Washington Socialist Weekly Update
By Austin Kendall
Community organizations and activists gathered at Excel Academy in the Barry Farms neighborhood on April 13th to share knowledge on the DC Budget for fiscal year 2018.
The event was kicked off by Ianna from the Future Foundation, a community organizing group focused on issues of social and economic justice that meets at the Barry Farms Recreation Center.
Stephanie Sneed and Monica Kamen, co-directors of the Fair Budget Coalition, spoke on the necessity of fighting for a fair budget, and the fiscal specifics, respectively. Monica noted that only about 2% of the $13.8 billion budget goes to funding affordable housing initiatives and that more must be allocated to housing.
The attendees broke into groups based on policy interests, with facilitators specializing on Jobs and Worker Protections, Education and Child Care, Food and Nutrition, Housing, Veterans Affairs, Policing and Protection, and Healthcare and Medical Services . The groups discussed their thoughts about the budget, and were brought together to create one document of the People’s Budget. This democratic socialist sat at the Jobs and Worker Protections table, led by Carol Joyner of DC Family Values at Work and Sequnely Gray of DC Jobs with Justice.
The discussion focused on Paid Family Leave, reforming TANF, and expanding transportation subsidies to adult learners. The “asks” were an additional $20 million to cover the full start up costs of administering the Universal Paid Leave Act; $2 million to extend the time that persons can use TANF, creating a hardship extension policy; and that subsidized transportation be extended to all publicly funded adult education programs.
There was a spirited discussion of how to propose that these additional items be funded -- ranging from a recommendation from a Jews United for Justice organizer to not spend an additional $40 million on new police cruisers, to standardizing the assumptions guiding the three reserve funds , as they are now inconsistent and making them consistent would free up about $90 million, according to Kaish from DC for Democracy.
The break out groups reconvened and representatives from each group shared their discussion with the group. A representative from the DC Office of Budget and Planning responded to the Jobs and Worker Protections break out group that they are “working on eliminating TANF [time] limit.” They also said that there is movement towards making the Department of Human Services a “one stop shop” for benefits through coordination on providing services at one location, so that folks do not have to use their valuable time going to multiple agencies.
Monica Brokenborough, a Ward 8 teacher, spoke for the Education and Schools break out group, noting that Ward 7 and 8 schools are facing the most severe budget cuts because allotments are based on projected enrollments, which expect a shift to public charter schools. The community is invited to the school budgets hearing on Thursday, April 27th at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the John Wilson Building.
Ward 8 councilmember Trayon White was in attendance, and the housing break out group turned to him to ask him whether he supports legislation to target slumlords. Councilmember White took the mic and said that yes, he did support such legislation, noting that there had to be more inspections and stronger fines to deter landlords from failing to maintain their properties. He noted the ongoing hearings regarding slumlord firm Sanford Capital as indicative of the DC attorney general’s office as making this issue a priority.
Another attendee stood to ask what could be done to prevent displacement of families that was sure to happen with the redevelopment of slumlord-run Barry Farms. White agreed with him that Barry Farms has been run by slumlords, but noted that the talks on redevelopment are still unfolding and it is too early to even comment on. White did remark that he was concerned that 30% of families are behind on their rent, a loophole that allows developers to prohibit families from returning to their homes.
The evening concluded with a charming play enactment by a group of young students on how to influence the budget.
The organizers of the People’s Budget Forum hope to get Forum attendees and members of the community to the council’s hearings on the budget, beginning with the first full council hearing on May 12th. Tactics are being debated, but all agree a large physical copy of the People’s Budget will be featured.
Kendall is co-chair of MDCDSA's Economic Justice Committee
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