Pivotal Moments

A week ago, my colleagues and I took the first of two budget votes to decide how to allocate your tax dollars as we move toward recovery. Despite all the talk in the budget run up about equity, we fell far short on the walk...

Dear Resident,

Bonne Fête Nationale! Francophile or not, we are facing our own pivotal point in history both with coronavirus and our economy, as well as with the fight for a more equitable city and country. 

First, I’m starting a little schoolmarmish: Though DC has healthier data trends than other parts of the country, I am concerned that many of our neighbors are not thinking of the greater good. I have been in several public and private gatherings in recent days in which DC residents ARE NOT wearing face coverings or social distancing. Please continue to wear masks or face coverings when you go out of your home, continue to wash your hands, and continue to keep a six foot distance from those outside your household. Think of the effect your actions have on others! We don’t want to be the next Houston, Florida, or Arizona...

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A quick word about school reopening: Mayor Bowser said earlier this week she will be talking about the return to school plan for DC Public Schools on Thursday. The Mayor usually rolls out big policy plans in an 11am press briefing – so parents, teachers, and all those interested, mark your calendars and keep an eye on the Mayor’s social media this Thursday.

Next, let’s talk about talking the talk versus walking the walk. A week ago, my colleagues and I took the first of two budget votes to decide how to allocate your tax dollars as we move toward recovery. Despite all the talk in the budget run up about equity, we fell far short on the walk. In the end, we spent a lot of time talking about the needs, but didn’t walk the walk and take bold action to meet those needs. I’ve got the high (and low) lights from last week for you in my budget section below. 

We still have one more proverbial bite at the appropriations apple next week, and the enabling legislative language a week after that. I’ll be working over these next two weeks on several measures in housing, healthcare, education and jobs to improve what we started. As I said, more below.

Finally, the gun violence in our city and the resulting tragedies for our families and our community is heartbreaking. We have had too many bright, energetic young people, and many older adults as well, robbed of their lives by bullets. My Labor Committee provided the seed funding for the Office of the Attorney General’s initial Cure the Streets violence interruption effort, and I remain interested in implementing the best practices of this model. But clearly, we need to make ending gun violence in our city a focus of not just our budget dollars, but also a collective effort by our entire city. It needs to be a top priority, because we cannot improve schools, close the income gap, and improve health outcomes without stopping gun violence and trauma. I will be spending the rest of the summer working on actions that I, my office, and the Labor Committee can take to add value to this effort.

Take care and please wear your masks!

Elissa.


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CONSTITUENT Q&A 

Q: How much financial support can I receive from the Paid Family Leave program?

A: Similar to Unemployment Insurance, wage-replacement benefits from Paid Family Leave are based on your weekly wages. The current maximum weekly benefit amount is $1,000. To calculate your estimated benefit amount, you can use the Department of Employment Services’ (DOES) Paid Family Leave Weekly Benefit Calculator.


BUDGET

The budget is where rhetoric meets reality. As I mentioned above, I believe we fell short in crafting a budget that is truly focused on equity. There were opportunities to put additional funding toward members of our community who have been hurt hardest in the COVID public health emergency, such as our undocumented workers and those who live in public housing, but my colleagues decided against that. 

Last Tuesday was the first of two (or really three) votes on the FY 2021 budget. The next vote, on the money allocations in the budget, will take place on July 21 at 10am. The final vote, on the laws supporting the budget, will take place on July 28. Click here to see all of the budget documents, including the Mayor’s original submission and the current version.

FY 2021 Budget and the Labor Committee

For the most part, the priorities from my Labor and Workforce Development Committee were unchanged in the Chairman’s proposed budget that was voted on this week. I highlighted our funding priorities in my last newsletter, and you can also find them on my website.

One significant change from my Committee’s budget is that the Council has now fully funded the law that repealed Initiative 77. As some of you remember, I was against overturning Initiative 77 and the will of the voters. I proposed a compromise with four of my colleagues that included important provisions informed by hospitality leaders. 

As part of his repeal bill, the Chairman included some of those important provisions in last year’s budget, but failed to put money toward them. This year, I told the Chairman that even though I did not support repeal, I would agree to fund some of these important provisions if he provided funding as well. Combined with the money I dedicated in my Committee budget, the provisions of the Tipped Wage Worker Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 are now fully funded and can be implemented. Provisions include:

  • Safeguarding against wage theft by streamlining the way employers report tipped workers’ wages to the Department of Employment Services. This innovative change will make it significantly harder for employers to short-change tipped workers.
  • Requiring employers and employees attend sexual harassment trainings and that employers report internal sexual harassment issues to the Office of Human Rights. 
  • Creating a website informing tipped workers of their rights.
  • Launching a public campaign educating tipped workers on their rights.
  • Requiring employers provide clear information to their workers about how tips are distributed to tipped wage employees.

While I remain disappointed about Initiative 77, I am hopeful that these changes will help our tipped wage workers by ensuring they are paid fairly and have safer work environments.

