Mayor Gray’s Budget Would Mean No More Money for Many Critical Needs

As I said yesterday, Mayor Gray’s proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget provides more money for some, but little more — in some cases, no more — for programs that address low-income residents’ critical needs.

For example …

There will be $700,000 more for permanent supportive housing — reportedly enough to accommodate 45 more chronically homeless individuals and/or families than the program is serving now.

But there probably won’t be money to ensure that homeless families with no place to stay can sleep safely indoors unless it’s freezing cold outside.

Nor will there be money to increase the number of locally-funded housing vouchers they could use to help pay market-rate rents until they can afford the full rent on their own.

This could actually mean fewer of these so-called tenant-based housing vouchers because the DC Housing Authority will get less money for Housing Choice (formerly Section 8) vouchers due to sequestration.

There will be no more money for child care subsidies, though the unreasonably low reimbursement rates providers get account, at least in part, for the fact that parents of some 9,000 infants and toddlers can’t get affordable child care.

In this case, what looks like level-funding — perhaps a small increase even — will mean somewhat over $1.5 million less because sequestration will cut a portion of the District’s federal child care funding.

There will be no more money for adult literacy services — in fact, apparently $734,000 less, though I’m told the budget document may be misleading.

Even without the cut, the District will be investing considerably less than it once did to address a problem that affects not only the job prospects and daily lives of more than a third of adult residents, but the children they’re raising.

Adult literacy programs need more money not only for these “functionally illiterate” residents, but for more proficient high school dropouts, who can get the equivalent of a high school diploma by passing the GED tests.

These tests will get harder next year — and require computer proficiency. Adult literacy programs thus need to invest more in teacher training and equipment to get their students up to speed (literally and figuratively).

One would think that the District’s abysmal 59% GED pass rate would have led the Mayor, who’s so concerned about employment here, to put more money into these programs.

Ditto for adult job training, which the Mayor’s budget would cut by $624,000 — considerably more if measured against what the program will have this year if the DC Council approves his proposed supplement.

There will be no money to protect families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from running up against the five-year time limit in cases where the parents have been excused from regular work activity requirements for compelling reasons, e.g., needs to care for a sick or disabled family member, domestic violence trauma.

There will, however, be money to protect long-term TANF families from further benefits cuts for another year.

This is a further indication that the Department of Human Services doesn’t have the resources it needs for its program revamp. Nor will it in the Mayor’s proposed budget, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s analysis.

Because even if it completes the remaining 9,000 or so assessments that are supposed to produce suitable work preparation plans for TANF parents, there won’t be enough training slots for them.

For a family of three, the reprieve will mean a continuing cash income of $257 a month, instead of the regular $428 — 23.9% less in real dollars than the year TANF was created.

The Mayor might have considered increasing TANF benefits, as a few states have recently done. All he chose to do was replace “lost” federal dollars, which weren’t really lost, but merely funds the District didn’t have left over, as it did the year before.

I understand that the Mayor has competing interests to balance. He wants to make the city an appealing place for higher-income people to live — good for the local economy, essential adequate revenues.

He’s got to worry about the stability and quality of the District’s own workforce.

And he understands that the city’s future hinges in part on how well it educates the next generation — though apparently not that all the early learning opportunities, libraries, modernized schools and the like can’t compensate for resources parents lack to provide for their kids’ basic needs.

Yet his budget truly is, in many respects, what its title says. It’s investing in tomorrow while ignoring investments needed today.

Needed, at any rate, if the District’s prosperity is going to benefit everyone, as the Mayor rightly says it should.

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