DC Council to pull more police from schools and give immigrant tax credit



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The DC Council voted to keep phasing out police from public schools — despite objections from the mayor and the city’s principals union, who said officers were needed to prevent school violence — so that he was approving a fiscal year 2023 budget on Tuesday that will spend a record $19.5 billion.

The board also rejected a request from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) for millions of dollars in benefits for police officers, as he approved large stipends directly to some of the city’s most struggling public schools, permanent housing vouchers for low-income families, and tax credits for undocumented immigrants.

Tuesday’s vote was the first of two the board will take on the budget before sending it to Bowser for his signature.

Both Bowser and Council Speaker Phil Mendelson (D) wanted to restore long-term funding for police in public schools, despite a council vote last year to phase out police presence. In one of the most contentious votes of the day, the council voted against the mayor’s preference on Tuesday, continuing instead to remove school building officials.

DC mayor wants to restore cut funding for police in schools

“Our schools should be a place where our students are supported and not a place where they feel watched by armed officers,” said board member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4).

Members who voted to restore police funding to schools – Mendelson, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) – pointed to a letter from school principals saying their staff felt unsafe because of teenagers who might behave violently without police intervention.

“I’m worried as the violence escalates… if we don’t have the right people on the inside [schools] to defuse the violence, to the point where there is a stabbing or a shooting,” White said. “I have doubts about where we are as a city when it comes to public safety.

The council attempted a compromise on Tuesday between Bowser’s efforts to increase the police budget and the reluctance of many council members to continue to rely heavily on police for certain roles. Council members agreed to Bowser’s request to expand the DC force by about 30 officers next year. But they rejected much of Bowser demanded additional benefits for the police, including letting them drive police cars home and spending far more to help pay for housing and tuition, despite the mayor’s argument that such incentives are needed to entice people to work for the department.

In total, the board cut about $6 million from the more than $500 million that Bowser had requested for the police, meaning that police funding will increase by more than $20 million from the fiscal year 2022 (when, like this year, the council increased the police budget, but not by as much as Bowser wanted).

Mendelson instead directed most of that money to a program called Access to Justice, which helps low-income residents pay for attorneys to help them claim public benefits such as disability or fighting evictions. “I think it’s arguably one of the most effective programs we offer for low-income people,” he said.

The council approved many of Bowser’s budget ideas, including a $10 million program to study how to help more black residents buy homes, a new high school in Ward 3 and a near tripling of traffic cameras in the district, at a cost of nearly $9 million.

Bowser’s budget proposal: police, traffic cameras and leaf collection

Mendelson also introduced his own ideas. In addition to the additional per-student funding the district is already providing to DC public schools as a whole and to charter school organizations for each at-risk student they educate, Mendelson has directed an additional amount of per-student funding directly to individual schools. who have the largest proportion of students considered at risk – those who are homeless, in foster care or behind in school, or whose families receive welfare or food stamps. The new approach will mean that some schools will get a large allocation directly: Ballou High School would receive $250,000 to support its 572 at-risk students, for example, and several elementary schools would receive more than $100,000 each.

Bowser had proposed allocating a record half a billion dollars in one year to the city’s Housing Development Trust, which subsidizes construction by developers of designated affordable housing for people at certain income levels. Mendelson cut that amount by about $54 million, putting that money instead into permanent housing vouchers, known as Targeted Affordable Housing, which covers rent indefinitely for low-income families. He included a clause in the budget directing the city to give families who cannot pay their rent after their short-term housing allowance expires priority for the new 400 vouchers.

DC will send checks for $10,000 to child care workers

Amber Harding, an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said even hundreds of new vouchers aren’t enough. Thousands of families are receiving subsidies for at least six months through the city’s rapid rehousing program, and most still cannot afford to pay rent when their short-term vouchers run out.

“We’re not even halfway to what we felt was necessary to keep people from falling off the cliff. It’s great if 400 families aren’t going to fall off the cliff,” Harding said. “We’re so far away from what we need to do to have a fair budget that even big increases like this aren’t enough to solve the problem.”

Bowser, who opposed Mendelson’s proposal to cut his $500 million plan for the Housing Production Trust Fund, raised another concern about the vouchers. She said in a letter that the new priority for people who had received short-term grants could lead families to believe they must first become homeless before they can possibly get a long-term housing voucher. .

Other local advocates had campaigned for the council to include cash assistance for people who had not been eligible for some of the forms of assistance federal and local governments were offering during the pandemic, usually because it’s were undocumented immigrants. Although the council has not agreed to give money to these residents, Mendelson has made a change that will benefit non-citizens. The budget makes all workers who are salaried and eligible for the city’s working income tax credit for the first time, whether they have a Social Security number or an individual tax identification number. The federal government and many states require a Social Security number to apply for the credit, which means undocumented immigrants cannot get it.

DC increased the size of its EITC last year, making it the most generous in the country. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which has advocated for the change, estimated that 5,100 DC households that include an undocumented immigrant will be able to claim the tax credit. The city has projected the expansion, which will begin in late 2023, to cost more than $3 million.

After the council raised taxes for wealthy residents last year, the fiscal year 2023 budget largely avoids tax increases. The district continues to benefit from federal money intended to help cities recover from the pandemic and healthy income from income taxes. Only a few charges increase in next year’s budget, including the fine for someone who destroys their car trunk.

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