April 12 Newsletter
Today, April 12, D.C. opens up eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to everyone ages 16 and older. If you are 16 and older, I encourage you to get vaccinated, and if you have concerns about taking the shot, feel free to write to me. I can help you get your questions answered. There are a number of ways to get a vaccine appointment that are detailed in the answer to the first question in the Q&A section below.
Also today, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a new Website and phone number for rent and utilities assistance. The program, STAY DC, will provide up to 12 months of past due rent payments from April 2020 and three months of rental assistance moving forward if you qualify due to income. There is also financial assistance for water, gas, and electric utilities. The website is stay.dc.gov and phone number is 833-478-2932 (833-4-STAYDC). See the Q&A section for additional information, and I’ll spend more time on this in next week’s newsletter.
I do want to take a moment to address D.C.’s performance in vaccine distribution. I have received many emails saying that other states have done a much better job of getting vaccine doses into the arms of residents; often cited are anecdotes of the emailer’s friends and family, a Washington Post story on Giant pharmacies, and data from vaccine trackers from national publications.
In previous newsletters, I wrote about some of these issues, like how D.C. has a relatively small portion of residents vaccinated because we had to vaccinate our healthcare and public safety workers, most of whom live outside of the District. Or how national trackers often include doses outside of D.C.’s control when showing what percent of our supply D.C. has administered.
It might surprise some of you to see data from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing D.C. coming in first in a vaccine distribution category, surpassing our neighboring states of Maryland, Virginia, and even West Virginia. According to Kaiser, D.C. is ranked first in the country in the share of our vaccines going to Black residents. You can find the data here.
I show some of the data for Black residents in the chart above, but what about white and Latino residents? (D.C. does not have significant data for Asian residents.) According to Kaiser, as of April 5, 43 percent of vaccinations have gone to white residents; white residents make up 41 percent of D.C.’s population. That's the 4th lowest share of vaccinations in the nation. In other states, whites make up a much larger percentage of residents, and by and large, have gotten a larger share of vaccinations than their share of population.
There's an important reason to focus on racial equity. In D.C., 90 percent of recent COVID deaths have been Black residents. Another 6 percent were Hispanic. Ensuring access to the vaccine is equitable is the best way to prevent more deaths from this virus. But it also means we need to be transparent about how we're allocating our vaccines, so people don't feel shut out. (Again, according to DC Health, there has been very little vaccine spoiled or wasted, and we've already used over 90 percent of our vaccine allocation.)
What about the story in the Post that reported Giant pharmacies in the city had stopped ordering vaccines because it was not getting enough patients through D.C.’s registration system? I agree, that story remains troubling, and DC Health has not provided answers. Giant is one of a number of pharmacies in our city that participate in the federal retail pharmacy program, in which pharmacies get their vaccine doses directly from the federal government. DC Health encouraged participating pharmacies to schedule appointments through our registration system to further our vaccine equity efforts, as Giant did, but many others opted to schedule on their own.
Our city’s experience with a first-come, first-served system showed a very inequitable racial distribution of vaccine, which is why I believe in the city’s registration system, but if pharmacies opt out then I think it is also our responsibility to make sure ALL residents know of these other options to get a vaccine appointment. This is where I think we as a local government fell short. Access to information, as well as race, income and flexible time, are what’s driving the inequitable distribution here and across the country.
Some residents have opted to travel out of state to get vaccinated. When FEMA first announced the Greenbelt mass vaccination site, I immediately asked our Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) if D.C. residents could use the site and argued we should be able to given how many Maryland health care workers we vaccinated. I was told the answer was no, so I was quite surprised (and thrilled) to hear Governor Larry Hogan welcome D.C. residents to the site. I know many residents who have since gotten their shots in Greenbelt.
Again, I encourage everyone to get vaccinated, wherever you can. Every shot makes our city safer and a return to normal life that much closer. I know this has been a long, hard 13 months. Some of you are fully vaccinated, some are partially vaccinated, and some are still waiting to get your shot. I ask that whatever your status, continue to observe safe COVID practices: Wear your mask in public and keep a social distance. Help your neighbors if they need assistance with a vaccine appointment. Let me know if you have questions or concerns.
Our Top 11 Questions and Answers of the week are below:
How Can I Get A Vaccine Appointment?
