Celebrating Juneteenth, Preparing for Phase 2 Reopening

Juneteenth is a time to focus all of our attention on the fact that the ending of slavery did not end racial discrimination and bring true equality to Black Americans. In our city, we see this in the incredible income disparity between Black and White DC residents, in the percentage of homeownership, and in classroom test scores and discipline, to name just a few. These equity issues are the focus of my work at the Council.

Dear Resident,

Today is Juneteenth, the commemoration of the day (June 19, 1865) Black slaves in Texas learned of their freedom. For many, it is a day to celebrate freedom, the African-American community, and Black culture. This year, given the galvanizing work of Black Lives Matter, global protests over the murder of George Floyd, and the spotlight on unjust policing of Black Americans, there is a heightened awareness of Juneteenth. There are many celebrations/protests happening around the city today. Here’s a good list from Washingtonian magazine... [Click to continue reading]


 

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I was asked by a TV reporter about the planned Juneteenth events, because some of them might cause traffic delays. I’ll tell you what I told him – a little disruption is the point: Juneteenth is a time to focus all of our attention on the fact that the ending of slavery did not end racial discrimination and bring true equality to Black Americans. In our city, we see this in the incredible income disparity between Black and White DC residents, in the percentage of homeownership, and in classroom test scores and discipline, to name just a few. These equity issues are the focus of my work at the Council.

For all the historians out there: DC does have its own state holiday celebrating the end of slavery, Emancipation Day, April 16, which is the day in 1862 President Lincoln signed an act that freed slaves in the District of Columbia. This preceded the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by six months.

When you go out today to celebrate Juneteenth, please wear a face covering or mask and try to maintain a social distance of six feet from non-household members. With all that’s going on, sometimes it’s easy to forget we are still facing a pandemic, a pandemic that has had a disproportionately deadly impact on Black residents in our city and country.

Mayor Bowser announced today that the District will move into Phase 2 of our reopening on Monday, June 22. While we are all eager to resume some semblance of life before coronavirus, I know many of you have concerns. I share those concerns, and I have asked the Administration questions about the timing. The biggest question I get from residents is that other states which have moved forward in reopening, such as Florida, are now experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. I think that should make us cautious about moving too quickly. I am also concerned that our capacity to contact trace and isolate COVID-19 cases is not as robust as it needs to be. There is more information about Phase 2 below.

Finally, a quick Council update: It is still budget season, and many of you have written to me about how to spend your tax dollars on public safety, education, and housing. Keep the dialogue coming. As well, earlier this month, my colleagues and I passed another update of our Coronavirus Emergency Act, which contained many small changes and some very important ones – including a package of reforms for the Metropolitan Police Department. I want to thank my colleague Councilmember Charles Allen, Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, and his hard-working committee staff for leading this effort.

Take care and please check out the additional information below.

Thanks for reading.

Elissa.


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CONSTITUENT Q&A 

Q: I applied for the Shared Work Program, how long will it be until I receive a response?

A: Following some recent changes made by my office, the Department of Employment Services (DOES) is now required to respond to all Shared Work applications within 15 days of receipt. If you have applied to the program and not received a response after 15 days, please contact me: esilverman@dccouncil.us.


REOPEN DC, PHASE 2

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As I mentioned above, Mayor Bowser announced today that the District will enter into Phase 2 of reopening on Monday, June 22. What does this mean? Phase 2 will dramatically expand the range of businesses open and options for recreation: restaurants can open indoor seating at 50 percent capacity, gym and fitness studios can open with limited capacity depending on square footage, parks and playgrounds will be open, churches and other religious institutions can have indoor services, and mass gatherings up to 50 persons are permitted. For a full list of the changes, including regulatory advice for businesses in each affected sector, click here

If the experiences of faster-moving states have shown us anything, it’s that a second wave of coronavirus spread is extremely likely when we don’t take the necessary precautions. If you are sick, stay home. If you are going out somewhere and might encounter a situation where you can’t physically distance, bring a mask and plan to wear it. I encourage everyone to continue using caution, wearing a mask, and sanitizing your hands.


TESTING 

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Coronavirus testing continues to expand in the District, including options for free, walk-up testing at our neighborhood firehouses. Firehouse testing is available in the evenings from 4:00pm-8:00pm, and four sites are now available to residents Monday-Saturday (Saturday stations have afternoon hours from 12:00pm-4:00pm). No doctor’s notes or other documents are needed – though you may have to stand in line. I decided to get tested at Engine 33 after participating in protests; even for very squeamish people like me, it is fairly painless and you receive results by email in three to five days. (I tested negative.)

Youth testing is also now available for children ages 6 and up at District testing sites. Children’s National continues to provide drive-thru and walk-up testing for pediatric patients who have a physician’s referral. 

The DC Health Department is recommending that anyone who believes they may have been exposed get a test 3-5 days following the potential exposure date. For those who know they have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for coronavirus, immediate testing is recommended.

Testing also continues to be available at the following sites (though please note that the Ward 8 site has changed location): 2241 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE in Ward 8, University of the District of Columbia’s Bertie Backus Campus in Ward 5, Howard University Hospital in Ward 1, Bread for the City in Ward 6, and Judiciary Square on F Street NW in Ward 2. These sites all require an appointment, except the walk-up site at Judiciary Square and the Ward 8 site on MLK Jr Ave. For additional information on testing and locations, click here


BUDGET

The budget process is a critical part of ensuring the Mayor and Council allocate resources where you feel they are most needed. Thank you to everyone who has written to me and to everyone who has taken time to testify live and/or submit written or oral testimony. We had some record-smashing participation levels this year – 16,000 people submitted testimony to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee hearing on MPD. To give you an idea of just how big that is – just over 20 submitted testimony last year!