Key Budget Amendments

Most of the debate last Tuesday surrounded a handful of amendments to the Chairman’s proposal. All of the amendments were aimed at improving the budget by providing more funding for important programs for our low-income residents. Below is a short summary of some key provisions the Council debated. I voted for all four, but not all were successful.

  • An amendment from CM Brianne Nadeau and co-introduced by me to scale back an ineffective tax break for certain high-tech companies and reinvest the $28 million savings in cash assistance in support for workers who are not eligible for unemployment assistance, the Healthcare Alliance (health insurance benefits for people ineligible for Medicaid), grants to help reopen child care centers, and new housing vouchers.
    • My vote: Yes
    • Status: Passed
  • An amendment from CM Charles Allen to slightly raise the marginal tax rate for residents making over $250,000 a year and redirect the estimated $7 million in new revenue to affordable housing tax credits, rent assistance and vouchers, violence interruption programs, and more cash assistance for undocumented workers and others who cannot collect unemployment assistance. 
    • My vote: Yes
    • Status: Failed 
  • An amendment by CM Robert White to shift $35 million in capital funds from the streetcar in FY 2022 and redirect them toward public housing repairs.
    • My vote: Yes
    • Status: Failed
  • An amendment by CM David Grosso to move the administration of the contract for public school security from the Metropolitan Police Department back to DC Public Schools.
    • My vote: Yes
    • Status: Passed

On the Agenda for July 21 and July 28

We have more to do before the budget is complete. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be looking at if the DC Housing Authority – rather than the Mayor – should be managing its repair subsidy. Another big issue I’m working on is a new tax abatement from the Mayor that would give $4 million a year to developers to build apartments with rents 50 percent higher than the average Black Washingtonian can afford. The District needs housing at all income levels, but a subsidy for un-affordable housing sends the message that our priorities are in the wrong place. Finally, there’s a new advertising sales tax in the budget that I’m concerned will hurt our already struggling local news outlets, like the Washington Informer. I hope to work with the Chairman to find a better source of funding in time for the next vote.

You can watch all the Councilmembers’ Committee presentations and view Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole hearing here.


PAID FAMILY LEAVE

A follow up: DC’s Paid Family Leave program launched July 1, and last week my Labor and Workforce Development Committee hosted a Public Oversight Roundtable to see how things are going so far. This is a great opportunity to learn about how Paid Family Leave works directly from Department of Employment Services (DOES) Director Unique Morris-Hughes herself, so I recommend watching the recording if you have time. Click here to find the video of the Roundtable and keep reading for more information on the program.

Despite the name, this program does not just offer leave for District workers who are expanding their families! Here is what this critical program offers workers:

  • Up to eight weeks of paid parental leave
  • Up to six weeks of paid leave to care for sick family members
  • Up to two weeks of paid leave for personal medical reasons
  • Wage replacement of up to $1,000/week

To learn more about this new program, visit my website at elissasilverman.com/paid_family_leave or dcpaidfamilyleave.dc.gov. Those with specific questions should call 202.899.3700 or email does.opfl@dc.gov.


TESTING 

New walk-up testing with CORE: The District has a new testing partnership with CORE to offer walk-up coronavirus testing. CORE sites are open from 10 am–4 pm, Monday through Saturday, at rotating locations. Visit coronavirus.dc.gov/testing for current CORE site locations. 

Save time, register online: Save time at the District's walk-up testing sites by pre-registering at coronavirus.dc.gov/register

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. 

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.


METRO TRANSIT POLICE OVERSIGHT OPPORTUNITY

The Metro Board of Directors are seeking members for a new Metro Transit Police Investigations Review Panel. The seven member panel will serve as an independent advisory body that can recommend changes to the Metro Transit Police Department’s training and policies.

I encourage any community members with an interest in transit equity and public oversight to apply for this opportunity. Applications will be accepted through 5pm on July 31, and more information can be found via Metro's website.


RESOURCE ROUNDUP

Here’s a roundup of some of the most recent resources, funding opportunities, and program updates from our office:

  • 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. 
  • Consumer Financial Protection Week (July 14-17): The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is hosting a series of workshops focused on protecting consumers in the financial marketplace, the issues consumers are confronting, as well as informing consumers of how they can communicate to the Bureau any issues that they may have with a financial services provider. View the full schedule of events on their website.
  • 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 ($250,000 in the first cycle and $250,000 in the second cycle). The deadline to apply is August 1, 2020.
  • COVID-19 Housing & Community Development Non-Profit Capacity Support Grant: The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is providing $2 million to support housing and community development nonprofits who have experienced an increase in administrative costs, constituent requests or other disruptions to normal operations due to COVID-19. Eligible nonprofit organizations, which include entities that offer job training, fair housing activities, recreational programs, services for seniors and homeless persons, may receive up to $50,000 in assistance. The deadline for submissions is Monday, July, 20, 2020 at 5:00pm EST. Click here to apply!
  • 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
  • Unemployment Assistance: http://www.elissasilverman.com/coronavirus