Quality-of-life issues for District residents define Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed 2020 budget that now rests in the hands of the D.C. City Council. In February, Mayor Bowser led four citywide public engagement forums offering D.C. residents a glimpse into her plans to address affordable housing, education, health and an array of issues impacting the lives of District residents and businesses. On Tuesday, council members engaged in the required First Reading of the budget, vigorously debated and voted on significant amendments that will now go on to a Second Reading and then a final vote on a budget that should be fiscally responsible, but more importantly, equitable.
In the meantime, critical issues including workforce housing, low income, and affordable housing, adequate funding for a new Banneker Academic High School and a new Shaw Middle School, funding for a beleaguered United Medical Center in Southeast and new tax revenues headlined Tuesday’s debate.
Discussions between members of the council, at times heated, exposed their realization of the inequities that exist among District residents based on race, income and zip codes. Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie went further and named it — gentrification — as the engine that has accelerated the economic divide, while others acknowledged its historical impact on communities, particularly East of the Anacostia River.
Consequently, for more than 150,000 residents in Wards 7 and 8, the fact that a vote to significantly decrease funding and ultimately close the beleaguered 234-bed United Medical Center in Ward 8 in four years was a difficult vote to watch. It is also a harsh reality for residents that their desperate need, but lack of adequate health care will continue. The good news Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray would have residents believe is that this vote, to reduce the mayor’s proposed subsidy from $40 million to $15 million, was needed to end the hospital’s financial hemorrhaging and to push for a more expedient construction of a new hospital at St. Elizabeth’s from 2023 to 2021.
There’s no doubt, District residents need and want a new hospital in Ward 8 but it’s unfortunate they may suffer the consequences of this preliminary vote.