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!