Lobbying on Behalf of District Children and Youth

https-cdn.evbuc.comimages308723252063897423991originalBeyond voting or joining a well publicized march or rally, many citizens are unsure how to become politically engaged.  One of the most effective ways to have an impact on public policy is to tell your local representatives what you want.  Lobbying is not just for professionals paid by corporate interest groups.  In fact, government and the institutions they regulate are far more fair, just and equitable when regular citizens like you and me show up at their office and insist that they listen to what we have to say.

With that in mind, the DC Alliance for Youth Advocates (DCAYA) will meet with Councilmembers and staff to advocate for a more youth-friendly District budget for FY2018 at the Wilson Building on Thursday, May 11.  According to the DCAYA, the District’s proposed FY2018 budget leaves significant funding gaps for a number of key programs that could better address the needs of  children and youth.

Council markup on the mayor’s proposed budget is scheduled for May 16-18, so May 11 is a critical time to reach out to members and remind them of the importance of our budget asks for DC’s youth, which include:

  • Transportation: $2 million to extend transportation subsidies to adult and alternative learners through the School Transit Subsidy Program
  • Youth Homelessness: Up to $3.3 million more to fully fund the Year One objectives of the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness
  • Expanded Learning: An additional $5.1 million to fund the new Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and better meet the need for quality youth development programming
  • Youth Workforce Development: A comprehensive implementation plan for coordinating and funding youth workforce development initiatives to build on the progress of DC’s WIOA State Plan
  • Per-Pupil Funding: A 3.5% increase in per-pupil funding in the FY18 budget to bring DCPS closer to an adequate standard for education funding next school year
  • Proposed Tax Cuts: Ensure revenue is available to fund these and other critical priorities by delaying the $40 million in estate tax and business tax cuts slated for 2018

For more information, contact Jamie Kamlet Fragale, Director of Advocacy and Communications for Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School, or CLICK HERE.

 

Will the District’s Budget Recognize the Struggles of Low-Income Residents?

Cross-posted from the Washington Post

Eviction “is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty,” argues sociologist Matthew Desmond in his book Evicted. A recent report released from the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers suggests that the two — seemingly intractable poverty and the struggle for safe, affordable housing — are inextricably linked here in the District. Housing instability and the fear of homelessness are the greatest worries of our most vulnerable neighbors.

But that list of anxieties is long, according to this new report. We dubbed the nearly three-and-a-half year undertaking that led to its issuance the “Community Listening Project” because we wanted to capture more than just impersonal data on the needs of individuals living in poverty. We wanted to hear about the problems they face and the strengths of their communities in their words.

Led by Faith Mullen, a clinical law professor, and Enrique Pumar, a sociologist, both at the Catholic University of America, the study is an exhaustive, qualitative analysis of focus group and survey responses from more than 700 D.C. residents whose household incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. (By 2013, roughly 228,300 people, or 35 percent of the District’s population, met this standard.) Its findings paint an illuminating, complex portrait of the lives of those among us struggling, and too often failing, to make ends meet.

Survey participants reported difficulty satisfying basic needs. Two-thirds worried about finding and maintaining adequate, stable shelter, and one in three said that keeping a roof over their heads was the most serious challenge they experienced in the past two years. Those who had housing reported enduring horrendous conditions — lack of heat or hot water, broken appliances, electrical hazards, mold, rodents — just to stay in it.

“There was a leak on the roof for two years that ruined my furniture,” said one survey participant. “I want to move out but can’t afford to.” Like so many others we met through the project, she undoubtedly knew if she gave up this home, she may never find another that fit her budget. And that meant she might end up with no home at all. Who knows where a complaint to the landlord or withholding rent might lead, but it usually isn’t worth the chance. Affordable housing in the District is too scarce.

Food insecurity is also a profound problem for D.C. residents living in or on the cusp of poverty. Almost half of survey participants reported “frequently” or “occasionally” worrying about whether they would have enough food for themselves and their families. Full-time employment was no insulation from these hardships; large numbers of working adults (and their children) experienced anxiety over food and housing.

