Instead of spending precious daytime hours searching for jobs, many DC residents have been forced to wait for days at DC social service centers simply to apply for food stamps or get their health insurance renewed, according to a Washington Post article published on Tuesday. The long delays stem from staffing cuts made despite growing demand for services, and they are another sign that recent budget cuts are having real impacts on DC residents. This highlights the importance of preserving core public services in the midst of the recession.
The economic downturn has led to increased need for cash assistance, food stamps, and public health insurance. However, in the midst of a 22 percent increase in food stamp caseloads, the District closed two of its seven service centers and eliminated 99 eligibility determination services positions as budget savings steps.
The Post article and the recent homeless services funding controversy underscore the human impact of recent budget cuts. Over the past year, local funding for the Department of Human Services has been cut 15 percent, largely in response to the city’s big budget shortfalls.
DCFPI has raised concerns about the elimination of eligibility determination services. When questioned, DHS officials responded that that they were working to improve their business processes, with the hope that the cuts would not affect residents’ abilities to access aid.
Looking for efficiencies is important, but this situation shows that it is unrealistic to expect to do more with a lot less. According to the Post article and the experiences of DC legal service providers and their clients, some residents are waiting days just to be seen because DHS does not have enough staff.
The Department of Human Services is taking some steps to respond ‘ hiring 20 more workers, installing self-service kiosks, and improving the layout of one of the service centers. But with the District facing record-high unemployment, this is unlikely to be sufficient.
With budget oversight hearings on the horizon, both advocates and Councilmembers need to learn more about how budget cuts have affected the ability to maintain services across all District agencies. In particular, we should push the Mayor and the Council to develop a plan ‘ and provide funding ‘ to make sure that residents can get the assistance they need to weather the recession.