By George Kevin Jordan, Special to the AFRO
As the District of Columbia Council was poised to hold its first vote on the proposed FY- 2020 budget this week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser continued to sound the alarm of potential job losses to those who need them most.
“As we combat displacement, now is not the time to cut critical programs that equip some of our most vulnerable residents, including returning citizens, with the skills and knowledge they need to secure good-paying jobs,” said Mayor Bowser. “We cannot turn our backs on residents who often have the hardest time finding employment. These programs are not only changing lives, but, in many cases, they are saving lives.”
Bowser spoke frankly about the D.C. Council’s proposal that would cut $17.4 million from a myriad of workforce initiatives effectively impacting over 1,400 job seekers in the District. Project Empowerment, Career Connections and other programs would feel the blow as early as fall according to the mayor’s office.
Through Project Empowerment 390 returning citizens were able to find employment. The initiatives serve over 700 people particularly in Wards 7 and 8.
“The Council’s budget cuts will ultimately cause a ripple effect throughout our local workforce,” said Department of Employment Services (DOES) Director Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes. “Reductions in funding for workforce development initiatives, education and job training services will lead to a rise in unemployment as residents will have limited access to the tools and resources needed to obtain economic stability.”
This rebuttal from the mayor’s office came in several waves over the last several days in reaction to the D.C. Council’s cuts.
Last week, during a roundtable with press, City Administrator Rashad M. Young said, “we are concerned that there are some changes recommended by the committee that impact critical programs and investments and in some respects disproportionately impacts those residents in our community who are most vulnerable and require the safety net we’re investing in.”
Meanwhile Council member Elissa Silverman, who chairs the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, has been blunt about why the Council is suggesting cuts.
“But we can’t keep spending millions and millions on workforce programs without D.C. residents getting good paying jobs and benefiting from our economy,” Silverman wrote via Twitter. “So I put future year dollars in safekeeping and have asked the administration to work with me to improve outcomes.”
Local activist, author and advocate for the District Tony Lewis Jr. weighed in on the benefits of Project Empowerment. “Project Empowerment has probably been D.C.’s strongest public safety tool. It really has made our city safer,” Lewis said.
“Project Empowerment is marginalized because of the people they serve,” Lewis added. “But at the end of the day this program has provided people who never would have gotten an opportunity to flourish.”
Jobs in the District are pivotal as a 2018 report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) stated that unemployment for African American’s is the highest in the nation with a 12.9 percent unemployment and an 8.5 to 1 Black to White unemployment rate ratio.
The EPI also said D.C. had the highest African American unemployment rate (12.4 percent), followed by Illinois (9.3 percent), Louisiana (8.5 percent), Alabama (7.1 percent), and New York (7.0 percent).
For an opportunity to see the FY- 2020 budget please go to: https://cfo.dc.gov/page/annual-operating-budget-and-capital-plan. To follow the D.C. Council’s vote on the budget please go to: https://dccouncil.us/events/.