This level of engagement is absolutely vital to the budget process, and I hope that this level of advocacy will continue. Our next steps as a Council will be to take all the input we’ve received, and start marking up the budget as Committees. Assuming everything stays on schedule, we will have our first vote in the Committee of the Whole on July 7, 2020. 

If you have budget concerns or recommendations, particularly for the agencies covered by my Labor and Workforce Development Committee, please email me at labor@dccouncil.us.


NEW HOUSING AND RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

Despite the District moving slowly into reopening, many residents are still struggling to pay their bills – including their rents and mortgages. Yesterday, the Mayor made an important announcement about several programs that will bring substantial resources to our renters and homeowners experiencing financial hardship:

  • COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program (CHAP): $6.2 million for low-income renters that can provide up to three months of rent arrears since April 2020. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will direct approximately $2 million each to three local nonprofit organizations to administer the relief: Housing Counseling Services, Greater Washington Urban League and United Planning Organization.
  • Housing Counseling and Legal Support: $2 million in grants will be used to assist housing and community development nonprofit organizations to support COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts and services such as housing counseling and legal support.
  • Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG): $23 million authorized by the CARES Act and administered at the Department of Human Services. ESG funding can be used to support individuals and families experiencing homelessness in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including homelessness prevention activities. 
  • Housing Opportunity for People with AIDS (HOPWA): $500,000 for short-term, emergency needs such as homelessness prevention, including overdue rent or mortgage payments and utility costs. Funds are also being used for support services, including housing counseling, food assistance, and essential needs.

Click here to read the Mayor's full announcement. Additional program and application information will be available on the Housing Resources page at coronavirus.dc.gov on Monday, June 22.


ACCOUNTABILITY IN ELECTIONS

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Today, the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety is convening a public oversight roundtable to discuss the DC Board of Elections’ performance in conducting the June 2, 2020 Primary Election. Click here to watch the Roundtable on Facebook Live (a full recording will be made available on the Council website after the event).

As many of you know, nearly 500 people reached out to my office on or leading up to Election Day because they didn’t receive their absentee ballot, their ballot was never delivered to the Board, or they had some other struggle in casting their ballot. 

The Board’s performance in the Primary Elections was unacceptable, and while I was pleased to learn that they are proactively mailing all residents ballots for the November General Election, the public still deserves a full-scale investigation into what went wrong and what is being done to make sure it never happens again. On June 3, I called for an independent audit of the Board, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to bring residents accountability and the assurance of a smooth voting process come November.


SCHOOL SCHEDULE AND SUMMER LEARNING

DC Public Schools (DCPS) academic calendar for School Year 2020-2021 is now available online. DCPS has added five instructional days (by reducing three staff professional development days) to accommodate as much in-person instruction as possible next school year. We still don’t know, however, what next year will look like in terms of the exact mix of in-person, online, or other learning approaches. The first day of school for students is Monday, August 31, 2020, and the last day will be Thursday, June 24, 2021.


DCPS is also hosting a Summer Bridge Program for students entering grades 3, 6, and 9. The program is scheduled to take place in-person from August 10-20, and DCPS is expected to make an announcement regarding registration (and any potential program changes) within the next week.


SLOW STREETS

The first seven locations of the new “Slow Streets” initiative were announced recently by the Mayor and the District Department of Transportation. These streets will be reduced to local traffic only and have a speed limit of 15 miles per hour in order to provide residents with additional space to bike/walk/play at a safe, social distance outside. Slow Streets locations include:

  • Wards 1 and 2: 19th Street NW (between Dupont Circle and Biltmore Street NW; plus most of Biltmore Street and Cliffbourne Place NW).
  • Ward 3: 36th Street NW (between Connecticut Avenue and Reno Avenue/Warren Street NW).
  • Ward 4: 8th Street NW (between Piney Branch/Whittier Street and Missouri Avenue NW).
  • Ward 5: Newton Street NE (between 12th Street and South Dakota Avenue NE).
  • Ward 6: 12th Street NE (from East Capitol Street to K Street NE).
  • Ward 7: Grant Street NE (between Minnesota Avenue and 46th Street NE).
  • Ward 8: 15th Street SE (from Mississippi Avenue to Savannah Street SE) and 15th Place SE (from Alabama Avenue to Bruce Place SE).

For additional details, please see: Slow Streets DC.


RESOURCE ROUNDUP

With the constant stream of news and updates during the coronavirus pandemic, I know it can be hard to keep track of which resources are available for which issues. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the most recent coronavirus resources and program updates from our office:

  • Summer Learning and Education: Tools and tips for summer learning from DCPS can be found here. The Office of the Student Advocate’s Parent and Family Go-To Guide can be found online here
  • LightHouse DC Supplies for Residents in Need: LightHouse DC is currently providing masks and groceries to residents in need. Click here to apply.
  • #DCHOPE Small Business Startup Supplies: The Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) is assisting businesses by making available PPE supplies to Business Improvement Districts (BID) and Main Streets for distribution to DC small businesses. Click here for more information and to see the distribution zone map.
  • New and Expanded Outdoor Spaces for Small Businesses/“Streateries”: Applications are now being accepted for DC small businesses interested in expanding their outdoor space for food and beverage service during Phase 1 of our coronavirus reopening. Click here for more information and to apply. 
  • Rental Assistance: The Department of Housing and Community Development is offering $1.5 million in tenant-based rental assistance to low-income renters
  • Unemployment Assistance: http://www.elissasilverman.com/coronavirus
  • DC Water Online Town Halls: These town hall meetings provide customers an opportunity to learn about the water authority’s proposed rates and fees for the next two years and share concerns, comments and ideas.