Last Thursday was my first time attending DC’s annual Mayoral Budget Engagement Forums.
While I support the entire list of priorities put forward by the Fair Budget Coalition for FY2020, I was at the forum mainly to advocate for funding the Birth To Three for All Act. This important program will ensure that all families in DC can access high quality childcare and health services from birth through age three. To fund the first year of the program, we need $30 million in new funding from the District’s $14.6 billion annual budget.
The DC Council passed the Birth to Three For All Act in 2018. The legislation, if funded, will transform how our city sets up children and families for healthy development and success by expanding home visiting programs for moms and babies, proactively connecting families to comprehensive health services, and investing in educationally stimulating childcare, including raising wages for early childhood educators (something that is long overdue!).
There was a flurry of activity at the Arthur Capper Community Center in Ward 6 when I arrived. Dozens of activist groups were outside petitioning for public support and preparing forum attendees to speak out for their various funding priorities; inside there dozens of high ranking government officials making the rounds as community leaders from all across the District clamored for their attention. I was excited and proud to attend the forum with JUFJ and to join the the ranks of those putting forward proposals to build a more inclusive and just DC.
When I first entered the forum and looked around at the packed gymnasium I started to feel nervous. I felt like I might not know enough, or like I wasn’t up to the challenge of convincing my fellow citizens to support this vital program.
However, once I sat down and started to engage with the people at my table, I realized that many of us were there for the same thing. While some people’s top priorities were affordable housing or immigration services – and others, like me, prioritized investing in DC’s kids – we were all fighting for the best of what DC can be: a place where everyone, regardless of income, whether Black, brown, and white, has what we need to thrive in the city. It was inspiring to know that a table of 10 random strangers could come together so seamlessly to fight for such an important mission.
While there was not a lot of direct “engagement” at the forum, the Mayor did call on tables at the end of the night to share out their priorities for the next fiscal year. The people spoke forcefully: we want more affordable housing, quality education and childcare, easier access to food and health services, good jobs, funding for legal services for immigrants, more secure communities, and fairer taxes to create revenue for all these priorities. Over 70% of participants in a mobile poll at the forum said clearly: don’t take funding from other programs that help people in need. Fund affordable housing by making those with means pay their fair share of taxes!
After these forums, the Mayor’s team says that they will integrate the messages they heard at the forums into their FY2020 budget proposal. This proposal will then be given over to the Council, who will finalize the budget by May (you can find more on the DC budget process here).
I am excited to work with JUFJ and so many others to ensure that next year’s budget includes the funding needed to help every child in the District have a strong start.
On Monday, March 4 at 10:00 AM, you can learn about testifying before the Council about Birth to Three budget priorities at a testimony and storytelling training. If you can’t make it but want to get more involved in budget advocacy, email JUFJ organizer Zach (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let him know.