Newsletter: COVID-19 Help for D.C. Workers and Businesses

Dear Resident,

This morning, the D.C. Council took emergency action to put immediate measures into place to assist District residents, workers, and businesses with the coronavirus public health emergency. Decisions that we have taken and will be taking as a government to slow down the virus impact every facet of our lives. The legislation the Council passed today was intended to address some of these critical needs, such as providing economic assistance to workers and businesses, preventing evictions and utility cut-offs, and extending deadlines, as well as giving the Mayor the authority she needs to act swiftly and decisively to manage our government and our city in the best way possible.

Our goal as a city right now is to take the hard, but necessary measures to reduce what is known as community spread of the virus. We know from what has happened abroad that a spike in COVID-19 cases among our residents has the potential to overwhelm our hospitals and health-care providers. Given that federal assistance has been limited so far, we need to act together as a city and as a region to help ourselves.

We all play a role in helping the District get through this unprecedented emergency. I ask each and every one of you to take seriously the guidance from our Mayor and from our health department. I will simply boil it down to this: Stay home, D.C. If you can, please stay home, practice what is known as social distancing, and keep up the hand washing and good hygiene.

I know that some of us cannot stay home. We might be deemed essential to our workplaces or we simply can’t telecommute in our jobs. I know some of you are members of Local 400 of United Food and Commercial Workers who are helping stock our Giants and Safeways. I thank all of you. But, again, if you are sick, stay home and take advantage of D.C.’s paid sick days law. If you are a senior or have a compromised immune system, please stay home. If you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, please get in touch immediately with your healthcare provider. More on that below.

BASICS OF THE COVID-19 EMERGENCY LEGISLATION

Back to today’s legislation: This is a starting point, and in the coming weeks my colleagues and I will be taking other legislative actions to find ways to help our residents, workers, and businesses with assistance to get through this emergency. As chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, I’m particularly focused on meeting the needs of District workers and businesses right now. So I will start with provisions my committee contributed to this bill: extending unemployment compensation to District workers who become unemployed or partially unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

This includes workers who have gotten coronavirus or have been ordered to quarantine/isolate or have decided to self-quarantine/isolate. It includes the many workers who have been laid off or have had hours reduced because of the emergency, such as those who work in hotels and restaurants. It also extends employment protections under the District’s Family and Medical Leave Act to employees who cannot work due to virus-related shutdowns.

I want to pause for a moment on the many residents who work for restaurants and hotels. Our Chief Financial Officer shared a few numbers with us today: 14 percent, or one in seven, District workers are in the hospitality industry. Hospitality accounts for up to half of our sales tax revenue as a government. Your restaurants make our neighborhoods special. You have taken a big punch to the gut with the closure of in-person dining, and many of you are losing work. The legislation we adopted today is not enough, but it is the start of helping to keep you, your families, and your industry stable in this time. I know it is hard, but we will get through this. You have my commitment to do everything I can to help.

Our strongest protection for District workers at risk of losing their paycheck is unemployment insurance. Directions on how to start the process of applying for unemployment insurance are on the Department of Employment Services (DOES) website here. The quickest way to start an application is to apply online or call over the phone at (202) 724-7000.

My Labor Committee also worked with Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and his Business and Economic Development Committee to include a provision to authorize a grant program to give cash assistance to our city’s small businesses and independent contractors who cannot qualify for unemployment insurance.

I want to emphasize this legislation was a collaborative effort between all my colleagues, the Bowser administration, and the Chief Financial Officer. Here is a list of other important measures contributed by my colleagues:

To Support District Residents

  • Prohibit water, electricity, and gas disconnections for all customers
  • Prohibit evictions for residential and non-residential tenants
  • Allow for prescription drug refills before the end of a patient’s waiting period
  • Extend licenses and registrations (includes professional licenses and licenses managed by the Department of Motor Vehicles)
  • Extend public benefit programs such as DC Alliance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Extend deadlines for current users of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) and current tenant organizations’ rights
  • Clarify contingency provisions within the Homeless Services Reform Act

To Help D.C. Government Respond to COVID-19

  • Move deadline for Mayor Bowser’s budget to be submitted to the D.C. Council to May 6, 2020 and allows the D.C. Council to meet virtually
  • Adjust Advisory Neighborhood Commissions’ meeting requirements and allows for remote convenings

Other Protections for the Public

  • Expand limitations on price gouging and stockpiling

WHERE YOU CAN FIND D.C.-SPECIFIC COVID-19 INFO

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself and others is take additional precautions if you don’t feel well. Every District worker has the right to paid sick days. Use them! Guidance on how many days employees are guaranteed is available on the Department of Employment Services’ website here. 

D.C. Health is regularly sending health notices to health providers with virus info and updated guidelines for testing. Those notices are available publicly here. All information about the District’s response to COVID-19 and how to protect yourself is available at coronavirus.dc.gov. If you are not already registered, get real-time emergency alerts and updates by signing up for AlertDC. 

Links to specific COVID-19 toolkits are here:

You can find the full list of operational changes across District government in the press release here.

From the Office of the Attorney General (OAG): Beware of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control or experts saying that they have information about the virus. You should ignore offers for vaccinations and be wary of advertisements for cures of treatments for the disease. Make sure to also do your own research before donating to a charity to avoid falling to a charity scam. Scams can be reported to OAG by calling 202-442-9828, emailing consumer.protection@dc.gov, or submitting a complaint online.

DC Health  is regularly updating its website with virus-related information, including any additional confirmed cases, by 7:00pm nightly. Find those updates here: coronavirus.dc.gov. Our City Administrator Rashad Young and DOH Director LaQuandra Nesbitt continue to keep me and my colleagues updated on a regular basis, and I will share any new updates with you as I learn them.

Please continue to make your best effort to stay well while we navigate the next few weeks together.

Thanks so much.
Elissa.