The District of Columbia’s season of broken budget promises came to a relatively quiet end earlier this month with the DC Council’s unanimous vote to approve the Budget Support Act. Although this step in the budget process appeals little to those who are not advocates or government budget watchdogs, DC Action remained actively engaged, pushing the DC Council to consider all of its options to address pressing community and equity needs not met by the Local Budget Act, which funds District government agencies and programs.
Despite the District’s 2024 budget falling short of meeting our priorities, two major advancements were made to improve the outlook for DC’s children and youth.
The District improved child care affordability by raising the income limit to qualify for assistance to $90,000 for a family of four, up from the current $75,000. This increase will benefit up to 2,200 more families. The higher limit also advances our Under 3 DC campaign goal of increasing child care affordability so that ultimately, no District family pays more than 10% of their income for child care. But while District lawmakers push for child care affordability, they approved an $11 million cut to TANF child care assistance, reducing the availability of subsidies for families who need it the most. Under 3 DC has heard first-hand accounts that families eligible for TANF are having difficulty completing the child care assistance application process. We continue to strongly oppose the narrative that families are not applying because they do not need the help.
Home visiting won a $300,000 increase for Child and Family Service Agency-funded programs and a $225,000 transfer from DC Health to the Department of Health Care Finance to fund the First-Time Mothers home visiting program, a $75,000 increase from last year.
The Office of Out of School Time, which funds community-based organizations that provide afterschool and summer programs to youth, received a $5 million increase for the fiscal year 2024. However, youth advocates question whether the office will use the funding to improve equitable access to out-of-school time (OST) opportunities. The office announced that a significant portion of the funding will be used to create a new initiative called My Afterschool DC, which will target yet-to-be-determined “priority schools.” The DC OST Coalition strongly believes that all public funding for OST should be used to create new spots. We will continue to closely monitor how the Learn24 Office spends the new funding over the upcoming fiscal year.
What’s Next for DC Action Advocacy?
We learned days before the June 13 DC Council Pay Equity Fund Roundtable that OSSE’s $4.4 million cut to the program was not to right-size the program. Instead, the agency calculated its 2024 budget by altering the Child Development Facility Funding Formula to exclude experience from the Fund’s budget–essentially shorting it by $20 million.
Under 3 DC organized 18 early educators who testified and pushed back on this shift during the roundtable and will continue to look for opportunities this summer. The coalition also recently sent a letter to OSSE reminding them of the Birth-to-Three for All DC's mandate that the District compensate early educators "equivalent to the average base salary and fringe benefits of an elementary school teacher employed by District of Columbia Public Schools with the equivalent role, credentials, and experience." Much more organizing is in the works. Most recently, Under 3 DC attended a Mendelson constituent event to bend his ear about the early educator funding formula problem.
In keeping with its campaign goals, Under 3 DC will spend the next year working with OSSE—who has authority over the child care assistance program–and the Department of Human Services– who determines eligibility–to streamline the application process and make it less onerous for families applying for the program.
The fight to fund home visiting programs also continues. This fall, the Home Visiting Council anticipates a hearing on the Home Visiting Services Reimbursement Act of 2023, which would extend health insurance coverage through Medicaid, the DC HealthCare Alliance Program, and the Immigrant Children’s Program to cover and reimburse eligible evidence-based home visiting services in DC.