This is a guest post by Dan Mauer, a longtime JUFJer and a member of our 2021 DC Tax and Budget working group.
For several years, I’ve been going with other JUFJers and our allies to the Mayor’s budget forums to make the case for progressive policies. Those have sometimes been frustrating, but also sometimes fun–we definitely won the day when we all brought nickels to represent the tiny tax increase (less than 0.05% of the budget) that could pay for fair elections and we convinced just about every table that that was a good idea.
This year, I got more involved, and I’m glad I did. It was obvious early on that there were quite a few key priorities to support in this year’s budget, especially in the face of the struggles that so many in the community continue to deal with because of the pandemic.
I joined JUFJ’s tax and budget working group and we got to work (a little differently than usual on account of COVID, of course). We focused on making sure that the very wealthy paid their fair share of taxes in order to pay for pressing needs for affordable housing, better pay for child care providers, assistance for workers who had been excluded from federal COVID aid, and more. JUFJ also prioritized protecting and expanding paid family and medical leave, which the Mayor had proposed cutting in her initial budget at a moment when so many families need medical leave because of the pandemic.
While the pandemic meant that we couldn’t do all of the things we would normally, we used all of the tools available to us to push for this agenda: calling and emailing our Councilmembers, posting on social media, recording videos — one member of the group was even able to get an op-ed into the Washington Post asking that his taxes be raised.
Throughout the process, even though we were all advocating from the comfort of our own homes, it really felt like a team effort. That feeling culminated with the day of budget testimony at the Council’s Committee on the Whole. While I was waiting for my turn to testify about how my neighborhood in Columbia Heights’ gentrification shows why we need the wealthy to pay their fair share in order to fund critical priorities, there was a section of the hearing when five out of six consecutive witnesses were JUFJers. Many others representing our partners in the Fair Budget Coalition testified throughout, and we sent a clear signal that DC voters want economic justice and racial equity to be reflected in the budget.
It was really gratifying when, at the first budget vote in July, the Council voted to raise taxes on those earning over $250,000 per year to pay for many of our top priorities. Of course, we didn’t get everything that we had wanted, but we achieved huge progress that will mean that thousands of families experiencing homelessness will get housing, child-care providers will get fairer pay, and those who most need it will get basic income support.
Getting this involved was really empowering, and the results show that when our community is united (and we have champions like Councilmembers Lewis George, Nadeau, and Allen on the Council to help amplify our voices within the Council) we can make a huge difference!
JUFJers will be gathering virtually on Sunday, September 26 at 4:00 PM to celebrate the wins of this budget cycle and to look forward to the work that remains. Join us on Zoom!