- The Washington Times
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The D.C. Council on Tuesday approved supplementary legislation for the fiscal 2021 budget, finalizing the city’s multibillion-dollar spending plan.

The 13 lawmakers discussed proposals about affordable housing, charter schools and an expansion of cash assistance for workers who don’t qualify for unemployment insurance, having approved the overall $16.7 billion budget last week.

The Council shot down an amendment by Council member Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, that would have included Northeast and Southeast as being eligible for tax abatements for affordable housing.

Mr. Gray said those areas have a presumably high demand for affordable housing, commenting on how his proposal would try to keep workers like EMS staffers in the communities they serve. But his colleagues noted that those areas are not designated as high need compared to other areas of the city.

Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, described abatements as future tax dollars that are not included in the budget that are given away.

“So we need to strategically use those dollars to create the most affordable housing where it’s needed the most,” Ms. Silverman said.

After pushback from other Council members, Mr. Gray withdrew his amendment.

In a 9-3 vote, the Council rejected Ms. Silverman’s amendment for tax abatement for affordable housing projects in high need, high cost areas to last for 15 years instead of 30 years. She had argued the amendment would make this more affordable for taxpayers and advance long-term housing equity in the District.

In response, Council member Brooke Pinto, who voted no on the measure, expressed concern about the length of abatements.

“I do worry that reducing the time period that the abatement would apply for these projects would undermine the progress towards increasing affordability, so I cannot support this amendment today,” said Ms. Pinto, Ward 4 Democrat.

The Council did approve a proposal by Ms. Silverman to expand cash assistance to excluded workers in a 10-2 vote. While $9 million has been approved to help workers who are largely people of color and don’t have access to unemployment insurance, Ms. Silverman said that money will run out quickly.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, disapproved of the measure and pointed out issues with defining who is eligible for the $1,000 cash assistance, noting that employment status was not included in the amendment and that program could be subject to “big-time abuse.”

To narrow the definition of excluded workers who are eligible for cash assistance, the council approved an amendment by Council member Trayon White, Ward 8 Democrat, to add a returning citizen as defined by the Commission on Re-Entry and Returning Citizen Affairs who does not qualify for the cash safety net.

The Council also approved an amendment that allows a public charter school board to go into executive session to discuss information received from outside the board that can be defined as proprietary or trade secrets.

After the amendments, the Council voted unanimously to pass the budget support act. The budget now heads to Mayor Muriel Bowser to sign and then to Congress for a 30-day review before becoming law.

Council members also discussed emergency legislation on property tax sales, low-income housing tax credits, rental assistance expansion and open polling places among other topics at their legislative meeting.

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