Last night, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray gave his annual State of the District speech and we were watching closely to find out how his plans for the coming year will affect low-income women and girls in the city. Here are a few takeaways we’re talking about at The Women’s Foundation today:
Job Training & Creation
We applaud the city’s efforts to revitalize the Workforce Investment Council and establish the D.C. Workforce Intermediary – an important resource for our community. The mayor is correct that wide disparities exist in unemployment rates across the city. In order to be successful, job training programs should include the following elements in order to meet the needs of low-income women: literacy and adult basic education to address the basic skills gap, case management and access to supportive services, links to credentials and/or post-secondary education, and job placement and retention support.
As the city moves forward with its efforts to create more jobs for those who already live in the District, we hope that Mayor Gray will ensure that they are good jobs. More women and their families will be able to move out of poverty with employment that pays family-sustaining wages and provides employees with benefits.
We were enthusiastic about the mayor’s focus on early care and education and the strides that have been made in that area; however, there is much more to be done. We’re still seeing a shortage of infant and toddler slots at high-quality childcare centers in the District. If we want to be a city that can grow an even more vibrant, creative workforce down the road, we need to start early on and ensure that every child in the city is able to attend a good preschool and enter elementary school ready to learn.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Last night, Mayor Gray remarked that “in just two years, 3,300 people have moved from welfare to work.” This is good news but also glosses over some complex issues. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that two-thirds of District residents enrolled to receive TANF benefits are children – they can’t work. And according to the Urban Institute, most TANF recipients have at least one barrier to obtaining employment. For some, it’s not possible to simply step out of welfare and into a job. We need continued investments in the programs that can bridge the gaps between the two and truly allow individuals to stand on their own.
Mayor Gray’s most anticipated announcement during his address was his proposal to “invest $100 million in building and preserving 10,000 units of affordable housing.” Investments like this are critically needed, but we must ensure that there is a continuum of housing options available in all wards in the District. Affordability isn’t the only housing issue faced by low-income families. Many, especially those with children, live in overcrowded housing. Women-headed families are particularly susceptible to this.
We hope that the mayor considers ways to increase the supply of larger affordable housing units that can accommodate all types of families.
At The Women’s Foundation, we know first-hand that there are many nonprofits working to improve the lives of all residents in the District. We applaud the mayor’s recognition of this important work that often goes unrecognized. Strong partnerships between government, nonprofits and business are the only way that we will put every family on a path to prosperity and end poverty in D.C. and across the region.
Finally, we noted that Mayor Gray never made a specific mention of women or girls. We call on him and other leaders across our community to recognize and invest in the power and potential of women and girls. They are both the world’s largest growing economic force and the heads of our community’s most vulnerable families. Investing in them is a surefire way to see real, sustained change in families, neighborhoods, wards and the entire District.