DC Mayor’s Budget Requests Increased Social Program Funds

Representing a $600 million increase in city spending from the previous fiscal year, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) 2018 budget proposes a greater allocation of funds to affordable housing, public education and infrastructure repairs.

Presenting the budget to the D.C. Council on Tuesday, Bowser said the $13.8 billion plan, titled D.C. Values in Action, will improve programs to increase standards of living in all eight wards of the District.

“This budget fulfills our commitment to promote and defend D.C. Values and to aim for inclusive prosperity,” Bowser wrote in a press release Tuesday. “From historic investments in public education, to investments in job training, second chances for returning citizens, and ensuring our families have a safe, affordable place to call home, this budget prioritizes D.C. residents by standing steadfast to our D.C. values.”

D.C. Council will now review the proposal before voting on it.

However, councilmembers from Wards 7 and 8 criticized Bowser’s proposed $13.8 billion plan for not addressing health care and public safety.

“After reading most of this budget, I can’t reconcile the title with the actions proposed,” Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) said Thursday at a council budget hearing. “This should be a policy document reflecting what the residents want.”

Washington finished the 2017 fiscal year with a $128 million surplus and more than $1 billion reserved for a rainy-day fund, but Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) criticized the proposal for leaving the city’s poorest residents out.

“The poor are getting poorer, but there are cranes in the sky, and we are growing by leaps and bounds,” White said at the Thursday hearing.

The budget proposes a $105 million increase in funding for D.C. Public Schools and public charter schools to address the needs of the growing student population within the District and to provide more resources for charter schools.

About $2.3 million will be allocated to the creation of an office to help residents who recently left jail or prison, and $100 million are dedicated to producing and maintaining affordable housing, including funds to expand the New Communities Initiative, a program designed to restore dilapidated subsidized housing in the District.

Additionally, the budget proposes a series of programs under the umbrella program Pathways to the Middle Class. Bowser said the program is inspired by her belief that the city can and must uplift all of the members of the community in order to ensure the highest standard of living possible.

“Maintaining a strong, diverse, and resilient city requires that every resident has a fair shot, and a pathway to the middle class,” Bowser wrote. “This is accomplished by supporting our most vulnerable families and residents; providing job training that leads to real employment opportunities; and by nurturing our small businesses to ensure their growth and success.”

Funding for the Pathways to the Middle Class program includes more than $20 million for youth summer programs, full funding for the District’s share of the Washington Metro Area Transit Association’s budget and nearly $1 million for the Department of Small and Local Business Development’s Certified Business Enterprise, which helps area local businesses obtain government contracts.

Additionally, the budget allocates $16.8 million towards the D.C. Infrastructure Academy at Saint Elizabeth East, the site of a formerly self-contained mental health community in Anacostia. The facility is designed to focus on occupational skills training and work-based learning initiatives related to the infrastructure industry, including utility, energy efficiency, transportation and logistics sectors.

Bowser’s office said it plans for this program to offer various skills training, allowing residents the tools to begin and sustain careers in the infrastructure industry.

The D.C. Council will review the proposal and hold hearings during the coming months to receive testimony from area agencies, advisory neighborhood commissions, the advocacy community, other organizations and private citizens. Committees from these groups identify additional needs as well as report on how the budget may impact them.

After all committees mark up their reports, the Council’s Office of the Budget Director will prepare a draft report incorporating recommendations.

According to Bowser’s press release, the budget proposal was born out of direct input from District residents, as well as input from local organizations and committees. For the third consecutive year, Bowser hosted a series of budget engagement forums to hear from residents about their ideas and concerns about items including education, public safety, affordable housing, jobs, economic development, health and human services.

“The Budget Engagement Forums allow me to hear directly from residents about their values and priorities,” Bowser wrote in a February 22 press release. “The values and priorities of Washingtonians, are the values and priorities of our government — we want the budget to reflect this.”

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