Newsletter: Tough And Responsible Decisions

In this newsletter, Councilmember Silverman focuses on: unemployment benefits, DCPS Term 2 reopening plans, voting, and celebrating the holidays safely.

Dear resident,

Today is the first day of in-person, early voting in DC! I was at Sherwood Rec near my home in Ward 6 when polls opened at 8:30 a.m., and though there was a line, it moved quite efficiently! Two reminders: You can vote at any early voting center across the city; the list of sites is here. And for our seniors and residents with a disability, curbside voting (which allows you to vote outside on a hand-held computer) is available!

We face many challenging decisions in the upcoming days and months, both as individuals and as a city. First, I know many of you, like me, are wrestling with how to celebrate upcoming holidays safely and responsibly. I want you to be aware of guidance DC Health has issued both for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Here’s what we are seeing through contact tracing interviews: COVID+ residents report with some frequency attending small group gatherings with family and friends prior to testing positive. I usually host Thanksgiving and love that my Maryland and Virginia family have a tradition of gathering at my home, but it’s not happening this year. DC Health considers that high-risk, and I am heeding that warning.

Another big decision many of us are facing involves the DC public schools plan for Term 2, beginning November 9. This is a challenging decision that needed to be handled judiciously and collaboratively, particularly with teachers and parents. That’s not what happened. An arbiter reviewing whether DCPS followed the law when creating the Term 2 reopening plan ruled against DCPS and ordered the school system to rescind various components. That has fueled distrust and anger. As I said in a hearing last Friday, in-person instruction and health and safety should not be presented as an either/or. That is a false choice. We know that getting our kids back to the classroom is the most optimal for learning and social emotional development, but we cannot do it without the confidence and trust of teachers, parents, and students. I am concerned that many teachers will opt to either resign or retire, and that we could lose many of our talented instructors. I am not on the Council’s Education Committee, but I think the Council needs to have a strong voice in making sure decisions are made responsibly.

Finally, coronavirus has impacted each and every one of us, but for some of our neighbors it has been absolutely devastating. About one out of six workers in our city remains dependent on unemployment compensation for stability and income. We need to keep the focus on helping these workers, and my Committee on Labor and Workforce Development intends to do just that. I moved an emergency bill to keep payments flowing, and we held a roundtable on unemployment compensation to perform oversight. More on that below.

My recent outdoor office hours trial went well! Let me know if you would like to see another one. A few additional updates you have been calling the office about: 

  • New appointment slots are available for those needing DMV services
  • DC’s digital coronavirus tracing tool (DC CAN) has launched! DC CAN is a new tool for our contact tracers to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Both iPhone and Android users can sign up for DC CAN and start using it today.

Stay safe and wear your masks!

Elissa.


In This Issue:


Constituent Q&A

Q. What does it mean if my absentee ballot shows up in the Ballot Tracker as “under review”?

A. You can track the status of your ballot here. According to the DC Board of Elections, “under review” likely means a signature reviewer has sent a ballot to a second reviewer because of a discrepancy between the ballot signature and one on file. If the second reviewer agrees, then the ballot is sent to management for a final review. And if management confirms the discrepancy, the elections board will notify the voter. The voter will have until Nov. 13 to correct the problem or their vote will not be counted.


Extended Unemployment Benefits 

Seven weeks can feel like a lifetime during a pandemic, especially if you’ve lost your job and income. More than 150,000 DC workers have claimed some type of unemployment compensation, and I believe we need to do everything we can to get money into workers’ pockets as fast as possible. That’s why I introduced legislation last week, which the Council unanimously passed, to extend unemployment benefits by seven weeks to eligible workers

For regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants, this means you have 59 weeks available instead of 52. For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) users, this is a new (and the only) extension opportunity, taking you from 39 to 46 weeks of benefits. We still have to set this system up, so it is unclear when we can implement the additional seven weeks. I know every day of delay means a late rent check or inability to meet basic needs for DC workers, so I will be working closely with the Department of Employment Services to get this up and running as soon as possible. 

Yesterday I also held another oversight roundtable on unemployment compensation. It focused on three critical unemployment issues: 

  • DC’s short-time compensation (or “shared work”) programThis program allows our small and large employers to avoid layoffs or bring back laid off employees on a limited schedule. It reduces payroll costs and allows those employees to access unemployment compensation paid for by the federal government. It should be a win-win, but I am concerned we have not ironed out some kinks with the program.
  • Seamlessly transitioning claimants to additional weeks of benefits. UI currently has two 13-week extensions, and some states help claimants seamlessly extend those extra weeks without any action on the part of the workers. I want DC to do this! Right now, we have many claimants who are unaware the extensions exist or apply and do not get their money. We can’t have this happen.
  • Clearing the PUA claims and payment backlog. PUA is the perfect example of building a plane in mid-air. It didn’t exist in the Before Times, and to get the program off the ground we issued an initial payment of $179 per week. A monetary redetermination would then occur to assess if the claimant was eligible for more money. The Bowser administration says more than 40,000 workers have signed up for PUA, but we only have 10 claims examiners assigned to do the reassessment.

We are still accepting additional written and voicemail testimony from yesterday's roundtable until 5:00pm on November 9, 2020. Email testimony to labor@dccouncil.us, call (202) 455-0153 to leave a voicemail testimony. More details on my website


DCPS Reopening

In a ruling last week, DC’s Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) found that DCPS violated District law in failing to bargain with the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) over key aspects of the Term 2 plan. The PERB ordered DCPS to rescind their June health and safety guidelines, as well as their teacher intent survey and September health and safety protocols and survey. 

