Chuck Bradley (at podium) counted among dozens who converged on the John A. Wilson Building in demand of funds for excluded workers on May 16. (Marckell Williams/The Washington Informer)
Chuck Bradley (at podium) counted among dozens who converged on the John A. Wilson Building in demand of funds for excluded workers on May 16. (Marckell Williams/The Washington Informer)

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The D.C. Council stepped closer to passing the fiscal year 2024 budget with the unanimous approval of legislation that restores funding to some of the programming Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) cut in her budget proposal earlier this year. 

The dozen council members who were present approved what’s known as the Fiscal Year 2024 Local Budget Act. D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), who’s recovering from a recent surgery unrelated to his 2021 stroke, was absent. 

On May 30, the D.C. Council will vote on the Fiscal Year 2024 Local Budget Act for the second and final time. 

An accompanying piece of legislation, titled the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Support Act, includes more than 70 subtitles that support the implementation of the Fiscal Year 2024 Local Budget Act. The D.C. Council also unanimously supported it. 

Hours before the first budget season vote, organizers converged on the John A. Wilson Building to fight for the restoration of funds for excluded workers via an amendment by Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) that extends a soon-expiring deed tax on District properties valued at $2 million or more. 

During the council meeting, Parker introduced, and later withdrew, the amendment after his colleagues piled on a bevy of concerns about the tax code and unforeseen effects on the business community and downtown development. 

Throughout much of Tuesday morning, Chuck Bradley, a returning citizen and street vendor who’s facing housing insecurity, had remained hopeful that the D.C. Council would ultimately restore funding for social programs, and especially COVID-era payments for excluded workers that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) reallocated. 

“So many people need assistance,” Bradley said. “The government [is] always working [to hire] more police, but as far as the homeless, disabled and mentally ill, they’re not serving them so you have issues where police officers don’t know how to address the mentally ill,” he added. “How long should a person be fighting for disability money and their apartment when they got their vouchers? The government wants us to believe they’re working in our favor but they have to show us.” 

A Vigorous Debate About School Safety, Ward 8 Funding Sources, and an Expiring Deed Tax 

In his opening statement about extending the deeds tax, Parker said revenue generated would restore funding for the excluded worker COVID-era compensation, SNAP, and the No Senior Hungry program in addition to the expansion of the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, the emergency rental assistance program, and housing vouchers. 

In response to concerns about its impact on downtown revitalization, Parker noted that rental conversions downtown would be exempt from his amendment. That however didn’t prevent pushback from Council members Kenyan McDuffie (I-At large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), who said they wouldn’t support the amendment out of regard for downtown revitalization goals.  

Moments earlier, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) expressed similar concern about taxes possibly turning away investors. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At large), who also said she wouldn’t vote for the deed tax extension, described $2 million as too low of a threshold for buildings that would be affected. 

Council member Anita Bond (D-At large) later said that business owners, who she called part of the community, mustn’t be harmed. Council members Matt Frumin (D-Ward 3) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) later asked that the council wait for the D.C. Tax Revision Commission to come back with recommendations for changes to the tax code.  

Amid the ongoing discussion about whether to remove school resource officers (SROs), Parker also introduced an amendment that launches a task force dedicated to determining the ideal scenario, in place of SROs, that ensures school safety. 

Council members Robert White (D-At large), Pinto, Frumin and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) expressed support for Parker’s SRO amendment. In his comments, McDuffie requested more of a robust discussion about safety in recreation centers and other public places where youth congregate. 

Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) attempted to introduce amendments that modernize Marvin Gaye Recreation Center in Northeast, renovate Eastern High School’s stadium, and install lights on Johnson Middle School’s football field. 

During a pre-council rally that took place on the front steps of the Wilson Building, White said that funding these endeavors would require taking money from east-of-the-Anacostia River trailway projects earmarked in the D.C. Department of Transportation’s budget. Mendelson would later implore White to wait until the second budget meeting to clarify the fiscal impact of these projects. 

Key elements of the Fiscal Year 2024 Local Budget Act include an allocation of $10 million for housing vouchers and reversals to cuts to Access to Justice, a program through which residents obtain legal aid. The budget also protects seniors’ access to essential services, launches a social worker pipeline program and teacher flexible scheduling program, and maximizes mechanisms for transparency within the D.C. Housing Authority.  

The council’s legislation also reinstated the Baby Bonds program that McDuffie championed. On Tuesday, McDuffie expressed concerns about whether Mendelson’s subtitle expanding the ride-share congestion tax beyond downtown would fulfill its purpose in generating revenue. 

McDuffie, Parker and other council members rallied around their Ward 8 colleague’s call for equity and support for the District’s blackest ward. Hours earlier, during his rally and presser, White said he would call on his fellow council members to do right by his constituents and all marginalized Washingtonians. 

“My colleagues mean well and come with good intentions but it means no good if we don’t put our money where our mouth is,” White said Tuesday morning. “This is our first shot at the budget,” he added. “We want to create a budget that’s inclusive. We know that our schools are falling apart. Anacostia’s auditorium looks like something from 1973. We expect our young people to do well in deplorable conditions. We see cuts in violent prevention, mentoring, parental support.” 

Excluded Workers Speak Up 

Starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, excluded workers flocked to the front steps of the Wilson Building to greet council members as they prepared for the first budget vote. They interacted with Mendelson, Henderson, Ward 8 Council member White, Frumin, Parker, and Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1). 

Had Parker’s amendment been embraced, excluded workers, a class of workers who were not eligible for state unemployment benefits or federal COVID-related funds, would have received the last $1,200 installment of COVID relief that their counterparts received several months ago. 

Events DC, the agency tasked with releasing more than $20 million in support to 15,000 excluded workers, was in the process of doing so before Bowser removed those funds. Nadeau spoke out against Bowsser’s decision, and later the council’s pushback against Parker’s amendment.  

“People were expecting those funds those years,” Nadeau said. “ The people out [in front of The John A. Wilson Building] are there because they felt the money was stolen from them. People have gone into debt to pay their rent. They hadn’t been made whole. An amendment would restore that.” 

Evelin Lopez, a mother of two and an adult student who lives in Northeast, counted among those who held signs in front of the Wilson Building, played music, and greeted council members. She recounted struggling to feed her children during the pandemic, and the relief she felt knowing she had been approved for funds. 

Receiving them, she said, became another hurdle that she was hoping to overcome. For the time being at least, that would not be a possibility. 

“My rent is a lot of money,” Lopez said. “I have bills and [have to] buy a lot of food. I felt so happy about the money [because] it helped me a lot with my children. When I got sick with COVID, we had nothing to eat and my son screamed [after] eating cereal all day. It made me so sad.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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