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Remarks on the First Reading of the FY 2024 Budget

Thank you, Chairman Mendelson. I agree that, when we compare this budget to what it looked like in March, we are in a remarkably better place. The Budget Office and all of our staff deserve an immense amount of credit and congratulations for what we’ve been able to accomplish here, and I hope everyone can get some rest soon.

I think my first public comments on the Mayor’s budget back in March were about Emergency Rental Assistance, so I want to start my remarks there. Right now, I am proud to be a member of this Council, that I feel presented a united front to increase funding for ERAP by a substantial amount.

As we saw just recently in the point-in-time count, there have been increases in residents and families experiencing homelessness across the board, after many years of significant progress. This budget’s funding for ERAP is going to be critical to catch more people before they enter that free fall into the cycle of homelessness. 

The Chairman’s addition of over 200 new permanent supportive housing vouchers will also help to fully lift individuals and families out of homelessness. This Council has funded new PSH vouchers every year for the past 6 years, and I’m proud we can continue that streak.

I’m deeply concerned by the Mayor’s sudden increase in the use of the word “entitlement” as a negative term – when talking about programs like ERAP or Baby Bonds. To me, framing our social safety net as a pejorative does not reflect our DC values. This budget from Council does an incredible amount to restore cuts that would be harmful to DC residents, especially those most in need.  

Still, it pains me not to see anything here to restore funding for excluded workers – $20 million that really should have been in the hands of those workers by now. Between now and May 30, I will continue to seek ways to deliver on that promise. This is likely our last chance to do so.

I am happy to see that this budget includes a major shift of funding from the DCPS central office budget to our schools and classrooms. This has resulted in restoration of funds in schools across the District including seven schools in Ward 1.

I am also pleased to see funds in place to pilot a flexible schedule at District schools. It is my hope that investment in this pilot as well as reinvestment in classrooms by the Council will send a clear message to our educators that we want them to succeed and that we value their well-being.

I want to thank the Chairman for finding capital dollars in the budget to establish a childcare center at Roosevelt STAY, which is housed at Garnet-Patterson, to serve students and community members. This will be a game changer in one of the most vibrant parts of Ward 1.

I’m very glad this budget restores the lines cut from the Circulator bus, including the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan line that has the second-highest ridership in the system. The future of the Circulator beyond FY2024 is a major concern, but I’m glad we have the opportunity to put more work into thinking through the entirety of our transit network.

In my committee, there are micro-transit programs like Neighborhood Connect that should really be factored into this conversation but have been left out.

Speaking of which: Thank you Chairman for retaining a For-Hire Vehicle surcharge in the Budget Support Act. We have advanced a meaningful conversation about using congestion pricing to shape the city and downtown we want to be – an idea that Uber and Lyft have publicly supported. The budget before us also directs the Mayor to release the long-awaited congestion-pricing study by this time next year, allowing us to have an informed policy discussion on that issue. Thank you Councilmember Allen for adding that provision.

I’m glad that the revenue from the 25 cent surcharge will still go toward establishing a 24-hour bus network starting in 2024, which was what we approved at the Public Works & Operations Committee’s markup. An all-hours transit network forms a critical backbone of our transportation infrastructure and will be invaluable to many of our essential workers and our nightlife industry.

I’d like to highlight a number of important pieces of legislation that are funded in this budget.

  • The Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act I re-introduced earlier this year with Chairman Mendelson – is fully funded. Thank you to Councilmember Henderson for partnering with me on funding, and to the Chairman for completing the final puzzle piece.
  • The Domestic Worker Employment Rights legislation is fully funded, thanks to collaboration with Councilmembers Lewis George and Robert White.
  • The Local Resident Voting Rights Act is funded, thanks to CM Bonds and the Labor committee.
  • I was also proud to be able to identify funding for the POKETT Act, which will be transformative in improving the lives of children in our care, giving them a more financially stable start as they transition out of foster care.

Finally, as the Chairperson of the Committee on Public Works and Operations, I want to reflect on a few of the investments that I am proud of.

First, the Committee’s budget recommended the restoration of funding for FTEs to agencies and provides funding for new FTEs, in order to give all our interim, acting, and new agency directors a chance to succeed. Thank you to the Chairman for maintaining all of these enhancements, including over 50 FTEs at the Department of Public Works. This will support waste disposal, graffiti removal, enhanced leaf pickup, and better booting and towing operations – all critical to quality of life and public safety.
 
Second, I am proud that this budget demonstrates the Council’s willingness to try new things in the face of old and intractable challenges – on this theme, the Committee funded the rollout of curbside composting as well as the Clean Curbs Pilot which will establish curbside shared solid waste collection containers for approximately 150 households. I hope this will prove to be a way of providing quality solid waste service in a way that keeps our neighborhoods cleaner, more accessible, and ideally more rat-free.

Finally, I want to express my excitement about pushing forward the multi-year effort to get standalone public restrooms placed in locations accessible to all District residents and visitors by partnering with the Department of Public Works to pilot a different model that relies on an outside vendor.

Thank you to Chairman Mendelson for shifting over some additional funds so that the pilot will be able to place at least five restrooms. I look forward to working with your team and the budget office to have a subtitle placed in the BSA at second reading to help provide direction on the use of these funds.

While there remain unfilled needs, then, there is a lot to be proud of in this budget.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to supporting the Fiscal Year 2024 Local Budget Act.” 

Related

“The Council has gone through yet another budget process while the commission has sat on its hands.”
Yes, this was a difficult year. And we were handed a difficult budget. I’m proud of the work this Council has done to make an unpalatable budget better.

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