The Districts Dime

The “Supplemental” 2015 Budget Cuts Services for Kids

April 7th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

When Mayor Bowser submitted a spending plan for 2016, she also proposed changes for this year that cut a number programs and services, including some affecting children. The cuts in the 2015 supplemental will continues next year, adding to the reductions proposed by the mayor for 2016.

While some of the reductions reflect savings that will not affect services – such as a lower amount needed for payments on the city’s debt – others will have real impacts. The DC Council should consider restoring the cuts that will have the greatest impacts, including:

4.7.2015 supplemental photo

Healthy Tots – Nutrition Program for Young Children: The supplemental budget eliminates the new Healthy Tots program ($3.1 million), which was intended to improve the nutritional quality of meals and snacks at early education sites.

Summer Programs at Parks and Rec: The 2015 supplemental budget eliminates a $1.75 million expansion of summer programs for children.

Home health Aides: The budget reflects substantial savings from eliminating a number of fraudulent home health care agencies, many of which were serving no residents. While shutting down this fraud makes sense, some of the affected agencies were serving some eligible clients, and it is not clear what the District is doing to ensure they have adequate care.

As the DC Council reviews the mayor’s proposed 2016 budget, it also should keep in mind these cuts in 2015, which will also carry into 2016. The Council should work to restore them, at least in 2016, as part of its plan to build on the mayor’s budget.

The full supplemental budget plan can be found here.

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DCFPI’s Take on Mayor Bowser’s First Budget

April 3rd, 2015 | by DCFPI Staff

Mayor Bowser’s first budget makes substantial investments to create more affordable housing, address rising homelessness, and protect thousands of families with children from losing basic income support. These expansions occurred despite the city facing a gap between projected revenues and the costs of maintaining services. To fund these while still balancing the budget, the mayor’s budget includes a number of reductions, some from outright cuts in services and others from improved efficiency. The budget also includes a modest amount of tax increases, including a sales tax change that will add 25 cents to a $100 purchase, which helped make the new investments possible.

At the same time, large gaps remain to creating “pathways to the middle class,” Mayor Bowser’s stated goal. While the budget provides a record level to build affordable housing, it offers a much more modest increase to help families pay rent, yet rental assistance is key to making housing affordable to very low-income families. In addition, a one-year plan to keep families from being cut off the TANF welfare-to-work program gives the new mayor time to repair a flawed system, but leaves vulnerable families with too little to make ends meet, about $156 a month for a family of three.

This review highlights areas that the DC Council should prioritize as it considers adding resources to the mayor’s spending plan.

  • Support to families with children on TANF: Families affected by DC’s time limit receive just $156 a month for a family of three. DC’s TANF program should provide financial stability while also helping parents move to greater self-sufficiency. Even with the extension of benefits for a year, the very low level does not support family stability.
  •  Expand Rental Assistance: There is virtually no affordable private-market housing in the District, which means that families with low wages or living on fixed incomes will struggle with housing cost burdens without additional assistance. Expanding rental assistance is a way to create affordable housing quickly and for the lowest-income families.
  •  Increase Resources for At-Risk Students: The current funding devoted to helping at-risk students is well below the level recommended by a 2013 DC-commissioned study – $2,079 per student vs. $3,500. Increasing the at-risk weight would allow high-poverty schools to take the steps needed to help low-income students succeed.
  •  Raise Revenues If Needed: Supporting these additional investments may require increasing revenues. The increases should fall on higher-income households that are best able to absorb them.

You can check out our full take here for the key changes in Mayor Bowser’s budget. Stay tuned to the District’s Dime for more updates during budget season!


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DC’s New Plan to End Homelessness Is a Great Start

April 2nd, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

The District took a major step this week toward ending long-term homelessness, when the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) adopted an ambitious yet achievable Strategic Plan.ICH Plan cover

Homelessness is a problem that goes deeper than not having a roof over your head. People who don’t know where they’ll spend the next night struggle to hold down a job and regularly access needed services like counseling or medical treatment. The stress of homelessness makes it hard for children to focus and succeed at school. 

Now that the ICH has developed a plan, it falls to Mayor Bowser and the DC Council to implement it, including identifying the money needed to make it a reality.

The ICH is made up of representatives from DC government, nonprofit providers, advocates, and homeless and formerly homeless residents. Its mission is to guide the city’s homelessness efforts. Recognizing that homelessness makes it much more difficult for residents to work towards a better future, the ICH created a Strategic Plan aimed at ending long term homelessness by 2020.

