DC Council approves 2023 budget, takes first vote on new ANC boundaries

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The DC Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the city’s fiscal 2023 budget while pushing through some last-minute changes, including additional support for excluded workers who were ineligible for unemployment benefits and other federal aid programs during the pandemic.

The vote comes about two weeks after the council gave initial approval to the District’s $19.5 billion budget, which made several changes to the spending plan originally proposed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in March. The council added more per-pupil funding for DC Public Schools and charter school organizations, as well as more money for permanent-housing vouchers to cover rent for low-income families.

On Tuesday, council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) pitched two amendments. One would have taken away about half of the $14 million allocated to purchase the old Key Bridge Exxon site in Georgetown and used it to make the expansion of paid leave benefits for private-sector workers — set to take effect Oct. 1 — retroactive to July 1, when the city’s chief financial officer initially said the expanded benefit could be available. But the amendment failed on a 5-to-8 vote after several lawmakers, led by council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), expressed concerns about passing on an opportunity to buy the property, which they said could be used to build affordable housing or a Metro station.

But Silverman successfully introduced a second amendment that sets aside $20 million for laborers who were not eligible for traditional or expanded federal unemployment benefits during the pandemic, like street vendors.

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That money, which she said would provide about 15,000 excluded workers in the District with cash payments of at least $1,000, would be made available in fiscal 2023 so long as the fiscal 2022 revenue estimate from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer increases by at least $20 million. (Silverman noted that the CFO’s estimates that come out quarterly typically show annual increases of much more than that.)

But Jenny Reed, director of the DC Office of Budget and Performance Management, reminded the council in a statement that DC allocated $41 million for excluded laborers during last year’s budget process.

“Now, DC is open and job opportunities abound; however, the Council will still take a vote on using $20 million of future revenue to fund a program intended to support workers when there were no opportunities,” the statement said. “Today, employers are scouring for workers, residents want to get back to work, and the Council could better support residents by helping us connect people to these existing opportunities.”

Silverman and other lawmakers disagreed, however, highlighting the urgent needs of excluded workers: “Many of these workers have no economic safety net, and if a recession does indeed come, they’re going to be in trouble,” she added.

Megan Felix Macaraeg, organizing director for the Beloved Community Incubator, a nonprofit that advocates for excluded workers, praised the additional funding but said the support still falls short of the $160 million advocates had asked for this year.

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During the council’s first vote on the budget earlier this month, lawmakers moved to make all wage- and age-qualifying workers eligible for the city’s generous earned-income tax credit, whether they have a Social Security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Macaraeg said that she supported that change but that the credit “is not interchangeable with direct cash payments.”

The budget will now head to Bowser’s desk for his signature. The council will take the second vote on the Budget Support Act, which contains changes to the law necessary to implement measures within the approved budget, on June 7.

The council on Tuesday also took the first of two votes on newly drawn boundaries for the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and the Single Member Districts contained within them. In December, the council approved new ward-level boundaries as part of the decennial process that comes after the US Census Bureau offers new data on how populations have changed.

ANC redistricting is a required step in the months leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, when ANC commissioners seeking election must gather signatures to appear on the ballot. Silverman, who chairs the council’s subcommittee on redistricting, noted that drawing ANC boundaries in Wards 3, 7 and 8 garnered the most ardent feedback among residents.

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But Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) on Monday offered a version of the maps that included some last-minute tweaks, notably in Ward 7, where some residents in two ANC boundaries that would stretch across the Anacostia River had raised concerns about the subcommittee’s original plan, which they said would effectively divide communities in the Hill East neighborhood between two commissions.

Mendelson said his version would allow for cross-river cooperation without splitting up eastern Capitol Hill neighborhoods. That decision frustrated Silverman, who said the alterations could upset the balance of power in the two commissions.

“The goal was to bring east and west together, this map does that, in a way that west will dominate east in one ANC and east will dominate west in another,” said Silverman, who marked herself as present during the vote.

Nearly all the lawmakers acknowledged the challenge of drawing the new boundaries in a way that pleases everyone; still, many of them hinted at additional tweaks in their wards that they will probably propose ahead of the council’s second vote on the matter next month.

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