We Need City Council to Take Action, Make the Better Choice

Mayor Fenty has proposed another round of cuts as part of this year’s city budget. Utility assistance, child care, TANF, job training, disability assistance, affordable housing, legal services, and more are on the chopping block. I’ve been through my share of hard times: an abusive relationship, losing my home, getting harassed by landlords, and health issues. I want to speak out and share my story to help prevent other people from having to go through what I did.

I’ve already blogged about being on the TANF program to provide for my daughter during the seven years that I was unable to work and waiting to get approved for Social Security Income. I know that they don’t give you the skills you need to get a job that pays the bills, and now they’re taking away more of what people need to survive.

It’s hard to make ends meet on a fixed income, even though I’m careful with my budget. My daughter hasn’t had a new coat for three years, and right now we’re wearing our coats in the house because I can’t turn the heat on. I don’t want to run the bills up and then have my utilities cut off. That’s grounds to lose my housing voucher, and I can’t take that chance. My utility assistance appointment isn’t until April, so I know I’m not the only one who’s cold. Now they’re making more cuts to utility assistance!

It’s clear that they give you the help that they want to give you, not what you need to pick yourself up. It’s not like I’ve been asking for a million dollars, or for people to move mountains or part seas. I just want a stable home for me and my daughter. I want somebody to step up and help me do better for myself, so I can do better for her. I don’t want her to live in a constant state of trial and tribulation. If I had the tools that I needed, I would be able to make it.

But they just keep taking, until they take away your hope. When you take away someone’s hope, you take away their way of taking care of themselves, to push forward and survive. Councilmembers don’t see it, because it doesn’t affect them. We need action, and all we’re getting is talk. Talk doesn’t help you when you’re hurting.

I have a saying, though – it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. If I had sat silent through all of this, I wouldn’t be here now. My daughter wouldn’t be here now. You have to know your rights and fight for them. That’s why I’ll be speaking at the People’s Hearing on Tuesday, December 7 at 9:00 am in front of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW (Federal Triangle, Metro Center, 30 buses). I want others in this situation to have hope that they can make it, but I also want city leaders to learn from our experiences and make the better choice.

I say to Mayor-Elect Vince Gray – give to me what I need to help myself. Don’t keep stripping things away until you break me. Let him know what you think he should do now.

>Save Our Safety Net: A letter from a constituent

>Longtime donor, volunteer, and former BFC Board Chair Roger Kuhn shared with us a letter that he sent to Mayor Fenty yesterday about the proposed cuts to the city’s social services, and gave us permission to share it here.

Mr. Mayor:

Your proposed budget cuts are grossly unfair to the City’s neediest. While the wealthy move into the growing number of luxury condos around town, more and more of our neighbors are heading for shelters. While some eat $100 dinners at DC’s finest restaurants, others line up at food pantries. And now you are proposing cuts in support for food pantries, shelters, and other services needed by more and more newly individuals and families.

The fair approach is to cut support for luxuries enjoyed by the fortunate — support for ballparks and the like — and to raise revenue from those who are most advantaged: a new top income tax bracket, a new sales tax on sports tickets, concert tickets, DC lottery winnings — you could name a lot of sources if you looked around. (I’ll add that many of these taxes would affect me personally, but I’d pay them willingly if I knew the revenue was preserving the safety net for people in need.)

I’d like to feel my city was dealing fairly and humanely with all of us who live here. Right now, I’m feeling angry.

Roger Kuhn

Roger urges you to take action as well: email City Council today to express your support for programs that help our most vulnerable neighbors survive. (And share your email with us!)

We are currently attending the hearings at the Wilson Building – stay tuned for more…

Budget crisis: DC’s safety net is in danger

>DC’s budget crisis is coming to a head. Our elected officials have proposed budget-slashing actions that are far more severe than we had anticipated, and we are alarmed.

Mayor Fenty’s proposal puts massive amounts of funding for the city’s social safety net on the chopping block: some $54 million worth of funding for programs that provide assistance for families with children, affordable housing, services for the disabled, etc. Proportionally, the proposed cuts to the safety net are dramatically larger than cuts to other government services – according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, they are at least three times larger! Meanwhile, the Mayor has proposed hardly any measures that would actually raise revenue.

