Newsletter: The Highs and Lows This Past Week
This has been a week of highs and lows.
It was so hopeful and affirming to see the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrive at DC hospitals! Per our Vaccination Plan, thousands of essential healthcare workers will receive the first of two vaccine shots in upcoming days! Initial distribution of the vaccine is rejuvenating, even though the risk of COVID transmission remains dangerously high in the challenging winter months ahead. There was further good news that both Maryland and Virginia have agreed to contribute thousands of vaccine doses to DC hospitals given these institutions are regional and doses were distributed to states based on residential population; a DC Health survey estimates approximately 75 percent of essential healthcare workers employed in DC live outside DC.
Not-so-side-note: That’s why my Labor Committee funded a Healthcare Workforce Partnership, which is being implemented right now. We need more DC residents working in our hospitals and other living-wage jobs in health care!
A real low was seeing the violence and vandalism committed in acts of hate in our city last weekend. Black Lives Matter signs from at least four DC churches were desecrated, and, in at least one case, set on fire, by roving groups of white supremacists. Law enforcement is investigating these acts as hate crimes, and a firm message needs to be sent by our city: Hate has no place in DC. As I believe these groups will continue to peddle hate, stoked by President Trump, I think we need to discuss how DC can even better take swift action against hate. Our Attorney General Karl Racine has a new The People vs. Hate campaign with attorneys general across the country, and I will do what I can to help this important effort.
This week was also significant because Tuesday was the DC Council’s last legislative session, not only for the year, but for the two-year council period. Many of the bills considered yesterday were up for their second and final vote, including my Labor Committee’s bill to ban the use of noncompete agreements in DC employment. This bill, which will help DC workers as well as spur entrepreneurship, has gotten a lot of attention because a ban of noncompete agreements has been considered on the federal level as well.
Many of the bills addressed policy concerns involving the pandemic, including my emergency bill regarding DC Public Schools (DCPS) Reopening. I will write at length about this bill below for those who are interested, but let me say I believe we need to prioritize this issue much more. I introduced the Pandemic Learning Emergency Act to provoke more discussion about public education during the pandemic, and specifically, to build more public trust in DCPS reopening. In weeks since its initial circulation, DCPS has adopted many of the provisions: It has announced a COVID-19 testing plan, launched school-level groups to provide feedback, and Chancellor Ferebee has agreed to meet bi-weekly with the leaders of the various unions working in DCPS. It is progress. In the end, I withdrew my emergency to work with the Chancellor on making reopening more transparent and understandable.
There’s a lot more information below, as always, but I have three requests:
First: As we are now firmly in the holiday season, I want to encourage you to please shop locally for your holiday gifts and consider giving gift cards from our local restaurants as we enter winter. Every day, I work with our hospitality workers who have lost a job through this pandemic and are trying to access unemployment. Let’s help our restaurants and their workers who remain on payroll weather this incredible challenge.
Second: Please do whatever you can to get Congress to extend unemployment compensation and give more money to those who have lost jobs and income due to the pandemic. I know: We need statehood! The two Senate seats in Georgia are critical for that to happen. You might not be aware that funding for pandemic-related safety net programs that are an economic life preserver for our workers will expire Dec. 26 unless Congress extends and approves more funding. We need that to happen today!
Third: Please keep wearing your masks, limiting indoor social events to those in your COVID bubble, and keeping your social distance. It is hard, I know. But our public health statistics are worrying: Number of daily cases and number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is rising. We all play a big role in keeping our family and neighbors safe and healthy.
Finally happy holidays: Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa!
Take care and stay safe.
In This Issue:
- Facebook Live Info Session
- Legislative Updates
- Unemployment Benefits + Committee Updates
- District Bridge Fund
- Resource Roundup
Q. I’ve heard that DC is giving out a one-time $1,200 stimulus payment, who is it for and how do we get it?
A. The $1,200 stimulus benefit is for DC residents who are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – which is for consultants and other 1099 workers not eligible for traditional Unemployment Insurance (UI). If you were approved for PUA on or before Nov. 30, you will automatically be notified by DOES through your DC Networks portal and receive an email you are eligible for the payment. Payments started this week. Continue to file your weekly claims as usual.
If you are struggling with an extended unemployment benefits issue or having trouble with your unemployment benefits because of a multi-state wage issue, join me this Friday at 12pm for a Facebook Live Info Session with DC Legal Aid! Many DC workers have emailed me with issues related to getting Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits (this is the next-step benefits program for regular UI users, which gives 13 additional weeks of benefits), and this event will be an opportunity for us to answer many of the most frequent questions we get on this issue.
