A close up of some of the full council at the vote.
credit: DCCouncil.us

The D.C. Council approved a $13.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2018 on May 30, funnelling more dollars to public education and affordable housing initiatives than Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed in April.

Boosting D.C. Public Schools’ budget by $11.5 million and D.C. Public Charter Schools’ by $7.2 million, fiscal year 2018’s budget continues Bowser’s priority to create a budget that allocates the most funding for public education in D.C. history.

D.C. Council will may now slightly adjust the bill and will return for a June 13 legislative meeting to discuss, potentially amend and vote to enact the now-engrossed bill.

“To the extent the committee changes have been made, while they are significant in meeting community and council priorities, they affect a fraction of [Mayor Bowser’s] proposal,” Chairman Phil Mendelson said during the Committee of the Whole Meeting.

Funding for homeless services and prevention programs was extended by almost $12.2 million by the council, which will provide nearly 600 additional beds and units for families and individuals fighting homelessness, according to the budget.

To allow the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness to reach its goals for the first year of its strategic plan to help homeless youth, the Council dedicated funding from the Department of Human Services by more than $2 million for 165 more slots and units, according to the budget.

The budget also added $2.2 million more to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides low-income families with child care, cash and work readiness training assistance, according to the budget. The council’s addition brings total program investment to about $10.3 million for FY2018.

The Council reallocated $3 million originally for the rapid rehousing program, which places recipients in housing with a lease and subsidizes that housing for a limited time while the beneficiary looks for work. Bowser originally proposed 130 rapid rehousing units for families but advocates have recently testified before D.C. Council  against the rapid rehousing model’s effectiveness. These arguments are summarized and supported in the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless’ report “Set Up to Fail,” released in early May, which found that 45 percent of families in the program end up in eviction court and only two out of every five participating families are able to maintain their housing when the rapid rehousing subsidy ends. The $3 million will instead fund targeted affordable housing vouchers and permanent supportive housing to put 35 families in stable housing.

Overall, the Department of Human Services saw a decrease of more than $210,000 from Bower’s proposed budget under the Council’s budget.

After the mayor’s budget was released, the Fair Budget Coalition requested more funding to supply housing for 1,303 individuals and 1,296 families, according to a list of priorities from the advocacy group.

The Council added funds for an additional 196 supportive housing options and 138 affordable units for individuals, not including youth, and families, respectively, according to the final budget. The mayor’s proposal already added 202 and 262 of these housing options for individuals and families, respectively.

At-large Councilmember David Grosso expressed his disappointment that the budget did not further support education and housing programs within the city. Grosso proposed amendments to limit estate and business tax cuts and provide more services for the poor. His proposals were ultimately declined by the council.

At-large Councilmember Robert White said the tax cuts make up a necessary strategic financial decision to support the programs in the future.

“Building and maintaining these and other social programs requires a strong and balanced economy because when we lose revenue, we are forced to cut these programs,” White said.

Beginning in 2018, the District is expected to have the most progressive tax reform in the nation, according to the budget.

Following the mayor’s budget release, Legal Clinic Attorney Amber Harding estimated an additional $25 million would be needed to effectively invest in housing vouchers and permanent supportive housing services, according to her testimony with the council.

“I think we all agree that D.C. has an affordable housing crisis of massive proportions, and that homelessness is the acute, urgent edge of that crisis,” she said in the testimony.