Action Planning Meeting To Fight School Closures

Nick Westbrooks from Howard University put together this informative piece on Empower DC’s recent outreach efforts to update the community about the threat of school closures in our city. In opposition to the public school closures proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray and DCPS, Empower DC held an education outreach day on October 20 to inform residents in Ward 7 about the closings and why they believe they’re not the solution for improving schools. As a follow up to the outreach day, Empower DC’s Education Campaign has scheduled an action planning meeting to device strategies for fighting school closures.


How DC Government Works

DC government only works well when DC residents are involved. Let’s face it, most of us don’t know how to get involved (beyond voting) in a way that has an impact on the laws and policies that ultimately get put into place. If you want to do more than just vote, come and learn how at the following event: Empower DC & DC Jobs with Justice Present the Grassroots Leadership Education Program HOW DC GOVERNMENT WORKS How Does the DC Council Function? How Are Laws Made? What do Committees Do? Facilitated by Empower DC staff organizers Tuesday, September 25th 6:30-8:30 PM Southeast Library – 403 7th St, SE Adjacent to the Eastern Market Metro Wheelchair accessible location RSVP to Schyla at (202) 234-9119 x 101 * limited child care available, please RSVP * With Support From: DC Child Care Collective

Mother’s Day Monday

Emancipation Day Late Edition

Today is emancipation day here in the District of Columbia. It marks the day when the enslaved residents of the District of Columbia were granted their freedom. The Civil War was already underway when President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia. That was nine months before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I’ve always found it ironic that enslaved African-Americans in the District of Columbia were the first in the nation to receive their freedom, and yet their descendants still don’t have representation in Congress. Go figure. That was the message of a video about Free DC’s Emancipation Day celebration that I produced three years ago, which I’ve posted below.


It also seems meaningful that these reminders of our second-class status here in the District of Columbia should come just before tax day. We pay taxes here in the District despite the fact that we don’t have representation in Congress. We do have city representatives. The mayor, members of the city council and the advisory neighborhood commissions are all elected by DC residents but do they really represent our wishes? Mayor Gray’s proposed budget would cut over $20 million from the city’ s affordable housing programs, despite the fact that the citizens at Mayor Gray’s One City Citizens Summit put the need for affordable housing at the top of their list of priorities that District government should address. Mayor Gray also wants to cut $5.7 million from the subsidized child care program. Certainly this does not represent the wishes of the more than 300 parents who will lose their vouchers and possibly their jobs as well, because as any good parent of young children knows, you can’t work and raise your children without affordable and preferably quality child care. The mayor’s cuts to school budgets will mean increased class sizes, loss of librarians, special education coordinators and other “non-mandatory” staff. Whose wishes do these cuts represent? Are DC students complaining about librarians and counselors? I don’t think so. Low and moderate income residents pay 7 – 10% of their income in taxes. A family of 4 earning $26,300 a year pays $2,630 in taxes. Relatively speaking, that’s a HUGE chunk of money.

Which is why Empower DC members will be engaging in the following action:

Tax Day Delegation to Fight Budget Cuts Tuesday April 17, 2012 Meet on the steps of the Wilson Building @ 10:30 AM. We will visit our council members and give them the following message– Dear City Council: WE PAY TAXES Don’t SCREW US in the Budget! Put My Tax Dollars Towards Affordable Housing, Childcare & Education!

For more information about tomorrow’s Tax Day Delegation contact or call 202-234-9119 ext. 104.

DC Council Budget Vote Run Down

Cross-Posted from Save Our Safety Net

If you haven’t already heard, we didn’t win the income tax brackets. But we did win one progressive revenue source which is helping to pay for our other collective win: Millions in restorations to safety net services! And it is directly due to OUR PRESSURE! Check out this news report from the day before the vote:


But Jack Evans is already trying to undo $13 million in possible restorations in order to repeal the progressive revenue that did make it in the budget–a progressive revenue, incidentally, that HE VOTED FOR. He even wrote an email to other Councilmembers telling them “You need to help us”. They don’t seem to give up, but neither do we. Click HERE to take action to make sure all new revenue will go towards services and not a tax repeal.



Restorations were either funded in the budget, or promised future funding in a list of priorities if the June revenue forecast reveals the city will be getting more money than Council thought. (It is widely estimated that there will be additional funding that can be used to start funding the priorities in the order the Council has laid out.) Here’s a table to show you how restorations stand (there may be adjustments here and there as the final budget is analyzed, but this should be fairly accurate):

Services Cuts Restorations in Budget Restorations IF more $$ in June Homeless Services $20.5M $17M $2.2M Housing Prod. Trust Fund $18M 0 $18M Interim Disability Asstnce $4.8M $1.2M $3.3M TANF $5M $4.9M 0 Childcare $2.2M 0 $2M Children’s Mental Health $7M 0 $6.4M Victim’s Services $3M $4.1M** 0 Healthcare Alliance $11M 0 0 Housing 1st rent subsidies $4M 0 $1.6M TOTAL: $75.4M $27.2M $33.5M

**To help cover Victim’s Services cuts, the Council used $2.8M from the Domestic Violence Shelter Fund. For more information about the potential restorations and the list of priorities check out this post on the District Dime.

