC households pay lower local taxes than in any other part of the DC region. In some cases, DC’s taxes are lower than in the suburbs by thousands of dollars.

These findings come from a recent report from DC’s Chief Financial Officer. They found that DC’s taxes are lowest in the region at every income level studied – from $25,000 to $150,000. Consider a family making $100,000 and the taxes they pay.DC taxes are lowest in region

  • DC’s Property Taxes Are Lowest: A DC homeowner with income of $100,000 pays an estimated $2,100 in property taxes, compared with $2,900 in Prince George’s County, and over $3,000 everywhere else in the region. DC’s residential property tax rate is the region’s lowest, and there are other provisions that limit property tax bills. A homestead deduction reduces the amount of a DC home’s assessment by $71,400, and an assessment cap limits annual increases in taxable assessments to 10 percent, no matter how much a home’s value grows. Virginia has no homestead deduction or assessment cap, while Maryland has both. (A 2015 DCFPI report also shows DC’s residential taxes are lowest in the DC region.)
  • DC’s Income Taxes: Lower than in Maryland, Only a Bit Higher than in Virginia: A DC family at $100,000 pays $4,100 in income taxes. That is far lower than the $5,300 paid by families in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. In Virginia, income taxes at this level range from $3,600-$3,700 depending on the county. That is lower than in DC, but not by much.

Putting these together, and adding in sales and auto taxes, a DC household at $100,000 pays combined DC taxes that are $800 lower than in Fairfax County, $900 lower than in Arlington County, $1,500 lower than in Prince George’s County, and $2,000 lower than in Montgomery County. You can explore taxes in DC and the region further with this neat tool from the Chief Financial Officer.

The taxes we pay as DC residents do a lot of things, from renovating schools, parks and libraries, to ensuring access to health care for almost everyone, to supporting large investments in affordable housing. And we are able to do that with taxes on residents that compare favorably with our neighbors.

Happy Tax Day!

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New York and California Are Moving Forward on Minimum Wage and Paid Family Leave – And So Should DC!

April 15th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

Both New York and California have made huge gains for workers recently, with legislation on paid family leave and increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The District has been considering both of these policies, and would do well to be the next jurisdiction to adopt them.

These steps would go a long way to help DC’s workforce, especially low-income workers who are struggling in an economy marked by falling wages for high-school graduates. Roughly 31,000 DC workers need to take leave each year but do not – nearly half because they cannot afford it. Paid family leave will help these workers take the leave they need without having to risk their family’s financial security or losing their job. And a $15 minimum wage is the precise wage needed to survive as a single worker in DC, according to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (They calculate that for a family of four, a living wage is $20.)

As the cost of living continues to rise in the District, both of these policies should be passed soon, so that District workers can benefit from them.

Here is how the new laws in California and New York will work:

Paid Family Leave: DC Should Take the Best of NY and CA Approaches

New York to Provide 12 Weeks of Paid Family Leave: Workers in New York will be able to take 12 weeks of paid leave per year to be with a new child, care for an ill relative, or provide assistance related to military service. Benefits will replace 2/3 of a worker’s salary up to a maximum, which will be based on the average statewide weekly wage rate (currently about $1,300). Current law in New York already mandates 26 weeks of paid medical leave.

California Raises Benefits for Workers Taking Family Leave: Workers in California already can take paid medical leave for 52 weeks and family leave for 6 weeks; the new provision will boost family benefits from 55 to 60 percent of salary for most workers, and up to 70 percent of salary for the lowest-income workers. This change came after a report found that low-income workers are least likely to take leave, because replacing just 55 percent of a low wage is not enough to live on. The maximum weekly benefit in California is $1,100 per week.

How DC Can Move Forward: The proposal in DC would take the best from these two states, by giving residents enough time off to care for themselves or their family, and by ensuring benefits are sufficient to allow workers to actually take time off. The “discussion draft” of the bill now being considered would provide 12 weeks, like California. The wage replacement rate would start at 90 percent for low-income workers and decline for higher-wage workers, with a $1,500 weekly cap.

Minimum Wage: $15 in Both NY and CA

Policymakers in both California and New York agree that a $15 minimum wage makes sense, and they only differ on timing. New York City will reach $15 an hour in 2018; the NYC suburbs will get there by 2021; and the rest of the state will take a later timeframe. In California, the minimum wage will be raised to $15 statewide by 2022. After that, the wage will increase with inflation.

Regarding tipped workers, the California bill fully covers these workers, while the New York law does not. The minimum wage for tipped workers in New York was raised in January to $7.50 per hour, with scheduled increases to $10 by 2020.

How DC Can Move Forward: DC’s minimum wage campaign would place an initiative on the November 2016 ballot to raise the wage to $15 per hour by 2020 (reaching that level after New York City and before California), with inflation adjustments after that. Tipped workers at restaurants and other businesses also would see wages rise to $15 an hour – they currently earn just $2.77 plus tips – but this would be phased in through 2025. The initiative will appear on the ballot if supporters collect enough valid signatures.

Mayor Bowser also has endorsed a $15 minimum wage, but the specific details of her plan, such as timing and treatment of tipped workers, are still forthcoming. We hope that it will closely follow the ballot initiative.


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Let’s Use School Health Centers to Connect Troubled Students to Emotional and Mental Health Help

April 13th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

The fiscal year 2017 budget offers a great opportunity to use school health centers in new and innovative ways to help students with mental health or other emotional needs – by connecting them to an array of resources beyond the school. A proposed pilot program would use “telehealth” – or video technology – as a starting point to link students to behavioral health specialists in the community, as well as to address family issues that may be affecting a child’s mental well-being, such as housing instability. Given that most schools do not have a mental health clinician on site, this is a cost-effective and holistic way to address social and environmental factors that affect behavioral health.

The need is great, especially given the stresses of poverty that affect thousands of DC children. An estimated 13,000-20,000 children in DC have mental health needs, according to Children’s Law Center. Common problems include anxiety, depression, behavioral or mood disorders, and substance abuse. Untreated problems affect the ability of children to succeed in school. About 70 DC public schools and public charter schools have a school-based mental health program, but this is only about one-third of all schools.

That’s where the School-Based Behavioral Health Improvement Act of 2016 comes in. Using school health centers as an entry point, the legislation would create a pilot program to connect students to behavioral health counseling and to other social services partners. When mental health services are provided in schools, students are much more likely to use them, according to a 2014 DCFPI report.

Some key components of the pilot program are:

  • School-based clinical staff – such as nurses – would screen children for behavioral health needs and social service needs.
  • Once a student’s needs are identified and with parents’ permission, a remote care coordinator would connect the student to a behavioral health specialist, who would conduct consultations through a video tele-health connection. The care coordinator also would connect the student and family with social services, through designated community partners, to address issues affecting the student’s emotional and behavioral health.
  • The pilot would use secure electronic records to connect students to services. This would make it easy for all partners to coordinate care for students, and would allow for robust data collection and program evaluation.

The pilot is an ideal example of the Accountable Care Communities model under the federal Affordable Care Act, which recognizes that efforts to improve health outcomes need to address social and mental health issues that can contribute to poor health.

With less than $1 million, two school health centers could be used to pilot this approach next year.  We hope the DC Council will move forward to leverage a convenient and trusted source of health care for students to connect students and their families with comprehensive behavioral health and social services.

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

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