Acknowledging that it will never be possible to prevent all the life events that can lead to homelessness, such as divorce or job loss, the Strategic Plan is designed to make homelessness:

  • Rare. Homelessness will be prevented whenever possible. This will involve the expansion of prevention programs that help people who face eviction. It also will require coordination with other agencies to ensure residents transitioning out of foster care, juvenile justice, or other systems do not become homeless.
  • Brief. When homelessness cannot be prevented, services will be provided quickly to help residents move into stable housing.
  • Non-recurring. The District will provide support services to make sure residents do not become homeless again.

The Plan identifies how much and what kinds of housing assistance will likely be needed over the next five years. The ICH intends to annually monitor the need, evaluate progress towards the goals laid out in the Plan, and offer funding recommendations. That last part is especially important because, to make these goals a reality, the money needs to be there for priorities such as new emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing. We hope to see much of this funding in the mayor’s proposed budget, set to be released today.

Stay tuned to the District Dime in the coming weeks to learn more about the Strategic Plan and the District’s budget.

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

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Making a Good Jobs Program Even Better: How to Strengthen DC’s Project Empowerment

April 1st, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

A largely successful effort by the District to help people find lasting work would do even more good if some changes are made.

4.1.2015 project empowermentEach year, the District gives hope to 800 residents who struggle with unemployment by placing them in jobs and paying their wages for up to six months. They work in a range of jobs – from restaurants to non-profit health clinics to DC government agencies. Project Empowerment could be even more effective, however, by beefing up the support provided to workers and taking other steps to help connect participants to the workplace, based on the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s review of the program.

Most Project Empowerment participants face employment barriers because of a criminal record. For them, a subsidized job offers a chance at work experience, networking, and skills development in a supportive environment. Ideally, that helps lead to permanent, unsubsidized employment. Subsidized jobs programs can help employers, too, by offering free or low-cost labor to expand their business and the chance to test out a worker before making a long-term hire.

At the same time, the success of subsidized jobs programs is not guaranteed and depends on careful design. About half of the people who start Project Empowerment are working in an unsubsidized job after six months, and one-quarter are working a year later. While this matches the performance of similar programs, there are ways that Project Empowerment could do better.  DCFPI’s review recommends the following steps.

  • Improve private-sector job placements: The most effective programs place workers on the payroll of their employer but in DC, Project Empowerment participants are paid by the program, and this can make them feel less like a real worker. Some programs pay only part of the wages and set an expectation that good employees will be hired, but DC does not.
  • Provide robust coaching for workers. Employers note that timeliness, workplace behavior, and related characteristics are key to retaining employment. Project Empowerment doesn’t have enough job coaches to help participants in these areas, and there is no job coaching once participants transition to unsubsidized jobs. 
  • Build more connections to education and training: A sizable share of Project Empowerment participants have not finished high school, so more is needed to connect with literacy programs, either outside Project Empowerment or in combination with a Project Empowerment job. In addition, residents who complete Project Empowerment and fail to keep a job may benefit from skills training, but the program does not have many provisions for connect participants to training. 
  • Improve collection of data on program outcomes: Project Empowerment has the capacity to measure its own effectiveness – such as job retention and reductions in criminal recidivism – but this information is not reported in a useful fashion. Nor does it appear to be used to inform program improvements. The District should track data on participants more fully to assess the impact on long-term employment, wages, and recidivism, and to assess the kinds of job placements that are likely to be most successful.  

Our full review of Project Empowerment can be found here.

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A Resource to Help You Break Down How Funding Works for DC Schools

March 26th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

Just in time for budget season, DCFPI is releasing a guide to help parents and policymakers understand how money gets from the DC budget down into the classroom in every DC public school and public charter school. How we invest in public education is one of the most important decisions we make as a community. This updated guide will help parents and others understand and have a voice in that process.

DCFPI’s Investing in Our Kids: District of Columbia School Finance Primer examines the following questions:



  •  How are the budgets for the DC Public Schools system (DCPS) and each public charter schools set?
  •  How does DCPS allocate funds to local schools within the system?
  •  How has the way we fund schools changed in recent years?
  •  How do individual schools make spending decisions?
  •  How are school facilities funded?

To learn all about that and more, check out the primer here!

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