D.C. Council boosts social services spending by $50 million

June 28, 2013

With city revenue rising, the D.C. Council approved a budget last week that includes $50 million more for social services provisions aimed at helping city residents most in need, many of which were on the mayor’s and advocacy groups’ “wish lists.”

The provisions include $11 million to raise reimbursement rates for child-care subsidies for the first time since 2006 and to add 200 additional slots for infants and toddlers, and $7 million for low-income and homeless individuals and families. An additional $7 million was allocated for the D.C. Office on Aging, 20 percent more than advocacy groups for seniors had sought in the spring.

The council also voted to amend the city’s homeless law and boosted funding by $25 million to pay for training, case management, transportation and other services in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The District is in the process of limiting TANF benefits to no more than five years, as most states did during welfare reform 17 years ago.

The council voted for a flat 10 percent increase in the subsidy paid to providers who care for the children of low-income and working parents. But the increase applies only to infants and toddlers and not to providers who care for preschool-age children or offer after-care for school-age children.

Even with the increase — to $59.85 a day for infants and $55.96 a day for toddlers — the subsidy falls short of the market rate to care for children in the District: $84.48 a day for infants and $75.52 for toddlers, according to the most recent survey by the University of the District of Columbia.

“The increase will help, but there are still a lot of providers who will be left struggling,” said Jeff Credit, who runs two child-care centers and heads a local association of child-care providers. “I see a lot more of them going out of business.”

The UDC survey found that nearly one-third of family home providers and 12.4 percent of child-care centers that operated in the District in 2010 were no longer licensed in 2012.

After a contentious day-long hearing in June, a petition and weeks of closed-door negotiations among city officials, council members and advocacy groups over reforms to the city’s homeless laws, the council also voted Wednesday to require those in shelters to set up savings accounts.

But instead of requiring the homeless to save 30 percent of their income or face being kicked out of a shelter, as originally proposed, the council voted that savings accounts be for individualized amounts and that rather than the homeless being forced out of shelters for failing to comply, other sanctions could be considered.

The council also did not give city officials the authority they sought to more easily move people out of shelters.

Faced with a homeless population that has quadrupled since 2008 and shelters that remain packed year-round, city officials sought to have families placed in shelters on a “provisional” basis until case workers could assess whether the family had no other housing options. If other options were found, the families would be forced to leave.

The council dropped the move for provisional shelter placement.

“We’re very grateful that the provisions were dropped,” said Patty Mullahy Fugere, executive director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “It protects families in their most fragile time from facing even greater instability and the loss of a safety net.”

David Berns, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, called the decision unfortunate.

“This critical amendment allowed the targeting of resources to those most in need, by diverting those who may have other housing options,” he said in a statement.

City officials also wanted the authority to move people out of shelters if they refused two offers of more permanent housing, such as a new “rapid re-housing” program that provides temporary rent assistance. The council voted to give homeless people the right to stay in a shelter and appeal the housing offerings.

The council also approved a $3 million expenditure to increase a local rent subsidy program that advocates say will move about 100 families out of shelters and into more stable housing.

The vote to increase funding for the aging brings the total budget for senior services to about $37 million, including $1.5 million for Washington Elderly Handicapped Transportation Service buses and operations, $1.9 million for a homebound meal program, $1.4 million for social workers, and a roughly 12 percent increase in grant amounts for all grantees. 

 The allocations did not exactly match advocates’ requests, said Sally White, executive director of Iona Senior Services. “But we’re pleased to be halfway there,” she said.

 Mae Best, executive director of East River Family Strengthening Collaborative, said the increase will help her agency pay for more services for homebound seniors.

 “We’re very excited,” she said. “We’ve had a waiting list for homebound seniors who need meals, so it will help us eliminate the waiting list, and it will give us the opportunity to hire additional social workers for seniors who are sick and shut in.”

Tara Bahrampour, a staff writer based in Washington, D.C., writes about aging and mental health.
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