We’ll also be walking attendees through what to do if you have wages in another state (or DOES says you have wages in another state) and your benefits have been held up because you are struggling to troubleshoot a multi-state wage issue. There is planned time for Q&A at the end of the session.
As I wrote up top, how and when to reopen our public schools is one of the hardest decisions we face. Because it is such a tough issue, I think the Council needs to be making sure our residents’ voices are heard, and parents and staff have the information they need to trust the reopening process.
Last month, I released a discussion draft of an emergency bill I introduced for a vote on Tuesday, December 15. The goal of the bill was to encourage more communication and transparency in the decisions about how we return our DCPS community to buildings and classrooms. At the Council’s education oversight hearing last week, every single student who testified raised concerns about returning to the classroom. We need to make sure everyone, students and parents, as well as those who work in our schools, are working together toward safely reopening our schools
You can see all the details of the final legislation, which I ultimately chose to withdraw, here. You can read my full remarks from the December 15 Legislative Session, which include my rationale for withdrawing the bill at this time, here.
Cluster Data + New Guidelines
After asking DC Health and the Mayor’s office for this data for months, we finally have some information on coronavirus clusters – or as DC Health is calling it, “outbreaks.” Outbreaks are defined by DC Health as 2 or more cases at a specified location within a 14-day period. I am looking forward to digging into this data, although I’ve already asked to receive additional information, such as how many people tested positive in each outbreak.
The Mayor also announced some additional activity restrictions recently related to group and contact sports. These restrictions will cancel DPR permits for any contact sports on their fields, and requires high schools to stop participation in sports tournaments or activities that are high contact. Click here to see the full update and a list of sports activities that are restricted.
The Mayor also introduced some new precautionary restrictions over the last month that I want to remind you of, including reducing the number of allowable persons in indoor and outdoor gatherings, and reducing how many people can eat indoors in restaurants. Please click here to see the most updated guidelines.
Although there has been an overwhelming amount of difficult news lately, one bright spot is that DC has begun receiving our first wave of coronavirus vaccines, which will go to our front-line healthcare workers (anyone working in a healthcare facility, EMS personnel, and home-health aides). Unfortunately, 6,800 doses is dramatically less than the amount we need – DC Health estimates that we have 85,100 Phase 1A workers who would qualify for the first vaccinations, some of whom live in DC but many of whom live in VA or MD. While we have received some much needed help on this front from our neighbors in VA and MD, ultimately we need the federal government to ensure we get the amount of vaccine appropriate for our population.
The second group after our healthcare workers to receive vaccines during Phase 1 will be other essential workers in the Phase 1B group (e.g., teachers, law enforcement, critical government workers). Residents experiencing homelessness, nursing home residents, high-risk adults, those 65 years and older, and childcare workers are also included in this group. DC will not require one phase to be 100% complete before moving on to the next, so it is possible we will start vaccinations for Phase 1B residents before we have fully completed the 1A group. Based on the priority groups, DC Health has noted that the general public should expect to be vaccinated in the March to April time frame. You can find additional details in DC’s draft plan, which is available online here (a chart of priority groups is on page 26).
Nationals Park is now open as a new testing site, and firehouse hours have been extended to operate from 2:30pm-7:30pm (firehouse testing on weekends will remain from 12:00pm-4:00pm). Daytime sites at F Street, UDC, and Anacostia will also have extended hours: from 8:30am-1pm. New procedure at testing sites: You will be asked for your insurance information when you sign up. However, nobody will be turned away for a lack of insurance. A full list of testing site locations and availability can be found here.
Holiday Travel and High-Risk States
DC is currently experiencing a spike in cases after the Thanksgiving holiday, as many people chose to visit family for the holiday. As the winter holiday season approaches, I ask that you again consider postponing any celebration with people outside of your household. We are too close to getting the vaccine to risk the lives of our loved ones. As a reminder, currently Hawaii is the only non-high risk state listed, while Virginia and Maryland are exempt.
If you haven’t already, please be sure to install the DC COVID Alert Notice (“DC CAN”) on your smartphone or mobile device. Hundreds of thousands of other District residents already have. DC CAN can be enabled for iPhone users directly through your settings (no app required), or 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. Click here to learn more about DC CAN and how to activate it on your device.
