Advocacy group calls for $100M investment to reduce poverty in the District

Poverty levels in the District have climbed steadily since the beginning of the economic downturn, with one in three children now living below the federal poverty line, according to data released last week by the D.C. Fair Budget Coalition, a network of advocacy groups.

In an event co-sponsored with five D.C. Council members, the group called for the District to allocate an additional $100 million in fiscal year 2014 to reduce poverty.

Next year’s budget is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

“Because we’ve had a recession, the city has suffered as well, ” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, an advocacy group. “Every single affordable housing program we have — when the recession hit, those programs were all stopped in their tracks.”

The ultimate goal, the group said, is to move 300 families out of homeless shelters and into permanent homes. Among other items, the proposal calls for a $20 million investment toward affordable housing, $4 million for adult education and $1.75 million for additional beds at area shelters.

Last year, the District reported a $417 million budget surplus. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said he plans to keep those funds in the District’s contingency accounts.

“We need some of that surplus,” said Momauwi Woods, who lives at D.C. General Family Shelter with her 3-year-old son. “We believe in rights, we believe in responsibility. We want to work.”

The shelter, located in an abandoned hospital in Southeast Washington, now houses 600 children, up from 200 children two years ago.

“There is a huge disconnect between the Washington of luxury and power, and the Washington of entrenched poverty,” said Kenyan McDuffie, D.C. Council member for Ward 5.

Widespread federal funding cuts have compounded the problem, according to the mayor’s office. In fiscal year 2013, the District lost more than $21.6 million in federal funding, including $7 million for shelters and transitional housing.

The federal poverty line for a family of four is an annual income of $23,550. Nearly one in five D.C. residents live on less than that, according to council member Jim Graham, one of the co-sponsors of the event.

“The city has too many jobs that don’t pay enough for people to make ends meet,” Lazere said. “It’s the people who take care of our children at day care, the security guards we see when we go into our office buildings. These are the working poor, people who are struggling to make ends meet in the city.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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