March 22, 2011

Budget Basics, Briefly

Budget season is well underway, and in the run-up to the April 1st release of the Mayor’s proposed FY2012 budget, there are plenty of opportunities this week to get involved.

But what is the budget anyway and why should we care about it? The budget itself is a massive document that lays out in detail the amount of money required to implement all DC government policies, programs, and strategies over the course of the next fiscal year. (A fiscal year for DC government, by the way, is Oct 1st - Sept 30th.) It outlines how DC government plans on getting the money to pay for those programs (eg. income, sales, or property taxes, as well as federal funds) and determines funding levels accordingly.

As budget blogger extraordinaire Susie Cambria puts it, the budget is arguably “the most important of all legislation considered by the City Council and mayor each year.” It determines funding levels for all DC-government activities, shaping everything from school food to TANF to legal services to public works, and everything in between. (See past testimonies from Bread for the City staff and clients about the importance of programs funded by the city budget.)

Currently, the Mayor’s office is working on its proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year (and is seeking input on their website – check it out). Starting in April, City Council works within agency committees to make additions, subtractions, and revisions to the budget before they vote on it in May. During this time, the different committees host a series of budget hearings – the public’s chance to give input directly to the council. The schedule of budget hearings is available online in PDF form and anyone can testify. See this how-to guide from So Others Might Eat for more, or call Kristi Matthews at the Fair Budget Coalition (202-328-1262) for help preparing your testimony.

Another round of projected shortfalls in revenue means that more than ever, all of our voices are needed to protect the programs that serve our city’s families. Thankfully many of Bread for the City’s allies have useful guides and resources that make it easier for all of us to get involved. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

Ready to start taking action today? Here are three ways:
Contact Joni Podschun (, Bread for the City’s advocacy coordinator, for more information about what Bread for the City is doing and how you can get involved in the future!

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