- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stephen Hopkins-Bey says he has a pretty clear picture of what will happen if District lawmakers follow through on proposed cuts in their upcoming budget that would likely close the homeless shelter in which he lives.

“I’ll break the law and end up going back to prison,” he said.

Mr. Hopkins-Bey was among roughly 200 needy D.C. residents and activists who went to City Hall on Wednesday to protest deep cuts to social services that Mayor Vincent C. Gray has included in his budget plan for fiscal 2012.

The rally - co-sponsored by Council member Jim Graham and the Save our Safety Net, DC! campaign - was staged amid tough City Council debates on whether to keep more than a dozen tax and revenue initiatives in the Gray budget plan to raise roughly $127 million or consider other funding sources and even deeper cuts to services. The first council vote is scheduled for next week.

The mayor’s plan already calls for cutting the city’s Department of Health and Human Services by $113.4 million, or 8 percent.

Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the council’s Department on Human Services, added up proposed cuts to the homeless, the disabled and people on temporary assistance, then compared them to projected gains from a tax on the city’s highest wage earners.

“From those who have everything, we get $18 million,” he said. “From those who have nothing, we get $27 million. And I ask you, ‘Does that make sense to you?’ Because those who have the most should step up to this plate.”

Rally organizer Aiyi’nah D. Ford said she counted more than 225 people on a sign-in sheet Wednesday.

They found a sympathetic audience in Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, who said the argument that budget cuts do not go deep enough is a “myth.”

“We shouldn’t have to show up like this,” he told the protesters, adding they also will find support from Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat.

The protesters completed their rally by visiting the office of Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, a Democrat.

A top staffer said Mr. Brown listened to their concerns but made clear he will not support a budget plan that includes a tax increase on households making $200,000 or more.

Dissatisfied, Ms. Ford encouraged the protestors to continue their rallies in coming days, “since Chairman Brown is not quite sure what his next step will be.”

Mr. Hopkins-Bey said the turnout was strong but “there should have been more” protesters.

“It’s not just myself,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of people in the streets.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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