Testimony of Ed Lazere, Executive Director, At the Budget Oversight Hearing on the Department of Human Services

Chairman Graham and other members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name isEd Lazere, and I am the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.  DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of theDistrict of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents. 

I am here to testify on the budget for homeless services for fiscal year 2013.  While budget documents appear to show a modest increase in funding, the reality is that the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 is lower than for fiscal year 2012 when all resources are considered, even though the current-year budget is inadequate to meet the needs of homeless residents, particularly families with children. 

Last year, the DC Council added back $17 million to the proposed homeless services budget, with the express intent that the Department of Human Services maintain the historic practice of providing shelter to any family that had no viable alternative, at all times of the year.  Yet due to an unanticipated jump in demand for shelter this year, the funding level has proven to be inadequate.  As you know, the Department of Human Services expanded capacity at the DC General shelter but still needed to place hundreds of families in motels this year.  We estimate that this unexpected and unbudgeted expense will total $7.5 million in 2012.  Given this pressure on the homeless services budget in the hypothermia season, DHS has made clear that it now cannot take any new families into shelter until next hypothermia season. 

 The proposed budget for fiscal year would create a further hole in the homeless services budget, limiting services available to address homelessness even more 

The proposed gross funds budget for the homeless services continuum is $76.6 million, compared with $73.1 million in fiscal year 2012.  Budget documents do not suggest that this increase is related to an expansion of services or new services, and thus seem to suggest that this funding increase is needed to maintain services.

Beyond that, the budget figure for 2012 does not reflect $7 million in federal carryover funds that DHS will spend this year.  When this is considered, the proposed funding level for fiscal year 2013 ‘ $76.5 million ‘ is at least $3.5 million lower than the current budget of $80.1 million, and perhaps a full $7 million lower.  

Moreover, the proposed homeless services budget does not include $2.4 million needed to support contractually mandated increases.  This $2.4 million is part of the mayor’s revenue priority wish list, but if it is not funded, it will create further challenges for homeless services because DHS will need to pay for these contracted increases even if the agency receives no additional funding.   

It is worth noting that restoring the $7 million to homeless services is the number one item on the revenue priority list.  This suggests that it has a reasonable chance of being restored, if it remains at the top of this wish list and if the economy continues to recover. Yet clearly nothing on the revenue priority list is guaranteed to be funded.  

Finally, the experience this year shows that the District needs a better plan to meet homeless service needs. A reliance on hotels for a large share of the homeless population is both expensive and provides poor-quality services.  Moreover, the cycle of sheltering families in the winter and then turning them away outside of hypothermia season does not make sense.  Nobody is happy with this situation.  Addressing these challenges requires additional resources, but also a new approach that moves families from shelter to housing, places families in an environment where success is more likely, and also frees up shelter space for new families.   

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.