Yesterday, Natwar Gandhi, the Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia released new revenue estimates. He now projects that revenues for the District government will be $190 million dollars less for fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009) and $150 million less for fiscal year 2010 than he had projected in February. This means that the District will need to make major cuts in the last few months of this fiscal year and further cuts in the budget for the fiscal year starting this October. The Mayor has already ordered $35 million in reduced spending, not nearly enough to fill the gap. (Among the best places to follow the District budget is Susie Cambria’s blog on DC Government. ).
For people interested in programs that serve communities living in poverty, there is a reason to be concerned about these new projections and the cuts that will follow. When the budget gets tight, the first programs to be cut are supportive services and benefits programs. Last fall, when confronted with an unprojected (although entirely predictable) shortfall, one of the first cuts was to eliminate an increase to the benefit level for families relying on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The benefit level for a parent and two children is only $428 per month - 29% of the federal poverty level. It seems particularly cruel to balance the budget on the backs of those who are already in such need.
These were not the only cuts to programs that serve low-income communities. According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, in 2008, nearly 50% of the cuts necessary to the balance the budget came from social services or supportive programs despite that these programs make up only 30% of the total District budget.
The District faces hard choices. With revenue down, demand for services up and increased concerns about public safety, it will be difficult to find ways to balance the budget that are acceptable to everyone. Nevertheless, those most in need should not carry the greatest burden. Stay tuned, we will continue to post on this issue as things develop.