On Tuesday, the DC Council cast its second and final vote on legislation that allocates funding for the fiscal year (FY) 2022-2025 budget and revised FY 2021 budget, preserving the transformative investments they gave preliminary approval to last month and adding several new investments that promote equity. The final vote on the Budget Support Act (BSA), the legislation with policy changes that implement the budget, will occur on August 10th. While the DC Council has made important investments already, DCFPI calls on Councilmembers to make additional changes in the upcoming BSA vote to ensure a just recovery for all residents.
The Council’s most significant investments from Tuesday include:
Income supports for residents who need it the most
Chairman Mendelson’s proposal included $6 million in additional cash assistance for DC’s excluded workers (those left out of traditional unemployment benefits), making for a total investment of $41 million. Although far short of actual needs, this support is more than four times the investment the DC Council provided for excluded workers last year and will give these workers essential cash resources to support themselves.
Councilmember Silverman’s amendment allocated $5 million for a one-time compensation payment of $500 to the 10,000 unemployment insurance claimants who endured the longest wait times between their initial application and their first payment. Many of these individuals had to borrow money or rely on credit cards while waiting for their unemployment insurance, and the new payment will help offset some of those costs.
Better education resources for all students
Councilmember Lewis George’s amendment reallocated nearly $3.3 million from the DC Public Schools (DSPS) enrollment reserve to ensure every DCPS school has at least one full-time, certified library media specialist in school year 2021-22.
Legal resources for tenants who are struggling to keep their homes
Councilmember Silverman’s amendment to the revised FY 2021 budget allocated nearly $512,000 to the Office of the Tenant Advocate to hire temporary employees to help with eviction diversion. They will do outreach to tenants as well as provide tenant education, legal advice, and legal representation.
Programs promoting safer streets
Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Allen led an effort to reject the Mayor’s last-minute $11 million request to hire 170 new police officers. Their alternative proposal allocated $5 million to hire 60 more officers and redirected the other $6 million to violence prevention. This included $1.9 million to the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement for additional violence intervention contracts and $884,000 to double the number of Leadership Academies, which provide services and mentorship to students in select high schools. It also included $3.3 million to the Office of the Attorney General to support four new Cure the Streets violence intervention sites.
Yet the DC Council can do more to better serve residents and enhance equity. Councilmembers should make the following changes before giving final approve to the BSA next week:
- Remove onerous DC Healthcare Alliance recertification requirements. This program provides critical health care coverage to residents with low incomes who do not qualify for Medicaid, most of who are immigrants. However, the DC Healthcare Alliance does not have the same low-barrier application and recertification requirements as Medicaid. Alliance recipients must prove their eligibility more frequently and in person. The Council should act to reduce these requirements in the second vote.
- Institute a one-time wage supplement to compensate early childhood educators in FY 2022. The budget raises taxes on high-income residents, in part, to help fund higher raises for underpaid early educators. However, the current draft of the BSA would likely delay the start of compensation increases until the end of FY 2022 or the beginning of FY 2023, leaving early educators without support over the next year. While a permanent compensation program is developed, the Council should allocate funds for a one-time wage supplement and mandate that Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) distribute them swiftly to early educators by January 1, 2022.
- Speed up Councilmember Allen’s proposal for eliminating school resource officers by 2025. DCFPI urges the Council to support an amendment that would begin reducing police presence in schools in the school year beginning this month.
- Amend the subtitle requiring the OSSE to implement a much-needed student data system that would track student outcomes over time. The Council should require OSSE to include nationally recognized course codes, credits, and grades in its tracking system. This would enable the city to better track equity of outcomes and reduce the chances of a student not graduating because of inadequate data on their coursework history.