DC Council Restores Funding to Vital Lifelines at First Budget Vote, with Big Exceptions

DC Council gave initial approval to the fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget after restoring funding to critical programs – such as emergency rental assistance, “baby bonds,” and civil legal services for residents with low incomes – that had been cut in the mayor’s budget proposal. With expiring federal COVID-19 aid and slower than expected revenue growth, DC Council voted to institute up to a 25-cent surcharge on ride-hailing services and shift money away from capital projects like the K Street Transitway makeover. 

Some of these funds will help restore vital lifelines to residents struggling to make ends meet. For example, the budget includes: 

  • $43 million for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in FY 2024, which is short of the $117 million estimated to meet the need in the District but significantly more than the $8.2 million allocated by the mayor. Less than halfway through the current fiscal year, DC stopped taking applications for emergency rental assistance, due to projections that the program’s $43 million in funding would run out by May. 
  • $1.2 million to restore funds for Project Reconnect, which helps individuals who are newly homeless or exiting from institutions like jail or foster care find alternatives to shelter, such as reuniting with friends and family. 
  • Restored funding for DC’s “baby bonds” program to help reduce intergenerational poverty and close the racial wealth gap.  
  • An increase to the weight enhancement for students designated “at-risk of academic failure” in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, which allocates money to public schools for each student with adjustments depending on their needs.  

Council left some other key programs partially funded or unfunded, and failed to reject a poorly designed tax giveaway to commercial developers. The budget fails to: 

  • Restore cash assistance promised in the FY 2023 budget to workers who were excluded from unemployment assistance and other forms of federal pandemic relief. Although Council allocated $20 million last year, the DC Cares program had yet to get the money in workers’ hands and the mayor swept the funds.  
  • Make significant progress towards ending chronic homelessness in DC by funding only 230 new Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) vouchers for families and individuals when 1,740 are likely needed in FY 2024. Council identified funding for these new vouchers; the mayor’s budget funded no new vouchers. Lawmakers must invest more to put DC on the path to ending chronic homelessness and address implementation challenges that threaten progress. 
  • Restore recurring $4.4 million cut to the Pay Equity Fund, undermining the District’s ability to sustain the growing costs of pay increases for early educators primarily caring for young children and expand the program to directors of child development facilities. 
  • Fund the Give SNAP a Raise Amendment Act of 2022, which would fund an increase in food assistance benefits for households with low incomes. 
  • Create safeguards for a drastic expansion to a 20-year property tax break for developers to convert their office buildings into housing downtown to ensure they meet the already minimal affordable housing targets. While the council dialed back somewhat the concessions to developers on worker and tenant rights, the expanded Housing in Downtown abatement remains a costly giveaway without an end date that comes at the expense of DC residents. 

In order to raise revenue for more food assistance, a DC child tax credit, and cash for excluded workers, among other needs, Councilmember Zachary Parker proposed to keep in place current deed transfer and recordation tax rates for commercial buildings valued above $2 million, which were scheduled to decrease at the end of FY 2023. The majority of councilmembers did not support Parker’s proposal, despite outstanding needs of residents experiencing dire economic hardship. No other efforts were made to meet these needs at first vote. 

Since 2019, the District has seen an increase in the number and share of people living below the poverty line, with Black residents in the District more than five times as likely to live in poverty. The rate of homelessness has gone up, rent is rising in rent-controlled buildings, and cost of basic needs remains high due to inflation. While DC Council rejected the opportunity to raise resources this week, lawmakers will need new revenue sources to meet the District’s growing needs and address extreme inequality.