Jobs remain elusive. Those that are open seem unattainable to the people who most need work. “I can’t find a job,” said one survey participant, “because I have no place to live, no place to get ready for an interview and no money to get to an interview.” These bleak realities, however, don’t keep those who are unemployed from continuing to try: Many survey participants who were homeless identified finding work — not housing — as their greatest challenge.

Continue reading Will the District’s Budget Recognize the Struggles of Low-Income Residents?

Not Enough Money for Low-Income DC Residents, But Tax Cut for Wealthy Unchanged

Cross-posted from Poverty & Policy
Written by Kathryn Baer

As you local readers probably know, the DC Council passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year last week. Some changes in what the Mayor had proposed for programs that serve low-income residents.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s overview of the budget confirms what I’d expected. Mostly, a bit more here, a bit more there. No more for some critical priorities. And less for at least one. (The one large, new investment it cites — for new family shelters — isn’t part of the budget proper.)

I suppose we’ll be told that the Council did its best with what it had to work with. I don’t know because I don’t know nearly enough about the funding needs and prospective impacts of every program and service the budget covers.

But I do know that the Council could have had more revenues to work with. It had only to postpone — or better yet, repeal — the tax cuts prior legislation has made automatic whenever revenues rise above the estimate used for the latest budget.

The triggers have already reduced otherwise available revenues by many millions of dollars — dollars the Council could have used to shore up under-funded programs.

So much water under the bridge. And as the Chairman, who likes those triggers says, the revenues lost from cuts not yet triggered couldn’t have been used for the new budget. But the Council could have had them to spend as early as next fiscal year — and thereafter.

All tax cuts are not created equal, of course. Some on the pending list will benefit residents who’ve got enough income to owe taxes, but not a lot.

The second cut on that list, however, is a higher threshold for the estate tax. The most recent revenue forecast indicates that it will lock in soon, DCFPI’s latest account of the trigger impacts says.

So henceforth, no assets a deceased resident leaves to heirs will be taxable until they’re worth $2 million — twice the current minimum.

As things stand now, this will be the first of two estate tax cuts. The second — and considerably larger — will raise the threshold to the same minimum as applies to the federal estate tax, currently $5.45 million.

Why the District should embrace a regressive measure gained in a crisis by Congressional Republicans who could never be elected here baffles me.

True, the Tax Revision Commission recommended parity with the federal threshold, including the ongoing upward adjustments for inflation. But the Council could have taken a pass, just as it has on the revenue-raisers in the Commission’s package.

The District will forfeit $18.8 million next fiscal year alone, according to DCFPI’s estimate. And for what?

Not so that more money can pass to charities tax free. Bequests to them are already exempt. Not so that surviving spouses will have more to live on, since what passes directly to them will also still reduce the value of what counts toward the threshold.

Not even necessarily what other heirs wind up with, since a will-maker can give them as much as $14,000* each or the equivalent every year while still alive — again reducing the value of what’s potentially taxable afterwards.

The estate tax giveaway won’t just make larger investments in programs that reduce hardships for poor and near-poor residents unnecessarily difficult. It will increase income inequality in the District by giving the rich more, as well as denying the poor supports and services that help close the income gap from the bottom.

And the gap will grow from one generation to the next in part because of the way the taxable value of assets is determined. Essentially, it’s set at their value when the person bequeathing them dies.

So heirs pay capital gains taxes when they sell the assets for more, but no tax on how much the assets’ value increased between the time they were purchased and the time inherited.

And, of course, heirs don’t have to sell them. They can pass them along to their heirs, compounding the revenue loss — and wealth at the top of the income scale.

The estate tax then is a way of partly recouping the loss and, at the same time, averting a rollback to the inordinate wealth concentration of the Robber Baron days.

The higher the threshold, the less an already-shaky control on income inequality can do. And the gap between the richest and poorest District households is already very large — larger, indeed, than the DCFPI analysis I’m linking to shows because it doesn’t drill down to the top 1%.

Their incomes averaged well over $1.9 million in 2012, the latest year I’ve found figures for. This, recall, is income for a single year, not also what could readily be converted to income.

