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Citing District’s Suffering Due to Federal Shutdown, Mayor Gray Demands Meeting with President, Congressional Leaders

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Citing District’s Suffering Due to Federal Shutdown, Mayor Gray Demands Meeting with President, Congressional Leaders

Mayor cites dire and unprecedented consequences of lack of budget autonomy

(Washington, DC) – Mayor Vincent C. Gray today sent a letter to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) requesting an immediate meeting with them to discuss ways to alleviate the serious consequences of a federal shutdown for the District due to the capital city’s lack of budget autonomy.

“In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown. Families in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas are not worried that their local governments won’t be able to maintain basic services like schools, police and fire protection, or trash collection – and neither should families here in the District of Columbia,” Mayor Gray wrote. “But once again, our citizens find themselves innocent bystanders to a federal government shutdown – made even more insulting because we have no voting voice in Congress – and an archaic and unjust federal law prevents us from spending our own local tax dollars to provide services for which our residents have already paid. This is simply unconscionable. And it is long past time for the District’s budget to be decoupled from the federal budget.”

A shutdown of this length without permitting the District to use its own funds is unprecedented. During the most recent previous federal government shutdown, which lasted 21 days from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996, Congress and then-President Bill Clinton agreed to allow the District to spend its own money to resume local operations and services after five days. The current shutdown is now eight days old, but the District has not yet been granted the ability to spend its own local funds for local services taken for granted in other states and cities. This is revealing unforeseen problems that are unique to the District.

Mayor Gray noted that, for the first week of the federal shutdown, the District has been able to draw on reserve funds to pay its expenses – but that those funds will soon be depleted. Meanwhile, the District is already prohibited from spending federal pass-through funds. This endangers a host of functions in the District that other states and municipalities are able to perform – such as payments to Medicaid providers or grants that are keeping the District’s new statewide health-benefits exchange running – imposing a special burden on the District during a federal shutdown that no other state or city must bear.

Additionally, the Mayor pointed out, the entire Washington region’s public safety is being compromised by the shutdown. Unlike any other city in the nation, the federal government shutdown prohibits the District from distributing Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) funding to states, counties, and cities within the Washington metropolitan region. This funding supports the protection of strategic and high-visibility targets in our area.

Furthermore, the Mayor noted, furloughed federal workers who live in the District – who are eligible for unemployment insurance – might not be able to take advantage of it if the District is unable to run its unemployment program using local funds.

And there are even more complications resulting from the District’s lack of budget autonomy:

  • The District’s payments to regional agencies such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are being delayed;
  • The DC Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) – which operates independently of the District government, but whose budget must also be approved by Congress – is currently operating exclusively on its own limited contingency fund;
  • And, absent authorization by Congress, the District soon will be unable to make its quarterly payment to the city’s public charter schools – and many of these schools will therefore be forced to endure a significant blow to their finances.

“I have done all that I possibly can to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of District residents is not endangered by a crisis that our city has had no hand in creating,” Mayor Gray wrote. “But time is running out – and, soon, I will have exhausted every resource available to me to protect our residents, our workers, and our visitors.”

A copy of the Mayor’s letter to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner is attached.