The District of Columbia’s fiscal year begins October 1. This means that many of the investments that we campaigned for earlier this year will begin to go into effect. This budget does more than any other in recent memory to make critical investments in health outcomes, economic stability, and educational opportunities for our children, youth and their families, particularly in Black and brown communities.
This budget not only advances racial equity in child and youth outcomes, but shifts how we pay for improvements by asking those earning the most to contribute a fair share toward an equitable future. The successes we collectively achieved, and the progress we made for kids and youth across the District, are the direct result of effective and sustained grassroots and policy organizing. Families and educators saw themselves in our campaigns and joined us, sharing their experiences and stories with each other, policymakers and the media. And, their stories are powerful. While today marks the start of a new fiscal year that will see historic investments for kids and families, we still have significant work left to do to ensure all of our children and youth grow up safe, resilient, powerful, and heard.
One major collective victory, shared with our partners in the Under 3 DC and Just Recovery Coalitions, was helping to pass the Home and Hearts Amendment Act. This legislation raises taxes on the District’s highest earners to provide nearly $75 million in local, annual funding for the Birth-to-Three law. As a result of this revenue increase, thousands of Black and brown early childhood educators, many who currently earn just above minimum wage, will see their compensation increase by thousands of dollars. The budget investments we are making put us on track to fund the equitable early childhood education and health systems our children need and deserve.
Thanks to efforts of our coalition partners and federal relief through the American Rescue Plan, we also successfully advocated to protect and increase funding for other priorities, such as:
- Out-of-school-time: Learn24, Mayor Bowser’s network of afterschool and summer opportunities, received almost 50% more in funding, all from federal dollars, growing the investment from $13.5 to $21.8 million
- Home visiting: These family strengthening programs that bring vital services to families will continue because funding was protected again this year
- Healthcare: Key health programs such as Medicaid, Immigrant Children’s Program, DC Healthcare Alliance, DC Healthy Families, HealthySteps, Healthy Futures, SNAP, and WIC were either maintained or enhanced.
- Services for Unhoused Youth: Nearly $307,000 in cuts were restored to fund youth shelter and emergency services, while additional investments were made toward permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, and extended transitional housing--all essential services that get and keep our young people off the streets.
- School Safety: Security officers in District of Columbia Public Schools will be phased out beginning July 2022.
- Guaranteed Basic Income: 35,000 households struggling financially will begin receiving a small monthly income of a few hundred dollars beginning in 2023.
While the DC Council did allocate $65 million to end homelessness for 2,400 residents through the Homes and Hearts Amendment Act, it failed to approve funding for workforce development and behavioral health for homeless youth.
The DC Council also missed the opportunity to stabilize access to health care for families enrolled in the DC Health Care Alliance. By not funding 12-month recertification and allowing continuous health coverage regardless of change in family income or immigrant status, families may not be able to access all of the services for which they are eligible. There is also much work to do to comply with language access requirements.
As the DC Council returns from summer recess and holds important discussions about issues such as the challenges with reopening public schools, including the impact on OST programs, and keeping students and staff safe, we will be watching and listening. Together, we will work with our growing team and close allies to:
- Amplify the voices and experiences of youth, families, and educators so policy makers hear directly from the people to whom they’re accountable, and we can develop an agenda and craft solutions that truly serve their needs
- Monitor the work of the DC Council’s Child Care Compensation Task Force to ensure that the provisions outlined in the budget are fully and equitably implemented
- Convene young people and the broader community about strategies to reduce violence
- Advance our policy agenda for out-of-school-time, services for unhoused youth, health care, family strengthening, and language access
- Register new voters and educate voters and candidates about the most pressing issues facing our children and youth today.
All of this takes place during a moment of great national uncertainty as Congress deliberates over President Biden’s infrastructure bill, and the Build Back Better Act, which, if passed, would result in the most ambitious expansion of the social safety net since President Johnson’s Great Society programs in 1964. And our local election season is beginning, with the democratic primary scheduled for June 21, overlapping with next year’s budget season.
DC Action and our allies are committed to escalating our efforts to ensure the Bowser Administration and the DC Council prepare a budget for next year that continues to eliminate structural barriers that too many of our children and youth face.
by Kimberly Perry, Executive Director