We can all agree that this year's budget season was like no other. To remind you, Mayor Bowser presented her budget on May 18th and the DC Council began their public hearings later that week to respond, assess, weigh in, seek public input, debate, modify and finalize the city’s moral document that will guide spending for the next year, during one of the most challenging times in history. The final budget was completed in late July, signed by Mayor Bowser and sent to Capitol Hill for its required 30-day review period. Here’s where we landed on our budget priorities for DC’s children and youth:
The Mayor’s proposed budget wasn’t completely aligned with our priorities, but to her administration’s credit, they aimed to mitigate what could have been treacherous cuts to education and human services programs that affect kids and families. The administration deployed a combination of using reserves, redirecting agency savings, and leveraging federal funds in order to maintain existing funding for paid family leave, some Birth-to-Three programs, nutrition, public health insurance, and youth homelessness services. While the Mayor, shortsightedly, cut critical home visiting programs within the Child and Family Services Agency, the DC Council, particularly efforts led by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, restored them. There was also a modest decrease in funding to Learn 24 out-of-school time, but we were informed the reduction will not result in any cuts to programs, only a transition in returning the administration of the grants back to the Deputy Mayor of Education's office.
THE DOWN PAYMENT
While the Mayor’s team put modest increases into public school-based Pre-K, they made no new investments in funding the Birth to Three law, and worse, they made cuts to the child care subsidy. In response, DC Action with hundreds of partners mounted virtual and digital campaigns to convince the DC Council to restore those cuts and to make additional investments in early care and education. We applaud the DC Council for responding. Collectively, they found $5 million to restore the child care subsidy cuts. They put $5 million toward stabilizing child care programs. And, they found an additional $1.4 million by repealing part of the Qualified High Technology Companies tax. In addition, they authorized the Mayor to provide up to $5 million in grants to small businesses, including child care businesses, but in the end the CARES Act funding identified was not available.
Most critically, as the District attempts to recover from the economic crisis sparked by COVID-19, this lift by the DC Council is appreciated, but isn’t nearly enough to stabilize the entire child care sector. We call on both the Mayor and the DC Council to make even deeper investments in early care and education, especially during the pandemic, to ensure our youngest residents are safe and in the high-quality learning settings they deserve.
The DC Council missed a meaningful opportunity to mitigate future budget cuts by not raising revenue. We believe this is misguided and harmful. Instead, they kicked the can down the road to the Fall. The needs are not going away. Due to the pandemic and slow-recovering economy, the needs are only going to expand.
The advocacy community demands significant investments in school and community-based mental health, and the DC Council fell short of fully funding these areas when these investments are desperately needed during the pandemic.
It was also misguided for lawmakers to not redirect unused funding or reprioritize funding based on city-wide calls for change– such as from the streetcar, Events DC, and Metropolitan Police Department.
The DC Council returns mid-September and the DC Chief Financial Officer will give an updated revenue projection in late September. Considering the number of DC businesses that are still not open or unable to operate at full capacity, the revenue report probably won’t be good. DC Action will continue efforts to urge the Mayor and DC Council to:
- Listen to youth, parents, and educators, who are asking for:
- Resources for virtual learning
- Stabilization of child care
- Recovery investments in workforce, health, and housing
- School equity to fully fund ‘per pupil funding’
- Elimination of the over-policing of students and Black communities
- Reduction of the MPD budget to re-invest in communities
- Implement the REACH Act
- Collaborate with the community on finding new revenue in order to continue holding investments in children, youth and families harmless. “No cuts”