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Testimony

Testimony of Kate Coventry At the Budget Oversight Hearing for the Department of Human Services

Chairperson Nadeau and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI promotes budget and policy choices to expand economic opportunity and reduce income inequality in the District of Columbia, through independent research and policy recommendations. I am also a voting member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

I am here today to highlight the substantial investments in the homeless services budget but also to ask the Council to add additional funding as these investments fall far short of meeting the needs outlined in the District’s plans to end homelessness. Without greater funding, far too many residents will remain homeless. For those experiencing chronic homelessness, this may mean a life cut short. For others, it means lacking the stability needed to make progress in their education and employment.

Proposed Budget Makes Investments in Chronic Homelessness, But Fewer New Slots than in Past Years

A large number of single adults in DC are chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for a long time and suffer from life-threatening health conditions and/or severe mental illness. Additionally, about 40 families experience chronic homelessness at a given point in time. For single adults, the proposed budget makes new investments, but these investments will create fewer new slots than in fiscal year 2016 and 2017, meaning our progress on ending chronic homelessness will slow down.

The proposed budget adds $2.7 million to provide Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) to 162 new individuals, compared to 380 in FY 2017 and 250 in FY 2016. PSH provides long-term housing and intensive case management to residents who would otherwise have difficulty remaining housed. PSH helps people stay in housing and improve their health, which in turn saves a substantial amount of money on emergency services. The proposed funding only meets 30 percent of what is needed to end chronic homelessness. As a member of The Way Home campaign to end chronic homelessness, DCFPI asks the Council to add $6 million to serve an additional 379 individuals.

The budget adds no new funds to assist individuals through Rapid Re-Housing. RRH provides housing search assistance, supportive services, and short-term rental assistance for generally up to 12 months. The program aims to move residents out of shelter as quickly as possible, which in turn allows more residents to access emergency shelter. We ask the Council to invest $3.7 million more to meet The Way Home’s goal of meeting one third of the RRH needed to end chronic homelessness.

The budget also includes $1.3 million for Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) for 100 individuals. While this matches investments made in FYs 2016 and 2017, it makes small progress towards the total number of 849 additional TAH slots needed to end chronic homelessness. TAH helps residents who need help paying rent after their Rapid Re-Housing ends or who no longer need the intensive services provided by PSH but still need help to afford housing. DCFPI and The Way Home Campaign recognize that the full number of TAH slots could not be implemented in one year, and we thus set a goal of meeting half of the need in FY 2018. We ask the Council to add $4 million to serve 325 additional individuals to bring us to this goal.

Proposed Budget for Homeless Youth Falls Short of the Year 1 Goal

Many youth who are experiencing homelessness do so without their parents or guardians and do not have children of their own. These “unaccompanied” homeless youth fall into two broad categories: those under age 18 and those who are 18 to 24 years old. Both groups have specific developmental needs.

Recognizing these needs, the Interagency Council on Homelessness recently adopted a 5-year plan to end youth homelessness. The proposed FY 2018 budget adds $2.4 million toward the first year of plan, but this is less than half of the $5.7 million needed to meet the targets laid out in the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness. DCFPI asks the Council to add $3.3 million to a variety of programs including emergency shelter, Transitional Living, and PSH. Transitional Living Programs (TLP) are time-limited programs, generally up to 2 years, that help young people gain the skills they need to live independently.

For the First Time in Years, Family Shelters Are Fully Funded

DCFPI is thrilled that for the first time in years, family shelters are fully funded. The FY 2018 proposed budget adds $46 million in local dollars to ensure the family shelter budget is sufficient to meet the need. Since at least FY 2013, the District has started the year with an approved shelter budget—which includes shelters and motel rooms when shelters are full—that was anticipated to be inadequate. The District used TANF funds or one-time transfers of local dollars to fill the gap in the middle of each fiscal year (see Table 1). Those TANF funds are no longer available as the District is now investing all of its TANF funds in employment and other services.

The $46 million newly appropriated funds includes $30 million for shelters and $16 million for motel rooms. It is anticipated that the need for motel rooms will go down as improvements to DC’s homeless services begin to yield success (see Table 2). There already are important signs of progress. New data suggests that the District no longer faces a sharp spike in the number of families seeking shelter during hypothermia season, which in previous years had overwhelmed the shelter system. Additionally, the District has seen a reduced monthly rate of families entering shelter compared to last year (Figure 1), indicating that family homelessness problem may be leveling off, after dramatic increases between FYs 2011 and 2015.

Proposed Budget Includes Funding for Family Housing, But Falls Short of FY 2018 Targets

The proposed budget also adds $3.8 million for 117 Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units and $1.7 million for 85 Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) units for families with children. The current need is difficult to measure based on existing information, but these investments meet only about 40 percent of the PSH and TAH needed in FY 2018 to meet the Strategic Plan goals set in 2015.[1] The Council should add at least $2.6 million for 130 TAH slots and $4.6 million for 167 PSH slots.

Council Should Delay or Eliminate Tax Cuts if Funds Cannot be Identified for Homelessness

DCFPI believes that providing $24.2 million more for homelessness should be a priority, because the need is well-documented and the outcomes for DC residents and the DC economy are clear. This should be a higher priority than cutting taxes by $40 million for the city’s wealthiest estates and profitable corporations, which would have little economic benefit. DC’s business income taxes are already in line with Maryland and Virginia, so lowering them will do little to attract thriving businesses. And eliminating taxes on estates worth $5.5 million will do little to help attract or retain these residents, according to experts. If the DC Council cannot find other ways to fund what is needed to help DC residents succeed, it should delay or eliminate these tax cuts.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] DCFPI has received updated data on youth and adults but not on families. This request will be updated if new data is released.