Report restores funding to a number of vital infrastructural, educational, and wellness programs across the District
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, May 4th, Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D – Ward 3), Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment (T&E), held a markup of the Transportation and the Environment Committee Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Report. The report was unanimously voted out of committee, and the mark up was attended by committee members Councilmembers Jack Evans, Kenyan McDuffie, Charles Allen, and Brandon Todd. In addition to a number of recommendations for agencies within its jurisdiction, the T&E Committee has worked with other Council offices to support additional programs and initiatives across the District. Highlighted below are a number of funding recommendations put forward by Councilmember Cheh.
A copy of the finalized report may be viewed here: http://dccouncil.us/files/user_uploads/budget/FINAL_TE_Budget_Report.pdf
Infrastructure and the Environment:
- Public Power Study: Last year, against the advisement of the T&E Committee Chair, an amendment was introduced at the second budget vote to strike a public power feasibility study from the FY16 budget. This year, the T&E Committee has again provided the Department of Energy and Environment with the instruction to award a grant, on a competitive basis, in an amount not to exceed $250,000, for a study to evaluate the cost and benefits of establishing a municipally owned public electric utility in the District. Publicly owned utilities, such as DC Water, serve the public interest, and any revenue they generate go back into improving the utility systems that they operate, often resulting in superior service and lower rates for residents.
- Repairing Local Roads: The T&E Committee Budget Report increases funding for local streets by 28.9% over the full capital plan. This amounts to more than $4 million per Ward in extra funding. This investment will help improve the current roadway system and address the significant damage caused by recent winter storms.
- Urban Forestry Administration (UFA): The Mayor’s proposed budget eliminated a full-time position at UFA and eliminated funding from the planting fund. The committee’s budget recommendation restored both the planting fund and the UFA position. The UFA, tasked with caring for and maintaining the District’s trees and trails, is one of the District’s most responsive and well-received functions.
- Community Composting Across the District: The Committee provided $215,000 to Solid Waste Management to fund the Compost Drop-Off Program Act of 2016. With this recommendation, the Department of Public Works (DPW) would have the resources to establish eight drop-off sites, one in each ward, where residents could bring their food waste for composting on a weekly basis.
Health and Wellness:
- Cancer Treatment for FEMS: The T&E Committee allocated $562,872 in recurring local funds to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to fund the cancer treatment-related costs of B19-616, the “Fire and Emergency Medical Services Employee Presumptive Disability Amendment Act of 2011.” This law created a presumption of a performance of duty injury, illness, or death for certain categories of illness, including certain cancers. Through these funds, the District would be able to cover costs related to cancer treatment of eligible employees and further support FEMS staff.
- Funding LIHEAP: Based upon a funding cut last year, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program faced a budget shortfall of $1,211,000. In the Department of Energy and the Environment’s (DOEE’s) answers to the Committee’s pre-hearing questions, the agency stated that this shortfall means that the program would serve approximately 2,000 fewer households in FY 2017 than in FYs 2015 and 2016. Therefore, the T&E Committee has designated $1,211,000 to DOEE to restore the LIHEAP funding.
- School-based Health Clinics: $1,200,000 in recurring local funds has been designated to the Department of Health (DOH) for the creation of school-based health clinics. These school-based health clinics will provide behavioral health and social service needs in a school-based setting for the District’s students who are at highest risk for social service needs, behavioral and mental health issues, and chronic disease. These programs aim to bring the social service and behavioral health resources to the students through technology such as telemedicine.
- Continuing Healthy Tots: The Healthy Tots program provides incentives and support for early childcare education centers who wish to participate in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program. It also sets rigorous nutritional standards for meals and gives additional funding to centers that serve healthy meals. The Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) began implementing the program in FY 2016, but the proposed FY 2017 budget included a significant decrease in funding. Given OSSE’s expected level of expenditures, $1,000,000 has been transferred to OSSE to support the Healthy Tots program.
- Meeting the Demand for Produce Plus: $1,200,000 in recurring local funds has been transferred from the T&E Committee to DOH to maintain the Produce Plus Program –a farmer’s market nutrition incentive program that connects low-income communities with healthy food. Through the program, District residents who are recipients of public assistance such as SNAP, TANF, WIC, or other programs can visit any of the District’s farmer’s markets and receive a $10 voucher per week to spend on fresh produce. These funds are distributed at farmer’s markets across all eight wards, with the biggest redemption of vouchers at farmer’s markets in Wards 1, 6, and 8, with 45% of voucher recipients living in Wards 7 and 8. Since the program began in FY 2014, demand has exceed supply and funds have been exhausted by September, even though most farmer’s markets operate well into autumn. By providing these funds, the program will be able to reach even more low-income families and vouchers will be able to be provided through the end of November.
- Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence: $719,000 in recurring local funds has been designated to the Department of Human Services, Family Services Administration, for Domestic Violence Services. In FY 2016, all three housing programs funded by DHS through the “domestic violence services” line item (DASH, House of Ruth, and My Sister’s Place) lost private funding as Freddie Mac Foundation grants ended. In FY 2016, this Committee transferred sufficient recurring local funds to ensure these domestic violence programs would be able to continue to provide housing at current levels and beyond. Due to a technical error, however, these funds were erroneously counted as one-time funds, rather than recurring funds. Thus, the Committee is transferring these funds again in FY 2017.
Education and Libraries:
- Books from Birth: Through the Books from Birth initiative, DCPL delivers an age-appropriate book each month in the mail to every child in the District from birth until his or her 5th birthday. Although the T&E Committee funded the Books from Birth program in the FY 2016 budget at the estimated cost level, the program has proven to be wildly successful, enrolling more than 10,000 children in its first twelve weeks—more than was projected to be enrolled in over one year of the program. To ensure that every child under five in the District can participate in this program, the T&E Committee is providing the necessary additional funding of $600,000 of recurring funds to the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL).
- Strengthening Library Collections: DCPL’s collections budget has not kept pace with usage since FY 2010. Circulation is up 45%, with digital circulation increasing 1,536% during that period, while the collections budget has only increased 30%. An increase in the collections budget is need to keep pace with customer demand, which has increased with the opening and reopening of modernized facilities. Therefore, $200,000 in FY17 recurring funds has been allocated to DCPL to increase the library system’s collections.
- Capital Hill Montessori School: Capital Montessori at Logan is in need of HVAC repairs. Students from the school testified before the Committee on Education about the temperature of the building and how affects their ability to concentrate and learn. Further, the ceiling is in need repair throughout the building as its condition has become a safety issue. To address this problem, $4,000,000 in FY17 capital funds has been allocated for ceiling and HVAC repairs for Capital Hill Montessori at Logan.
- Murch Elementary School: The T&E Committee has designated $5,000,000 in FY17 capital funds to support swing space expenses for students associated with the necessary improvements to Murch Elementary School. Murch has not been renovated since its construction in 1930. At present the school is deteriorating, far over capacity, and not compliant with ADA regulations. In FY 2016, Murch received $63.2 million in six-year total funding, and the community received assurances from the Department of General Services that this amount was sufficient to complete construction on its proposed design. This past spring, however, the community learned it needed an additional $20 million to construct to the design and provide swing space for students. The Mayor’s office provided $10 million and value engineering saved an additional $5 million to cover the construction costs. This would make Murch’s construction costs slightly less than a similar modernization project at Lafayette Elementary School, which was $78.9 million.
Additional Funded Programs:
- Proud to Fund ‘Made in DC’: The T&E Committee has supported the “Made in DC Program Establishment Act of 2016” by allocating $221,194 in one-time local funds to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED). This law promotes products that are made in the District and aids the makers of these products with marketing and the establishment of a uniform brand name and logo that can be used to identify the products as “Made in DC.”
- Elder Law Clinic: The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) will receive $480,000 in recurring FY17 local funds for the creation of an Elder Law Initiative for the clinical program at the David A. Clarke School of Law (DCSL). Low-income elderly residents in the District often find themselves in need of a variety of legal services, including securing public assistance, making financial arrangements, preventing elder abuse, and drafting wills, advance directives, and other end-of-life documents, and UDC law school would like to improve its ability to serve senior citizens in the District.
- Supporting Circulator Operators: The Circulator, operated by First Transit, has been in a months-long conflict with management regarding wages and benefits for the for the service’s bus drivers. Currently, the starting hourly rate for a Circulator bus operator is $16.56, while the starting hourly rate for a bus driver at Metro is $19.00 per hour –resulting in a significant pay gap. These low wages have led to retention problems and high turnover, and the average Circulator driver is now on the job for only two years. The T&E Committee therefore recommended providing the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) with $1,000,000 to provide pay parity between Circulator and WMATA bus operators. This funding will allow Circulator operators to secure a livable wage, allow the Circulator to retain experienced operators, and facilitate the delivery of a safer and more effective service for riders.