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!
Information on Upcoming DC Budget Hearings, How to Watch, and Signing up to Testify
It’s budget season, and hearings are already underway and continuing through the month of June. Click here for the entire budget schedule which includes oversight hearings in individual committees. Also included in this link are instructions on how to watch the hearings -- for the most part at dccouncil.us and on Channel 13 -- and forms you can use to sign up to testify. The hearings are held online so testifying is less labor-intensive than going to the Wilson Building.
I will be dipping in and out of a number of hearings as I consider how our city spends its resources. As chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, however, I will convene the following meetings in order to determine the allocations for the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and related offices.
- Wednesday, June 9, beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing all day, we will hold a general hearing with public witnesses on the DOES budget focusing on unemployment insurance, paid family leave and other important issues.
- Friday, June 11, beginning at 9 a.m., we will hear from government witnesses only, from DOES.
- Wednesday, June 16 at 3 p.m., we will focus on the Office of Employee Appeals and the Public Employees Relations Board with public witnesses.
- Monday, June 21 at noon, we will concentrate on the Department of Human Resources and the Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining, with public witnesses.
We will hold our final committee meeting on Wednesday, June 30 at 3 p.m., when we “mark-up” the actual budget document for DOES and related agencies under our jurisdiction. In late July, the full Council will consider the entire budget with a goal of completing action by August 10.
If you have relevant experience with DOES or one of the other agencies, I hope you will consider testifying. If not, please take a moment to watch online as we go through the important aspects of how your tax money is being allocated.
It’s Hot! Are Pools and Spray Parks Open?
Welcome to summer in D.C.! There is nothing better than spending time at one of our pools on a hot day! Outdoor pools, indoor pools, and spray parks are open! Outdoor pools are open on weekends through June and after that, six days a week. Indoor pools are open at full capacity with no reservations needed! Spray parks are open every day as well. 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.
Are Libraries Open?
Something I’m particularly happy about is our public libraries are now (mostly) open and have increased occupancy at all open locations. You will be allowed to browse the collections and sit at a table or in lounge areas to read, study or work. D.C. Public Library will also expand the number of public computers available at branches and extend the sessions from 45 minutes to 70 minutes. More specific information on what is allowed at the libraries is available here. As you peruse the Website for our libraries, check out the activities celebrating Pride month throughout June.
Not only is your neighborhood library open, but our flagship library facility, the newly renovated Mies van der Rohe-designed MLK Library at 9th and G Streets NW, is now open! It is fantastic -- go see it! Congratulations to the dedicated staff at our library system, including Central Library Director Maryann James-Daley.
What’s the Latest on Vaccines?
It is easier than ever to get a vaccine. Click here to see those opportunities, including the walk-up sites for young D.C. residents, 12 to 15 years old.
If you are fully vaccinated, you only need to wear a mask where there is a mask requirement like on public transit, in healthcare settings, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, at schools and childcare facilities, and at those businesses that require patrons to wear masks. There is no longer an outdoor mask requirement for fully vaccinated residents – but make sure to take one with you when you leave the house in case you have to go inside. As always, even if you’re vaccinated, if you feel sick, you should stay home until you’re feeling better.
If you are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, you are still expected to wear a mask and maintain social distance. On Friday, May 21, restrictions on most public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions were lifted. And, on Friday, June 11, nightclubs and large sports and entertainment venues will be able to resume normal operations.
How Can I Get Help Paying Rent and Utilities?
Last month, I wrote about the STAY DC program, and how the feds have given DC $352 million in federal funds to use for paying back rent and utilities. The problem is, we have to spend a certain amount of the money by the end of the fiscal year, or else risk losing some of it. And we’re having trouble getting the money out the door. I have been pressing the administration for months to improve the Website (stay.dc.gov) and streamline the application process, and on Wednesday, we held a hearing on the program. I’m hopeful that the administration has gotten the message that we need to get this money out the door now. Delays only hurt our residents, who miss out on help paying their rent, and our landlords, many of whom could really use that money too.
