- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The D.C. Council unanimously agreed Monday to freeze roughly $46 million in new spending until February, despite criticism that the plan will disproportionately affect low-income residents.

Hundreds of D.C. residents protested outside of John A. Wilson Building, then filed into the council chambers to question the cuts, which follow the $131 million recently proposed by the administration Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Democrat, to address revenue shortfalls in upcoming city budgets.

“In the District, we are fortunate to be faced with only having to cut back on new initiatives, rather than having to cut long-standing programs,” said council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat.

The plans calls for cutting at least $5.6 million from the city´s Housing First program, which provides subsidized housing for at least 400 previously homeless people, with an additional 400 people being scheduled to receive apartments later this year.

Mr. Gray dispelled concerns about residents being evicted from their homes, saying: “I certainly have no intention of removing anyone from housing that they currently occupy.”

Mr. Gray also said that current spending will not be cut and that the legislation addresses only spending that has not yet been enacted.

A key provision in the legislation approved Monday is to allocate $50 million of new spending initiative into a reserve fund to prepare for future economic hurdles. Advocates for low-income residents say that the reserve fund will eliminate vital services and programs that help the poor.

“The only outcome will be that those who are the least, last and lost in this city are going to be the ones who will suffer,” said pastor Joseph Daniels, of the Washington Interfaith Network.

Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, estimated the plan will cut roughly $58 million in spending on programs for low-income residents.

Mr. Gray argued with council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, who said the voting should have been delayed to give the 13 council members more time to figure out how to decrease cuts to low-income residents.

“This is too much money and too much potential impact to vote today,” Mr. Barry said.

He pointed out that $11 million of $19 million for down-payment assistance for 500 first-time home buyers will be transferred to the reserve fund.

Mr. Barry said many potential homeowners will not be able to get a loan because the money will be frozen

Mr. Gray responded by saying there is a big difference between freezing new spending and cutting it altogether.

“Mr. Barry, as a fiscal expert, I know you know the difference between a spending freeze and a cut,” he said.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said the council had to make tough but necessary choices.

He cited the potential for the District to attain full voting rights in the Congress after President-elect Barack Obama´s victory and the Democrats´ full control of Congress.

“The last thing this city needs is to mess up its finances now, there´s too much at stake,” he said.

Mr. Lazere dispelled Mr. Gray’s notion that the spending freeze is not a cut.

“Of course it´s a cut,” he said. “The plan is, if the economic situation gets worse, those initiatives will be the first thing on the chopping block, and that´s what people are concerned with.”

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