On January 5th, APACC hosted a session Susie Cambria of Bridges, Inc., who provided a free training on how the DC budget gets created and how residents and organizations can make sure their voices get heard. Susie is a seasoned budget expert who literally wrote the book on getting the DC government to listen to your message.
Here were some of our main takeaways from the event:
Learn the budget process and timeline so that you know when you as a resident can get involved and influence decision-making.
Identify if the issue you care about is actually something to be solved by the budget.
There is a difference between budget problems and operational problems (e.g. the agency may have the money but not do an adequate job at something). For example, is the illegal dumping in your neighborhood still there because an existing program doesn’t have enough funds to operate in your neighborhood? Make sure that your complaint has a budget solution, and think about suggestions that your councilmembers are most likely to listen to.
The Mayor will hold “Budget Engagement” sessions
The Mayor holds events during which participants sit together at tables and figure out how to spend $100 together. This may help you understand all of the pieces that go into the DC Budget, but it doesn’t help you advocate for the issues that you care about. These may be opportunities for you to bring copies of your budget recommendations to share, including
Agency and program/division
Legislative changes/fixes (if applicable)
Availability of federal funding
Testifying and submitting statements is a good way to make your voice heard in budget process
The schedule for budget hearings will be posted at http://dccouncil.us/. The “oversight hearings” will happen in February and March. They are focused on reviewing the previous year’s budget and current year performance (you can review DC’s current budget on https://cfo.dc.gov/node/289642). You can sign up to testify at these hearings. Here are some tips for testimony:
Prepare your argument in a way that helps Councilmembers respond to it. (CMs hear a LOT of information during budget season and can’t always incorporate all of it. Keep your statement simple and compelling.)
Write your testimony ahead of time, print it out and make the font big and legible. It’s okay to read from a prepared statement.
It’s okay to be honest about what you know and don’t know, or don’t understand
You can submit a statement for the record even if you can’t make the hearing.
Hearings don’t always start on time, and they may go long depending on the number of people testifying - be prepared to be flexible.
The more people that testify about a topic, the more of an impact on the Councilmembers
Success story: APACC advocated for more funding for Anacostia River cleanup last year.
The cleanup of the Anacostia River is a priority for APACC, so when we noticed $5 million that had been removed from Fiscal Year 2018 for clean up efforts on the river, we reached out to residents of the neighborhoods next to the Anacostia. Several residents and organizations came out to testify at a budget hearing, and $4 million were restored to the budget line item. Part of our success came from turning out real people telling individual stories about how important the river was to them, but also because we were very active on social media before and after the hearing.
Stay tuned for more information from APACC about the DC Budget and how you can get involved.