Saturday, May 7, 2011

What Is The Truth About DC Government's Budget Woes?????

On March 11th, during the Human Services Budget Oversight Hearing, many people listened to the testimonies of 4 young mothers who were denied shelter during the winter right along with their little ones. Several of them told of how they were given bus tokens by those who are contracted with the city to provide shelter to families with children and were then told to ride the bus all night in order to stay warm. One mother told of how she gave birth on February 10th, left the hospital on the 12th and slept in the Greyhound Station or the stairwell of an unsecured apartment building with her baby for the entire first month of his life.

On April 19th, during the ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) meeting, Fred Swan of DHS (the Dept. of Human Services) explained that the budget for Fiscal Year 2012 contained a $20.5 million budget shortfall for Homeless Services -- a line item that usually runs right around $60 million. During the pre-meeting he led an exercise that was designed to let others get a feel for the tough decisions that he and others in the administration will have to make. But he unwittingly disclosed a fact that shed some light on the mismanagement within the department.

Fred explained that DHS spends $12 million per year on the family shelter which holds just under 150 families. I did the math. That amounts to $80,000 per year per family. The average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,500. For a 3-bedroom it's probably right around $2,000. (By law a couple who have at least one boy and one girl must live in a 3-bedroom.) It would cost $24,000 per year to house a family versus $80,000 to keep them in shelter. Let's add another $1,000 for administrative costs. That said, $12 million per year would house 480 families as opposed to sheltering just shy of 150. DC Government could house 240 families -- 95 more than the shelter holds, paying all of their rent, and still save $6 million of the $12 million they spend annually on family shelter. The $6 million that they save could go toward filling the $20.5 million budget gap for Homeless Services.

Then there is the IDA (Interim Disability Assistance) issue. DC Government currently pays $270 per month to those who've applied for SSI, as it can take up to 2 years for the federal claim to be processed. DC Government claims that it can't afford to keep doing that; because, the federal government only gives them 40% of the money back.

I got a much different story from a woman who is eligible for SSI but is being prevented from receiving it due to the actions of those who administer the IDA program. She explained that, when a person's SSI claim finally does come through, it is sent to IDA. The new SSI recipient receives a lump sum which is calculated from the date of their application up to the date that their claim is confirmed. They then receive regular monthly payments. IDA is allowed to hold the lump sum for 6 months during which they receive all of the interest. They also are allowed to get back all of the money that they paid the person while he or she was awaiting the federal claim. For all I know, this is in addition to the federal government paying them 40% of the cost of administering the IDA program. My informant said that it was for this reason that DC Councilman Marion Barry advised Mayor Gray not to make the claim that IDA was causing the city to lose money.

She also explained her personal story. This woman has a physical condition that causes her to have episodes during which her speech is slurred. She said that it causes her to sound mentally retarded, though I've always known her to be quite intelligent and level-headed with only the slightest indication that she might be suffering from some level of stress. At the age of 4 she was misdiagnosed as mentally retarded and her mother received monies on her behalf. When this woman goes to the IDA office now, she is told that she can't be the same person that is described in paperwork from her childhood; because, she shows no signs of mental retardation.

She has been checked out by doctors who are contracted to diagnose those applying for SSI. They've determined that she is eligible. However, the IDA office has declared her to be a fraud, this in spite of the doctors' diagnoses. The SSI administration has regarded the word of the IDA office over that of the doctors (an over-zealous anti-fraud measure).

She has been told that she can not receive SSI so long as she resides in Washington, DC. She said that Virginia is no better. She would be able to receive the SSI payments for which she has been determined to be eligible if she moved to Maryland, but has no friends or family there. She is not allowed to use a P.O. box, but must have a physical address there. She may not have her check delivered to a church or homeless program that receives mail for the homeless.

This woman claims that the IDA office is treating her spitefully, saying that it is because she turned down the IDA payments that were offered to her. This, of course, meant that the IDA program would not get first dibs at her lump sum or the ability to get 6-months worth of interest from it before giving her the original payment minus the sum of IDA payments that she received during the application process. In spite of what doubts you as a reader might have about my informant, she seems quite intelligent and credible. I'm inclined to believe that there is quite a bit of truth to her claims.

And so, we have the matter of DC Government mismanaging funds for homeless families and the matter of possible wrongdoing on the part of employees of the IDA Dept. The former is irrefutable, having been confirmed by an administrator within the guilty department. The latter is most likely a credible claim. But both deserve further consideration. It may be that a large portion of DC Government's budget problem is self-induced.

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