At our last legislative session of the year on December 15, several important bills moved through the Council, including a few pieces of legislation from my Labor and Workforce Development Committee. Here are some of the highlights:
Labor and Workforce Development Committee
Bill 23-494, "Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020": I first introduced this bill back in October of 2019, and I am happy that the second vote in the Council was also unanimous. The bill now goes to the Mayor for her signature. Non-compete provisions are fundamentally anti-competitive. They depress wages, inhibit entrepreneurship, and deplete the market of jobs – especially in times like these. This bill largely bans all non-compete agreements, and only allows them for a small number of highly paid doctors.
Bill 23-985, "Unemployment Benefits Extension Amendment Act of 2020": Makes permanent my legislation to extend unemployment benefits by seven additional weeks for District workers during the public health pandemic.
Bill 23-090, "Commission on Poverty in the District of Columbia Establishment Act of 2020": Creates a 19-member commission that would evaluate anti-poverty programs to determine how effective they are and make recommendations for improvement. Many thanks to my colleague Councilmember Trayon White for championing this important legislation.
Bill 23-127, "Omnibus Public Safety and Justice Amendment Act of 2020": Includes provisions to deter hate crimes, bans ghost guns, professionalizes the role of sexual assault victim advocates, and gives individuals who were incarnated with life sentences before the age of 25 an opportunity to have their sentence revisited after they have served at least 15 years.
Bill 23-122, "Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2020": Prohibits retail establishments from discriminating against cash as a form of payment, including charging different prices to customers depending on their payment method.
Bill 23-965, "Displaced Workers Right to Reinstatement and Retention Amendment Act of 2020”: Ensures that eligible employees who have been displaced by COVID-19 have the opportunity to be reinstated following the end of the public health crisis and the reopening of their employer.
Let me start with the good news. The good news is that this week the one-time $1,200 stimulus payment for PUA workers began rolling out! This stimulus is for those who live and work in the District and are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA users are those who are not qualified for regular Unemployment Insurance, and may include gig workers, contractors, those with limited work history, and self-employed persons. These payments are automatic and will come the same way you receive your current PUA benefits. However! You need to keep filing your weekly certifications to ensure you are eligible.
I have also heard that the extra seven weeks of benefits (Extended Benefits Tier 2) for both UI and PUA users has started flowing as well, and that funds will be fully paid out by December 30, 2020.
We also held the rescheduled government witness portion of my December 16 UI Oversight Roundtable with DOES Director Morris-Hughes on Wednesday. I am thankful to the Director for making time to answer my questions and some questions we took from social media during the hearing. I certainly learned a lot, and I hope others who were watching got some good information as well. As noted above, I will be synthesizing some of this learning this Friday at 12pm during our Facebook Live Info Session on PEUC with the DC Legal Aid Society.
In my last newsletter, I told you about the launch of the District Bridge Fund, a new grant program to help support our local businesses. The District Bridge Fund will provide $100 million in COVID-relief grants to hotels, restaurants, retail, and entertainment businesses. Last week, applications open up for our local bars, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries. The funds will support general operational expenses (rent/mortgage/docking expense, payroll, insurance, fuel for mobile vendors, and/or utilities), and expenses incurred related to winterization or COVID-19 preparation.
The Restaurant Fund will award at least 700 grants for eligible businesses with consideration to economic distress, business viability, length of revenue generating operations, and District resident employment.
- Winter Ready DC Assistance Program: DC’s annual Winter Ready DC campaign to encourage residents to prepare their homes for winter and avoid high utility bills kicks off this month. Residents who sign up for the program can receive a free weatherization kit and learn about resources and assistance programs to help manage their utility bills.
- Health Insurance Open Enrollment: Open Enrollment is here! Individuals and families can now renew or enroll in affordable, quality health insurance coverage. If you would like your insurance coverage to be effective January 1, 2021, you will need to enroll by December 15, 2020. Open enrollment ends January 31, 2020. For more information, visit http://DCHealthLink.com.
- Updated list of school meal sites: Don’t forget, students can get their school meals from any school! Click here to find meal sites based on bus lines.
- DC Medical Reserve Corps
- DC Public Schools: Volunteer needed for meal sites.
- Capital Area Food Bank: Sort and pack food in their warehouse and assist in offsite food distribution.
- Food and Friends DC: Food preparation and packaging and meal and grocery delivery.
- Grace’s Table: Homeless meal services on Saturdays.
- Martha’s Table: Prepare and bag food for their emergency food sites across the city.
- Food for All DC: Drive groceries to seniors, immunocompromised, and homebound residents.
- Food Access Resources: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/food
- Unemployment Assistance: http://www.elissasilverman.com/unemployment