These are tough times for Americans living on the edge, and the long lines and growing waiting lists of families seeking government handouts reflect as much.
State and local governments are struggling, too, because many of them already have spent the federal stimulus dollars Washington sent their way.
Meanwhile, the nation’s capital is going broke - again - trying to house, feed and educate the masses.
The D.C. bureaucracy could teach the U.S. military a thing or two about “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policies.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is aware of the District’s shaky fiscal situation. His administration helped create it. But are D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and her Democratic colleagues paying attention?
A short decade ago, D.C. coffers were so shallow the city couldn’t meet its payroll obligations. The Clinton White House and Congress intervened with the Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, or control board, to oversee D.C. affairs.
Local reaction was swift and nasty.
In addition to wailing of paternalism and racism, critics cried foul, claiming the city’s own elected leaders should be making all the necessary decisions.
Who’s crying now? D.C. lawmakers.
The waiting list for disability checks is 2,800 strong.
Tommy Wells, the liberal D.C. Council member who represents Capitol Hill and chairs the Committee on Human Services, considers himself commander in chief of the D.C. safety net.
“I think the mayor cut with a pretty sharp knife,” Mr. Wells said at a recent public hearing. “Our recommendation is to rebuild the safety net.”
The cost of handouts proposed by Mr. Wells? An additional $12 million.
Council member David Catania, who dropped out of the Republican Party over the same-sex marriage issue, wants to continue drug treatment on demand, free needles so junkies can continue living drug-addled lives, free condoms to young boys and questionable vaccines to little girls.
Council member Mary M. Cheh wants to increase spending on food stamps by imposing a tax on sodas and other sugary beverages.
Alarms sounded during the recent deliberations on the mayor’s fiscal 2011 budget plan.
The veritable council member Marion Barry pointed out that overspending got the city into trouble in the mid-1990s and overspending will always be a problem.
Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee and the conscience of the 13-member council, laid out the cold, hard facts.
In the early 1990s, the city was $330 million in the hole. Today, it has a projected deficit of $550 million. Neither then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly nor the council made substantial spending cuts. Ditto the current mayor and council.
Mr. Evans pointed out that the savings fund balance stood at $1.4 billion in 2007, but the Fenty administration already has spent $1 billion of those funds.
He also said that since the control board went dormant in 2001, the city has increased its human-services spending by 78 percent.
Mr. Fenty was smart to propose an election-year budget short on handouts. The move forced his chief rival, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, to appease fellow lawmakers on the one hand and deliver to needy voters with the other.
It appears to be a win-win for Mr. Fenty. But for D.C. taxpayers, not so much.
The city cannot prove that all the “residents” it is trying to house, feed and educate actually live in the city.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee told lawmakers at a hearing that the residency of adults participating in free adult education programs cannot be verified.
Taxpayers complain that Marylanders are using D.C. recreation and library programs as baby sitters.
Public school student-athletes have questionable residency, too, and only the good Lord knows whether the people receiving food stamps, welfare benefits and housing subsidies are actual D.C. residents.
The D.C. budget won’t be making the rounds of Congress until June. It will be interesting to see whether lawmakers such as Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia have questions regarding D.C. residency requirements.
There’s little reason to doubt the two lawmakers will have questions about the city’s commuter tax plan, which, if approved by Congress, would slice into the number of dollars brought home by their own constituents.
c Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.