First, a big thank you from all of us at DCFPI to our faithful District’s Dime readers! Through your readership, your interest, and your advocacy, you helped us with some big public policy wins in 2013!
It was a very busy year in every one of our issue areas, from tax policy to education to the safety net. Here is a quick run-down of some of our biggest wins of the year:
Keeping Vulnerable Families Stable: The District funded five time-limit protections for families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF. These protections, which most states offer, give families a break from the 60-month time limit to allow them to deal with serious issues that interfere with their ability to work. Parents caring for a family member with a disability or dealing with domestic violence now can get more time to transition to employment. Teen parents enrolled in high school or a GED program don’t have those months counted towards their limits, making the choice to stay in school easier. Finally, grandparents acting as guardians, who can face age discrimination in the labor market, will receive needed benefits until they qualify for Social Security.
Increased Funding for Affordable Housing: Mayor Gray’s pledge of $100 million in new funds for affordable housing kicked off significant investments in programs like the Housing Production Trust Fund, DC’s main tool to help build and preserve affordable housing. The mayor and Council also added funding to the Local Rent Supplement Program, which makes homes affordable to very low-income families; the Permanent Supportive Housing Program for chronically homeless residents; assistance for homeless youth; housing for victims of domestic violence and more. DC’s affordable housing problems are enormous, but investments like this will help put DC on a path to begin to create a city where everyone can afford to live, work and play.
Even More Housing Wins For Low-Income Residents: The DC Council funded reforms to the city’s low-income tax credit for homeowners with high property taxes and renters with high rent burdens. The changes include raising the income eligibility from $20,000 to $50,000, increasing the maximum credit from $750 to $1,000, and making it easier for residents who share housing to claim the credit. As a result, thousands of households will become newly eligible for Schedule H and many others will be eligible for a larger credit.
Factoring Poverty Into School Funding: The Public Education Finance Reform Commission, chaired by DCFPI Executive Director Ed Lazere, promoted the idea of adding a weight to the per-pupil funding formula to steer added resources to high-poverty schools. This recommendation was echoed in a study commissioned by Mayor Gray and in legislation introduced by David Catania and approved by the Council.
Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave: DCFPI was part of a local and regional coalition that successfully pushed for a higher minimum wage, which will give up to an extra $6,000 a year to our lowest wage workers! It was an outcome of the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which passed the DC Council but was vetoed by Mayor Gray and not over-ridden. The LRAA coalition shifted its focus to promoting a strong minimum wage increase, and DCFPI provided substantial analytic and strategic support. The Council adopted an $11.50 minimum wage to be phased in by 2016, with annual inflation adjustments after that, making DC’s minimum wage one of the highest in the nation. Improvements to DC’s paid sick leave bill, in a separate bill, moved at the same time.
DC Health Exchange: DCFPI helped lead the large advocacy effort that led to the DC Council unanimously adopting a unified health insurance market under the DC Health Exchange. All plans sold to individuals or small businesses are now sold through the exchange. This ensures that all plans are high-quality, creates a large and diverse pool of residents to ensure that the market is viable, and creates a transparent and competitive marketplace. There was substantial pushback to this plan, from some insurers who wanted to be able to sell plans outside of the exchange. This would have resulted in slimmed-down plans outside of the exchange targeted on healthy individuals, and this, in turn, would have left the exchange to serve a smaller and less healthy group, hurting its viability.
Looking Forward to 2014: These 2013 victories will result in real changes in the lives of thousands and thousands of DC residents. DCFPI will be working in 2014 to make even more progress on important fronts, such as addressing the housing and homelessness crises that leave families without access to shelter for half of the year; placing more chronically homeless residents into “housing first,” a model proven to help people and save money; helping high-poverty schools improve services that affect student achievement; and adopting recommendations of the DC Tax Revision Commission to make DC’s income tax more fair to low- and moderate-income residents.
This is our last blog of 2013. Happy New Year! See you in 2014!
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