Now, no one — not even Bernie Sanders — is talking about taking so much from the rich and giving it to the rest that incomes would be equal. Nor is anyone talking about taking all the wealth the rich have accumulated when they die.

The major focus — and DCFPI’s recommendations reflect it — is reducing the gap by lifting incomes at the bottom and making those incomes more sufficient for basic needs, e.g., by ramping up investments in housing they can afford.

Not all income-lifting measures would require the District to spend more public funds. But some surely will, including workforce development and (you knew I was going to go here) reforms in the rigid Temporary Assistance for Needy Families time limit policy.

Leaving the estate tax threshold where it is won’t give the District as much more tax revenue as it needs. But the giveaway isn’t chump change either.

And it’s got nothing going for it, except a hugely successful and duplicitous PR campaign. Surely Councilmembers know better. And I’d like to think their donors not only know better, but want better for our community.

* This is the current threshold for the federal gift tax, which will rise over time to keep pace with inflation. The District has no gift tax.

No Shortage of Ideas for Better, More Affordable Child Care

Cross-posted from Poverty & Policy
Written by Kathryn Baer

I’m on somewhat of a tear about high-quality, affordable child care, as you who follow this blog know. That’s in part because I’ve discovered so much that I didn’t know and felt an urge to share.

So I’ve dealt with the extraordinarily high costs of unsubsidized care and the barrier that poses to low-income families. And I’ve dealt with quality standards and related factors.

In both posts, I’ve dwelt on money — or more precisely, lack of enough to give all low-income children, especially infants and toddlers the high-quality care they need when their parents need them to have it.

So time now to look beyond the defects to policy solutions. We’ve got a range, as I’ve already said.

DCCHILDCAREOne focuses strictly on what childcare workers get paid — an aspect of quality, for several reasons I’ve already tried to capture. The Fight for $15 campaign has broadened its original fast-food base by recruiting childcare workers. They too are speaking out for that increase in the minimum wage.

Sad to say, a victory would probably increase average earnings for childcare workers nationwide and in the District of Columbia, though the conventional phase-in for increases makes it hard to be sure.

The District may have a $15 minimum wage in 2020 — the last phase-in year set by what could be on the November ballot and by a bill the Mayor has sent to the DC Council. If it were effective now, it would increase the average childcare work wage.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute and DC Appleseed want the District to do something that would enable childcare providers to raise workers’ wages sooner and apparently higher, without cutting back on subsidized slots or spending less on other program quality components, e.g., educational materials, professional development.

The partners recommend increasing reimbursement rates for providers that care for children with subsidies. The measure they use for shortfalls, though not necessarily for their recommendation is 75% of what providers charge for unsubsidized care.

This is what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has long recommended. Not, however, to great effect. Only one state reimbursed at about this level last year — significantly fewer than in 2001.

One can readily infer that public funding hasn’t kept pace with need. What we know for sure is that total federal funding in 2014 dropped to its lowest level in twelve years.

Yet states and the District face a further potential cost crunch now that Congress has revamped the Child Care and Development Block Grant — the single largest source of federal funds for programs that serve poor and near-poor families.

CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center suggest that it needs more funding, even for states and the District to serve as many eligible children as they have at the same subsidy rates because they’ll have to spend more to meet the new requirements, including larger quality investments.

Continue reading No Shortage of Ideas for Better, More Affordable Child Care

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Other Speeches

As we commemorate that life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it occurred to me that it might be nice to hear something other than his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  As King neared the end of his life, he became more and more radical.  These two speeches demonstrate how little has changed since his death.

March 14, 1967,  Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at Grosse Pointe High School outside Detroit. It was one of King’s last public speeches before his assassination three weeks later in Memphis, Tenn.

“Hitler was a very sick man. He was one of the great tragedies of history. But he was very honest. He took his racism to its logical conclusion…”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from The Other America.

“Again we have diluted ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard word and sacrifice, the fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor both black and white, both here and abroad.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from The Three Evils of White American Society.