Now, as local officials await a federal spending bill that will allocate emergency funding to the District, they are warning that the city cannot afford to again dip into its own reserves to cover inauguration-related costs. They are calling on Congress to make good on what they see as long-overdue payments and pour ample resources into the District’s emergency fund in advance of the Jan. 20 event.
In a Dec. 5 letter to President-elect Joe Biden, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) stressed that “the use of local revenue to cover expenses related to protecting the federal presence severely limits our ability to fund necessary support for our residents and businesses as we face what are anticipated to be dire winter months.”
Local officials say it is especially crucial this year that Congress allocate enough funding to support the District through the inauguration because they are operating without emergency reserves. Over the summer, D.C. police spent $40 million on overtime to staff demonstrations outside the White House in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. That activity left the District’s emergency planning and security fund with a $36 million deficit, which Congress has yet to replenish.
To cover expenses associated with hosting Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, the city requested that Congress allot $45 million to the District. Local officials initially appealed for $35 million, but they increased their request by $10 million over the summer in preparation for heightened unrest around Inauguration Day.
“Right now, we are working with the president-elect to determine exactly what inauguration will look like in 2021,” said Jennifer Reed, director of the city’s budget and performance office. “We don’t yet know, and depending on those final plans, what services we will provide and what costs we will incur might change pretty significantly.”
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of Biden’s inaugural committee, said last week that he expects 75 to 80 percent of Biden’s inaugural activities to be virtual. On Tuesday, Biden’s planning committee announced that the parade is likely to be more virtual than physical and urged all Americans to stay home and limit gatherings during the inauguration.
As of last week, the city was continuing to prepare for a more traditional celebration — and the usual demonstrations that accompany the event — until the presidential inaugural committee instructs otherwise.
During presidential inaugurations, D.C. is responsible for deploying an extensive security network, emergency services and managing cleanup operations that span the entire city except for the area surrounding the inauguration platform, where the joint congressional committee that plans swearing-in ceremonies and the U.S. Secret Service are in charge.
In 2017, Congress gave D.C. $20 million to host Trump’s inauguration, but the city ultimately spent more than $27 million to staff up for the event. Most of that spending was on law enforcement to control crowds and escort the parade. As a result, the D.C. government dipped into its emergency planning and security fund, which consists of federal dollars to support the city’s unique public safety and security costs. Despite multiple attempts over the past four years, Congress has yet to reimburse the city for the $7.3 million excess in inaugural spending.
In the upcoming congressional spending package, D.C. has requested a total of $128.5 million to make the city whole for its spending on public safety and provide enough support for the next fiscal year. City officials originally requested $18 million for its emergency planning and security fund, but they increased their ask to $47.9 million to prepare for upticks in unrest.
Congress appropriated $17.5 million through a continuing resolution passed earlier this fall, with $13 million of that specifically marked for inaugural costs.
Without galas or hundreds of thousands of people converging for a parade, the city’s financial burden of hosting the inauguration may be significantly lower than in years past. But managing demonstrations and smaller-scale events amid a public health crisis may prove to be a less glamorous but equally significant cost.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees in mid-November in support of D.C.’s request for additional funding.
“These funds are particularly necessary during this transition year when D.C. will be welcoming the inauguration of a new presidential administration and a new Congress,” Norton said in a statement.
But it’s not yet clear whether the District will receive the full $47.9 million it requested as negotiations over an omnibus spending bill, which includes funding for the District, continue in Congress.
Less than 40 days from Biden’s inauguration, little remains known about the event and what it will cost. The president-elect has set expectations for a mostly virtual event, telling reporters recently that his inauguration probably will not include a parade down Constitution Avenue. Clyburn said that a livelier celebration of Biden’s presidency could take place July 4 — which could also create an additional financial burden for the city.