July 8 Newsletter - How to Spend $17 Billion

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.

For a full list of the Labor Committee’s recommendations, see the Executive Summary here. The complete draft report is available here.

Take care, and stay cool!

Elissa.

Other Items of Interest

Transportation

New Visitor Parking Pass System - ParkDC

The District Department of Transportation announced the launch of ParkDC Permits, a new, centralized digital system for D.C. residents and their visitors to manage visitor, temporary, home health aide, and contractor parking permits via a single online portal. This new system will help manage parking for people visiting D.C. residents who live in residential permit parking zones. The new system opened up to residents citywide on July 1—in the meantime, the 2020 annual visitor parking passes will remain valid until September 30.

Metro

The Metro Board has approved more service, later hours, and more convenient fare options for Metrobus and Metrorail as our city reopens.  Metrorail service has been extended to midnight, seven days a week, this month, and other bus and rail service improvements and fare changes will start being implemented beginning Labor Day weekend.

Metrorail

  • More frequent all-day service, including weekends: Trains will operate every 6 minutes on the Red Line and every 12 minutes on all other lines, seven days a week during off-peak hours (beginning September on weekdays, late 2021 on weekends).
  • Better peak service: On weekdays, trains will operate every 5 minutes on the Red Line (late 2021) and every 10 minutes on all other lines (September) during peak hours to accommodate return to work and school.
  • Improved late night service and hours: Metrorail will extend operating hours to midnight, seven days a week (July). After 9:30 p.m., late-night train frequencies will improve to every 10 minutes on the Red Line, and every 15 minutes on all other lines (September). Operating hours will expand until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (September).

Metrobus

  • Increased service: 20 bus lines will operate every 12 minutes or better, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m., seven days a week. (September)
  • Increased service: 16 bus lines will operate every 20 minutes or better, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m., seven days a week. (September)
  • Service restored or improved on an additional 46 bus routes. (September)

Fares

  • Weekends: Flat fare of $2 on Metrorail. (September)
  • Transfers: Free bus transfers to / from rail. (September)
  • Passes: Lower 7-day Regional Bus Pass price from $15 to $12. (September)

Driving

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will return to walk-in service the week of July 19. The agency will honor all appointments made through July 17, but none will be available after that date. 

DMV has extended the time residents have to renew expired driver licenses and identification (ID) cards to September 9. The previously announced deadline was July 1. This will give you more time to renew driver licenses and other ID cards that require an in-person appointment at a DMV Service Center.

This announcement does NOT impact the enforcement of valid inspections and vehicle registrations that took effect on June 1.

For more detailed information on service changes at the DMV, click here


Summer in DC

You Can’t Beat Libraries and Swimming Pools for Keeping Cool!

It’s still hot, and outdoor pools, indoor pools, and spray parks are open! Outdoor pools are now open six days a week. Indoor pools are also open six days a week at full capacity with no reservations needed. Spray parks are open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Labor Day. (Langdon Park operates according to the pool’s hours.) For more information, including how to find the pool or park nearest you, go to the Website for the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. All pools are free for D.C. residents and require a paid membership for non-D.C. residents. 

Evening hours at our libraries return next week! Beginning July 15, our public libraries’ schedule will be Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday, noon to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Meeting rooms will be available by reservation. More specific information on library hours and services is available here


Vaccines

Although you may have gotten your vaccine, it is important to remember that many of our neighbors have not. Many people are still being affected by COVID-19. 

Mayor Bowser inaugurated a new mobile vaccine unit and announced a new vaccine outreach workforce. The vaccination pod can be used to vaccinate up to 400 individuals per day. Also, the city’s vaccination efforts now include a paid outreach team. The city is partnering with seven community-based organizations that will deploy teams of more than 100 people who will help residents make plans to get vaccinated. They will also work with faith leaders, barbershops, beauty salons, and youth organizations to hear residents’ concerns, share accurate and reliable vaccine information, and follow up with residents after making plans to get vaccinated.

Through the Take the Shot, D.C. Vaccine Buddy Program, people who help unvaccinated friends, family and neighborhoods make a plan to get vaccinated and accompany them to a vaccination site may receive a $51 VISA gift card. There are three vaccine buddy sites which are also hosting the Take the Shot, D.C. Giveaway: the RISE Demonstration Center at St. Elizabeths, Anacostia High School and Ron Brown High School. D.C. residents who are 12 and older and get their first dose (or only dose if they get Johnson & Johnson) at one of these three sites will get a $51 VISA gift card. Additionally, D.C. residents who are 18 and older and get their first or only dose at one of the three sites may enter a drawing to win a new car; $10,000 for groceries; or a year of free Metro bus and subway rides.

As always, you may go to coronavirus.dc.gov for the most recent and current schedule for vaccine clinics and testing.