While I was glad to hear that the Chancellor, DCPS, and WTU are sitting down to work out their issues, I am extremely disappointed that this is where things are seven months into the pandemic. We should have had a real plan by now, one that was made in earnest consultation with teachers, parents, and school staff. The lack of transparency and good faith negotiations in this process have put our students’ education at risk, and could also cause us to lose valuable, dedicated teachers. 

I hope that DCPS will take the PERB ruling seriously and actively improve their communication with teachers to avoid repeating unforced errors like this going forward. I also hope we can get hearings and roundtables on the calendar in November and December to help all of us better understand this critical process.

The Mayor, Chancellor, and DC Health have recently announced more details about the reopening plan that I want to share:

  • Rapid coronavirus testing: Rapid tests will be available on-site for symptomatic individuals. WTU and the DC Nurses Association have inquired about testing asymptomatic people.
  • Personal protective equipment: DCPS has ordered masks and face shields for distribution. The DC Nurses Association have inquired about fitted masks for staff such as N95.
  • Families of students selected for small group instruction: Notification to students selected will be sent this week, and the Mayor requests that families respond within 2 days.
  • Rolling start dates for "CARE" model classroom: Students selected for in-person virtual learning will report to schools between one and three weeks after the start of Term 2, depending on the grade level.

These details and others, however, may change depending on what comes out of the bargaining process between WTU and DCPS. For more information, please see the Mayor’s October 22 Situational Update.


REACH Act

Last week, the Council passed the REACH (Racial Equity Achieves Results Act of 2020) Act. The REACH Act will help DC achieve its goal of becoming a more just city by shining a spotlight on racial equity and putting in place tools to make sure the District uses a racial equity lens in all our work. This bill, introduced by my colleague, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, will establish DC’s first Office of Racial Equity and first Chief Equity Officers. Click here to learn more.


Voting

In-person, early voting starts TODAY! At this point, if you have not received your absentee ballot, you should plan to vote in person. If you haven’t registered yet, you can register and vote at the same time at any Early Voting Center in the District. 

Reminders:

  • Early voting starts October 27
  • Election Day, November 3
    • If you are mailing your ballot, it must be postmarked or at the Ballot Drop Box by 8pm on Election Day. 
    • Find Election Day voting centers and line wait times here
  • You can vote at any Early Voting Center, Election Day Voting Center, or Drop Box in the District. You do not have to vote at your usual polling place, or even in your own ward!

Coronavirus + Flu Shots

DC has launched a new coronavirus tracking tool: the DC COVID Alert Notice, also known as “DC CAN”. DC CAN was developed in partnership with DC Health to assist the contact tracing efforts of our Coronavirus Contact Trace Force. DC CAN can be enabled for iPhone users directly through your settings (no app required), and by downloading an app in the Google Play store for Android users. 

The system only works if the user decides to opt-in. You control whether you receive Exposure Notifications and you can turn it off any time. DC CAN does not track your location or collect or use the location from your device. It uses Bluetooth, which can be used to detect if two devices are near each other – without revealing where the devices are. Click here to learn more about DC CAN and how to activate it on your device.

Public testing site locations and availability can be found here

Flu shots: Cold and flu season is upon us! With the coronavirus pandemic not yet contained, it’s more important than ever to stay healthy. CVS is partnering with DC Health to give flu shots at six firehouse testing sites from October 5 - 30:

  • Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm:
    • Engine 4, 2531 Sherman Avenue, NW
    • Engine 24, 5101 Georgia Avenue, NW
    • Engine 31, 4930 Connecticut Avenue, NW
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays. 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm:
    • Engine 8, 1520 C Street, SE
    • Engine 30, 50 49th Street, NE
    • Engine 33, 101 Atlantic Street, SE

These sites are in addition to the flu vaccinations provided by Walgreens at the Judiciary Square testing site through October. To find more locations where you can get a flu shot, click here

High risk states: Last week, DC Health released an updated list of high-risk states. States that were added to the updated list include: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. No states were removed from the updated list.


Office Hours

I know that connecting has been extremely difficult during the pandemic, and I want to make sure that every constituent who needs to connect with my office can. That’s why this week I held outdoor office hours (with masks and physical distancing enforced) at the Wilson building. Time slots filled up quickly, but now that I know there is great interest, I will be considering hosting another socially distanced event like this soon.

If you would be interested in attending a future outdoor office hours event, email me at esilverman@dccouncil.us to let me know.


Resource Roundup

See below for a roundup of some of the most recent resources, funding opportunities, and program updates from our office. The newest items will always be on top.

  • DC Health Link Extends Opportunity for DC Residents and Employees of DC Small Businesses to Get Covered During COVID-19 Crisis: Click here to learn more. 
  • Eat It Forward Campaign: Your favorite Black-owned restaurant could win $25,000 through this contest sponsored by Discover card. Entries are accepted any time from now through October 31, 2020. Full details, including how to participate/nominate, can be found here
  • DC Mortgage Assistance Program (DC MAP) relaunched: DC MAP provides financial relief to District homeowners who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. MAP COVID-19, qualified borrowers can receive a loan of up to $5,000 monthly toward their mortgage for up to six months. 
  • Food Access Resources: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/food
  • Unemployment Assistance: http://www.elissasilverman.com/unemployment
Education Voting unemployment insurance