This is an incredible accomplishment. We did not get everything this city needs, we need to keep fighting to protect what we did get, and only time will tell how much of the $33.5M in future promises will actually be delivered. But as the Exec. Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Patty Mullahy Fugere, told us: “In my 20 years here at the Legal Clinic, I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many council members express concern about maintaining a safety net for our low-income and homeless neighbors. It was a very welcome change.”

And this is because of your calls, emails, and participation in the numerous rallies, council visits, and actions in the past 3 months. (Seriously folks: early last week we heard that Homeless Services would only be getting $4M. By Friday (a few hundred calls, emails and a Safety Net Reality Tour later) that number had jumped to $17 million.)


We lost the income tax by two votes from two Councilmembers we had considered staunch allies until something happened in the back rooms of the Council. Tommy Wells and Marion Barry voted against the income tax, joining Cheh, Catania, Bowser, Kwame and Orange. For their votes in our favor, we profusely thank Michael Brown, Graham, Thomas, and our two newest safety net superheroes, Mendelson and Alexander.

Though we didn’t get the income tax, we did close the exemption on the out-of-state bonds tax which is projected to bring in a comparable amount of revenue. This was pretty amazing as it was a centerpiece of last year’s SOS campaign but it was not widely supported then. It became clear this bonds tax was just a gimmick intended to be repealed when the June revenue forecast is likely to reveal the city has a bit more to spend for this year. Kwame had written in language stating that he would use some of the extra revenue from the June forecast to “buy back” the tax. But Wells impressed us when he managed to pass an amendment to take out the repeal and redirect the funds to safety net services. He gets major props for that move.

ACTION POINT: Now Evans, Cheh, Kwame and Catania are plotting to take away the $13 million earned by Wells’ amendment, money that is currently promised to Homeless Services, Interim Disability Assistance, the Housing Production Trust Fund and Children’s Mental Health. CLICK . . . → Read More: DC Council Budget Vote Run Down

Advocating on Behalf of Low- and Moderate-Income DC Residents

Time is almost up. The city budget is scheduled for a vote May 25, 2011. There are still a couple of things you can do to keep the outrageous cuts to the social services from happening. Call, email, or visit the members of the council who remain against the proposal to increase taxes on DC’s wealthiest citizens by a mere .4 percent. There names and contact information follow:

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans 202- 724-8058

Council Chair Kwame Brown 202-724-8032

At-Large Councilmember David Catania 202-724-7772

Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser 202-724-8052

There’s also one more rally. The details follow:

Critical, Unified Fair Budget Action: Social Services Walking Tour Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW May 18th, 11 a.m. -1 p.m.

Even if the budget passes with a slightly more progressive tax code, many cuts to social services will remain. DC’s progressive activists work hard for positive outcomes during budget season, but the low- and moderate-income residents who are most affected by these budget cuts must deal with them year round. We should be organizing year round. The following video, “How to Be an Affordable Housing Advocate,” suggests that we stay informed about legislation and that we hold our elected officials accountable however and whenever possible. Enjoy.


It’s Your Money. Where Is It Going?

So, you didn’t make it to last Tuesday’s Winning a Better Budget Dinner and Action Session at Bread for the City. That’s okay. This week Empower DC and DC Jobs With Justice will be having a free training on the DC Budget. Here are the details.

DC BUDGET TRAINING It’s YOUR Money! Where is it Going?

Tues. April 19, 2011 6:30-8:30 PM Empower DC, 1419 V St, NW (2 1/2 blocks from the U Street Metro)

Special guest Jenny Reed from DC Fiscal Policy Institute will fill us in on the details of Mayor Gray’s budget. How much money is going to subsidize DC’s for profit developers and how much money is being cut from child care, affordable housing, human services programs, etc. Being sponsored by Empower DC and DC Jobs With Justice much of the discussion will be about what we can all do about it.

The following videos, which the Grassroots Media Project produced last year at budget time, show some of the issues at stake. The first is about hits to the city’s subsidized child care program, the second is about the need for adult education and the third is about the council’s refusal to adopt a more progressive income tax code. Enjoy or, ya know, get indignant. Hope to see you on Tuesday night.


DC Doesn’t Work Without Child Care


Adult Education and the Millionaire’s Tax


Dear City Council …

A Better Budget is Possible (at least in the District of Colubmia)

So what are you doing this Tuesday, April 12? How about a free meal, good conversation and some concrete suggestions for how you can make this city a better place to live.

As you know, we are deep into budget season. We’ve all been disgusted at the “negotiations” that have been going on at a national level. The effect of last Friday’s deal will have a disproportionate impact on DC residents not only because of the last-minute riders funding the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program and reinstating a ban on abortion funding but also because cuts were made on the backs of the poor and our sizable low-income populations will struggle mightily as subsidized housing and income maintenance programs are starved along with the people that they are meant to serve. Having no national representation in this “Capital of the Free World,” we should not be surprised to take a larger hit. However we do have representation or something like it on the local level. Most long-term residents of DC believe that government should prioritize human rights over property rights, but when you listen to the fiscal conservatives on the city council and in the mayor’s office, it’s pretty clear that they’re not representing that point of view. This is in part down to us. Elected officials must be held to account and no one but their constituents legitimately have that right. It is not enough to vote, we must make demands.

To that end is Tuesday night’s dinner which sponsors are calling:

Winning a Better Budget: Dinner and Action Session Bread for the City, 1525 7th Street NW Tuesday, April 12, 2011 5:30 – 8:00 PM Free! Free! Free!!!

Dinner starts at 5:30 PM. The information and action session starts at 6:00 PM. Bread for the City is 2 blocks from the Shaw/Howard Metro station on the Green Line, between P & Q Streets NW.

Joni Podschun, steady force behind the Save Our Safety Net Campaign, has posted details about the event and why you should be involved on her blog which is cross posted below.

Good News Really Bad News About the DC Budget

Fast Facts • Nearly 1 in 5 DC residents live in poverty. • 1 in 3 children in DC live in poverty – much higher than the national average. • 1 in 5 workers in DC has a job that won’t lift a family

Hello good people,

The Mayor’s budget was released on Friday. It was a moment of reckoning, demonstrating both our power to affect change and the unjust cuts our city leaders are willing to make instead of truly progressive new revenue. Now we need you to tell the Council to make a better choice.

Here’s what happened: Mayor Vince Gray proposed a new tax bracket of 8.9% for household income over $200,000 a year, a modest increase from the current bracket of 8.5%. Save Our Safety Net and coalition partners put on the heat with emails, calls, and visits to City Hall these last few weeks to push for progressive taxes to fund safety net programs, and this effort clearly paid off.

The Mayor also slashed the safety net. Though human services programs make up roughly a quarter of the local budget, they are taking 67% of the Mayor’s proposed cuts. Early analysis suggests that homeless services, affordable housing, help for families in crisis, disability assistance, child care, and health care have all seen drastic cuts. This targeting of safety net programs can not stand.

We need your help to send a strong message to the Council. Join us in asking them for smart, responsible leadership. With even more progressive income tax brackets, we can restore these essential programs. Email the Council now.

For the first time since our campaign began in the summer of 2009, we have a change in our tax system. Please take a minute now to show the Council that DC residents want this change, and we need to bring in enough money to restore funding for these programs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the budget and connecting with SOS and other organizing campaigns, come to Winning the Budget: Dinner and Action Session from 5:30-8:00 pm Tuesday, April 12 at Bread for the City (1525 7th St NW). RSVP on Facebook or email me for more information.

Thank you for your hard work,


. . . → Read More: A Better Budget is Possible (at least in the District of Colubmia)

Austerity Measures in the District of Columbia

Not so much written by the Coordinator, as posted by the Coordinator. This piece was actually written by Ben Parisi of Empower DC

On Tuesday, December 7, 2010, the DC Council voted on a last-minute measure to close a $188 million deficit in the fiscal year 2011 budget. On the chopping block were nearly $50 million in services for DC’s low-income residents. Among these critical services were affordable housing programs, child care subsidies, interim disability assistance, HIV/AIDS screening, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, and more.


Thousands of residents demanded a simple solution of the DC council: a 1% tax increase on income over $200,000. This would have affected only 5% of DC’s wealthiest residents, most of whom have not seen any of their city services cut and have not felt the crunch of this recession as low-income people have. This tax, as small as it is, would have raised more than enough revenue to allow the Council to make the better choice by restoring all the proposed cuts to safety net programs.

