DC Banks $417 Million While Residents Suffer

At a press conference this morning, Mayor Gray announced that DC has a $417 million budget surplus for 2012, all of which he plans to put into DC’s saving account. And yet, thousands of DC residents are struggling with homelessness and poverty; thousands of children, youth, domestic violence survivors and others are turned away from emergency shelters each year; unemployment is high; affordable housing is shrinking at an alarming rate; and critical social services continue to be cut.

The current law says that the surplus has to go into the cash reserve, but the Mayor and Council are perfectly capable of changing this law to avoid injustice. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), DC had one of the largest fund balances in the nation even before this surplus was announced.

Last summer and fall, we shared with you the heart-wrenching stories of families with no safe place to sleep at night. These were parents who had exhausted all possible sources of hospitality from family, friends, and even strangers. Parents who, when they at last resorted to turning to the DC government for shelter, were told “No, we will not help you. We do not have enough money to provide shelter for all those who need it.”

Today, Mayor Gray’s announcement of the $417 million surplus sent the clear message to these families that there was, in fact, plenty of money to help them when they were in crisis, but DC chose not to do so. And the Mayor’s decision to put all that money in the bank sends another clear message to DC residents: the pressing needs of DC residents are not a priority.

You might remember Ms. S, who had a high risk pregnancy, orders to stay on bed rest, and a one year old with various disabilities. While Ms. S and her EMT husband were desperately searching for jobs and a place to stay last July, they were told they could not be placed in any of the empty beds at DC General Shelter, in spite of the family being determined “Priority 1.” Meanwhile the DC government was amassing hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent funds.

Or perhaps you recall the DC resident who lost her security guard job a year ago when her company lost a contract, who was only able to find part-time work, which of course didn’t pay enough to afford rent. While this mother and her three young boys were spending night after night in hospital emergency rooms because no one would place them in empty beds at DC General Shelter, DC was collecting tens of millions of dollars more in tax revenues than had been budgeted.

Then there was Ms. Jones, who stayed at the bus station with her five children, even though there were 80 empty rooms at the DC General Shelter that the city said it could not afford to operate. While Ms. Jones was waking her children every day at 5:30am to head to the nearby McDonald’s to wash up before heading out to school, DC was just a month away from ending the fiscal year with 417 million in surplus dollars.

This is a defining moment for the District of Columbia. DC should be a just community that is committed to the inclusion and well-being of all District residents, not one that fills its coffers with unprecedented riches while leaving its residents in harm’s way.

With just a fraction of this newly discovered bounty, DC could support its residents who are in crisis today by focusing on cost-effective strategies to prevent homelessness (the Emergency Rental Assistance Program), support families (the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program), create affordable housing (the Housing Production Trust Fund), and provide emergency shelter to every man, woman and child experiencing a housing crisis.

To do otherwise would be morally and fiscally irresponsible. Join us in urging the Mayor and Council to do the right thing.


About Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless envisions a just and inclusive community for all residents of the District of Columbia, where housing is a human right and where every individual and family has equal access to the resources they need to thrive. Our mission is to use the law to make justice a reality for our neighbors who struggle with homelessness and poverty. Combining community lawyering and advocacy to achieve our clients’ goals, our expert staff and network of volunteer attorneys provide low barrier, comprehensive legal services at intake sites throughout the District of Columbia, helping our clients to access housing, shelter, and life-saving services. Rooted in the experiences of this client work, we effectively blend system reform efforts, policy advocacy, community education and client engagement to advocate for long term improvements in local and federal programs that serve the low- and no-income community.
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