June 8 Newsletter - How to Stay Cool During Budget Season with Answers to Your Questions on Reopening, Redistricting, and the Budget!
Our city has an incredible opportunity to strategically invest in ourselves and make the District of Columbia a more egalitarian, equitable city. What am I talking about? Over the next two months, my D.C. Council colleagues and I will make pivotal decisions on how to spend more than $17 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as a billion more this year as well.
It is budget season, and this is a budget like none other.
This could be a game-changer, but it is up to us to spend the money in a way that will not just perpetuate the status quo. The infusion of a few billion federal dollars for COVID-19 recovery gives us a unique opportunity to make transformative investments in public education, housing, workforce development and public safety. We have some big choices ahead, and we need your input. More information on how to weigh in on the budget is below.
We need to spend dollars in the savviest way possible to help those residents and businesses who have been hurt the most by the pandemic to turn their trajectories around, as well as build strong systems to make our city a place of opportunity for generations to come. It’s important to keep in mind this pandemic did not impact all District residents equally. That’s why I am a bit surprised about Mayor Bowser’s approach: I don’t see in her proposal that we are truly targeting dollars to help those who have been most impacted by COVID. Instead, I see a lot of sprinkling of dollars here and there. I think of the graphic below that’s used to demonstrate equity, of the kids trying to look over the fence at the baseball game.
We need to use these dollars to build a big booster for the smaller kids, not give the same size boost to everyone. Right now, this budget gives the same size boost to everyone.
We also know that direct payments to our unemployed residents and the local businesses who through no fault of their own had to lay off their employees are the best way to help both groups come out of this emergency. But there’s not much in this budget that helps either group. As well, the mayor’s proposal takes $400 million from the Paid Family Leave fund to spend largely on benefits that do not help our residents or workers most impacted. It’s important to keep in mind that many residents lost the ability to use paid family leave because they lost their jobs. And by giving a tax break to all businesses, we’re not targeting those businesses who really need the help, such as our hotels, our restaurants, our locally-owned retail. Again, it is giving the same size boost to everyone, instead of giving a big boost to those who need it the most.
We are beginning to come out of a once-in-a-century public health emergency and economic crisis. We have access to a significant amount of federal funds to help our residents, our businesses, and our District government emerge in a way that gets us to a more equitable place. It’s up to us whether we make it game-changing. I will push for that to happen. I’ll have more specifics in upcoming newsletters.
Take care, and stay cool!
May 20, 2021
The Honorable Muriel Bowser
Mayor, District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004
Dear Mayor Bowser:
Thank you for your leadership during the COVID-19 emergency. We faced interwoven, once-in-a-lifetime public health and economic challenges, and now we face another great challenge of recovering from this incredible crisis. We have an equally remarkable opportunity to make transformational change with the $2.3 billion in federal dollars coming to the District from the American Rescue Plan.
(Click here for a PDF of the letter or continue reading below.)
Only half of District residents have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control. Even if you take out all the kids who have not been eligible for the vaccine (emergency approval of the Pfizer vaccine happened earlier this week for 12 to 15-year-olds), that still leaves nearly 40 percent of District adult residents unvaccinated.
Does that percentage surprise you?
I ask, because a number of residents who email me or who have requested meetings with me say they don’t know anyone who hasn’t gotten at least one vaccination shot. And I believe them. But the data shows that nearly four out of ten District adults have not gotten even one shot, even though the supply of vaccine is plentiful, there are walk-in clinics, and many opportunities day and night to get protected against this virus.
The pandemic has put a bright spotlight on how in a city of less than 69 square miles, we can live vastly different lives and often not realize it. And this puts us in a predicament in crafting public policy for the greater good of all District residents, if we consider the District of Columbia a community as a whole. Because in some parts of our city, almost everyone is partially or fully vaccinated. Residents are eager to take off masks, get a cocktail at a bar, and see a show at the Kennedy Center or 9:30 Club -- and those businesses are eager to have them do it. In other parts of our city, residents are eager to get back to pre-pandemic life as well, but not everyone in their neighborhood or social circle has gotten vaccinated. So taking off a mask, going to a bar, and seeing a show can have deadly consequences.
On Monday, Mayor Bowser announced that almost all public-health-related restrictions will be lifted in less than two weeks. By June 11, pre-pandemic life will return: Bars will be open, Capital One Arena can be sold out for (hopefully) playoff hockey and basketball, and we can stand awkwardly close to random people once again. I have more information and infographics explaining the new rules below. But I will admit that the complete lifting of public health restrictions is worrisome to me.
