Mayor Vincent Gray is demanding a meeting with President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders, as the District of Columbia nears the end of contingency funds that have been used to keep it running during the federal government shutdown.
“In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown,” Gray wrote Tuesday to Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker John A. Boehner. “Families in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas are not worried that their local governments won’t be able to maintain basic services like schools, police and fire protection, or trash collection — and neither should families here in the District of Columbia.”
With the approval of the D.C. Council, Gray authorized the city to tap a $144 million contingency fund to pay roughly 32,000 municipal workers. Before the shutdown, Gray wrote a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget declaring all the city’s workers essential — therefore requiring them to keep working even without congressional approval of the city’s budget. But the short-term emergency funds will soon run dry.
“Even with the use of those contingency funds, we are already seeing the harmful impact of the federal shutdown,” Gray wrote.
Payments to Medicaid providers have been delayed, the District’s health care exchange is at risk and transportation, sewer and charter school services are at risk, according to the Gray administration.
Some local advocates of budget autonomy are pushing the mayor to dip into the city’s $8 billion budget of locally raised funds when the contingency funding is exhausted. The move would defy the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits spending without a congressional appropriations and could place city officials at risk of penalty.
“It is simply wrong to deny critical services to D.C. residents when resources are available only because the federal government has not given us permission to spend our own funds,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry. “The budget autonomy referendum was overwhelmingly supported by our citizens and elected leaders and is just weeks shy of its Jan. 1 implementation date. It’s time to end the injustice of federal control over our local tax dollars. We should proceed with a plan to use local funds should the Reserve Contingency Fund be depleted.”
Last week, the House passed legislation that would have provide short-term funding to the District as part of its approach to reopening select pieces of the government. But the Senate is rejecting the funding bills, and the White House has threatened to veto them.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has also been pressing Congress for a fix similar to the one worked out during the 1995-96 shutdown, but her efforts have been thwarted.
Gray and Norton are inviting D.C. residents to join them for an 11 a.m. rally on the East Lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday morning to show support for freeing D.C.’s budget from the federal shutdown.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.