City's Asian Americans Decry Fenty's Decision to Close Asian Affairs Office

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Asian American groups are protesting Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's decision to save money by eliminating the city's Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, saying the move would reduce services to residents and small-business owners who need help navigating the city's bureaucracy.

In his fiscal 2010 spending plan, Fenty (D) proposes consolidating the office within the larger Office of Community Affairs, which would allow the city to cut four positions and save $300,000. Fenty aides said they're not eliminating outreach to the Asian community but rather streamlining agencies to save money on redundant administrative costs in a year when projected revenue has plummeted.

But activists contend that the office, which has seven employees and a budget of about $1 million, would be swallowed by the larger agency, which focuses on aiding seven constituent groups, including youths and gays and lesbians. There's no guarantee the community affairs office would focus on helping Asians, they said.

The Asian affairs "office staff that has been built up over 20 years has specific functions with areas of the community that have not been reached out to," said Wylie Chen, acting chairman of the Committee on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, which advises the mayor's office. "If they eliminate positions, these groups will not be supported by the District."

Chen, who said Fenty did not consult his committee before announcing the restructuring, said the committee will send a protest letter to the mayor. A coalition of Asian American groups has been meeting with staff members of the D.C. Council and circulating a petition, and has scheduled a news conference tomorrow in Chinatown.

Fenty has proposed a similar downsizing for the city's Office of Veteran Affairs, which also would be moved into the community affairs agency. But the Office of Latino Affairs would maintain autonomy, and its $4.6 million budget would remain essentially unchanged. Asians make up about 3.4 percent of the city's population, while Latinos make up about 8.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Asian affairs office helps small-business owners get permits and helps families enroll in school and get social services, among other things. The office's staff members speak seven languages.

David Sakai, who owns a printing company that has made stationery for the mayor and council, said the outreach office helped him last year when he was having trouble gaining recertification for his business.

"It's very unfair for them to try to target that agency for cutbacks," he said.

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