New Council Can Turn the Corner for Children

Welcome to the new session, D.C. Council.

At the swearing in ceremony last week, Chairman Phil Mendelson said "our government is turning the corner." Although the media has focused on the need to avoid scandal, there is a much more important corner to turn -- turning away from the past four years of deep budget cuts in programs that help our vulnerable families and instead moving toward investments in the District's residents by rebuilding these vital services.

During the economic recession, the District -- like jurisdictions all across the country -- had to make tough budget decisions. In D.C., the government's budget in the last several years has taken significant and disproportionate cuts from programs that fed, sheltered, and in many cases, literally saved the lives of families and their children. During the hardest of times, those who were already struggling the hardest - the 30 percent of children living in poverty -- bore the brunt of the cuts.

Fortunately, D.C.'s finances are turning the corner. Our local economy is doing much better. Revenues are expected to grow. And District residents are finally letting out a sign of relief. Now is the time to focus on rebuilding and on investing in those D.C. residents who need it most -- our at-risk children.

Over and over, I have witnessed how the impact of helping an individual results in a positive impact on an entire community. When Children's Law Center helps a single child turn the corner toward success, we stabilize that child's family. For example, when we abate the housing conditions that exacerbate a little girl's asthma and send her to the emergency room night after night, we restore her mother's physical and emotional energy, allowing her to return to work and stop receiving welfare payments. One family at a time, we improve the whole community. The same is true for the District's social service programs, like those that keep children out of foster care and safely at home, treat children's mental health, and put children on a path for educational success. As each family that receives aid turns a corner, so does the District.

A new council session provides the opportunity to fulfill this potential. The new session has just begun, but I'm already encouraged by a positive turn -- the Chairman's decision to reinstate the Committee on Education and select David Catania to lead it. Similarly, I look forward to working more with Jim Graham and Yvette Alexander as they retain and take on, respectively, the Committees on Human Services and Health.

I hope you, as leaders of these important committees, will help the council and the District turn the corner. But I also urge every member of the council to refresh your commitment to the District's children and families so that we can all turn the corner together and no one is left behind. Please set a goal of improving our entire city, not just the reputation of the council.