Mayor Bowser shares budget plans with student journalists
Students learn more about mayor’s new initiatives during roundtable
Mayor Muriel Bowser discussed her upcoming budget proposal with student journalists in a roundtable on April 11 in the John A. Wilson Building.
The student reporters asked questions and shared their concerns about the mayor’s budget and financial plan for fiscal year 2018. This budget includes support for the unemployed like programs to provide job opportunities and major increases in funding for public education.
“This budget will have the single biggest investment in public education in the city’s history,” Bowser said. “Our population of students is growing and we are increasing our per pupil formula to help educate those children as well as a 2.2 percent increase in per pupil facilities for public charter schools.”
Bowser opened the roundtable by discussing the new pieces of the budget plan. Her first priority is child care, which she plans to improve by creating 1,300 new seats for infants and toddlers in schools. She’ll do this by delivering grants over a three year period, she said.
“We have a lot of young people moving into our city and deciding to stay in our city and have families in our city. One way to reverse the upward trajectory of Washington D.C. is to have families not be able to find infant and toddler seats,” Bowser said.
She also plans on increasing African-American youth employment in Wards 7 and 8 by creating an infrastructure academy. This academy would be the first in D.C.’s history and would serve as a post-high school training program, focusing on partnering with utilities like Washington Gas and transit agencies to train people for jobs in those agencies.
African-American unemployment in D.C. is currently at 13.6 percent and rising. Bowser hopes that this academy will lower this rate below 10 percent. According to D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the gap between black and white unemployment in D.C. has increased since the recession.
“As part of our five year economic development strategy that we just announced, we are focusing on reducing African American unemployment in Washington,” Bowser said. “This is so important to talk about because when we have a booming city, we also have increasing income gaps, and that is not long term sustainable for a city like ours.”
Next, Mayor Bowser addressed her concern for public safety. For the last two years, her administration brought down the crime rate by focusing on increasing law enforcement.
Bowser plans to continue this progress by utilizing a series of programs to hire more police officers. She hopes to double the size of the cadet program and provide young officers with housing assistance and tuition forgiveness programs.
“We are going to continue on programs that are focused on jobs and prevention, but we are also focused on how we can retain and recruit more police officers to our department,” Bowser said.
Bowser plans to improve D.C.’s 911 call center. She said that many 911 calls do not require an ambulance or a trip to the emergency room. She plans on adding a nurse triage line at the 911 call center so people can connect to the resources that they need when calling 911.
“We are devising programs to help people get the right resource in their neighborhoods and the get the right sources of transportation to help them get there,” Bowser said.
Bowser then opened the floor to the student journalists to ask questions. One student asked about her employment initiatives like the LEAP program, and other employment initiatives to help those in need of jobs. The LEAP program, which allows unemployed people to earn wages for on-the-job training experiences, has helped may D.C. residents get jobs without impacting the employment agency’s budget. The District’s 911 and 311 call centers hired 31 new call receivers through the LEAP program, Bowser said.
“This program is good for the agency because they can take a chance without affecting their own budget and hire new employees,” Bowser said.
High school student journalists asked about a new contract between the Washington Teachers Union and D.C. public schools. The contract has not been updated in six years due to a lack of effort on the part of the teacher’s union to agree on a new contract, Bowser said.
Elizabeth Davis, the union president, told the Washington Post in December 2016 that the teachers have agreed on language for the contract, but are trying to compromise a solution to give them raises, since they have not received base level raises since 2012. The conflict has still not been resolved, according to Bowser.
She plans on working with the representatives of the union to put forward a “good faith effort” in creating the new agreement.
“I can’t speak for the last six years, but I can speak for our efforts, and I want to get to an agreement with the teachers,” Bowser said. “I think that it’s only fair to have that certainty and that discussion. Make no mistake: our teachers are the best teachers in the region, and we are proud of that.”
The discussion closed with a question about the mayor’s plans to improve the application process for welfare. According to Bowser, there are 15,000 people who currently receive cash assistance from TANF, or Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families. Bowser explained that before she became mayor, families would be taken off of cash assistance after just 60 months with TANF.
Bowser plans on reforming this system by getting rid of the 60 month limit for child financial support and increasing the TANF benefit. Previously, TANF recipients were getting $150 a month, which she said is not enough. She also plans on creating programs to help the parents of these children get jobs.
“The fact is, no matter what we do with TANF, it is never enough to live a good life,” Bowser said. “We have to spend a lot of time focused on how to getting people in a better situation.”
Bowser was accompanied by Matt Brown, her director of the Office of Budget and Finance, during the roundtable.