Councilmember Robert White’s 2025 Budget Letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser

March 13, 2024

The Honorable Muriel Bowser
Mayor of the District of Columbia
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mayor Bowser:

This year, we face the incredible challenge of both responding to residents’ basic needs and preparing a balanced, fiscally responsible budget. The pandemic forever changed the District. Remote work is here to stay, and residents are choosing to eat, shop, and relax closer to their homes and neighborhoods. These historic changes are also affecting the District’s finances. Our goal this year must be stabilizing our residents and our budget. With this in mind, I urge you to consider three funding requests that I believe will provide this stability: seeding the creation of an inclusive economic development corporation; strengthening the District’s safety net to prevent instability for our residents and the high cost of instability to taxpayers; and expanding trade and vocational programs that will set high school students on a solid career path.

First, office space in downtown DC has been a pillar of the District’s strong finances for decades. However, in light of high office vacancy rates, in 2016 I urged the District to make downtown a place where people lived and worked. Now, vacancy rates are at an historic high, signaling a fundamental shift in our economic landscape. It is critical that we create more housing downtown and transform it into a network of neighborhoods where people can live, work, buy groceries, spend the afternoon at a café for their remote jobs, enjoy art and entertainment on Friday night, lounge in the park on Saturday, and go to markets on Sunday. We need downtown to be a collection of thriving communities—not a collection of vacant office buildings. To accomplish this, I propose that the District seed an economic development corporation that can map what we need to accomplish and quickly bring it into action. The organization’s mission will be more than business attraction and growth—it will include adaptive reuse, consolidating commercial space, workforce housing so people who work downtown can live downtown, and placemaking to ensure that housing development includes the amenities that make a neighborhood, including green space, retail, local restaurants, and transportation links to other parts of the District. The group must also be focused on inclusive development that prioritizes the needs of residents who have been left out of development processes or harmed by redevelopment in the past. The government cannot move with the urgency or efficiency that this reimagining requires. We have an opportunity to do development differently. Let’s seize it to reshape downtown into vibrant, inclusive communities where living, working, and playing coexist. This will stabilize our economy by creating new streams of revenue. Inaction or half-action here will sink our economy.

Second, as the Chair of the Committee on Housing, I oversee the Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS is tasked with providing stability for residents in crisis. By helping people stay housed, fed, employed, and economically secure, the social safety net programs that DHS provides prevent downstream problems such as chronic homelessness, substance abuse, and crime. When DHS is underfunded, as it is in fiscal year (FY) 2024, the District sets families and individuals adrift with nowhere to turn. DHS currently has a staggering $200 million budget gap due to a lack of adequate planning and funding for TANF cost increases, shelter operations, migrant services, and the administration and distribution of housing vouchers. Investing in DHS is not just an act of compassion but a strategic investment in our residents’ resilience and the District’s stability. Not putting food on the table, getting evicted, and falling behind on basic expenses can set a family back financially for years and have profound effects on their relationships, mental health, and ability to provide for themselves. Your FY 2025 budget must prioritize filling DHS’s budget gap by increasing funding above the FY 2024 levels to account for TANF cost increases, the true cost of shelter operations, expanded migrant services, and staffing to distribute the housing vouchers funded by the Council in the last few years. Failing to do so risks destabilizing District families and DHS even more.

Finally, it is imperative that we give youth access to high-quality, well-paying jobs straight out of high school. Designed as a crime prevention strategy, my proposed “Vocational Education for a New Generation Act of 2024” creates a new local fund so every student who wants job training and a pathway to a good career can access it. Over the last few months, I have been listening to young people to hear what they say will keep them safe and prevent crime, and I have consistently heard them say they need money and opportunity. This bill represents a deep investment in public safety through an unprecedented expansion of job training and vocational education in DC. For many students, securing a job after high school represents the best path toward stability, motivating them to finish school and establish meaningful careers. These programs equip students with certifications for immediate employment post-graduation, enhancing students’ job prospects and the District’s tax base. I ask that you invest $4 million to create and expand programs that lead to job certification, giving students the ability to start a viable career upon graduation and reinforcing our commitment to crime prevention and public safety through community stability.

We share many priorities and I look forward to working with you during the fiscal year 2025 budget season. I have attached a list of funding priorities that should also be carefully considered for investment. I know not all of these will be funded in this year’s budget, but each plays an important role in stabilizing the District as we continue to recover from the pandemic and adjust to our new reality. Thank you for your consideration of these recommendations.


