DC Safety Net Programs Face New Threat

January 6, 2009

An editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post calls on Mayor Fenty and the D.C. City Council to protect safety net programs for the District’s homeless and other poor residents.

The piece focuses on the fate of revenues that will be raised by a just-passed increase in parking meter rates. The Council intended these revenues to restore some of the funds it cut from safety net programs when it re-balanced the budget in November. But the District is now facing a new projected shortfall. So the Post rightly foresees that the Council may use the parking meter revenues to help close the budget gap instead.

As the Post says, a broad-based coalition of D.C. businesses, faith-based groups, nonprofits, labor and advocacy organizations has argued that cutbacks in safety net programs could increase cases of acute hardship and, with them, demands on costly emergency services.

The coalition’s statement of budget principles also points out that investments in programs that serve low-income residents will help jump-start local economic recovery and thus expand economic opportunities for both local businesses and D.C. residents.

The Mayor and City Council would do well to assess the actual costs of further cutbacks and all possible options. Coalition members have offered to partner in this effort. The Mayor and City Council should bring them into the decision-making process.