Final budget negotiations are underway at the Wilson building, and this morning, advocates for a wide range of issues showed up to put a human face on their priorities.
The Save our Safety Net invasion of the Council’s breakfast began shortly before 10:00 a.m., later dissolving into marching and chanting and signs. But it didn’t take long for police officers to shoo them all down to the overflow room downstairs, once Room 500 itself was filled to capacity.
A group of elderly ladies from Vida Senior Center were less willing to leave, even when an officer threatened to remove them by force. “Tranquilo,” Center director Angel Luiz Irene told the ladies. And so they sat.
They had gathered to protest the slashed grantmaking budget of the Office of Latino Affairs, which funds English literacy and health programs for diabetics at the senior center. (Just now, Chairman Vince Gray announced that it had been restored by $200,000).
“It’s very important that we have English classes!” said Severina Early, who also lost a lot of weight through the center’s nutrition programs. “I would just beg the person in charge to help. That’s why we came.”
Also in attendance: Lobbyists for the beverage industry, in a last-minute attempt to head off a new form of soda tax that would extend the sales tax to cover “non-alcoholic beverages with natural or artificial sweeteners.” Chris Gindlesperger, of the national American Beverage Association, backed up Ellen Valentino of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association in making the case. (Their hit web site didn’t quite do the job).
“We believe there is no clear link between soft drinks and obesity,” Gindlesperger told Housing Complex. “To solve that issue, what you need is a comprehensive approach. Singling out our product won’t solve the problem.”
They were even joined by Kris Hart, owner of Foggy Bottom Grocery (FoBoGro), who as head of the Foggy Bottom West End Business Association has led the charge against taxing sugary drinks.
“Any kind of taxation is certainly going to end up biting us,” Hart said. “It’s a travesty. If I ran by business the way the D.C. government ran themselves, I’d have gone out of business ten years ago.”