Newsletter: Celebrating Black History Month and More!

Dear Resident,

I am amazed we are already in mid-February!

This year, our office is celebrating Black History Month both at the Wilson Building and in A_Right_to_the_City.pngthe community! I hope you’ll join us for one or both events. On Friday, Feb. 22, from 2:15-3:15pm, the Council will host its annual program at the Wilson Building. Then on Sunday, Feb. 24, from 2:00-3:30pm, I invite you to join me at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum for a docent-led tour of the museum’s latest exhibit, A Right to the City. The exhibit takes an in-depth look at how Washingtonians have shaped and reshaped six neighborhoods over the last five decades, with a special lens on the African-American experience. The tour will be followed by a reception and a DC Strings performance of notable works composed by African-American writers. It’s a great way to celebrate Black History Month, learn more about our city, and build community while enjoying music and munchies. I hope you will make plans to join us!

I also want to take a moment to introduce the newest member of my Labor Committee Margaret.jpgstaff: Margaret O’Hora! Margaret is a returned US Peace Corps volunteer and proud graduate of the City University of New York School of Law. As an attorney in New York City, she represented low- and middle-income families recovering from Superstorm Sandy in administrative and consumer disputes. She also worked to strengthen and enforce worker protections through litigation and policy advocacy at the city’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards. A New York native, Margaret now lives in Ward 4 and handles issues related to judiciary, government operations, and public employee relations for the Labor Committee.

COMMITTEE NEWS

Implementing Paid Family Leave: Last week, my Committee held its fourth roundtable on implementation of the District’s paid family and medical leave program. We are growing closer to a significant milestone in the program: July 1, which is when the law specifies we will have an IT system in place for employers to access and make contributions to the paid leave fund. I want to thank the witnesses who have offered input on the program’s implementation so far as well as suggestions on how to make the process more transparent and accessible. As of now, the Council has yet to receive a contract to approve a vendor to build the employer contribution side of the system, though administration officials say it is coming very soon. Unique Morris-Hughes, who is director of the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and tasked with implementation, gave her personal assurance that an IT system will be in place by the deadline. I am working with the Director and her team to make sure we are keeping the program on track.

Just as a reminder, July 1 is when we start to collect the payroll tax to fund the program, and workers will be able to start accessing benefits a year later. That’s why the agency has prioritized building the tax-side of the IT system, and it will begin procuring the benefit side soon. You can read my pre-hearing letter to the agency and DOES’ responses here, and follow the program’s quarterly progress reports here.

Performance Oversight & Budget Season: Over the next month, I’ll be holding performance oversight hearings for the agencies under the Labor Committee’s responsibility. Those agencies include the Department of Employment Services, Department of Human Resources, Public Employee Relations Board, and Youth Apprenticeship Advisory Committee. Residents often ask me how they can best bring attention to frustrations or areas where improvement is needed in city services. Now is the time! The full schedule of performance oversight hearings can be found here, and right after performance oversight we’ll move into hearings to determine agency budgets for Fiscal Year 2020. The full schedule of budget hearings is here.

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

Shining More Sunlight on How We Spend Affordable Housing Dollars: Every year the District commits $100 million to affordable housing through the Housing Production Trust Fund, which is great, but it has been difficult to learn the decision-making into why certain projects were awarded funding and others were not. Housing developers compete for awards from the Trust Fund two times a year, and, most recently, nearly $170 million was awarded to 24 applicants who will produce or preserve more than 1,600 affordable housing units. Last week I introduced a bill that would make public the list of development teams who applied for Trust Fund dollars, as well as the scoring of their applications. This will bring transparency to the Trust Fund process, while also improving accountability and helping developers, advocates, and the Council better understand how funding decisions are made.

You can read more about the Housing Production Trust Fund Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 here and follow its progress here.

Helping Residents Pursue Higher Education: If you’re like me and thousands of other Checkbook_stock.jpgresidents, then you know that paying off student loans can be a long, burdensome process that never seems to have an end in sight. That’s why I re-introduced a bill last week that you may remember reading about from WAMU's coverage. The bill would make higher education a little more affordable to District residents through a new, independent agency that would issue low-interest-rate student loans and refinance existing student loan debt. Through the agency, student loans, parental loans, and graduate student loans would have the added benefits of a robust income-based repayment system, a public service loan forgiveness program, and deferred payments after graduation.

You can read more about how the Student Loan Authority Establishment Act of 2019 would work here and follow its progress here.

Voting Against Bypassing the Competitive Bidding Process: For those who have been following the proposal to bring legal sports betting to the District, I want to take a moment to explain why I voted against moving forward without a competitive bidding process. The proposal passed, but ultimately I voted no because I thought the process was rushed and that there were other ways to accomplish the goal of starting up sports betting quickly to get the revenue for District programs without bypassing a competitive bidding process for both sports betting and our lottery. I met with the District’s Chief Financial Officer several times to understand his thinking on the bill and discuss alternatives to sole-sourcing both the lottery and sports betting. At the Committee on Finance and Revenue's mark-up, I moved an amendment that would have allowed the District to take advantage of sports betting but still compete the lottery contract. It did not get the committee’s support, and I’m disappointed no other alternatives emerged.

COMMUNITY UPDATES

Free Capital City Go-Go Tickets: EventsDC has provided my office with tickets to everygo-go_blue_logo.png game during the Capital City Go-Go's 2018-2019 season, and residents are invited to cheer them on at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights. They are the District’s newest sports team, an affiliate of the Washington Wizards in the NBA’s developmental league. Tickets are first-come, first-served. I went last weekend, and in addition to some up-close basketball, I highly recommend the MLK Deli concession stand and its crabcake sandwich! You can take a look at the season schedule here and reserve tickets here.

DCPS School Lottery Reminder: My School DC Lottery applications for DC Public Schools’ 2019-2020 academic year are still being accepted through March 1 for grades Pre-K3 through 8. More information is available online here, and question can be directed to the DCPS Enrollment Team at enroll@dc.gov or (202) 478-5738.

Upcoming Events:

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope to see you at the Anacostia Community Museum on Feb. 24!

Elissa.