Panel of experts at John A Wilson building
Eric Falquero

As the City Council convened an impromptu meeting on Monday, January 26 to discuss a projected budget shortfall, advocates with the Fair Budget Coalition (FBC) did their best to make sure each council member received a copy of the organization’s recommendations for Fiscal Year 2016.

A panel of contributing experts to the report drew 40-50 people into a Wilson Building room to discuss some of the reasoning behind each request.

“I wish the councilmembers could be here for the full discussion,” opened Executive Director Erika Taylor. “But we very much appreciate what they are doing and prefer they be upstairs right now.”

Taylor implied the council was looking for solutions to weather the shortfall without cutting human services and other crucial programs.

Fair Budget Coalition is a group of more than 80 dues-paying organizations and dozens of individuals, founded in 1994.

The Coalition’s mission is to advocate for a District budget and policies that address human needs for all residents. This year Taylor asked those in attendance to brand social media discussions of the budget priorities with the hashtag #weareALLdc, injecting an extra emphasis of inclusion on Bowser’s own branding “We Are DC.”

The FY2016 report was restricted to five issues FBC feels are critical, with multiple investment guidelines for each: Housing and Homelessness; Good Jobs, Workforce Development and Income Supports; Public Safety; Food, Health, and Nutrition; Tax and Revenue. The full report is available on www.FairBudget.org.

“The budget is a statement of our priorities,” At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman acknowledged. “Thank you for being here today, next time bring [even] more people!”

Each panelist explained how successfully ending poverty in their respective fields depended ultimately on the city budget.

Maria Gomez—President, CEO and founder of Mary’s Center, with an extensive background in health care—argued for year-round shelter. She said people left out on the street cannot heal or recuperate.

“We spend millions on emergency health care for someone in no position to improve,” Gomez said.

Lecester Johnson—CEO of Academy of Hope, with considerable experience in adult education and workforce development—argued for literacy and career pathways.

“19 percent of adults in the District are reading below basic level,” Johnson said. “These are people that have trouble reading a bus schedule.”

Tomaso Johnson—Policy Attorney at DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence—argued for increased baseline funding for the Office of Victim Services.

“Domestic violence happens disproportionately more in low-income areas,” Johnson said. “Poverty limits [a victim’s] options on what to do about it.”

In addition to compiling an annual recommendation for the next budget season, FBC organizes community participation in public meetings, comment periods and demonstrations to influence legislation and spending.

Monica Kamen hands a copy of Fair Budget coalition's FY2016 Budget Report to Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh.
Monday morning was not the first time council members had seen Fair Budget Coalition’s ideas. The group began working on their report in October 2014 soon after Fiscal Year 2015 went into effect. They have been reaching out to council members in recent months, according to Monica Kamen, FBC’s Advocacy Coordinator.

“Ideally all of our recommendations will make it into the mayor’s budget proposal and be adopted in the Council’s final 2016 budget,” Kamen said.

As of FBC’s report release, the coalition had not yet reached out to the Bowser administration. Coincidentally, the following day—Tuesday January 27—Bowser announced a series of forums to request community input on the budget. The three forums will all be held at area high schools in late February. Information and registration is available at www.MayorBowserBudgetForums.eventbrite.com.

Councilmember At-Large David Grosso commended Fair Budget Coalition for their forward thinking.

“I appreciate how you’ve put this together,” Grosso said. “You’re getting ahead of the Mayor’s budget.”

Panelist after panelist presented staggering data and evidence-based conclusions from their fields. However it only took one person experiencing these situations to impact the whole room.
Carol, having joined the panel with Nassim Moshiree of The Washington Clinic for the Homeless, began to tear up halfway through sharing her story.

“In the past I sat on panels as an educated expert, now I’m on the other end of the spectrum,” Carol lamented.

Carol has worked in education for many years: a principal, special education instructor, and school administrator. That day she aimed to teach about the realities of living on the street.

“We’re leaving many to sleep in laundromats…excuse me…underpasses and on heating grates; to experience discrimination; and to acquire or exacerbate chronic health conditions,” Carol said.
“Long term homelessness puts a programmatic strain on all aspects of any government.”

Albert Townsend, also formerly homeless, addressed the three council members in attendance about his success as a community advocate with the People for Fairness Coalition and recent receipt of an advocacy fellowship from Miriam’s Kitchen. Townsend implored the council to incorporate homeless or formerly homeless consultants on their staff to better inform day-to-day policy decisions.

New Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen thanked the Coalition for empowering he and his colleagues to be better internal advocates for the priorities presented.

“I know I can count on you guys to be in our face when we need you to be,” Allen said.