Ahead Of Budget Season, A Call To Protect Social Service Funding

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

D.C. Fair Budget Coalition's Janelle Treibitz pushes for protecting social service funding during a Monday rally.

Sandra Williams, 58, takes classes at a D.C. nonprofit in pursuance of a GED certificate. She eventually wants to become a social worker, but she’s unemployed for now and said she has can’t get a job because of her poor credit.

Anthony Hunter, 27, recently became homeless. The single father said that he needs a little help to get back on his feet. He currently lives off of $623 a month, he said.

Karima Weathers, 39, a single mother raising three children, recently lost her eyesight. She’s been in and out of shelters and has spent winter nights in her car.

They all turned out to a rally on the Wilson Building’s steps Monday morning, calling for Mayor Vincent Gray to spare funding cuts to social service programs and initiatives that help low-income D.C. residents. The rally was organized by the advocacy group D.C. Fair Budget Coalition. Mayor Gray is expected to release his proposed budget March 23.

Advocates say the situation is dire; one in three D.C. children lives in poverty and the waiting list for affordable housing is more than 37,000 people long.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

"I'm not asking for you to take care of me for the rest of my life," Anthony Hunter said at Monday's rally.

The numbers seem simple: the city has $240 million left over from the fiscal 2011 budget, and projections show a $164 million shortfall in the coming year. But a D.C. law requires all leftover money to be put into the city’s savings. The impetus behind saving the money is improving D.C.’s financial footing and its bond rating, after years of surplus money being spent, leaving budget gaps.

Coalition leader Janelle Treibitz said Mayor Gray could change the law and propose to save half of the surplus, while spending the other half to cover the budget gap. That, she said, would help prevent cuts to programs.

“All this takes is the Mayor’s will,” Treibitz said.

Last year, Mayor Gray proposed $187 million in cuts, 60 percent of which were to social services. Some of the cuts were in response to a loss of federal funding.

“In a way, [this year] is kind of worse because we’re facing another year of cuts after a year of cuts,” Farah Fosse of the Latino Economic Development Corporation said.

Mayor Gray’s spokesman confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the coalition met with the Mayor last week. Councilmembers Michael Brown (At-large) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6) spoke before the rally, stating their support for protecting affordable housing and social service funding.