Newsletter: Hitting the Budget Homestretch!
We’re in the homestretch on the Fiscal Year 2017 budget! Final committee decisions and recommendations take place tomorrow and Thursday. Highlights from some of the budget oversight hearings I attended over the last few weeks are below.
I also want to introduce you to Michael Ambinder, who recently joined our office as a legislative fellow. Michael is District educated, having earned his bachelor's, master’s, and law degrees from The George Washington University. He will be working on judiciary, environmental, and regulatory policy issues and is already proving to be a great addition to our team. We’re thrilled to have him onboard.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET
I spent most of April meeting with District agency leaders and raising questions at a series of budget oversight hearings. I wish I could have attended all of them, but I tried to get to as many as possible, with a particular focus on the committees of which I am a member. Here are some highlights:
Increasing Affordable Housing: In my budget request letter to Mayor Bowser and her administration, I applauded the mayor’s $100 million commitment to the Housing Production Trust Fund this year and am very pleased to see that same commitment of dollars for next year. It is critical to our efforts to keep our city affordable for residents at all income levels. Department of Housing and Community Development Director Polly Donaldson detailed her reforms to make the Trust Fund more effective and efficient, and she is dedicating $10 million particularly for housing preservation, which is a very cost-effective approach for the city. Let’s keep the affordable units we currently have! That is not as simple as it would seem, and that’s why I support putting additional dollars in next year’s budget toward housing counseling, which is a key factor in making tenant purchase deals successful.
Maximizing our current affordable housing inventory, particularly housing for some of our lowest-income residents, was a focus of the DC Housing Authority hearing. In March, I introduced a bill to create a public housing repair fund by leveraging unspent dollars from our Local Rent Supplement Program, and I was happy to see Mayor Bowser take this approach by creating a fund through this year’s budget and seeding it with $15 million. Director Adrianne Todman detailed her plans for making these key infrastructure investments, as well as innovative ways to better serve our public housing residents and voucher holders.
Tracking Progress in Schools: Though I don’t sit on the Education Committee, I remain committed to supporting and improving our schools. I attended the budget oversight hearing for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), in which we discussed two critical roles that OSSE plays in our city: it collects the education data necessary for evaluating our schools and other educational programs, and it issues licenses and subsidies for the District’s daycare centers. There are two big new things happening in the coming year:
- OSSE will be investing significant resources to get our data systems on track. I hope to work with my colleagues to make sure this process results in the high-quality data and evaluations we need.
- OSSE is planning to add funding to increase access to quality childcare. I believe the District needs to invest more in childcare as a critical way to help our employees and most vulnerable children. To learn more about this important issue, I recommend a recent report from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and D.C. Appleseed.
Housing Our Homeless: Director Laura Zeilinger continues to make improvements to our programs that serve our lowest income residents. In the budget for next year, Director Zeilinger and the Mayor are advancing our Homeward DC plan to end chronic homelessness in the District and extending the deadline for expiration of much-needed TANF benefits with a one-time $10 million investment. I look forward to working with Director Zeilinger to develop a long-term plan for ensuring residents who truly need this assistance can continue to receive it.
Saving Lives in Emergency Situations: You probably remember initial discussions several months ago about third party providers supporting patients with non-life threatening injuries to improve the quality of service and care for District residents and visitors. The Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing for our Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Office of Unified Communication, where they confirmed that those third party provider ambulances are officially on the street. If you’re unsure about how this new addition will work, you can take a look at these frequently asked questions.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH OUR LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
Improving Unemployment Benefits: In the midst of the budget, the Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, met last Wednesday to hold a hearing on the Unemployment Benefits Modernization bill I introduced last September. Right now, the District’s weekly benefit is the lowest in the region, and our formula for calculating benefits hasn’t been updated or modernized for eleven years. I was excited to hear the Department of Employment Services (DOES) testify in favor of including the bill’s benefits in next year’s budget. We are still working out the final details, but I want to thank my colleague, Committee Chairman Vincent Orange, and DOES Director Deborah Carroll and her staff for working with us on this important policy.
IN THE COMMUNITY
Contaminated Water in Schools: Following alarming news about elevated levels of lead recently reported in twelve D.C. Public Schools, I share very serious concerns with parents and neighbors about making sure our children are staying safe and healthy. All D.C. public schools will be retesting their drinking water, and the Department of General Services will be updating parents on an ongoing basis. Several schools affected were in my own neighborhood, and I will be working with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen to make sure concerns are addressed in a timely and comprehensive manner.
Keeping Metro Riders Safe: I spent several evenings attending ANC and civic association meetings in Wards 7 and 8, where incidents of violence at metro stations were pressing topics. When passengers ride our Metrorail, they should trust that it will be safe. I am deeply concerned about making sure our metro stations are well lit and properly functioning, and have supervisory personnel who can prevent and de-escalate potential physical altercations when needed. I support WMATA working with MPD to make sure we don’t see more incidents in the future, and I will be continuing to voice any security needs I hear from residents.
Have a great rest of the week, and thanks so much for reading.