There are a number of ways to get a vaccine appointment if you are a D.C. resident:
- Register at vaccinate.dc.gov or call 1-855-363-0333
- Sign up with your health-care provider, such as Kaiser Permanente
- Check with pharmacies including CVS, Walgreens, Grubb
- DC Health’s Faith in the Vaccine program (in Ward 1 at Shrine of the Sacred Heart on Wednesday, April 14 and Saturday, April 17)
- Register with FEMA’s Greenbelt mass vaccination site: https://onestop.md.gov/preregistration
- Other sites in Maryland and Virginia are now offering walk-up appointments, such as Hagerstown and Salisbury.
What other activities are allowed now?
At her press briefing last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a loosening of restrictions starting May 1:
- Seated live entertainment (i.e. theaters) will be allowed indoors and outdoors at 25 percent capacity (up to 500 people).
- Movie theaters will be able to operate at 25 percent capacity.
- Weddings, special events, etc. will be allowed indoors and outdoors at 25 percent capacity (with a waiver for attendance greater than 250).
- School graduations and awards ceremonies will be allowed indoors and outdoors with capacity limits.
- Regional business meetings and seated conventions will be allowed indoors and outdoors at 25 percent capacity (with a waiver for attendance greater than 250).
- Recreation centers will be able to operate indoors at 50 percent capacity.
- Libraries will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity.
- Museums, galleries, and exhibits will be able to operate indoors and outdoors at 50 percent capacity.
- Non-essential retail indoors and outdoors will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity.
What’s the latest on schools reopening?
DC Public Schools will fully reopen with in-person learning for all students, every day in the fall for the 2021-2022 school year. The first day of school for students is August 30, and enrollment is now open. Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said DCPS is considering a virtual option for those students and families who still feel uncomfortable returning to the classroom.
Will the swimming pools be open this summer?
As of May 1, indoor public pools will be open at 50 percent capacity, and outdoor splash pads will be allowed to open at full capacity. Outdoor pools will be open this summer.
I collected Unemployment Insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) but my payments stopped the week of March 14. What is happening?
March 14 is when UI and PUA benefits transitioned from those passed during the Trump administration to the American Rescue Plan passed during the Biden administration. Claimants who were in the 26th week of UI, final week of PUA, or in the final week of UI extensions including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) or Extended Benefits (EB) put in place during the Trump administration were impacted because the UI system needs to be updated and re-coded to reflect the new American Rescue Plan extensions.
D.C.’s Department of Employment Services (DOES) says this work will be completed by the end of this week. If you are one of those claimants impacted, we know you are frustrated. Please contact DOES at 202-724-7000 if you fit this category and need help with payments and weekly certification. Let us know if you need help.
My benefit year has ended. Do I need to re-apply for UI?
No. If you have not returned to work and/or earned income over the last year, you will automatically be eligible to keep certifying for benefits until September 6, 2020. Please note that some claimant portals are awaiting necessary updates so they can access and submit weekly certification claims.
Why does the DOES call-taker tell me there are IT issues?
The technology system D.C. uses to administer unemployment is decades-old. Every change in benefits requires programmers to write new code and make sure the system is working properly so claims are correctly paid. It is a cumbersome process. The agency is also currently in the process of building a new, modern UI technology system but it will not be completed until 2022. Until then, it is frustrating to wait for changes to be made. DOES says that they expect the changes needed to implement the American Rescue Plan to be completed at the end of this week. Once the system is updated, claimants will be able to file their claims for weeks that passed while the updates were being made.
Is the deadline to file taxes still April 15?
No. The new deadline to file your federal and D.C. taxes is May 17.
Is Unemployment Insurance (UI) taxable or non-taxable in D.C.?
For the 2020 tax year, individual filers will not have to pay federal or D.C. taxes on UI benefits up to $10,200.
Married couples who both received UI and file jointly do not have to pay taxes on up to $20,400 of UI. This exclusion is for households with adjusted gross income of up to $150,000.
Can I get help preparing my taxes?
Yes. AARP offers the largest free, volunteer-based tax assistance and preparation program in the U.S., and can help you with state and federal returns. Call 888-AARPNOW (888-227-7669) or click here. Community Tax Aid is also a D.C.-based organization offering free tax preparation assistance for people in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. You can learn more about their services here. Remember, the deadline to file your taxes has been extended to May 17.
How can I get help paying my rent and utilities?
D.C. residents can get financial help paying back rent and rent for three months forward with a new program, Stay DC. This program will use $352 million in federal funds to address rent and utility payments. The new Website is stay.dc.gov. You can also call 833-478-2932. There are income eligibility requirements. I’ll have more on this in next week’s newsletter.