For over two decades, the Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs(OAPIA) has been the District of Columbia’s primary liaison to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who live and work in the city. It communicates the Mayors’ priorities, disseminates critical information from various agencies and assists AAPIs in accessing basic government services. Its independent agency role and function at the current level are vital for the workings of the District government and for fair access by the AAPI community, some of whom are challenged by linguistic and cultural barriers when dealing with the District government.
In Mayor Fenty’s FY 2010 budget, OAPIA staff will be reduced by more than 50% (4 out of the 7 FTEs will be eliminated) and the office will be folded under “Community Affairs.” As a constituent of the District of Columbia, I find this to be a short-sighted and insensitive policy. In times of economic crisis such as this, everyone has to make sacrifices but these cuts are disproportionately larger than any of the constituent agencies especially taking into account the tremendous presence of AAPIs in the District’s economic base and their growing needs.
The AAPI population grew by 69% since 1990. There are over 25 different Asian ethnic groups represented in the District with just as many languages and dialects spoken. According to the Washington Post, Asian Americans are responsible for two-thirds of all small businesses in DC. Fifty seven percent (57%) of lottery tickets in the District were sold through AAPI stores in FY2008 accounting for over 147 million in sales alone!
A 2001 survey of District agencies showed that less than 2% of the agency employees are AAPIs and the Metro Police Department has only about a dozen officers certified in an Asian language. OAPIA has been essential to bridge gaps between the community and the District government.
As a District constituent, I have relied heavily on OAPIA’s programs and services. OAPIA coordinates with the array of District agencies in multiple languages so we are better informed and we can receive benefits accorded to all citizens in the District. According to the OAPIA’s Performance Accountability Report for FY08, there were over 21,000 outreach efforts provided to the AAPI community including handling individual cases, door-to-door visits to merchants, resolving issues between constituents and District agencies and assisting District agencies to educate the APA community about laws and regulations. In addition, OAPIA was instrumental in assessing the needs in the community through surveys conducted by the office, working with the community on the Language Access Act and assisting the Metropolitan Police Department in addressing public safety concerns.
I am asking for your help to so that OAPIA:
1. remains an independent agency with its own budget chapter and cabinet-level position with the Mayor’s Office
2. remains the District’s point of contact for the API community with adequate staff to perform its functions effectively
Please do not let the Mayor’s budget cuts turn back the clock two decades for our community. The community fought hard to make this office independent, to receive funding and have the stature needed to be effective. This office is critical to fulfilling the Mayor’s and the District government’s promise to serve ALL those who live or work in the District. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
APA LEADERS WHO LIVE OR WORK IN DC
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