Newsletter: Good Trouble
On Tuesday, I engaged in some “good trouble,” as John Lewis might have called it.
While some of you waited in line to honor the civil rights warrior and American hero at the U.S. Capitol, my DC Council colleagues and I made final (for now) decisions about next year’s budget and other legislation that will go into effect immediately. I’ll save the juicy details for the Budget and Emergency Legislation sections below, but there was contentious debate about how to provide financial assistance to DC residents who do not qualify for government unemployment programs, how much subsidy to give for-profit developers to build affordable housing, and how to protect businesses, their workers, and customers during this pandemic. These were tough discussions and big decisions about how to spend your taxpayer dollars and how to use the power of the law. Spoiler alert for those who couldn’t tune in for the entire marathon session – my Protecting Businesses and Workers from COVID-19 Emergency Amendment Act passed at the very end of the meeting! More below.
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Also below: Mayor Bowser announced earlier today that DCPS will be all virtual, in other words, remote learning, for the first quarter. School will begin August 31, and the first term will end November 6.
These last two weeks have been a time of transition both in the Silverman office and in the Silverman home as well. Longtime Silverman office colleague, Ashley Fox, celebrated her last day with us at the end of last week. Ashley played many important roles in our office, and most recently helped steer the ship as our Deputy Chief of Staff. Ashley is heading back to her childhood home of Nashville to be with family and pursue her dream of going to law school. I am excited for her next chapter. I will miss her skills and communications savvy; she was a great connector both inside and outside the office! She will be greatly missed.
Also many of you who follow me on social media know that my companion and best friend, Ousman the cat, died earlier this month. He was a great friend to my family and friends and a lover of Council Zoom meetings. I am lucky that the Washington Animal Rescue League connected me to Ousman nearly 10 years ago. I learned recently that Ousman’s interest in civic engagement and social justice was likely influenced by his first owner, Phyllis McClure. Phyllis also lived on Capitol Hill and spent her career fighting for racial equity in public education. You can read more about Phyllis here.
At the end of the work day tomorrow, the Council will be on our legislative recess until Labor Day. During this time, our virtual office will be open Monday through Thursday, closed Fridays, and I’ve encouraged my staff to take some well-deserved time off. We’ll still be available to address your constituent concerns and legislative ideas, but it might take us a little longer to get to them. I ask for your patience during this time.
Take care, and I’ll be in touch in two weeks.
Q: If I’ve traveled to a hotspot area, can I quarantine in the place that I’m traveling instead of when I come back to DC?
A: No. If you have traveled to a coronavirus hotspot, your 14 days of quarantine will begin once you come back to DC. This is to ensure that you don’t have any additional high-risk contact (for example, while in transit) after your quarantine period and before you reenter the District. Click here for more details.
Earlier today, Mayor Bowser and Chancellor Ferebee announced that DC Public Schools will begin the school year remotely on August 31, and that the virtual classroom will continue at least through November 6. School leadership will re-evaluate during the first term how to proceed for the rest of the year. You can find more details about DCPS's "Reopen Strong" plan here, and watch the Mayor’s press event here.
Last week, Mayor Bowser issued several new coronavirus-related orders given the increasing threat of this pandemic, including:
- Extending the coronavirus emergency through September 6, 2020.
- A new Mayoral Order instructing everyone who will be leaving the house to wear a mask and for employers to provide masks for workers. There are still exceptions for people who are eating or drinking at a local business, young children, and for those engaging in socially distanced exercise.
- Mandating self-quarantine measures for all those (including incoming college students) coming into DC from coronavirus hotspots. A list of coronavirus hotspot states is available from the Mayor’s office here. Maryland and Virginia are currently exempted from the Order, but the list will be updated on August 10, 2020, so please stay tuned for updates.
I agree with Mayor Bowser’s decisions to take these actions to protect District residents and workers, several of which I have advocated for on calls with the executive. These measures reflect the best advice from our public health experts given what we have learned via contact tracing. As Mayor Bowser and DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt have shared, there is significant evidence that travel outside the District has impacted the transmission rate. As well, there is a significant uptick in cases of residents below 40 years of age and that transmission might be happening when our twenty-and-thirty something residents get together socially. Please heed the advice of our public health experts! Wash your hands frequently, maintain social distance with those outside your household, and wear a mask outside your house. That is the best way to fight this deadly pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Council took the last step toward finalizing our FY 2021 budget. Although we were faced with declining revenues due to COVID-19, we were largely able to increase or protect support for most of our critical services. The votes this week were on the legislative language, known as the Budget Support Act, that accompanies the financial appropriations.
During Tuesday’s meeting, I introduced two amendments to the BSA:
- Excluded Workers Subtitle [passed]: This amendment expands eligibility for the Events DC cash assistance program to all excluded workers (i.e., workers who are not eligible for other forms of local or federal unemployment assistance or COVID-19 relief such as street vendors, day laborers, and workers paid in cash). It included an amendment by Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) that specifically includes recently returning citizens in this expanded eligibility. It passed 11 to 2.
