Growing wages and salaries, investment income, and business profits are boosting DC’s revenues, but not all of the District’s residents are on the path to recovery. There remains a huge gap between the city’s wealthier, largely white, residents and its Black and brown residents, who are disproportionately experiencing financial hardship, facing eviction, and carrying the trauma of sickness and death in their communities.
This month, city leaders are beginning the process of determining DC’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget and will make choices that address these racial inequities. Last year, DC made a down payment on a just recovery by modestly raising taxes on the city’s wealthiest residents to make critical investments in fair wages for early educators, ending homelessness, and an income boost for low-paid workers. But recovering from an economic recession takes years and the pandemic continues to take its toll.
As the Mayor and Council take on revising the FY 2022 budget and developing the FY 2023 budget, they should be guided by the following principles:
Keep promises made last year to residents struggling the most.
Last year, DC policymakers adopted a budget that advances racial equity and makes meaningful investments towards helping tens of thousands of residents facing hard times, especially in Black and brown communities, people who are unhoused, excluded from federal relief, educators caring for our youngest children, and those struggling to provide for their families on low wages. The pandemic isn’t over and DC leaders must make sure that these dollars and supports reach their intended targets.
Build on our progress towards a just recovery by continuing to meet urgent needs.
Policymakers can do much more to meet the educational and socio-emotional needs of Black and brown youth, ensure timely and well-coordinated responses to COVID-19 cases in schools, speed up the repair of dilapidated public housing, and correct the unfair exclusion of certain workers from unemployment insurance. These needs are urgent and the city can’t pull back support now. The Mayor should build on the progress towards a just recovery the city made last year by making further investments to address the harms of the pandemic on those most exposed to the health and economic shocks of the crisis.
Leverage DC’s growing revenue and avoid costly tax cuts.
While some DC residents are moving through the pandemic the same or better off financially, others are being pushed to the brink. The District should take aim at racial and economic inequities exacerbated by the pandemic by using the increased revenue projected for 2022 and 2023 to advance a just recovery. DC can help residents pay down rent and utility debt and prevent evictions, stabilize all public school budgets, and get health care and cash to those who need it, and more. Untargeted tax cuts—temporary or permanent—should be avoided at all costs, particularly as unemployment and hardship remain so high for Black and brown residents and those with lower incomes.
Provide transparent information on how money is spent and get community input on the results.
Lack of transparency makes it more difficult for the DC Council and advocates to address the challenges of implementing budget investments, including the use of “at-risk” funds and school budgets, housing production, and police funding. The Mayor and other public officials should establish transparent and accessible data, as well as regular and clear public communication, on the use of federal and local funds. Input from the community can also help DC’s agencies better understand need and program outcomes on the ground. Agencies must engage in extensive outreach to ensure that critical economic assistance programs reach all eligible residents, particularly among those who mistakenly believe they are ineligible or fear negative immigration-related or other consequences.