Mayor Vincent Gray spoke clearly to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about what not agreeing to exempt the District of Columbia from the federal shutdown means to the most vulnerable living here. He reiterated what they already know, “The District of Columbia is not a federal agency.”
When the federal government shut down in 1995 and 1996, the District was exempted from the prohibition on spending its own money after five days. As the mayor spoke, we were entering the 11th day of the current shutdown. Some have suggested that as a Democrat the mayor should not challenge the policy of the president and Senate Democrats to not pass any piecemeal bills to open federal agencies even knowing they already made some exceptions. Now states like New York are being allowed to pay federal personnel to open monuments like the Statue of Liberty. The District is not asking to spend federal money but rather to spend the money its own residents pay in local taxes to their own government.
The mayor gave clear examples of how this shutdown impacts the neediest of our residents. He explained the impact of inaction:
“Services — like reimbursing Medicaid providers who care for people who are poor and disabled, or paying our public charter schools, or collecting our garbage — services that the residents of every other city and state in America take for granted, because they are services that will continue for every other city and state in our country during a federal shutdown.” He explained, “We’ve already delayed one $90 million payment to our Medicaid providers that was due last Friday. This is causing serious problems for these providers, with the potential to cause catastrophic problems if we are forced to delay these payments much longer. Ruth Joseph is a finance officer with Health Management, Inc., which employs personal care aides who assist people who are blind, homebound and bedridden as well as those who need rides to doctor’s appointments. Their last payroll was today. If they don’t receive their Medicaid payments soon, they won’t be able to keep their doors open much longer. Laura Nuss is the director of the District’s Department of Disability Services. She said her agency has about 500 homes and other 30-day programs and vocational programs that serve people with disabilities. She is concerned about the ability of all these providers to keep appropriate amounts of food supplies on hand if we are forced to delay payments to them much longer. She’s also worried about these providers’ ability to pay their staff to maintain appropriate levels of supervision and support. And their ability to continue delivering clinical therapy services on schedule, and the ability of clients to keep medical appointments and get tests at the proper frequency during a lapse in Medicaid funding.”
“It’s not only Medicaid payments that are being held up by the District’s unjust and unique lack of authority over our own budget,” the mayor explained. The city was forced to delay a multi-million dollar payment to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to help keep Metro running, forcing it to operate on its own cash reserves. The mayor talked about “not being able to make a $150 million quarterly payment to the District’s 66 public charter schools and they will begin delaying paychecks to teachers and principals. Some have said they will have to close and some may even take a financial hit from which they won’t recover.”
He went on to say that, “Our entire region’s public safety is being compromised by the shutdown. The federal shutdown prohibits the District from distributing Urban Areas Security Initiative funding to neighboring states, counties and cities. This funding supports the protection of high-visibility potential targets in the entire metropolitan area.” The mayor reported that, “Fairfax County Fire Chief Richie Bowers explained how the inability to use those funds has forced him to delay implementation of projects that would help protect the people of Fairfax County from terrorist attacks.”
The Federal City Council said, “The District of Columbia is self-evidently distinguishable from a federal agency. We are a living, breathing city with residents who work hard, pay taxes and participate in our local democratic process. Residents of the District of Columbia deserve to decide how to spend their locally raised dollars. The president and the Congress should do what is fair and exempt the city from the federal shutdown.”
When the mayor spoke it was past time that the Senate pass and the president sign the bill the House had already passed with 34 Democratic votes including Moran and Connolly of Virginia, to exempt the District from the shutdown. They should have acted to prevent the dire consequences that could be faced by the 632,000 people in the District. With all due respect Sen. Reid, “Don’t Screw it up.”