Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Updates

Yesterday, the DC Council met off the dais to discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget. The discussions were televised, though we were once again disappointed to find out that the room didn’t have seats for the public. Each counci lmember reviewed the budget actions in their committee.

Here is a quick summary of some of the major discussion topics.

DC HealthCare Alliance: David Catania (I-At-Large), chairman of the Committee on Health, discussed his committee’s actions to fund the cuts Mayor Gray proposed to the District’s public health insurance program. Catania said that he and his staff are in talks with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to make sure the actions can be approved. DCFPI congratulates the Committee for finding ways to fund this important health care program. If the actions are approved, this will also move the Alliance off Mayor Gray’s contingency revenue list and possibly help programs below it on the list to receive funding if revenues exceed current projections.

Homeless Services: Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, discussed the funding shortfall in homeless services. Mayor Gray’s proposed FY 2013 reduces homeless services by $7 million due to a loss in federal funding that the mayor chose not to replace with local funds. Graham said the reduction will likely mean closure of some city shelters, even while demand is rising. A Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments study shows homelessness rising six percent in the District, and family homelessness increasing 18 percent in just one year.

Affordable Housing: Various members expressed support for the Housing Production Trust Fund, the city’s main mechanism for maintaining and building affordable housing. Mayor Gray’s budget proposal cuts $20 million from the trust fund and puts it toward another housing program. Funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund is number four on the mayor’s contingency revenue list. Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At-Large), chairman of the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, discussed his proposal to use additional revenue from the current year, FY 2012, to help replenish funds in the housing production trust fund.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: One issue that didn’t get discussed a lot yesterday is TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Last week, the DC Council tabled the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Time Limit Amendment Act of 2012 after receiving a letter from the Mayor giving assurances that the bill is not needed. We appreciate the mayor’s stated interest in protecting TANF families, but are deeply concerned that important protections, such as putting time limits on hold for families fleeing domestic violence, are not in place at this time.  Some 36 states offer time limit exemptions to families in certain circumstances.  We strongly urge the Council to support this bill to put these protections into place and provide time for all parents to access the new improved TANF services.

Under current law, families who have received TANF for more than 60 months will face a 25 percent benefit reduction in October. This follows a 20 percent reduction that these families already experienced in April 2011 and will bring benefits to just $257 per month for a family of three. Because DC does not offer exemptions to the time limit, all families, even those dealing with serious issues such as domestic violence or illness, will face this steep decline in benefits. DC currently exempts these individuals from work activity requirements while families are accessing services to deal with these issues. But DC does not disregard these months from the time limit, meaning that parents who are dealing with the biggest issues receive decreased benefits and have little time to prepare for and train for work once they have addressed these issues.  The bill before the Council would provide reasonable, temporary exemptions that most states have to protect these families.

 Alcohol Tax: Chairman Brown presented a new proposal. Instead of keeping bars open an extra hour year-round, the Chairman recommended on federal and District holidays, bars can serve alcohol until 4am and serve food 24 hours. In addition, on four holiday weekends–New Year’s, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Independence Day–the extended service hours would apply all weekend long. This would generate $2 million in revenue.