Let it be clear that by raiding the social safety net, the Government will send thousands of our neighbors lives into crisis. These are programs that keep people off the streets, keep children safe, keep the vulnerable secure, and so on. As a result, these are programs that save the city lots of money. Ultimately, cuts to these programs will make this recession more prolonged and painful for the City as a whole.

Bread for the City receives funding from the city to provide some of these critical services – like our Court Based Legal Services Project, which helps prevent evictions and keeps people out of shelters. At a time when people need help more than ever before, and funding for our work is already threatened by the economy, these cuts would force us and our partner organizations to scale back our services. Rather than turn to the safety net as a first resort for freeing up capital, the City should be doing everything in its power to protect these programs.

The City has other options. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute has proposed alternative solutions that would raise revenue, tap special sources of funding for the city, and maintain DC’s safety net. Bread for the City, along with the Coalition for Community Investment, urges our elected officials to consider more humane and responsible strategies for this budget crisis.

It’s not too late. The Mayor and the Council still have time to change course. The Council will vote next Friday the 31st, so this week and next are our only opportunities to weigh in. You can also join us at the Council’s budget hearing this Friday, July 24th, 1350 Pennylsvania Ave, Suite 500, at 10am. You can also email and call city leaders to express your support for an alternative course of action that will protect the safety net – and let us know that you’ve done so.

Bread for the City will keep our community updated about the process from here on out. Please spread the word that this crisis is looming.

In the meantime, here is a list of the proposed cuts:

Enhancements previously secured for the 2010 budget that now face rollbacks include:
$2 million for rent supp
$1.5 for TANF grants
$750k for Housing First
$5.4 million for adult job training
$2 million for literacy
$1.5 million for grandparent caregivers
$500 k for rapid housing (this cuts half of the enhancement)

Cuts to existing programs include:
$6.2 million cut to TANF benefits for poor families with kids
$1.8 million for legal services to poor/poverty loan program,
$3.5 million taken from HPAP special purpose fund (not sure what impact is in 2010)
$340,000 from Office of Victims’ Services
$4 million from libraries
$1.9 million “supported work program” within income maintenance administration
$575,000 from school mental health programs
$5 million from “community health administration” (not sure the impact)
$3 million cut to neighborhood investment fund
Cut to health care contract at DC Jail
$2.5 million cut in grants for the Children Youth Investment Trust Corp
$5 million from the Dept of Disability Services

The only revenue enhancement measure is $7 million from raising a tax applied to phone bills that pays for 911 and 311 services.

Declaring Our Interdependence: Safe Shelter for All

>

Homelessness is on the rise. The number of those reporting unemployment in DC has swelled to over 10%. The need for emergency shelter, especially in this economy, is crucial. Wider Opportunities for Women, along with over 50 other organizations including Bread for the City, formed a coalition to ask the District government to provide increased shelter space. Instead of closing emergency shelters, as the Fenty administration has been doing for the past couple of years, we need to open more.

Though the coalition supports the Mayor’s Housing First program, it insists that until all in need are housed, emergency shelters should not be closed. Family and Women’s shelters are currently at capacity, meaning that many families and women are still left out to sleep in the streets despite dangerous conditions.

Unlike past years, the demand for shelter has not decreased with the warmer weather. In May 2009, shelters in the individual emergency system were in overflow. In addition, the shelters are poor in condition, and many are infested with bed bugs. Those seeking jobs during the day sometimes do not make it back in time to have anywhere to sleep. It is a problem that is deserving of serious attention. Debra, a homeless woman affected by the shelter crisis, said at a rally last week that, “…everybody that’s going through these situations [does] not want to be in these situations… We need a little bit more respect.”

Because of District budget cuts that resulted from the decline in the economy, opening up more shelters is not on the agenda. But, as our letter to Mayor Fenty states, “an important step towards acknowledging [the basic human right to housing] is to ensure that appropriate funds are designated for all three prongs of housing preservation: adequate prevention, safe and sanitary emergency shelters, and affordable housing.”

Sadly, though our joint efforts are concerted, people are still dying on the streets of DC. If this is the reality in the summer months, what can we expect three months from now when winter approaches?

Sign on letter: No regressive taxes in the budget

>It’s Budget Season. With an $800 million deficit crisis, the city faces tough choices. Overall, Mayor Fenty’s budget proposal is encouraging: in particular, he has proposed to raise $120 million in new revenues. This will help preserve funding for many important public services.