In the meantime, there is still a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs, and the Council voted last month to extend that moratorium without any changes as part of DC’s public health emergency. And if you or anyone you know is interested in STAY DC, they can apply online at stay.dc.gov or by calling 833-478-2932. Please pass this information on to anyone you know who might be having difficulty paying their rent.
How Can I Get Help Paying For Wifi?
There’s also money from the feds that is available to qualifying households to help connect to the Internet. Click here for more information on the Emergency Broadband Benefit, including how to apply.
The program can cut $50 off monthly Internet bills. Be mindful, however, that there are reports that some Internet service providers are asking that you change plans to a more expensive plan in order to get the benefit. You should carefully calculate how much you will save in order to ensure that you actually get some benefit, even if you switch plans. There were two helpful columns in The Washington Post with FAQs as well as some concerns raised by individuals who have already used the program.
What Are Some of the Pride Events Happening in June?
June is Pride month, and even though our annual D.C. Pride Parade and Festival are not taking place, there are many other ways to celebrate Pride and support our LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and family. Destination DC has prepared a list of many of those events here.
When Will the Public Health Emergency End?
At some point, we do need to wind down our COVID public health emergency protections. On Friday, May 21, the Council’s Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery held a Public Oversight Hearing entitled: An Equitable End to Safety Net Protections Put in Place During the Covid-19 Pandemic. During the hearing, the Special Committee heard testimony from invited witnesses and the public. I attended the hearing and found it helpful to hear from so many people – more than 100 people signed up to speak.
Additionally, I’ve suggested that the Council establish a working committee on winding down these emergency protections. I think it would be especially helpful to have a working group of landlords and tenant organizers along with several Councilmembers who can discuss paths forward to an equitable end to our emergency protections.
Why Should I Care about Redistricting? What is Redistricting, anyway?
Redistricting is a boring-sounding, procedural process that everyone says is part of democracy, but can be hard to show how it affects our everyday lives. Every ten years, after the nationwide Census is taken, we draw new political boundaries within states (including our own), dividing up residents into new districts (or wards) of roughly equal size. This periodic rebalancing is crucial to ensure our representative democracy works.
In D.C., if we don’t rebalance the wards every ten years, we’ll end up with big size imbalances. And, currently, since the last restructuring ten years ago, we have some wards with 25 percent more population than others.
Chairman Mendelson appointed me the chairman of the Subcommittee on Redistricting, and we held a kick-off hearing on redistricting on Monday, May 24. This subcommittee is composed entirely of At-Large Councilmembers to avoid any concerns that Councilmembers are choosing their own voters. In all respects, I’m committed to a transparent process with public hearings on the proposed ward and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) maps. We will also have a public Website, where residents can draw their own lines and make their own proposals to submit to the Council.
We expect to receive official data from the Census Bureau in September – this is a significant delay from prior years. This “data dump” signals the start of our redistricting process. The Council will have 90 days after the data is released to redraw the ward lines. During those 90 days, the Council will hold several hearings on how to rebalance the wards. After the Council passes the new ward maps – probably in December – the Mayor (provided she approves the new boundaries) would then sign them into law in January.
The next step in the process is redrawing the ANC boundaries. Each ward Councilmember will convene a task force of ward residents to make recommendations to the Council on how to rebalance the ANCs in their ward. These recommendations must be made to the Council 90 days after the Mayor signs the ward boundaries into law. These ANC recommendations would likely be sent to the Council in early April.
The Council would then debate the new ANC boundaries and hold several public hearings. In the past, it has taken the Council five to seven months from receiving the ward task force reports to final passage of the ANC boundaries. That would put passage of the new ANC boundaries in September at best – well after the normal start of the ANC election process.
With this timeline, which again, is due to the delay in the release of federal Census data, it will be difficult to get redistricting done in time for the 2022 election season. But stay tuned! We will likely hold our next hearing this fall.
If you have any thoughts or comments on redistricting in DC, let me know!