Lawrence G. Miller/Flickr / https://bit.ly/3fsz360
Mayor Muriel Bowser's proposed budget for 2022 leans heavily on billions of dollars the city is getting in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan.
Lawrence G. Miller/Flickr / https://bit.ly/3fsz360
When Congress passed the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, the $350 billion available in aid for states, counties and cities was little more than a really big pot of money. But the local impact of those funds became more clear on Thursday, when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled her 2022 budget — one flush with federal funding for everything from affordable housing and health to public safety and transportation.
The proposed $17.5 billion budget — which takes effect Oct. 1 — grows 3.9% over the current year's budget. But the local portion of that — $9.1 billion — is jumping by 4.9%, with 70% of that growth coming from federal aid. It's a dramatic reversal from this same time last year, when Bowser and lawmakers were forced to cut spending because of the pandemic's economic impact and were loudly protesting the city having been shortchanged in CARES Act funding.
Presenting to D.C. councilmembers on Thursday morning, city officials spelled out how they'd be spending $2.5 billion in federal aid over the next three years, putting more than $500 million towards affordable housing, $483 million for business recovery, $387 million for residents impacted by the pandemic, $263 million for schools, and $193 million for gun violence prevention.
"We are using significant federal investments to provide recovery and growth opportunities across all eight wards," said Bowser.
Speaking on background before Bowser unveiled her budget, one senior city official admitted the federal aid has given D.C. significant more opportunities than it would have had without it. "We would have had much tougher choices," they said.
In the budget, Bowser proposes increasing funding for virtually every D.C. agency, spare the Metropolitan Police Department, which would see a $37 million cut because of a decrease in staffing since last year. (Bowser does propose hiring 135 new officers, though, as well as growing the size of the cadet program.) Other public safety programs would see a $45 million increase, though, including $7.8 million that would pay for additional violence interrupters, $11 million for cash assistance and coaching for residents coming back from prison, and $6.8 million for various agencies to respond to non-emergency 911 calls like mental health distress, minor crashes, and parking complaints.
Per-pupil schools funding would increase by 3.6%, while $68 million would go to increase access to child care, $15 million would help businesses and residents pay overdue health insurance premiums, $67 million would be used to buy buildings for deeply affordable housing, $113 million over several years would fund the repair of public housing units, $49 million would go to pay for expanding employment training programs, and $58 million would be used to incentivize the development of grocery stores and sit-down restaurants in wards 7 and 8. On transportation, $351 million would fund streetscapes, trails, and implementation of the Vision Zero initiative; $9 million would be used to "reclaim streets for public use" through recurring closures to cars; and $1.9 million would pay to make the D.C. Circulator free.
Bowser is also proposing a permanent reduction in business fees to $99, a two-year reduction of occupational licensing fees, and waiving fees for festivals and other public events. She is also seeking a one-time cut to the tax paid by businesses for the city's paid family leave program, from the current 0.62% to 0.27% per employee. That would be paid for in part from a $400 million surplus in the paid leave fund, which would also be used to pay for a new leave benefit for prenatal medical care and domestic violence leave, as well as direct $114 million to the unemployment insurance fund and $15 million to economic assistance for undocumented and other workers shut out of federal assistance.
While much of D.C. spending will be buoyed by federal aid in years to come, city officials say they expect local revenues to fully recover by 2025. That, they say, would prevent cuts to programs that may now be benefiting from the federal largesse.
The council now has 54 days to debate and make changes to Bowser's budget. A first vote is expected July 20, which is later than in normal years, largely because city officials delayed unveiling the spending plan so they could better understand the federal guidance on spending the aid.
Lawmakers got a first glimpse of the budget today earlier today, raising questions for Bowser about spending on homeless services, improving the city's unemployment benefits system, funding for the United Medical Center in Ward 8, and funding for a new recreation center at the Crummell School in Ward 5, which has drawn increasingly loud demands from neighbors and advocates. It remains to be seen whether some councilmembers again propose tax increase in high-income residents; last year, such a proposal narrowly failed.
"The devil is always in the details," said At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson to Bowser about the proposed budget. "But so far it's looking good."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.