But several of the proposed tax and fee increases (among them, the elimination of cost-of-living adjustments for certain tax credits) would fall most heavily on low-income residents.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute is calling for action. The letter below urges Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray to raise critical revenue in ways that don’t disproportionately impact the poor. Bread for the City has co-signed; will you, or your organization, join us? (The deadline for signing on is Wednesday April 22; please email Ed Lazere to join.)

We are writing to express our concern over several tax and fee increases in the proposed FY 2010 budget that would fall most heavily on low-income residents, particularly on renters and the working poor. We urge the Council and Mayor to develop alternate ways to raise revenues that are progressive and do not adversely affect low-income residents.

We applaud the Mayor’s efforts to identify additional revenues to offset the city’s serious budget shortfall. The additional revenues help preserve funding for important public services in the FY 2010 budget. Many of the revenue proposals are sound, such as the proposal to close the “Delaware Holding Company” corporate tax shelter.

Some of the tax and fee increases, however, would be highly regressive, including the proposal to eliminate cost-of-living adjustments for the standard deduction, personal exemption, and property tax homestead deduction, as well as the proposals to create a new “streetlight maintenance” fee and to raise the E911 fee. Together, these regressive tax and fee changes total $26 million.

The standard deduction, personal exemption, and homestead deduction make DC’s tax system more progressive. The standard deduction is claimed by households that are not able to itemize deductions, including most renters and lower-income households. The personal exemption applies to all taxpayers and the homestead deduction applies to all homeowners. But because the value of these deductions is the same for all taxpayers, the deductions offset a larger share of income and home value for lower-income households.

Making annual cost-of-living adjustments to these tax benefits is important. Until recently, each of these deductions had remained frozen for 15 years or more and had lost significant ground to inflation. The deductions have been increased in recent years, and the DC Council adopted cost-of living adjustments in 2007 so that the deductions would not lose value in the future.

Eliminating cost-of-living adjustments to the standard deduction, personal exemption, and homestead deduction would result in higher taxes for DC residents than if current law were maintained. The impact of rising taxes would fall most heavily on lower-income residents, who benefit the most from these deductions. And the tax increases would grow each year, as these deductions fall further and further below the value they would reach if they were adjusted for inflation.

The proposals to create a new streetlight maintenance fee and to increase the E911 fee also are regressive and will adversely affect low-income residents. The streetlight maintenance fee would add $51 dollar to annual electricity bills, and the increased 911 fee would add roughly $10 a year to phone bills. While these fees may be manageable for middle and higher-income families, they would place a burden on low-income families, many of whom struggle to pay utility bills and face utility shut-offs as a result of non-payment.

For these reasons, we urge the Mayor and Council to maintain the cost-of-living adjustments for the standard deduction, personal exemption, and homestead deduction. We also recommend rejection of the streetlight maintenance fee and the E911 fee increase — unless steps can be taken to ensure that all low-income households can be exempted. We urge the Mayor and Council to find alternate revenue sources for the FY 2010 budget that would not adversely affect low-income residents.

For more about the budget, check out DCFPI’s as-yet-unnamed new blog, and also their excellent and accessible Budget Toolkit. Many thanks to Ed Lazere and DCFPI for their vital work.

Grokking the Budget: help for non-wonks

>Yesterday, we posted the Coalition for Community Investment’s statement on the Mayor’s budget proposal for FY2010, and the reaction was tentatively positive–especially to the level of descriptive detail, which the Coalition called “a step forward in budget transparency [that] will help the DC Council and residents understand the proposed changes.”

But a step forward still stops far out of reach of non-wonky laypeople who are affected by these matters but to whom the budget remains an impenetrable document and an obscure process. As Kathryn Baer describes the budget proposal document on her Poverty and Policy blog, “It’s entitled “Meeting the Challenge.” And, indeed, you’ll meet a challenge if you try to read it–unless, of course, you’re an expert in the D.C. budget and have insider information about what lies behind the figures.”

Well put! Fortunately, for those of us who are really interested in the budget but can’t wrap their heads around these source documents, there are options. (These options, unfortunately, are not all that easily findable online.)

First example: The Arc of DC released its annual budget guide, which you can download here as a PDF. This document — which is also quite long, but reader friendly — is geared primarily towards matters relating to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Nevertheless, it contains handy general information on the budget process and schedule, instructions on how to be involved in the hearings, and a good amount of departmental information and contextualization. It’s really an impressive breakdown, especially if you’re interested in the topical matter of mental health care in the District, which we’ve covered at length here.

