The Economic Recovery Package: What’s In It For DC?

Ever since Congress passed the economic recovery package, I’ve been wondering what it will do for my home town–Washington, D.C. Now DC Fiscal Policy Institute has provided the answer.

Its  report details the funding that will flow to the District and additional grants the government could apply for. So now we can see, for every relevant piece of the package, how much D.C. will or could  get and for what.

For me, it’s the bottom line that’s most important. As DCFPI shows, the stimulus funding could cover about half the projected shortfall for Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010. This means that the District could balance its budget with less drastic program cuts than would otherwise be necessary.

The stimulus funding could also enable the District to make targeted investments in areas that have long lacked adequate support–for example, affordable housing and workforce development. These, in particular, would improve the lives of poor D.C. residents, who are hard-pressed by the high costs of living here and often without the skills required for living wage jobs.

But, as DCFPI indicates, the District will fully benefit from the economic recovery package only if the Mayor and City Council take advantage of all the funds potentially available and spend them wisely. This will mean, among other things:

  • Spending as much stimulus funding as possible, including what may be secured in competitive grants. Doing this will require top-down leadership and competent administration across a wide range of D.C. agencies–unfortunately, not something we can count.
  • Using stimulus funding to support critical ongoing programs. Some D.C. officials have suggested that the funding should be used only for one-time projects because it’s for a limited term. But this would compel the District to make deep cuts in essential services–something the economic recovery package was enacted to avert. It would also ignore the fact that the fiscal situation is likely to improve in the next several years.
  • Opening the decision-making process to the many individuals and organizations that have relevant expertise and hands-on experience–including those who depend on the District’s safety net programs and other public investments.

The FY 2010 budget season is hard upon us. So the Mayor and City Council will need to make some major decisions quickly. But they shouldn’t short-circuit the public consultation process. DCFPI’s reports and the recent budget advice from the Coalition on Community Investment show how much they can learn from their constituents.

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