“I’m an ex con fighting for my rights,” Chuck said, standing in the halls of the John Wilson Building, holding a sign reading “DC COUNCIL: Stop the Swipe!”
“Stop the swipe” chants echoed through the halls of the John Wilson building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) Thursday morning following a public safety press conference as protesters voiced concerns to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) about a $20 million cut in her proposed FY 24 budget for excluded workers.
About 25 people from Excluded Workers DC and Vendors United gathered in the hallways outside the Mayor’s press conference April 27. They were gathered to protest these budget cuts that they say represent a needed portion of previously promised funding to these workers.
Chuck is one of those workers. A returning citizen and a street vendor, he currently sells clothing across the District’s neighborhoods –including near the Wilson Building itself, on Benning Road and near Eastern Market. He sells clothing, including jeans, leggings, socks and shirts, primarily for women but also for men and childrne.
But what he really wants to do is start a nonprofit to help at risk youth in the community. “I’m an ex-con fighting for my rights,” he said. “When I came home I was homeless,” he said, who clarified he had not received assistance, either federal funding or District assistance for excluded workers.
He could not obtain most conventional jobs because they required a background check, Chuck said. Although he has since been matched with housing, his initial lack of an address was also a hurdle to applying for jobs and a vendor’s license.
In May 2022, DC Council allocated $20 million of additional assstance for excluded workers, including returning citizens, workers in the informal economy, street vendors and undocumented workers. The funding would have extended the DC Cares program, established in 2020 to help workers who did not qualify for government assistance offered during the pandemic.
The extension, proposed by Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At Large, I) was unanimously approved by council. It provided financial assistance should the city report more revenue than expected during its quarterly estimates.
“That money hasn’t gotten to all the people that it’s supposd to go to,” said Yannik Omictin, an attendee and advocate with Vendors United and Excluded Workers Coalition. “I didn’t get any,” Chuck added.
The organization was established to advocate for for workers who were excluded from assistance during the pandemic. This includes street vendors, formerly incarcerated workers, domestic workers, undocumented workers and many others.
The $20 million was cut in the Mayor’s supplemental budget, which has been called an “austerity budget.” The District is preparing for the worst; in his February 28, 2023 quarterly revenue estimate, DC’s Chief Financial Officer revised local source revenue upward by $128 million for FY 2023, based on higher than expected tax revenues. However, the revenues were lowered for FY 2024 by $81.2 million and by larger amounts for the following fiscal years, citing a pessimistic economic outlook and declining real estate values, which effect tax revenue.
Omictin says the District allocated $75 million to those workers in a previous budget and that the remaining $20 million was reallocated in the FY 24 budget cycle.
When she released the budget in March, Bowser said it was a critical juncture for the city. “This budget reflects many tough choices, but we are also fortunate that even in tight times, the District remains well-resourced and able to continue delivering world-class programs and services,” said Mayor Bowser in a press release.
Lead organizer with the DC Chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Sophia Miyoshi, expressed concern about both the short and long term effects these cuts in funding will have on these workers and their families.
“We’re standing with Excluded Workers to call on Mayor Bowser to Stop the Swipe, said Miyoshi. “Black and brown workers face longer rates of unemployment both during the peak of recessions and throughout economic recovery. In DC, Black workers still had not fully recovered from the Great Recession in 2018, ten years after its peak.”
You can learn more about the Mayor’s proposed FY 24 budget at budget.dc.gov.
Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Elizabeth O’Gorek contributed reporting.