A group of 100+ people and organizations, led by Empower DC, DC Jobs with Justice, Save our Safety Net, DC We the People, and H St small businesses, met at the Council Building that morning to voice their protest over the proposed cuts and to call on their elected representatives to make the better choice. Since the council gave only one opportunity for public comment, announced right before Thanksgiving, many of those residents who stood to be impacted by the cuts did not have ample opportunity to voice their opinions. Because of this, a People’s Hearing was planned to take place outside the Council Building that morning, giving spokespeople from an array of safety net programs the opportunity to address the impact of these cuts. Due to the fact that temperatures outside were sub-freezing and there were small children present, the group took its hearing inside, to the fifth floor outside the chamber where the Council would vote in a matter of hours. Immediately, security descended upon those who had gathered to raise their voices to their elected representatives. Spokespeople agreed to whisper, and the audience gathered closely around them. Still, security intervened, claiming that rules forbade gathering. With no other option, the group entered the hearing room, filling all the seats, and waited for the hearing to begin. When it did, individuals stood up and made their statements directly to the Councilmembers on the dais, since they had been given no other chance to speak with their elected representatives.

Ten individuals stood to call upon the council to make the better choice and not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. All ten were powerful voices and represented thousands of residents struggling with similar circumstances. All ten were thrown out of the building by security.

Despite all this, 5 councilmembers heard the call for progressive income taxes to save the safety net that these groups had been making for months. They stood on the right side of this struggle, but their other 8 colleagues voted against their proposals and brought the ax down on critical programs in DC that save lives. As a result, thousands of low-income residents of our nation’s capital will suffer an especially cold holiday season.

If this angers you, turn your anger into a plan! Join Empower DC and get organized! Give us a call at (202) 234-9119, and get involved! In making these cuts, the Council was led by Chairman Vincent Gray, DC’s mayor-elect. When he is sworn in as mayor in less than a month, one of the first things he will do is draft a budget for fiscal year 2012. Let’s be prepared to make sure it turns out differently this time! (202) 234-9119

Post Script,

For the record, those who voted for a more progressive tax code were At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown, Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham, Ward Five Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., Ward Six Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward Eight Councilmember Marion Barry.

Those opposed were, Council Chair Vincent Gray, At-Large Councilmember David Catania, At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Ward Two Councilmember Jack Evans, Ward Three Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward Four Councilmember Muriel Bowser, Ward Seven Councilmember Yvette Alexander.

Be sure to send your councilmember words of encouragement or otherwise. We are also hoping the above video will go viral, at least here in the District of Columbia. Please feel free to post it on blogs and Facebook pages . . . → Read More: Austerity Measures in the District of Columbia

Does Vince Gray Really Support Early Childhood Education?

Vince Gray is very proud of the legislation he sponsored making pre-k education universal for all 3- and 4-year-olds. He declared it as one of his major accomplishments in all of his town hall meetings prior to November’s general election. To be sure, early childhood education is extremely important. Children who receive high-quality child care from an early age are better prepared for school, more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, and to stay out of prison. But which service providers are able to take advantage of the money made available by this legislation is also important. [youtube]vIUjy6Z1bws[/youtube]

When the bill to make pre-k education universal was first proposed in 2008, 50 percent of the new slots provided were supposed to go to community-based child care providers. By the time the legislation was passed, that number was down to 25 percent. In addition, funding for the District’s Child Care Subsidy Program, which also benefits community-based child care providers as well as low-income parents in need of affordable child care, has been cut each of the past five years.

While Gray wants to do right by his youngest constituents, he seems less concerned about their parents or the middle-class workforce that at one time provided the backbone for DC’s tax base. A pattern that we should be familiar with from the Fenty Administration, who closed down Department of Recreation Early Childhood programs in wards 6, 7 & 8 while leaving the same programs open in the wealthier wards. This action, which Gray is unlikely to reverse, insured an increase in the unemployment rates in those wards hardest hit by the recession as child care providers from the Department of Recreation were fired. The closing of the Recreation Department child care programs also increased the burden on low-income parents by decreasing the number of affordable child care providers within the city’s poorest communities, a number which has already been decreased by the consistent de-funding of the District’s Child Care Subsidy Program.

Subsidized child care, which provides low-income parents with vouchers that pay a portion of their child care costs, is one of the most important work support programs available in DC and around the country. Child care costs can easily amount to $15,000 per year, per child. Without subsidies that help to make child care affordable for low-income families, thousands of parents in DC would be unable to work, unable to look for work or attend school so they are better qualified for work.

In addition to the huge benefits for children and their families, investing in early child care and education helps to strengthen a field whose workforce in DC is predominantly low-income women of color. Child care providers rely on these subsidies from the government to cover their costs. Without them, they would have to lay off the hundreds of people, mostly women, who work in this field. Many child care providers have already had to close their doors for good, even though these are precisely the kinds of small business that Gray claims to support.

The District of Columbia City Council will hold a a public hearing Tuesday November 30, 2010 to hear testimony regarding childcare in the District’s budget. Community members who are impacted–children, parents, child-care providers, etc., are encouraged to testify. If you are interested in testifying at the hearing, attending in support or getting more information, contact Ben Parisi, Child Care organizer for Empower DC at (202) 234-9119 or Ben (at)