Councilmember David Grosso's letter to Mayor Bowser on his priorities for the Fiscal Year 2017 District of Columbia budget.
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For Immediate Release
June 9, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
Grosso Invests in Urban Farming in FY16 Budget
Washington, D.C.--During the FY16 budget process, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) worked closely with his colleagues to ensure inclusion of his top priorities in the budget. Among his budget priorities is the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014, a bill which became law on April 30, 2015.
The bill enables residents using their property for urban agriculture purposes to take advantage of a 90% tax abatement program. Additionally, the legislation enables those tax exempt entities that allow farmers to grow and sell produce on their property to maintain their tax exempt status. Although not funded to the fullest extent, the allocation in the FY16 budget is $460,000, which includes $60,000 for an FTE at the Department of Parks & Recreation and $400,000 for the tax abatement program.
"I believe a sustainable food system encourages local production and distribution that makes nutritious food accessible to all of our residents," said Grosso. "Getting this bill funded in the FY16 budget signals the District's commitment to environmental sustainability and food security."
The final votes of the Council on the Budget Request Act and the Budget Support Act are scheduled for June 10 and June 16 respectively.
For Immediate Release
May 27, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
D.C. Budget Passes with All of Grosso’s Priorities
Washington, D.C. –- Today, the D.C. Council voted on the bills that comprise the D.C. fiscal year 2016 budget–-the “Budget Request Act of 2015” and the “Budget Support Act of 2015.” Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) worked closely with his colleagues to ensure inclusion of his top priorities in the budget.
“This particular budget and vote is significant as it is my first while chairing the Committee on Education. For this Council period, education and housing were designated as the Council’s two top priorities. I am pleased that a comprehensive budget to benefit District of Columbia residents was developed in the areas of education, workforce development, transportation, and health and human services, with historic investments for a strategic pathway to end homelessness,” said Grosso.
Grosso’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Victories
Under Grosso’s leadership, the Education Committee approved a $2.4 billion budget that reversed proposed cuts to the library system, supported modernization of the Martin Luther King, Jr. central library, and brought a new, objective approach to determining capital funding for D.C. Public Schools, based on equity and data, not politics. In the coming months, the Committee will hold town hall meetings in every ward to share the analytical framework for determining school modernization priorities. Grosso allocated $1.6 million for a new literacy intervention program, targeted at 3rd grade reading success. Equipping these young students with the basic building blocks of learning—reading and writing—will ensure that they are on track to succeed throughout their academic careers. Grosso transferred $760,000 to the Committee of the Whole to restore funding to the University of the District of Columbia that the Mayor had proposed to cut. Grosso also allocated almost $700,000 to DCPS to make up for funding losses at schools such as Wilson and Ballou High Schools, and $450,000 to restore funding for SAT and ACT test preparation courses for D.C. high school students. Grosso included language in the Budget Support Act that broadens the scope of the Bullying Prevention Taskforce and extends its term until August 2018. Grosso also allocated $266,000 to expand the Community Schools program, which supports students and their families by providing wrap-around services. New language in the Budget Support Act also strengthens the program and expands the pool of potential applicants to include middle schools. Meeting the needs of these students and their families in a comprehensive way is part of Grosso’s vision to put every student in the best position to learn and achieve.
As a world class city, Grosso believes we must plan and develop strategies to sustain a thriving artistic and creative sector. To that end, Grosso identified and transferred $200,000 to the Committee of the Whole to fund a comprehensive, citywide cultural plan. This plan, housed in the Office of Planning, will enable the city to identify the current level of service for cultural groups in each neighborhood; detail the feedback from community outreach; establish a strategy to meet the specified needs of each community; quantify the economic impact of arts and culture; and ultimately put forth a targeted approach to increase cultural activity citywide.
Food Security & Recreation
Grosso believes a sustainable food system encourages local food production and distribution that makes nutritious food accessible and affordable to all D.C. residents. For this reason, he introduced the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014, which became official law on April 30, 2015. Grosso worked closely with the Committee of the Whole to ensure that the intent of the legislation was preserved and funded to move urban agriculture efforts forward in the city. The funding allocated for the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act enables residents using their property for urban agriculture purposes to take advantage of a 90% tax abatement program. Additionally, the legislation enables those tax exempt entities that allow farmers to grow and sell produce on their property to maintain their tax exempt status.
An additional program that has proven its value and has Grosso’s support is the Produce Plus Program, which is a farmers market incentive program designed to increase access to healthy and nutritious food options for low-income D.C. residents. The final budget includes $350,000 for this program to ensure that all our residents can afford to eat healthy.
Health & Human Services
As a strong supporter of reproductive and sexual health and rights, Grosso has worked to support programs such as peer-led sex education in schools and in this budget allocated $300,000 to the Committee on Health and Human Services for teen pregnancy prevention programs. This funding will help fill the gap left by the end of activities of a private foundation that supported such programs locally.
Throughout the budget process, Grosso has also been a vocal proponent of stepping up to the plate to end homelessness in D.C. He is very pleased that the Council’s approved budget builds on the Mayor’s proposed increases in homelessness and human services in line with the strategic plan developed by stakeholders.
Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Evans for holding this joint hearing on B20-677 the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014 and thank you to the witnesses here to testify today.
