The Districts Dime


June 17th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

The final budget vote the Council will hold on June 30 could make it difficult to meet DC’s most basic budget needs a year from now, such as a growing number of schoolchildren, continuing investments in housing and homeless services, and school modernization needs. That’s because the budget legislation adopted preliminarily on May 27 calls for using any growth in revenues through next winter to implement tax cuts from the Tax Revision Commission. Rather than putting next year’s budget at risk, any tax proposal adopted by the Council should designed in way that preserves revenues adequately to pay for the inevitable growth in the costs of basic services.

Using new revenue solely for tax cuts, which total $150 million, is problematic for several reasons:

  • Implementing tax cuts so quickly limits the District’s ability to address the rising costs of schools, healthcare, and transportation. The costs of basic services grow every year, due to things like rising health care costs, growing school enrollment, and Metro needs. In 2016, for example, DC’s Chief Financial Officer determined that just maintaining existing services would require an additional $200 million, including over $30 million each to address rising school enrollment and increased support for the Metro system. Rapidly implementing tax cuts over the coming months could make it difficult or impossible to cover the costs of essential services – or to address an unexpected spending need that may arise.
  • Many of the tax reductions scheduled next would mostly benefit wealthy residents. While the overall Tax Commission package includes many changes that make DC’s tax system more progressive, by targeting reductions on low- and moderate-income households, that is not the case for the tax cuts next in line. If the District’s revenue forecast shows $50 million in additional revenue, less than half would go to progressive tax changes that help low-and-moderate income residents (See Table). The remainder would go to cutting taxes on estates worth more than $1 million, cutting income taxes for residents with incomes above $350,000 and cutting business income taxes. Yet these tax cuts should not take precedence over funding for services like schools and healthcare. 
  • The DC Council did not adopt recommended revenue increases that balance the package. The Tax Revision Commission recommended two revenue increases to offset recommended tax cuts, totaling $67 million, which the DC Council did not adopt. This means that the Council’s tax cut plan would limit DC’s revenue growth more than the Tax Commission intended. Given that, it would make sense for the DC Council to spread out implementation of tax cuts to make the impact more manageable.


6.17.15 tax cuts

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DC Should Do More to Help Workers Who Face Erratic Work Schedules and Unpredictable Incomes

June 12th, 2015 | by Ilana Boivie

Many employees in DC’s service sectors have jobs with unpredictable work schedules that do not provide enough hours or pay to make ends meet, a new study finds. Irregular work schedules make it hard to budget, arrange childcare, pursue education, or hold down a second job to increase their income. It is bad for workers—but also for our communities—when parents cannot plan to be there for their kids, workers cannot get the education needed to improve employment opportunities, and families cannot consistently pay the bills.

The report, “Unpredictable, Unsustainable: The Impact of Employers’ Scheduling Practices in DC,” by DC Jobs with Justice, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Georgetown University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, surveys 436 nonsupervisory hourly employees to examine the scheduling practices experienced by DC’s service sector workers.

The survey found that many service-sector retail and food service companies use “just-in-time” scheduling, where employee schedules are changed frequently in an attempt to match customer foot traffic, reservations, or sales volumes. This creates many problems for workers:

  • employees receive schedules just days or even hours before they are expected to work;
  • schedules can change after they are set;
  • shifts can be cancelled at the last minute; and
  • employees are often required to work “call-in” or “on-call” shifts, preventing them from making other plans, but also not guaranteeing they will work any paid hours.

The survey finds that:

  • Part-time hours are common: The typical employee worked 32 hours per week—at a typical wage of just $10 an hour—and most wanted more hours. This equates to an annual income of less than $17,000.
  • Significant fluctuation in work hours: In a given month, the typical employee’s weekly schedule fluctuates by 13 hours—a low of 25 hours some weeks to a high of 38 in others.
  • Being available for work but not necessarily getting hours: Some 60 percent of respondents said they must always be available to work to get more hours and/or the best shifts. And half of the time workers were required to be on call, they didn’t end up being asked to work.
  • Retaliation for seeking better schedules: Many employees—especially women—reported employer retaliation if they request an alternative schedule or limit their availability. Retaliation includes assignment of fewer hours or less desirable shifts, or even being threatened with job loss.

Just in TimeIn adopting just-in time scheduling practices, employers are essentially passing on business risks to their employees, but none of the associated rewards. Employees must hold time each week for the possibility of work with no guarantee—and without compensation. Meanwhile, employers dodge the cost of regularly staffing their stores during non-peak times.

DC policymakers can take common-sense actions that will help workers gain access to fair, predictable schedules, including adopting new standards to give 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.

To read the full report, click here. For the Executive Summary, click here.

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Long Awaited Evaluation of Public Education Reform in DC Highlights Need for Data, Transparency, and Coordination

June 11th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

Seven years after the mayoral takeover of DC Public Schools, promises of stronger schools have not been realized, according to a recent evaluation report from the National Research Council.



Researchers given the task of evaluating how public schools are doing since the passage of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) found that DC continues to have many struggling students and needs to take steps to address the lack of transparency and clear oversight for its public schools.

Specifically, the report recommends improvements in the following areas:

Student Learning – The researchers looked at trends in student performance, such as test scores and graduation rates, since mayoral control began. While there has been some improvement, many students with high levels of need, including those who are low-income, continue to fall behind. The recent investments in students considered “at-risk” offer a tremendous opportunity for DC schools. These additional resources are intended to help these students receive the extra support they need, but there are questions about how to make sure these resources support effective strategies and activities. The report recommends the city take a more coordinated approach to monitoring “learning conditions” in schools, such as school environment, discipline, and academic support, to better understand what progress is being made for students.