Robert C. White, Jr.
Councilmember At-Large
Council of the District of Columbia

Additional Funding Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2025
Agencies in the Committee on Housing

  • Maintain at least the Fiscal Year 2024 level of funding the Council secured last year in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program;
  • Maintain dedicated funding for the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) public housing repair and maintenance to help put DCHA on the path to stability;
  • Increase funding for the Housing Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) to ensure funding is available equitably for residents seeking homeownership;
  • Budget $78 million for migrant services;
  • Fully fund anticipated cost of living increases in TANF;
  • Adequately fund shelter operations without relying on underutilizing vouchers;
  • Invest in additional staffing at DHS to allow funded housing vouchers to quickly get to residents in need;
  • Fund additional community-based wraparound services for housing voucher recipients with high needs;
  • Dedicate funding to ensure the District is prepared to preserve or acquire affordable housing downtown and across the District;
  • Enhance the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) sufficiently to ensure that at least half of the funds disbursed through the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) support housing for extremely low-income residents;
  • Allocate $1.5 million to DHS to provide storage for unhoused residents’ belongings;
  • Fund homeless service providers sufficiently to ensure they can offer competitive salaries and bonuses to attract case managers and other staff needed to scale their capacity to swiftly get unhoused residents into housing;
  • Make residents of the Talbert Street development whole and ensure they can transition to permanent, safe housing; and
  • Fund additional staff to improve DCHA customer service.

Early Childhood and Education

  • Maintain at least the existing funding, adjusted for inflation, for all early childhood programs;
  • Fully fund the Pay Equity Fund to ensure all childcare facilities can meet the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE’s) minimum required salaries;
  • Maintain funding levels, adjusted for inflation, with $5 million for HealthySteps and Healthy Futures, critical child development programs that support parents as their babies grow;
  • Increase home visiting programs at DC Health and the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) by $1.5 million to fund pay increases for employees so that the District can retain experienced practitioners;
  • Maintain investments in the universal basic income pilot program, Strong Families Strong Futures, for moms in Wards 5, 7, and 8;
  • Enhance School-Based Behavioral Health (SBBH) clinicians’ compensation with an additional $2.5 million above Fiscal Year 2024 levels to support retention and recruitment;
  • Provide $2.4 million to pilot the addition of non-clinical staff positions to expand the capacity of the SBBH teams to help students build skills to cope with challenges they may experience in school and at home;
  • Fund one full-time permanent substitute for each public school for $8 million total;
  • Provide $500,000 a year for OSSE’s Educator Wellness Technical Assistance Grants to ensure teachers feel supported and have what they need to bring their best selves to the classroom;
  • Add $2 million for the flexible scheduling pilot program that allow schools to innovate and test modified schedules that support teacher wellness and retention and allow for a more diverse learning experience for students;
  • Fund training and resources for schools to teach students a comprehensive climate justice curriculum, developed by educators, scientists, and students, to understand our history and prepare them to effectively address the evolving climate.
  • Provide $30 million to the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes to expand the number of student seats and build quality out-of-school time (OST) programming for equitable access to OST; and
  • Provide $6.6 million for LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) training for every teacher working in elementary schools to ensure students have the best literacy education.

Community Safety and Criminal Justice Equity

  • Fund and support an Emerging Adult Services Director, who would coordinate and align programs serving youth and develop a strategy to reach young people and reverse the rise in juvenile crime as established in the Secure DC legislation, for $598,000 in FY 2025;
  • Expand training and increase pay and benefits for violence interrupters to ensure they have adequate resources and support, and are treated as an equal part of the public safety ecosystem;
  • Increase the number of Credible Messengers so that every youth in custody has access to a trusted member of the community who provides support and guidance as they return home;
  • Increase funding to allow the Metropolitan Police Department to hire more detectives to improve case closure rates;
  • Increase funding to the Safe Passage program to increase the number of schools participating in the program, the number of workers per school, and training for workers so that every student can walk to and from school without fear;
  • Provide $4 million to hire school safety directors at every high school to develop and implement a comprehensive school safety approach;
  • Increase funding to programs that serve victims of domestic violence to maintain their operations and provide services to more people, including legal services, housing, mental health services, language access services, and prevention education for young people;
  • Increase funding to equitably expand access to high-quality drug treatment programs;
  • Dedicate $15 million for two 24-hour harm reduction centers; and
  • Provide additional funds for housing vouchers dedicated to returning citizens and support for returning citizens as they seek housing.

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