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D.C. Council Passes $17.5 Billion Budget

The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously passed the $17.5 billion fiscal 2021 city budget that includes measures designed to bolster Ward 8 residents and struggling Washingtonians.

“I am proud of this budget and thank my colleagues and the many advocates and neighbors for working with me to ensure that we leveraged this budget opportunity to address the many inequities and challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and firmly set ourselves on a path to recovery,” D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) said.

The newly passed budget will go to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature. On Aug. 10, the mayor indicated in a news conference that “I’m going to sign it” and she got “99 percent of the things we need to get things done.”

After Bowser’s signature, the budget document will be transmitted to the U.S. Congress for congressional review. With the Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress, objections to the District’s budget are not expected. The budget will be implemented in the new fiscal year which begins on Oct. 1.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) expressed satisfaction with the budget saying the ward “has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, racial inequity, gun violence and much more.

“My priority is to ensure that the budget has funding to reflect these inequities and public safety is at the forefront of that list,” White said.

White said the $12.5 million to fund violence prevention and intervention programs emerged as a priority as his ward continues to grapple with gun violence and homicides, saying “these dollars will be distributed throughout multiple government agencies.”

He also praised such approved budgetary items as $5 million for youth mentoring grants, $13 million for the expansion of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center and the Congress Heights Recreation Center and $500,000 for programs such as the entrepreneur-fueled Dream Grants, a Ward 8 Homeownership initiative and a grant for the D.C. Commission on Poverty.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie’s (D-Ward 5) signature $32 million Child Wealth Building Act, popularly known as “baby bonds” and an $88 million second round of financial relief for workers and small businesses received approval from the council.

“The budget funds measures that break down structural barriers and further racial equity in the District,” McDuffie said. “The Child Wealth Building Act, Commercial Acquisition Fund [which helps small businesses have access to capital to purchase real estate], and guaranteed basic income all facilitate a more inclusive recovery that will not simply be a return to normal, but make lasting economic opportunities more accessible to all District residents. Critically, this budget provides additional financial relief for workers and small businesses most likely impacted by the pandemic as well as multiple Ward 5 priorities such as the new community center in Ivy Center and a new library in Eckington.”

CRITICISM OF NEW BUDGET

While many in the District praise the council for a budget that some say could lead the city to an economic recovery despite the coronavirus pandemic, there are some who say legislators didn’t go far enough.

Tazra Mitchell, the policy director at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, said “this year’s budget is one of the most important in D.C. history.”

“DCFPI praises the mayor and the council for seizing this unprecedented opportunity and making bold investments to address the ongoing suffering caused by the pandemic, which is disproportionately harming Black and Brown communities,” Mitchell said.

“The council’s vote to support unemployed and excluded workers, advance educational equity, and raise taxes on D.C. wealthiest to fund critical public goods will help create a just recovery that extends to all residents. While the budget springs us closer towards racial and economic justice, it falls short in a couple of areas.

Mitchell expressed disappointment that the council didn’t permanently remove DC Healthcare Alliance recertification requirements, which she said currently serves as a high barrier to residents with low incomes in need of health care coverage. She also chastised the council for failing to speed up the timeline for eliminating police officers in the school system to start later this month as children return to classes, rather than next summer.

“DCFPI is looking forward to working with District leaders to ensure that these historic investments are well-implemented, particularly engagement with the forthcoming task force charged with ensuring that early educators receive their compensation quickly and fairly,” she said.

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