All day today, my colleagues on the D.C. Council and I will be discussing the budget for the next fiscal year. This is certainly the most consequential budget in my seven years on the Council, and might possibly be the most momentous for years to come. Mayor Muriel Bowser presented us with a $17 billion proposal, which includes not only money from your income and property taxes but also more than 2 billion federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan that can be spent over the next three years.
The investments we make with these dollars will determine whether we truly help those residents and businesses who were most hurt by the pandemic; if we substantively address the structural racism and inequality in our city; and if we take a new direction toward being a more just and egalitarian city. Or we can just keep doing largely what we have been doing, in which some residents and businesses have been buoyed by a rising economic tide, and others, particularly longtime Black residents, feel like they’ve been wiped out.
My North Star in this budget is to leverage our federal dollars and locally-raised taxes to give a significant hand-up to those gut-punched by the pandemic, as well as to see this as an opportunity to take on with urgency some of the structural inequities in public education, housing, and jobs. In consideration of my own Labor Committee’s budget, which I will go into more detail below, I asked a key question: How does this budget help the nearly 100,000 DC residents who filed for unemployment compensation because they lost their job or significant income due to the coronavirus public health emergency and their employers, many of whom are hotels, restaurant/bars, and retailers?
When I asked that question about the Mayor’s proposal, I didn’t see a lot. Take Jean, for example. Jean is a Ward 4 resident who lost her job working in the laundry department of a D.C. hotel, a job she’s had for more than three decades. She wrote to me because she was having trouble accessing her unemployment benefits, a not uncommon issue for many workers, and she told me she had $6 in her bank account. This budget needs to help Jean, as well as help Jean’s employer get her back on the payroll so she can support herself and her family. She’ll be on my mind all day today.
The pandemic has impacted each and every one of us, but the depth of the impact depends on our age, our race, our health, and the nature of our work. For kids in our public schools, learning at home by Zoom has not only led many to fall even further behind in building their reading and math skills but also has had an impact on their social-emotional development and led many to feel depressed and alone. We need to deploy our dollars with intention to address these issues. We cannot wait for Year 2 or Year 3. We need to do it now and do it with evidence-based approaches that have a track record of success.
We need to focus on the big areas: education, housing, jobs/workforce development, public safety. We need to take on the epidemic of gun violence in our city. I include Vision Zero, making sure our streets are safe for pedestrians, those on a bicycle, and other modes of transportation, in our public safety plan. On housing, we need to make sure we are adequately funding programs to move our unhoused residents out of tents into permanent homes. Otherwise, the encampments will remain. And we need to make sure that our residents who have not been able to pay their rent or mortgages over these last 16 months know about programs like STAY DC, which uses federal dollars to pay back rent since April 2020 and will pay rent into the future, too. We cannot afford missed opportunities.
If you care about these issues, and want to advocate for how your dollars will be spent, you have time to weigh in. In a week and a half, on July 20, the Council will take the first of two votes on the budget and appropriations and supporting legislative language. The second vote on appropriations will likely occur August 3 and the second vote on legislative language will likely happen August 10.
So what about summer recess? The Council still will have somewhat of a summer legislative recess. From July 15 to September 30, we will only convene for budget-related matters, as well as legislation related to the public health emergency. My Labor Committee will hold one more hearing July 14 on an amendment to our groundbreaking law helping workers by banning noncompete agreements. I want to point out that yesterday the Biden administration instructed the Federal Trade Commission to take on this issue at the federal level. Last year, the Council passed this legislation and the Mayor signed it, but as of late, it has received a lot of pushback from big business. I recommended in the budget to delay implementation to address concerns, but I was buoyed by the Biden Administration’s commitment to this issue.
My Labor Committee’s Budget Recommendations
Last week, my Committee on Labor and Workforce Development unanimously approved our Fiscal Year 2022 committee budget recommendations. The committee proposes more than $90 million in direct assistance to D.C. residents who lost employment and income due to COVID-19 and $30 million in direct grants to local businesses to help pay back rent and get workers back on payroll. The recommendations also triple paid medical leave benefits for workers, increasing the number of weeks from two to six. These recommendations now are before the full Council for consideration.
This is a pivotal time for our city, and it is also one of opportunity. As the District recovers from the pandemic, my guiding principle is to direct resources strategically to help those most impacted by COVID-19, strengthen our economy, and build a workforce pipeline in our high-demand industries so that D.C. residents will get hired in living-wage careers that create a more equitable District of Columbia.
In order to build this workforce development infrastructure, the committee recommends investing heavily in healthcare and information technology training both through the University of the District of Columbia, UDC’s community college, and community-based providers with a track record of success. The committee also will continue to invest in young people with the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program and a newly permanent school-year paid internship program for D.C. high school students.
The report recommends the following investments:
DIRECT ASSISTANCE TO WORKERS HURT THE MOST
- $35 million for D.C. workers who lost income and were excluded from federal unemployment compensation benefits
- $29 million to permanently make unemployment insurance (UI) exempt from D.C. income tax
- $15 million for payments to D.C. residents who endured extraordinarily long wait times before receiving their unemployment benefits.
STRENGTHENING OUR ECONOMY, BOOSTING OUR ESSENTIAL WORKERS AND HELPING OUR BUSINESSES HURT THE MOST
- $30 million in targeted grants to small, local, and minority owned businesses in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality sector which experienced significant revenue loss
- $5 million for Heroes Pay for thousands of D.C. workers in essential jobs
- $6.2 million to reskill workers in Information Technology (IT), through investments in UDC and community-based organizations
- $12 million to boost both IT and healthcare training, focusing on nursing and long-term care
KEEPING US HEALTHY AND PREVENTING EVICTION
- $98 million to expand Universal Paid Leave medical benefits from 2 weeks to 6 weeks for one year, with a path for permanently expanding the program and adjusting tax rates
- $5 million for incentive payments to unemployed District residents to complete STAY DC rental assistance applications
- $1.5 million to create a new eviction diversion program, so workers struggling with rent do not experience the trauma of eviction.
Take care, and stay cool!
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: