The District’s children and youth deserve a stronger budget. It’s up to the DC Council to pass one.
March 29, 2023
Last week, the Bowser administration released their proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget. While the proposal is driven by the clear need for an economic comeback, the budget does not ensure a comeback for everyone or the full equitable recovery the District’s families with children deserve. We are pleased to see some positive advances such as making child care affordable for an additional 2,100 families, and providing more child care and out-of-school-time seats for children and students with special needs. However, at the same time, the budget makes cuts to some critical homelessness services and Baby Bonds, and lacks eviction prevention support.
Many indicators demonstrate that families with children are still struggling financially and have not fully recovered from the health and economic harm of the pandemic. For example, in the first half of March 2023, 35 percent of the District’s renting households with children reported that they were not caught up on rent compared to just 7 percent of renting households without children. In that same time period, 13% of District households with children, and 21% of Black District households with children, reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the past week. In fall 2022 over a third of District households with children, and well over half of Black District households with children, reported difficulty paying for usual household expenses in the past week.
Even Mayor Bowser noted recently that the District is a leader in the nation in early childhood education and that early childhood educators were integral to keeping the city going throughout the pandemic. Yet her budget cut millions from the Pay Equity Fund designed to fairly compensate early educators for their work.
She said during her inaugural remarks that the District would offer the “most robust free before and afterschool programs in the nation,” but the investment is not included in her proposed budget.
Mayor Bowser has said she wants to end homelessness in the District, but her budget eliminates significant funding for homelessness prevention programs and disinvests in programs to keep families in their homes.
The District has made wise investments over the past few years to enable working families to improve their financial circumstances by deploying both federal and local funds to cover income gaps and provide housing support, health and mental health services, and additional educational resources to ensure our students don’t fall behind. We must continue on this pathway of deeper investment in residents and families if we truly intend to be on the road to recovery. We are not there yet.
Bowser’s budget proposal is now with the DC Council, who began committee hearings on it earlier this week. With votes scheduled on the budget in May, we call on the DC Council to:
Build Strong Families From the Start
- The budget proposes to expand eligibility for child care assistance to households with income up to 300 percent of poverty ($90,000 for a family of four). This expansion uses current child care subsidy funding and will benefit approximately 2,100 families with children ages 0 – 5. We applaud this expansion and we ALL need to request the DC Council keep this priority in the budget.
- Protect $360,000 for home visiting programs based at Child and Families Services Agency (CFSA)
Add or Restore
- Access to safe and affordable housing is foundational to family stability and inextricably linked to all other measures of family growth and success. We ask the DC Council to significantly increase support for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to keep families in their homes. Allocate $117 million for ERAP to sufficiently fund rental assistance.
- Add $700,000 for DC Health’s and $300,000 for CFSA’s local home visiting programs to allow home visiting programs to adjust for inflation, raise home visitor salaries, and continue to meet the increased needs of expectant families and families with young children.
- Restore $7,000,000 in cuts made to the TANF child care funding stream. This cut eliminates child care funding that could support many families that need it the most, including those that depend on TANF cash assistance to make ends meet. Agency officials say the program was underutilized, but instead of using it to balance the budget, we would rather Mayor Bowser use the savings to reinvest in other parts of the early education system.
- Restore $5.4 million to the Pay Equity Fund that the Mayor "right-sized." The Mayor claims that these cuts are the result of projections showing there is more funding available in the Pay Equity Fund than what is needed to fully fund the compensation program. Specifically, the Mayor’s proposal undermines our priority and ability to expand the fund to early learning program directors and other staff who are long overdue for salary adjustments.
- Restore $8,000,000 in federal funding for the Back 2 Work child care grants, which provide increased reimbursement rates to serve our most vulnerable children. This cut would hurt our providers that operate in Wards 7 and 8 and providers that have a majority of subsidized slots.
- Restore the sports wagering provision which is supposed to generate funding for early childhood education. For the last three years, Mayor Bowser has used it to balance the budget, and we must make it available for the purpose it was intended–supporting our youngest residents.
Support Students Outside of School Hours
- Preserve the $5 million increase to the OST Office allocated for My Afterschool DC (at least $3 million of which will go toward OST grants to provide programming to about 1,250 more youth).
- Preserve the $6.8 million investment in the Special Education Enhancement Fund (SEEF) earmarked for out-of-school-time slots for children with disabilities and a referral system.
- Preserve $2.95 million investment in the Department of Parks and Recreation for summer recreation activities and accelerated learning opportunities for students recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.
Add or Restore
- Add an additional $5 million in OST grant funding to make progress toward universal access by creating opportunities for more of the tens of thousands of youth who still face barriers to participation, including cost, location, awareness, and accessibility for students with special needs.
Place Youth Experiencing Housing Insecurity On Productive Pathways to Adulthood
Add or Restore
- Restore $667,000 for targeted workforce development for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness at DHS.
- Restore $2 million in funding to support outreach for those experiencing homelessness and to support the mobile crisis unit at the Department of Behavioral Health.
- Add $3.5 million for youth homelessness services to account for inflation and to give direct service providers the ability to provide recruitment and retention bonuses. Retention and recruitment bonuses were provided for the adult homelessness sector and it’s now time to make the same adjustment for the youth sector.
- Add $1.7 million to create a traveling mental health unit to provide mental health services to youth in safe and supportive locations where they physically congregate.
- Add $1.1 million for workforce development programming for youth experiencing homelessness that results in long-term employment with a livable wage. Ideally the Department of Employment Services would establish a MOU with the Department of Human Services to provide this service.
Strengthen Access to Health Services
- Continue the extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage so that babies and their parents have access to the care they need in their first year.
Add or Restore
- Add $53 million annually in local funds to fully fund the Give SNAP a Raise Amendment Act of 2022, which would alleviate the immediate burden of food insecurity, help residents recover from the continuing effects of the pandemic, and invest in long-term infrastructure to end intergenerational food insecurity.
- Add $8 million for passage of the Universal Free School Meals Amendment Act of 2023 to ensure that students are receiving the food they need to grow and thrive.
Ensure Equity for the District’s Nonprofit Partners
- Fully fund the Nonprofit Fair Compensation Act, including allocating adequate funds for government agencies such as the Child and Family Services Agency, DC Health, Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Employment Services, Department of Housing and Community Development, Department of Human Services, Learn24, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to make sure that all indirect costs, as required by District of Columbia law, are equitable and integrated into every contract and grant that DC government agency awards a nonprofit organization.
This, indeed, is a tough budget cycle as revenue projections are conservative, but the District’s budget is a healthy $20 billion strong and we cannot allow our lawmakers to leave behind our children, youth and their families. We've made so much progress in recent years in addressing inequities and closing racial gaps in outcomes, and the cost of stopping now, or reversing that progress, is simply something we cannot afford.