In the District of Columbia 1 out of 3 residents are at risk of hunger, while 1 in 3 District children are at risk of becoming overweight or obese. As obesity and diet-related chronic disease rates continue to rise, the need to create a sustainable food system that provides healthy food which meets all of the city’s current needs and maintains a healthy ecosystem is imperative.
The District, through the Healthy Schools Act and the Healthy Corner Store program is working diligently to reduce food insecurity and improve the health and wellness of District residents, particularly those in neighborhoods without adequate supermarkets and other sources of affordable healthy food; however, more can and should be done.
I introduced this legislation because all District residents, at all times, should have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food security is built on three pillars: food availability; food access; and food use.
This legislation instructs the Mayor to first identify and then lease certain District-owned vacant lots to independent farmers and farm cooperatives to be used for successful urban farming ventures. This bill also creates tax incentives to encourage more individuals and businesses to farm locally and donate locally farmed vegetables, fruits, and grains to D.C. food banks or shelters.
By the District leasing its unused vacant property throughout the city to independent farmers and community farm cooperatives, it allows our residents to claim direct access to healthy food by growing, harvesting and processing it themselves.
By incentivizing more individuals and businesses to proactively donate to local food banks or homeless shelters we can support organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen and the Capital Area Food Bank that manage to make wonderful meals for our most vulnerable residents, day-in and day-out.
My goal is to foster a robust conversation around food security and sustainability, which is why I have partnered with the Open Government Foundation to promote transparency. Using the Madison platform, this bill, as well as others has been uploaded to spur community engagement and allow District residents to comment and offer input.
We have received feedback already, which I will be incorporating today and I encourage anyone watching from home to log in and join the conversation. We will be accepting questions throughout today’s hearing and while I will not be able to ask them all, I do encourage everyone to utilize this platform and continue to stay engaged on the issues.
A truly sustainable food system encourages local food production and distribution opportunities that make nutritious food accessible and affordable to all District residents. With this legislation we will continue to improve food availability, food access and food use and I am eager to hear from and engage with all of the witnesses in the discussion to follow.
Introduced by: Councilmembers David Grosso, Mary Cheh, and Tommy Wells
Co-sponsored by: Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Kenyan McDuffie, and Phil Mendelson
Referred to: Committee of the Whole and Committee on Finance and Revenue
What are the major components of the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014?
This legislation establishes an initiative that first identifies and then leases certain District-owned vacant lots to independent farmers and farm cooperatives to be used for successful urban farming ventures. It also creates tax incentives to encourage more individuals and businesses to farm locally and donate locally farmed vegetables, fruits, and grains to D.C. food banks or shelters.
Why should the District lease its vacant property to local farmers?
Activating vacant unimproved properties owned by the District and owned privately is important. Not only would this effort help to ensure that these properties are environmentally safe, but also that they are a welcomed, safe attraction in communities.
What would be the process for individuals or organizations looking to lease land?
If approved and signed into law, by February 2015, the Mayor would need to identify 25 District-owned vacant lots that can potentially be used for successful urban farming ventures. The Mayor would then develop a Request for Proposal process for applications.
How long would leases last for under this initiative?
All lease agreements entered into under this initiative would be for a term of at least 3 years.
Will farmers be able to sell produce on the property?
Yes. Any lease entered into pursuant to this initiative with an independent farm or farm cooperative may permit the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables on the leased land, off the leased land, or both.
Is it true that your bill would provide property tax abatement for leasing vacant land to farmers?
Yes. Under this legislation, if an owner of unimproved real property enters into a lease with an unrelated party for the use of its real property for the purpose of producing food commodity through small-scale urban farming, there shall be allowed a 50% deduction from the real property tax imposed on the portion of leased real property actually used for small-scale farming.
What are the eligibility requirements for the property tax abatement?
In order to be eligible for the tax abatement under this section, any lease agreement shall include, but is not limited to, all the following provisions, and the parties thereto shall be in compliance therewith:
- An initial term of not less than three years;
- Active use and cultivation of at least 5,000 square feet of the real property;
- A requirement that the entire property subject to the lease shall be dedicated toward agriculture use; and
- A prohibition against any dwelling units (as defined in § 47-813(d)(3)) on the real property.
What kind of tax incentive does the bill provide to individuals who donate to D.C. food banks or shelters?
A taxpayer may claim a nonrefundable credit against income taxes for food commodity donations made during the tax year to a District of Columbia food bank or shelter. The credit claimed shall equal 50% of the value of the contribution and shall not to exceed $2,500 per taxpayer per tax year.
What kind of tax incentive does the bill provide to businesses who donate to D.C. food banks or shelters?
A business may claim a nonrefundable credit against business taxes for food commodity donations made during the tax year to a District of Columbia food bank or shelter. The credit claimed shall equal 50% of the value of the contribution and shall not to exceed $5,000 per taxpayer per tax year.
How will these tax incentives be monitored?
Individuals and businesses claiming the tax credit or property tax abatement will need to provide documentation supporting the claim in a form and manner prescribed by the Chief Financial Officer.
Why is this legislation important?
D.C. residents at all times have access to sufficient safe nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food security is built on three pillars: food availability; food access; and food use. By the District leasing its unused vacant property throughout the city to independent farmers and community farm cooperatives it allows our residents to claim direct access to healthy food by growing, harvesting and processing it themselves. By incentivizing more individuals and businesses to proactively donate to local food banks or homeless shelters we can support organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen that manages to make wonderful meals for our most vulnerable residents out of very little, day-in and day-out.