Tuesday is shaping up as a potential Red-Letter day in the District with council members set to cast their votes on a number of issues that could have a profound effect on children, seniors and families.
It could also be a big day for a new hospital that District officials want to build on the St. Elizabeths East campus to replace the United Medical Center in Southeast.
The hospital funding has been fast-tracked in a move celebrated by Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray.
“We’ve got the funding moved up by one year,” Gray said this week. “It isn’t like we need more money, we just need it available to be spent earlier.”
Earlier this year, Council passed the city’s 2019 budget, a $14.5 billion package that aims to confront a lot of issues in the District’s African-American community.
The Budget Support Act, the final element of the budget, will get its final vote on Tuesday, June 26.
It incorporates the legislative changes necessitated by the budget and it must be passed a second time. The Act includes directing the mayor to seek private donations to fund violence prevention and mental health response to shootings, homicides and similar violent incidents.
It also allows the few dozen students in each grade who were academically qualified to progress to the next grade, but who would have been denied that advancement due to absences, to advance nonetheless.
Gray hopes to also address the lack of African-American male teachers and personnel at early childhood education levels.
“It would be wonderful if we could get more of our African-American males involved in pursuing early childhood education as a career,” Gray said.
“We’ve put money in the bill to go to the University of the District of Columbia to create more stipends and scholarship opportunities for young folks to go to UDC. My focus would be to include more African-American men,” he said.
Gray noted the need to do more to attract Black men to preschools.
“This is also a way of helping to combat Black men not being in the lives of children; to help them get degrees or training in being prepared to take on working with our youngest children,” he said.
Although Gray’s father was integral in his upbringing, the councilman still counted others as additional role models.
“Many children don’t have a role model in their life and it would mean a lot to have a surrogate in the classroom,” he said.
At the scheduled upcoming hearing, Council also intends to address the recent authorization of construction of a helicopter pad at George Washington University Hospital.
Items in the bill include $234,163 to create a team at the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute elder abuse and financial exploitation of seniors.
It also includes a $100,000 salary scale for child development center employees, as much as $276,000 to fund returning citizens initiatives which would require Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration to contact homecoming inmates from other states for six months, linking them with housing and employment.
The budget will also offer small businesses in the District up to $5,000 in a tax credit for firms that generate less than $2.5 million in revenue with the purpose of offsetting rising costs of real property taxes which could lower or eliminate those businesses’ minimum franchise tax bill and possibly bring about a tax rebate.
Reportedly, the other program is $13 million for residents, churches and non-profits that face disproportionately high water bills due to impervious surface fees needed to fund infrastructure to redirect sewage overflows away from the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.
Additionally, the city’s sales tax will set aside 0.3 percent to fund the Commission for the Arts and Humanities and its grant-making authority for approximately $30 million a year.
For Gray, education and the Southeast hospital are key components of legislation that appears to have something in it for everyone in the District.
“There’s $300 million in the budget [for the hospital] that’s spread out. It was in 2021 that the first funds were to be available, but now that’s been moved forward to 2019,” he said.
“My goal is to have this completed by December 31, 2021 and that’s more than doable. When we look at it, it only took 22 months to build the baseball stadium which is more complicated than building a hospital. If you have the will, it’ll get done,” Gray said.
After the budget is sent and approved by Bowser, Congress will have until Oct. 1 to respond or the bill automatically becomes law.