DC’s annual budget determines how our tax dollars are spent, funding everything from education to affordable housing to health care and the streets we use to navigate the Capitol. Each spring, the Mayor submits a budget proposal to the Council on how she would like to allocate the District’s resources. Then, with input from advocates and residents, the Council votes to make changes on the budget before the Mayor and Congress give it final approval.
There are multiple ways you, as a DC resident, can influence what’s in the budget, and it’s incredibly important to share your opinions and preferences so that our public investments reflect the will of the people.
1. Learn More About the Issues You Care About
Knowing which government agency is responsible for the issues and programs you care about and how much lawmakers have funded them will empower you to advocate for changes to the budget. For example, if the cost of child care is a significant financial burden to your family, you could urge DC Council to increase funding to the child care subsidy program so that more households will be eligible. Knowing that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education implements the child care subsidy program will help you identify which lawmakers to contact about your feedback, such as the Councilmember who chairs the committee focused on oversight on the education budget, which is currently Chairman Phil Mendelson.
DC also has the advantage of having several local news sources, including the Washington City Paper, DC Line, DCist, WAMU, and more, that can help you keep up-to-date on policies and politics. Read the news—such as The DC Line, which has a great daily comprehensive newsletter—and DCFPI’s resources on how the budget is created and what’s in it, and subscribe to our email list to stay up to date on all our new publications.
2. Share Your Opinions with the Mayor and your Councilmember(s)
The Mayor creates the first version of the budget, which she is releasing on March 22nd this year. Mayor Bowser hosted three public “Engagement Forums” on the budget at the beginning of February where DC residents had the opportunity to provide input on how the District’s funds should be allocated. If you missed those, you can also share your budget priorities with the Mayor in other ways: tweet your opinions and tag the Mayor using @MayorBowser, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out this form.
The DC Council votes on the budget before it goes back to the Mayor and then to Congress for final approval. The Council can make changes to the Mayor’s proposal—they can cut spending in one area and allocate those savings in another area, or they can raise revenue through taxes and other means to expand programs. One of the ways you as a DC resident can influence those decisions is by contacting your Councilmembers and letting them know your priorities. Find out who your representatives are here. The DC Council is comprised of 13 members, including five at-large members that represent everyone in the District and eight members that each represent one of DC’s eight Wards.
You can request to meet with your Councilmember’s office to share your views—each Councilmember’s information is listed on the DC Council website here, and they often also have their own website with links to request a meeting; here is the meeting request link for Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. You can also call, email, DM them on social media, or write to them.
3. Testify at Public Hearings
You are the expert of your own experience, and by sharing your experience with the Council, you are informing them of the impact budget decisions have on residents. As part of the budget development process, Council committees hold Budget Oversight hearings where the public is invited to testify. For example, the Committee on Housing holds hearings on the budget for the DC Housing Authority, and DC residents can testify to Councilmembers about their experience with public housing and voucher programs. Here’s our complete guide on how to effectively and easily testify before the Council.
4. Join a Local Advocacy Group—Or Form Your Own!
There are many organizations in DC that work with the DC government to advocate for budget measures, including DCFPI and the many coalitions with whom we partner. You can join one of these organizations or even start one of your own. We’re more powerful as a group than as individuals. Some of our partner organizations that you can join are the Way Home Campaign, the Fair Budget Coalition, Spaces in Action, and Jews United for Justice.
No matter how much time you can commit, making your voice heard to help influence our budget is important and crucial to a well-functioning District.
If you want to learn more about ways to engage in the DC process, check out some of DCFPI’s resources, including our Residents Guide to the DC Budget, Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Toolkit, and Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Priorities.