Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser's decision to reverse mask and vaccine mandates has attracted fast pushback. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The American Rescue Plan did indeed rescue D.C. The Biden administration’s $350 billion in direct aid to cities, counties, and states meant Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration could increase spending on education, housing, and violence interruption in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, which takes effect Oct. 1.

The proposed budget of $17.5 billion increased by about 3.9 percent over the current one. The local portion of the budget that city officials directly control, which totals $9.1 billion, increased by 4.9 percent. The majority of the growth comes from federal dollars. These dollars must be used over the next four years. 

Last year, Bowser’s team leaned on D.C.’s savings and surpluses, as well as hiring and pay freezes for government employees, to address revenue shortfalls and balance the budget. As of this month, the city witnessed a $217 million increase in revenues. The governmental hiring freeze has been lifted, and employees should receive delayed raises including cost of living adjustments. 

“We all should be very proud that we have weathered the financial impacts of COVID,” Bowser said at Thursday’s budget presentation event. 

What’s in the budget? 

In a presentation to the Council and the public on Thursday, Bowser’s team explained the 2022 budget. Here are the highlights: 

  • A 3.6 percent increase to the per-student funding formula, which funds public schools—a slight increase from last year’s proposal. 
  • $8 million to expand mental health services in public schools. 
  • $29 million over the next three years to rethink work-based learning initiatives in high schools. 
  • $12 million for a new pilot program that helps families avoid benefit cliffs in rental subsidies, cash assistance, and food assistance once they advance in their careers. 
  • $46 million for two new paid family leave benefits, one for prenatal medical leave and the other for domestic violence/stalking/sexual abuse recovery leave. 
  • $400 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund, which supports affordable housing—a major increase from last year’s proposal. 
  • $42 million for project-sponsored housing vouchers.
  • $67 million to purchase buildings that will become permanent supportive housing or deeply affordable housing. 
  • $113 million to rehabilitate or replace public housing. 
  • $11 million to support returning citizens with cash assistance and financial coaching.
  • $7.8 million to hire additional violence interrupters. 
  • $5.6 million to create 110 employment opportunities for people at risk of gun violence.
  • $6.8 million for state agencies to help them respond to non-emergency 911 calls related to mental health distress, traffic incidents, and parking complaints. 
  • $49 million to expand subsidized employment and job training. 
  • $15 million for cash assistance for workers who don’t qualify for unemployment. 
  • $58 million over the next three years to expand access to grocery stores and sit-down restaurants in Wards 7 and 8.
  • $8 million for art venues to help them reopen. 
  • $116 million for the K Street Transitway, a project that will create protected bus and bike lanes through downtown. 
  • $351 million for streetscapes, trials, and the Vision Zero initiative to end traffic fatalities. 

While plenty of programs and priorities got a boost in funding, the Metropolitan Police Department saw a decrease of about $37 million due to a staffing reduction. The mayor, however, would like to hire an additional 135 officers. The police force is currently around 3,600 officers.

The budget avoids any new taxes or increases, and instead proposes fee waivers and one-time tax cuts including one on businesses that pay into the paid family leave program. The payroll tax cut goes from 0.62 percent to 0.27 percent, meaning $168 million returns to businesses.

The federal government provided $3.3 billion to D.C. City officials explained how they would use $2.5 billion of those stimulus dollars during their presentation: The most money, or $505.1 million, went to affordable housing, followed by $483.2 million to businesses devastated by the pandemic and $387.6 million to impacted residents. They are waiting on federal guidance or agencies’ spending plans before explaining how every dollar could be accounted for. (See the mayor’s full presentation HERE.)

What do people think? Here are some initial reactions: 

The left-leaning DC Fiscal Policy Institute applauded the mayor for her investment in affordable housing and direct economic support to residents, but still had some criticism of the document. “Among the misses, Mayor Bowser’s budget falls short on support for excluded workers, like immigrants who are undocumented and were left out of federal relief,” the think tank shares in a statement. “The Mayor also underinvests in long-term needs for early education and unwisely spends limited federal dollars on more school security and school resource officers. Moreover, much of her plan includes one-time or short-term investments—without equitable revenue raising options that would allow DC lawmakers to sustain momentum for broadening prosperity once federal dollars expire.”

The teachers’ advocacy group Empower Ed is happy with the investments in school-based mental health, but disappointed the budget did not include funding for a “Grow Your Own” program that aims to boost diversity by investing in pathways for high school students and paraprofessionals to become licensed educators. “The budget does fund $3.4 million for students to become police officers, but fails to fund our request (for a 1/3 of the price) to provide pathways to become educators. What does that say about our priorities?” the group says in a statement. 

15-year-old Ivy City resident Mya Stuckey, meanwhile, is celebrating. “Personally, I’m thinking about just getting like one of those little sheet cakes — nothing bigger than, like, a foot,” she tells DCist. “And getting some juice boxes for all my little friends around the neighborhood. And just celebrating, because we’re steps in the right direction. We’re not totally at the end, but we’re getting closer than we were before.” Why? The mayor’s budget includes $20 million to build a community center and park at the long-shuttered Crummell School in Ivy City. There has been nowhere for children to play in the neighborhood for years

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie too is happy that the mayor’s budget provides funding for an Ivy City recreational center, something he, his constituents, and activists have long advocated for. However, he is sad to see the mayor’s budget not fund his proposals for “baby bonds” or a guaranteed basic income pilot program. “Our City has one of the worst racial wealth gaps in the country; not funding programs that intentionally address this disparity defers the dream of real racial equity for another year,” he says in a statement. 

Ward 1 Councilmember Breanne Nadaeu is upset the mayor’s budget doesn’t seem to include funding for a redevelopment plan that her office agreed to at a public housing community in her ward. “There is much to celebrate in the proposed FY22 budget but I am outraged by a change to the Park Morton project without input from residents, the Council, or the ANC,” she tweeted. “I will be doing all I can to restore the vision of 100s of new affordable housing units & new parks in Ward 1.”

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen still plans to propose a modest tax increase on high-income earners. Allen’s proposal died last budget cycle. The Council may have enough members for it to pass this time around. “The federal dollars that have come in, they’re the life buoy,” he tells the Post. “They’re really significant and really helpful, but they’re also one-time.”

At the presentation, councilmembers largely thanked the mayor and her team for their generosity in the budget. However, they had plenty of questions and suggestions. “The devil is always in the details,” said At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson near the end of the presentation. 

The Council has 54 days to make any changes to the mayor’s budget. A vote is expected July 20. Budget oversight hearings begin next week, so the public will have an opportunity to testify.

Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips?

  • Only one coronavirus metric is in the red, at Phase 0/1 levels: Positive cases interviewed by contact tracers. Since May 21, D.C. has seen minimal community spread. To see today’s coronavirus cases and more information, visit our coronavirus dashboard. [EOM]
  • Sources tell WTOP that Mayor Bowser did not accept the resignation of the Department of Forensic director. Bowser declined to say, calling it a personnel matter. [WTOP]
  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is asking the Biden Administration to let public housing residents smoke weed at home because it’s legal under D.C. law. [DCist]
  • D.C.’s DMV brings back parallel parking requirement in driving tests. [DCist

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