Data Infrastructure – Although DC gathers data about its schools through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), access to this information, particularly for high-needs students and the charter school sector, remains a challenge. The report recommends DC develop a comprehensive data collection system that would be easily accessible to the public.

Budget Transparency – The researchers concluded that the budgeting process is not simpler or more transparent since the shift to mayoral control. In particular, the short timeline given to DCPS to make budgeting decisions does not allow for much community input into school budget priorities. Previously, a working group would make recommendations and hold hearings to gather input during the school budget development process. While DCPS holds workshops and budget meetings with schools, the working group is no longer used, offering less opportunities for public input.

Governance and Coordination – Since mayoral control, there are several DC agencies involved in the oversight of both traditional public schools and public charter schools. However, it still is not clear who is responsible for overseeing the quality of education in DC.

DCFPI’s Recommendations – DCFPI agrees that budget transparency and access to data are critical to ensuring all students receive a good education. We also think the city should re-establish a DCPS budget allocation task force and extend the timeline that schools get to make budgeting decisions. This would provide a strategic process to better plan for school budgets while allowing for more input from the public.

Public witnesses can sign up to speak at the second Council roundtable on the PERAA evaluation, which will be held on June 22nd at 11am. Councilmember Grosso is also holding a series of town hall meetings in all eight wards of the city over the next few months. You can find the schedule and location details here.

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Budget Makes Significant Investments to Put District on Track to End Homelessness

June 10th, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

Thanks to joint efforts of the mayor and the DC Council, the budget approved today includes substantial new investments to help homeless residents move out of shelter and into housing. Doing so will put the District on track to end long-term homelessness by 2020, the goal of the new Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Strategic Plan.homeless services graphic

Homelessness is a problem that goes deeper than not having a roof over your head. The struggles that come from not knowing where you’ll spend the n
ext night take a huge toll. It becomes harder to hold down a job and make use of crucial services like counseling and medical treatment. The stress of homelessness can dampen children’s achievement in school.

So, the faster people can move out of shelters and into housing, the better. The new budget investments will help in many key ways:

  • More permanent housing for chronically homeless residents. The budget provides support that combines long-term affordable housing and case management, like counseling and connecting folks with community services. This will help 363 individuals and 110 families who have been homeless multiple times or for an extended period and also have a significant disabling condition, such as physical or mental health issues that makes it difficult to stay in housing without support.
  • Funding to help more homeless individuals who need a little help to move out of shelter. The new budget investment will help 455 individuals — triple the number now being helped — find housing and employment and pay rent for a short period of time, generally up to 12 months.
  • More long-term affordable housing for residents who have been homeless. The budget helps 147 families and 339 individuals who either need help paying rent after their short-term rental subsidy ends or who no longer need the intensive services provided to chronically homeless residents but still need help paying their rent.
  • More help for families who need more time to get back on their feet. Some families, particularly those with a parent under 25, need more intensive support and longer periods of rental assistance. To meet this need, the District is launching a new program to serve 80 families.
  • Help for homeless teens who are pregnant or parenting. These teens today fall through the cracks of DC’s homeless services, not qualifying for the help families with adult parents receive. Emergency housing and services to help them reunify with their parents, if possible, will help them stay in school and put their families on the path to a stable future.

By placing a high priority on ending homelessness, DC is taking important steps that will make this a place to live for everyone.

Kate Coventry is a DCFPI Policy Analyst and voting member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

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New Federal Rules Could Ensure Medicaid Beneficiaries Have Better Access to Doctors

June 5th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

A new set of policies proposed by the federal government would help make sure that DC residents have access to enough doctors in their neighborhood, when they get health care through Medicaid. That’s important to the 175,000 people who receive care from a Medicaid managed care company, especially since DC has seen a decline in visits to primary care doctors among these residents. The new rules would help ensure that a lack of doctors is not contributing to the decline in routine care

The District contracts out with three managed care companies that provide networks of doctors to serve DC’s Medicaid beneficiaries. Recent evidence suggests that the companies have fallen short in helping people access services and maintain their health, including making sure people see a primary care doctor. 6-6-15 MCO

If health professionals are scarce in someone’s neighborhood, residents can face real barriers to getting the care they need. Much of Ward 7 and Ward 8 are designated “medically underserved,” due to a shortage of doctors, high rates of poverty and infant mortality, and population over age 65. Many residents in underserved communities rely on public transportation, which makes it important to have doctors and clinics that are readily accessible and close to where the live or work.

The new rules offer an opportunity to hold DC’s managed care companies accountable for having an adequate number of doctors throughout the city. 

First, the rules would allow DC to build standards that reflect geographic accessibility (like in Wards 7 and 8) and that require specific minimum standards for the number of different types of doctors.

A second rule would require annual certification that each managed care company’s network of doctors meets DC’s standards – including direct compliance testing by DC regulators. Finally, the new rule would have DC hire a third party to review the managed care networks to see if they meet the new access standards. This independent analysis would add another layer of transparency. 

The rules add more teeth to the way DC regulates managed care and ensure that these companies provide real access to services. All rules are up for public c

omment and we hope that advocates and DC government officials support them as new tools for accountability and quality service in our Medicaid program.

STAY TUNED: Next week, DC Fiscal Policy Institute will release a report on managed care networks and how these networks could improve with better standards and oversight. 

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