Newsletter: It's Budget Time!
It’s officially spring! Sure, there’s the spring equinox yesterday and the soon-to-be-blooming cherry blossoms, but at the Wilson Building spring means budget season! In fact, Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget yesterday, which officially kicks off the Council's budget discussions over the next two months. Thank you to the many residents who offered testimony at the Council’s performance oversight hearings in February and March. Your insights and recommendations help shape our priorities for the budget next year.
If you didn’t get a chance to share your input at performance oversight hearings—and even if you did—I have good news! You get another bite at the apple during budget hearings throughout the rest of March and into April. Make sure to look at the budget hearing schedule and new budget office website to see when committees will be reviewing agency budgets and taking a closer look at whether funding is being put to its best use. These are your tax dollars. Tell us how you think they should be spent.
I want to take a moment now to address the ethics concerns regarding Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. As you likely know from press reports, federal and local authorities are investigating Councilmember Evans. The Council as a body has received a subpoena for documents that concern one company, DigiMedia, and its offshoots, as well as businesses, affiliated companies, and people connected to the councilmember’s employment and consulting work outside the Council. The Washington Post has also published business proposals the councilmember sent from his official work email.
This is a matter that impacts your trust in our government, and I take it very seriously. In light of the revelations, I supported having the Council form a committee to investigate violations of our Code of Conduct and make recommendations on what disciplinary actions to take. Given there was not enough support for that, I supported moving the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which Councilmember Evans chairs and of which I am a member, under the Committee of the Whole until the investigations conclude. I felt this was an appropriate response to maintain the public’s trust and address the appearance of any conflicts of interest, but Chairman Phil Mendelson chose a different approach. On Tuesday, the Council voted to reprimand Councilmember Evans and refer tax abatement legislation to a different committee, as well as move the Arts and Humanities Commission and Events DC (formerly the Sports and Convention Center Authority) to another committee. I appreciate the input that many of you have shared and will continue to listen as I hear from you.
Budget Hearings: As Labor Committee chair, I am focused on how we make sure DC’s economy benefits District residents and businesses. We need to take better advantage of big industries, such as healthcare, infrastructure and hospitality, to close the opportunity gap in our city and get residents into living wage careers. That’s going to be a focus of mine this budget season. I hope to continue hearing feedback from workforce training program participants and providers, public-sector and private-sector employers, union members, advocates, and residents about what is working to secure living wage jobs for District residents and what is not. In response to a common question my office receives, my committee does accept testimony anonymously. I hope that confidentiality concerns will not be a deterrent for anyone who has insights to share about city services.
Here’s an overview of my budget hearings coming up:
- Friday, April 5: Office of Employee Appeals & Public Employee Relations Board
- Wednesday, April 10: Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining & Office of Human Resources
- Monday, April 22: Dept. of Employment Services & Workforce Investment Council (public witnesses)
- Wednesday, April 24: Dept. of Employment Services & Workforce Investment Council (government witnesses)
Keeping District Seniors in Their Homes: You might remember a 2017 Washington Post story about a 92-year-old Petworth resident who nearly lost her home because she could not make her monthly housing-related payments after taking out a reverse mortgage. As a result of that story, I introduced a bill to create an assistance program for District seniors struggling to keep up with tax and insurance payments after taking out a reverse mortgage and got it funded in last year’s budget. I’m thrilled that the DC Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA) launched this effort, the Reverse Mortgage Insurance & Tax Payment Program (ReMIT), last Friday!
When seniors keep their homes, we see better health outcomes, citywide economic benefits, and more stable neighborhoods. DCHFA's new loan program is a critical step toward decreasing displacement and ensuring that residents reap the benefits of long-term investments in their communities. Special thanks to the Washington Legal Counsel for the Elderly for their partnership in making this program a reality.
Ensuring Low-Income Renters Have Equal Access: As if simply finding housing that is affordable is not challenging enough for many residents, it came to my attention several years ago that property owners using websites like Craigslist, Trulia, and Zillow to advertise their available rental housing often add a caveat that housing vouchers or Section 8 vouchers are not accepted. This language violates District law, which is why I introduced a bill that would penalize any District landlord that advertises their intent to discriminate against District housing voucher holders. You can read DCist’s recent coverage to learn more about how my bill would work to address this growing problem—highlighted by a WUSA9 investigation last year that found over 100 discriminatory ads on Craigslist alone.
I hope that the Committee on Government Operations will hold a hearing on the Housing Voucher Discrimination Penalty Amendment Act of 2019 soon and encourage you to follow its progress here.
Improving Transparency Across District Public Schools: Closing the achievement gap and having better data integrity continue to be two of the most important issues to me when it comes to better supporting students in District public schools and preparing them for success after high school. That’s why I signed on as an early co-introducer to Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen’s Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. As I said at a press conference last week on the bill, charter schools are public schools funded by public dollars, and therefore need to be open to public scrutiny.
Celebrating Women’s History Month: March is Women’s History Month, and I cannot think of a better way to have kicked it off than with phenomenal woman leaders across the District! Special thanks to the Bellevue Neighborhood Citizens Association in Ward 8 and the Queens Chapel Civic Association in Ward 5 for including me in their Women’s History Month celebrations and discussing our shared workforce and affordable housing priorities.
Thanks also to Drew Schneider and Petworth News for including me in the Women of Upshur Celebration & Dialogue in Ward 4 to highlight some of our city’s successful woman entrepreneurs and small business owners!
Job Fair Season is Back: Looking for a job or know someone who is? I’m excited to again co-host the DC Semi-Annual Job Fair on April 17 in collaboration with my Ward 6 colleague, Charles Allen, to support the Wharf’s soon-to-be-completed Phase 2 hiring needs. Stay tuned for more details! There are two more immediate job fairs happening that I hope you will attend and/or share in the meantime:
- Dept. of Parks and Recreation Multicultural Employment Fair: Wednesday, April 3, from 3:00-6:00pm at the Reeves Center (2000 U St. NW, 2nd Floor Conference Room)
- Community Job & Resource Fair: Thursday, April 4, from 10:00am-2:00pm at the DC Dream Center (2826 Q St. SE)
Visiting Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum: Last month, my office partnered with the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Naval Lodge No. 4, and DC Strings Workshop to host a Black History Month tour of the museum’s exhibit, A Right to the City. If you haven’t been yet, it’s a must-see! Thank you to the 40+ residents that joined us to learn more about our city’s lesser-known history. The museum has temporarily closed for renovations, but the exhibit is still active at various pop-up locations around the city over the next six months. You can see event pictures here and tour highlights here if you were not able to make it!
- CNHED DC Resident Summit: Saturday, March 23, from 12:00-4:00pm at Calvary Baptist Church (755 8th St. NW)
- Labor Committee Budget Hearing #1 (Office of Employee Appeals & Public Employee Relations Board): Friday, April 5, at 10:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 120, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
- Labor Committee Budget Hearing #2 (Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining & Office of Human Resources): Wednesday, April 10, at 1:00pm at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 123, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
- Fifth Annual Anacostia River Festival: Sunday, April 14, from 1:00-5:00pm at Anacostia Park (Anacostia Drive & Good Hope Road SE)
- Labor Committee Budget Hearing #3 (Dept. of Employment Services & Workforce Investment Council, public witnesses): Monday, April 22, at 10:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 500, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
- Labor Committee Budget Hearing #4 (Dept. of Employment Services & Workforce Investment Council, (government witnesses): Wednesday, April 24, at 10:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 412, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
Thanks so much for reading, and Happy Spring!