Testimony to DC Council on Need for Just Recovery for DC's Youngest Residents

Quote from Ronald Jarrett's testimony to DC Council

Testimony to DC Council on Need for Just Recovery for DC's Youngest Residents by Ronald Jarrett, Coalition Director, Under 3 DC

Racism defines almost every aspect of society. We have seen how generations of inequality have resulted in a nation struggling to maintain a civil society today. The time has come to let go of outmoded paradigms, protocols, and biases in all of our systems. This starts by acknowledging that our systems do not yet provide justice for our Black and brown educators, practitioners, families, and little ones. This acknowledgement must include raising revenue and prioritizing funding to protect, including: 1) access to safe, affordable, and quality child care; 2) access to nutritious food for our expectant parents, their infants, and toddlers; and 3) access to crucial family health supports.

We appreciate that the DC Council is holding harmless the current budget items: 

1) Child Care subsidies

2) Health Futures, Healthy Steps, and Help Me Grow

3) Lactation Certification Consultation

4) Home visiting programs at DC Health and CFSA

However, there are still opportunities to better prepare our families and businesses for this new and scary normal:

  1. Most immediately, we need the Council to include in the supplemental budget (FY20) at least $10 million to keep child care businesses open so they are available as people return to work. 
     
  2. We need the Council use federal funds to enhance the child care subsidy program with at least $10 million (FY21) to comply with new safety guidelines. 
     
  3. Families across the District are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety, along with navigating an ever evolving new normal. A funding allocation for home visiting in OSSE’s Early Head Start program (FY21) will ensure that more of our children and their families have access to this increasingly critical resource. 

The Under 3 DC Coalition knows that having low income - or having lost a job during the public health emergency - is NOT a character flaw. Simply because you can’t afford more doesn’t mean you don’t deserve better. Budgets are opportunities to level the playing field and make sure all DC residents have resources and services sufficient to meet their needs.

Projected municipal revenue losses are scary things. But our knee-jerk reaction to reach for programmatic cuts has been proven by history to be short-sighted, and ultimately contributes to larger problems soon after. We can choose to lessen the harm of this pandemic by looking to new revenue opportunities to meet the city’s needs and better protect us from future crises.

During an economic downturn, leading economists favor targeted tax increases—which don’t hurt the economy or low-income families—over spending cuts, which do. Cutting vital programs will worsen the economy’s fall, hurt families that are struggling to stay afloat, and jeopardize the District’s ability to make a full and just recovery.

We say “we’re all in this together,” yet our tax policies tell a different story. By asking DC’s richest households, giant corporations, and real estate developers to pay their fair share, we will have more revenue to address budget shortfalls and provide targeted recovery support to those individuals and local businesses that have been hardest hit. Raising high-end tax rates would help tackle the shortfall and correct massive, long-standing inequities in our tax code. However, the Mayor’s proposal would freeze pay for city workers and underfund some essential programs without requiring more from those with a greater ability to contribute. In response, the DC Council only has one choice to avoid the deepening of inequities: raise revenue. 

Our tax system requires too much of middle-class families and not enough from the wealthiest. Because of this inequitable tax system, DC has not met the needs of Black and brown working-class families. In fact, a new poll that DC Action for Children and DCFPI commissioned finds 83% of DC voters support raising taxes on wealthy residents and corporations to prevent cuts to essential services such as housing and child care, with nearly four out of five residents opposing budget cuts that would hurt Black and brown residents.

In the same poll, 78% and 72% of District voters support raising taxes on residents earning taxable income of $350,000 or more and $250,000 or more, respectively. The failure to institute a more progressive tax system has directly contributed to the racial wealth divide in the District. The time has come to correct that. For example, asking individuals with more than $350,000 in taxable income, or those in the top two tax brackets, to pay a 3 percentage point surcharge would raise $186 million. Wealthy taxpayers would still be better off due to the massive 2017 federal “Trump tax cuts,” which provided the top 5% of DC taxpayers tax breaks totaling $500 million.

Beyond support for raising new revenue, the poll also found support for the District to move in bold new directions for community safety, with nearly two-thirds of voters supporting ending DC public school’s $23 million contract with the Metropolitan Police Department and investing more in students.

We cannot finance early childhood health and education needs on the backs of program cuts for essential services on which families rely (such as WIC, housing, SNAP, ending homelessness, paid family leave, and more). A more equitable and just approach would be to meet our budget requests through a combination of better oversight on spending, scaling back tax giveaways, AND raising revenue.

To make it through the crisis and build a just recovery, it is important for DC’s response to preserve and build upon crucial investments in early childhood education and family health supports. New revenue options must be part of the solution to ensure those who are already suffering the most from this pandemic are not further hurt by budget cuts to critical programs. To do otherwise ignores the wisdom gained during this incredibly challenging, yet not improbable, time in our human history.