- Tax Abatement for Affordable Housing in High-Need Neighborhoods [failed]: This amendment would have right-sized the amount of taxpayer dollars given to developers of affordable housing in high-cost areas. The proposed version of the program would pay developers upwards of $400,000 per affordable unit, more than twice as much as we usually pay. My amendment would have lowered the tax abatement period from 30 years to 15 years, which would better match the cost to developers of providing affordable housing. More importantly, this amendment would also also have ensured the property remained affordable in perpetuity. I am disappointed it failed 3 to 10, but some of the most powerful voices in development wanted the more generous subsidy.
Other Budget Highlights:
- $9 million for an unemployment-like program for workers excluded from other safety net programs, additional support for daycare centers, and millions more in funding for desperately needed public housing repairs.
- No proposed tax on advertising from the budget following concerns raised by myself and others over the negative impact that could have on our local news outlets. Unfortunately, the lost revenue from eliminating that tax was partly paid for by cuts to community behavioral health funding.
- Victories for workers fought for by the Labor Committee, including: finally funding the worker protections from the Initiative-77 bill, a new program to help workers navigate the paid family leave program, and a stronger Shared Work unemployment insurance program, which will be crucial as our businesses reopen.
- Greater transparency for boards of DC public charter schools
If any of you made it all the way through the budget and emergency bills – I am impressed by your stamina! If you tuned out before the end, here’s what you missed.
At the very end of the meeting, the Council passed my Protecting Workers from COVID-19 Emergency Amendment Act. This was an uphill battle because, again, some of the most powerful lobbies in the Wilson Building worked against it, but in the end we prevailed and managed to put important new protections in place for our workers and businesses.
- Protection against retaliation for employees who test positive for COVID-19.
- Protection against retaliation for employees who refuse to serve or work with an individual who refuses to social distance or wear a mask.
- Establishes a PPE Grant program for small businesses to buy or be reimbursed for PPE purchases, up to $1000 per business.
- Allows employers to require that employees inform them of a positive test for COVID-19 infection.
- Requires employers to provide PPE to employees in line with the most recent Mayor’s Order.
The official, amended version of my bill will be available online in a few days, but you can see an unofficial summary of the bill and changes on my website.
Free, walk-up testing and testing by appointment continues to be offered across the District. Click here for a full list of walk-up sites, firehouse locations, and appointment-only sites. *In the case of extreme weather, public testing sites may close or change their availability*. Please check online for updates before you make a trip.
Antibody testing: The District is now offering antibody testing for residents six-years-old and up at three sites: Canal Park (200 L Street SE), Takoma Recreation Center (300 Van Buren Street NW), and Hillcrest Rec Center (3100 Denver Street SE). Residents should call 1-855-363-0333 to make an appointment at either site. The District will stop offering antibody testing as of August 15, so be sure to make your appointment ASAP if you plan to get tested at one of these locations. You can also request an antibody test from your doctor at any time.
Save time, register online: Save time at the District's walk-up testing sites by pre-registering at coronavirus.dc.gov/register.
Stressing about updating your license or other official documents during the pandemic? Don’t! All DMV documents with an expiration date on or after March 1 will remain valid until 45 days after the coronavirus public health emergency is officially declared over. Eligible documents include driver licenses, identification cards, vehicle registrations, inspections, ticket payments and ticket adjudication responses.
Those needing assistance or who will be traveling out of town with expired or about-to-expire documentation are encouraged to use online options by visiting dmv.dc.gov or call the District’s Call Center at 311 or 202-727-2200.
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.
- New Database to Lookup Mortgage Deferrals: This new tool will allow anyone to look up whether or not a particular address and landlord has received a deferral. If your landlord has not passed on their deferral to you and you are struggling to negotiate with them, you can contact the DC Pro Bono Center or the Legal Aid Society for assistance.
- Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) small business grant funding: Priority for these grants (ranging from $5,000-$20,000) is given to entrepreneurs of color/women/veteran owned businesses. In the past four rounds, several DC businesses have received grants, so let’s keep that trend going! Applications due August 3, 2020. Click here to learn more and apply.
- Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) Pet Resources: (HRA) continues to operate their Pet Pantry at six different locations every month. They also have excellent tips for keeping your pet safe in this intense heat.
- July 2020 Project Calendar for the Washington Gas Pipeline Initiative: See the full list of projects, including estimated start and end times, here.
- Summer Meals: The D.C. Summer Meals Program is FREE to all children ages 18 and younger. There is no application, no sign-up, and no ID required to receive a meal. Sites are open through August. Click here for a full list of Summer Meals sites.
- Events DC, Expanded Funding for Community Grant Program: Events DC has increased their grant program funding for non-profit organizations dedicated to supporting children through sports, performing arts or cultural arts in the District of Columbia from $200,000 to $500,000 during two grant cycles. The deadline to apply is August 1, 2020.
- Unemployment Assistance: http://www.elissasilverman.com/coronavirus