For more information about The Arc of DC’s budget guide, or to request a printed copy, contact T.J. Sutcliffe, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at 202-636-2963 or tjsutcliffe[AT]arcdc[DOT]net.

Also of interest to concerned citizens: on April 2nd, from 2-430pm at the True Reformer Building at 1200 U Street, there will be an educational budget-briefing sponsored by the Affordable Housing Alliance and the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute will be in the house, giving an overview of the entire budget, and representatives from DC’s housing agencies will be on hand to discuss the budget’s housing-specific aspects. If you would like to attend please RSVP to Bettina Myers.

There are probably some other useful opportunities out there for non-wonks to start wrapping their heads around this critical budget process. Care to share?

On the Mayor’s proposed Budget

>The Mayor’s office has released its FY2010 budget proposal, in a generously detailed, narratively coherent document entitled “Meeting the Challenge.” Yes we can!

Indeed, considering the magnitude of said budget challenge, this is a great first step. As part of the Coalition for Community Investment, Bread for the City signs on to the following response.

from: The Coalition for Community Investment
re: FY 2010 Proposed Budget

The Coalition for Community Investment is encouraged to see that Mayor Fenty’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget broadly adheres to our stated core principles: investment in the local economy, protection of critical safety net services, revenue expansion, transparency and public engagement.

Given the magnitude of the crisis, we know that many difficult choices had to be made. The Mayor’s proposed budget shows commitment to protecting critical public investments that are crucial at this time to ensure the stability and safety of city residents and neighborhoods. The budget proposal makes a strong effort to avoid cuts in service wherever possible. We do note, however, that the size of the proposed reduction in District-funded staff positions is quite large. A more detailed analysis is needed to determine the potential impact on services. The Coalition looks forward to learning more about how services will be sustained.

The Coalition also supports the City’s efforts to raise revenue. However, the proposal to eliminate the cost of living adjustments to three tax provisions — the homestead deduction, the standard deduction, and the personal exemption would disproportionately affect low- and middle-income District residents. We encourage the City to consider revenue expansion measures that will not unduly burden the parts of our community that can least afford it.

The FY 2010 budget includes detailed descriptions of the actions taken to use federal stimulus funds, and of other steps taken to balance the budget. This level of detail is a step forward in budget transparency and will help the DC Council and residents understand the proposed changes.

The Coalition looks forward to learning more about how this budget will help stimulate job growth, strengthen local businesses, and support neighborhoods and families during economic downturn. As the Mayor and City Council undertake the difficult task of managing this budget, we encourage them to remain open and engaged with the public to ensure prudence, fairness, and robust recovery.

About the Coalition for Community Investment

Coalition for Community Investment represents over 160 diverse organizations and individuals committed to public investments that expand economic opportunity for our neighborhoods and families, and support a fair and transparent budget process.

ps if you’re reading this like right now, you can listen to the Budget hearing, streaming live here.

Budget Crisis Action Alert: Invest in Our Community!

>Washington DC is facing a major economic crisis. The latest revenue forecast shows an $800 million shortfall next year.

Tough decisions will have to be made in the coming months. The easy thing to do would be to slash funding. But many services are necessary to keep communities stable and the local economy strong.

Mayor Fenty will release his proposed budget in two weeks. This Thursday, concerned citizens across the city will write to him, urging a sensible approach.

CITYWIDE WRITE-IN DAY
Contact the Mayor: mayor@dc.gov

Here are our key principles:

  • You can’t balance the budget with cuts alone. Given the latest budget forecast for the District, it’s even more important now to be considering sensible revenue increases.
  • Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. We know that cuts in basic services will make our city dirtier, less healthy, and broken down. And cutting safety net programs will destabilize families and increase need for costly emergency services. Meanwhile, with smart investment on the City’s behalf, we can maximize the effect of the stimulus. For example, every dollar of food stamps used in DC will generate approximately $1.73 of economic activity. By supporting programs that support the most vulnerable communities, DC will be paving the way to a broad recovery.
  • Use every available penny of stimulus funding: The federal stimulus funds should be used to balance our budget, help residents in need, and invest in job creation for our community.

The Coalition for Community Investment represents over 160 diverse organizations and individuals committed to public investments that expand economic opportunity for our neighborhoods and families, and support a fair and transparent budget process. To learn more, visit the Coalition’s website.