Testimony to the DC Council on the Need for a Just Recovery for DC
by Kimberly Perry, Executive Director, DC Action for Children
At this moment in history when we are facing both a global health crisis and a national reckoning with systemic racism in our country, the District is on the verge of passing a historic budget that will have long-lasting impact repercussions for our city’s future. This budget is a moral document that provides an opportunity to demonstrate the District’s commitment to anti-racist principles and policy priorities.
The advocacy that DC Action for Children leads on behalf of children and families is necessary precisely because of the legacy of generations of inequality. Our social systems still do not offer justice for Black and brown young people, their families, educators, and communities. We have the chance now to begin to correct past discrimination by fully investing in programs that put families on equal footing.
A variety of avenues are available to help our children and youth gain access to the resources they deserve. For example:
- High-quality, affordable, and accessible early childhood education and care. Early care is both instrumental in promoting healthy and positive child development and enabling parents to work, which contributes to both family economic security and our city’s economic health. While the District has demonstrated commitment to early childhood through several innovative initiatives, the fact remains that the available child care for infants and toddlers is not sufficient to meet the needs of working parents, and child care in DC is the most expensive in the country. Expanding child care subsidies, supporting professional development opportunities for educators, and increasing educator pay are all necessary steps to solving these problems. Especially in light of COVID-19, we must pay special attention to how to support early childhood education safely and effectively for the benefit of children, parents, and our workforce.
- Home visiting programs provide a lifeline for parents and young children, particularly during the pandemic when many traditional services are closed or limited in scope. Trained home visitors offer guidance and resources to parents that can help improve child health and development, prevent child abuse and neglect, and facilitate opportunities for education and job training for parents.
- Health care and health insurance for children of immigrants and children in low-income families is a critical component in the work to decrease health disparities across racial and income lines. The District is a national leader in immigrant health and has invested in community health centers with wraparound services that can help make both traditional health care and connections to resources that impact health such as nutrition programs such as WIC and SNAP more accessible for residents.
- Youth experiencing homelessness have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Transitional housing programs are necessary to ensure that youth with deep mental health needs and too many adverse life experiences will have safe and secure places to live where they can receive wrap around services they need to stabilize today and thrive in future. Stabilizing these vulnerable youth today, will keep them out of our chronically homeless adult system in future.
- Out of school time programs play a vital role in social and emotional functioning of children and youth. The isolation, exposure to adverse childhood experiences, and loss of opportunity our young people are facing right now cannot be overstated. One in four children in DC have experienced a traumatic childhood experience—a number that is likely increasing during the pandemic. OST programs are important when it comes to providing safe places for kids to connect with each other and with caring adult mentors. The opportunity for young people to process the events of this year will be critically important. Providers are prepared to offer those safe spaces for our young people.
Black residents have already borne the greatest brunt of COVID-19, primarily because of the underlying health and economic inequalities of systemic racism. Don’t balance the budget on their backs.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard the refrain, “we’re all in this together,” but that’s not exactly true. Our tax system has long been inequitable, requiring too much of middle-class families and not enough from the wealthiest. Because of this inequitable tax system, DC has not met the needs of Black and brown working-class families. In fact, a new poll we commissioned with DCFPI finds 83% of DC Voters support raising taxes on wealthy residents.
This budget provides an opportunity to focus on racial equity and just recovery.
During an economic downturn, leading economists favor targeted tax increases—which don’t hurt the economy or working families—over spending cuts, which do. Cutting vital programs will worsen the economy’s fall, hurt families that are struggling to stay afloat, and jeopardize the District’s ability to make a full or just recovery. Failing to meet the needs of residents who have fallen on hard times, or fallen deeper into poverty, takes money out of the local economy. When residents lose access to their child care or rental assistance, for example, they face greater barriers to work and have less money to spend. Putting revenue on the table, on the other hand, will minimize harm and long-standing, unacceptable disparities.
It is imperative that we focus on finding innovative ways to generate revenue in order to maintain or expand funding of vital programs that support our children, our families, and by extension, our city. Thank you.