Perhaps it comes down to the term “community spread”: What community are we referring to? If COVID-19 remains a threat to the health and safety of residents in certain parts of our city but not other parts, is that a successful approach to stemming the virus? Data has shown that Black residents in our city have died at a much higher rate from COVID than white residents, and I am concerned this trend will exacerbate if we let down our guard and take a community posture that the threat of COVID to health and safety is over. As well, I am concerned that very rosy data showing the virus curbing has since been shown to have errors: Numbers are still trending downward, but not as robustly as the erroneous data led us to believe.
These are not easy decisions, and we need to take them on thoughtfully and judiciously.
Other big decisions are on the horizon: In two weeks, Mayor Bowser will present her budget to the Council, which will set off a two-month review process. This will be a pivotal budget for our city: We have the opportunity with this budget to move in a different direction and become a more just and equitable city. It is up to us.
More information below.
Councilmember Elissa Silverman, Chairperson of the Committee of the Whole’s Subcommittee on Redistricting, announces a public roundtable before the Subcommittee on the 2021 redistricting process. The roundtable will be held on Monday, May 24, 2021, at 1:00 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 30, 2021 – D.C. Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) and Robert C. White, Jr. (D-At-Large) today introduced legislation that would end the automatic denial of the issuance and renewal of driver’s licenses for D.C. residents who have unpaid debt to the District. Currently, tens of thousands of residents are denied the ability to get or renew a license if they owe D.C. government as little as $100, which can prevent them from continuing to work or caring for their family.
We’ve all come up with coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges of this very difficult 13 months. One of mine has been a weekly Saturday morning bicycle ride with friends. It’s been a great way to get exercise, visit safely with friends, and explore our great city. Many times over the last year we rode at Hains Point, and that’s why last weekend’s news that two pedestrians walking there were killed after a driver struck them and fled the scene hit very close to home for me. Many mornings I walk at Hains Point as well.
Yesterday I learned that I knew one of the two DC residents who died: Waldon Adams, who has been a very persuasive and inspiring advocate for those experiencing homelessness in our city. For several years, I volunteered at Miriam’s Kitchen, which is located near the GW University campus and provides all kinds of services to those in need of food, housing and supportive services. Waldon was quite memorable because he was a marathoner and credited running with helping him overcome mental health and substance abuse challenges in his life. Sports has also helped me deal with stresses in my life, so I could relate. The person walking with Waldon last weekend also had experienced homelessness and worked to advocate for others, Rhonda Whitaker.
Walking or biking shouldn’t be treacherous in our city. We need to make our streets safer for all modes of transit, including in our National Park Service areas as well. I do not serve on the Council’s Transportation Committee, but I vow to work more with Transportation Chair Mary Cheh to make our streets safer. We have put in place policies to encourage non-car travel but we need to put money and infrastructure behind these policies. I know Councilmember Cheh is going to be holding a hearing on this, and I plan to work with her as constructively as possible. My sincere condolences to friends and family of Waldon and Rhonda.
Our answers to this week’s Top 10 questions are below.
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.
What’s In It for Me?
The American Rescue Plan will bring 2.2 billion federal dollars over the next three years to the District of Columbia, including extensions of various unemployment compensation programs. If you received Unemployment Insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) in 2020 and have not returned to work, you are likely eligible for the additional benefits in the American Rescue Plan. Typically, unemployment benefits can last up to a year, but the American Rescue Plan extends UI beyond the traditional year timeframe.
The American Rescue Plan continues through September 2021 the $300/week supplemental payment to UI and PUA recipients that was made available beginning in late December 2020.
Here’s how the plan will impact you if you collect unemployment compensation, broken out by program and extensions:
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 5, 2021 – D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), chair of the Council’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, issued the following statement on the death of Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) President Elizabeth Davis:
News Release: Silverman Introduces Emergency Legislation to Protect Family Leave Benefit Payments to DC Workers
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 2, 2021 – D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) introduced emergency legislation this week to protect paid family leave benefits to District workers who also hold short-term disability insurance plans. Since D.C.’s groundbreaking Universal Paid Leave program started paying benefits to workers in July 2020, some District insurance companies have been subtracting the money workers expect to receive from the D.C. paid leave program from the amount they pay out to claimants who have short-term disability policies.