D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser gives a high-five to 4-year-old Frankie after a press conference on Aug. 18 in Northwest announcing the one-time back-to-school payment of $1,000 to D.C. families receiving TANF. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser gives a high-five to 4-year-old Frankie after a press conference on Aug. 18 in Northwest announcing the one-time back-to-school payment of $1,000 to D.C. families receiving TANF. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

During back-to-school season, legions of families both in the D.C. area and across the country, flock to stores and malls with shopping lists in hand and stress weighing heavily on their mind as they break the bank to purchase school supplies, clothes and other needed items.

For Ben-James Brown, meeting these obligations at the end of the summer requires some advanced planning and utilization of other resources. Brown, a local father and vice president/regional banking district manager for Wells Fargo, recently divulged some money-saving strategies for families. 

At a time when glue, tape, pencils and pens have experienced an uptick in price, Brown encouraged families to tap into community resources, like back-to-school giveaways, and to shop in bulk for back-to-school supplies and clothes. 

He also suggested that families take stock of what they already have in their homes.  

“When you’re thinking about school supplies, we have a ton of pens, paper and pencils in our arsenal at home in couches and bowls,” Brown said during an August 19 WIN-TV broadcast. “We don’t think about that and buy these things and come back home and notice we have them.” 

The National Retail Federation estimated back-to-school spending to reach $37.1 billion this year, compared to $33.9 billion last year. Families of K-12 students can expect to spend nearly $900 on clothes, school supplies and other materials. Inflation has exacerbated this issue, especially for families with precarious employment situations. 

In response to the current situation, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and DC Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Laura Zeilinger recently announced a one-time disbursement of $1,000 for 15,000 families enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The funds, allocated from the federal Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund, will reach their accounts at the end of August. 

During an employment and resource fair at the Frederick Douglass Community Center on Alabama Avenue in Southeast, Natasha George, a Ward 8 resident who lost her job during the pandemic, reflected on the help she received through a program facilitated by DHS and Grant Services, a workforce placement program.

Zeilinger, who explored the science of economic stress and academic performance, highlighted other services provided by the D.C. government, including $41 million in food assistance for children and teenagers. 

“The mayor has continued to support our mission to make sure families have what they need [and] about 15,000 households receiving TANF will receive just that,” Zeilinger said. “These parents are experts in what they need for their children. “ 

Though news of the grant elicited much applause, some residents, particularly those with multiple children, expressed their qualms about housing affordability. One man, who engaged Bowser during a question-and-answer session, lamented not being able to access housing programs and help the mothers of his children. 

Bowser later implored housing insecure families to seek help from in-school specialists who can connect them with wraparound services. 

Ward 8 parent Beatrice Stevenson has four children attending elementary and middle schools this fall. She said the $1,000 grant might not be as helpful to households with several children. She also pointed out that the school year starts before the funds are scheduled to be deposited into her account. 

Even so, she had in mind where the money would go.

 “I’m mainly [buying] uniforms, shoes and school supplies,” Stevenson said. “I do a lot by myself and get by with less than $900 a month. Benefits should be more. There could be more opportunities for single mothers and fathers.” 

Morgan Wingate, a mother of four, echoed those sentiments. She said she’s currently searching for a part-time job that will allow her to take her children to and from school.

“It’s hard for everyone regardless of [the amount of] children they have and assistance,” said Wingate, a Northwest resident. “The money would be a big help but a bigger help to someone with a smaller family.”

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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