It is hard to believe 2021 is already coming to a close. When I look back to January when I was first sworn in to now, I am proud of the steps we’ve taken toward true, equitable progress. I continue to be honored to represent you and all District residents.
I began my first year as your At-Large Councilmember with the belief that your zip code should not determine your opportunity for success. This has been the driving rationale for all the legislation, oversight, budget priorities, and constituent services I have focused on this year.
I have introduced 14 bills and three resolutions, co-introduced an additional 121 measures, sent numerous letters to leaders of District agencies, championed countless budget enhancements, closed 41 complex constituent services requests, and attended more than 50 oversight hearings. These are just a few numbers that give you a window into my work each day. As you read this annual review, you will find details on how and why I am fighting for a DC that works for everyone.
As we enter into a new normal, it is important to recognize where we came from. Back in December 2020, indoor activities were restricted to groups of 10 people, a vaccine was not yet widely available, and our arts venues like concert halls and museums were completely closed. We have come a long way, and we still have a long way to go. I hope you and your family will get vaccinated or boosted before the end of this calendar year. As we make plans for the year ahead, take time to relax and recharge. I am feeling empowered as we continue our work into 2022.
Christina Henderson At-Large, Councilmember ChristinaHendersonDC.com
One Year As Your At-Large Councilmember
Prioritizing Health in Every Zip Code
Although more than 95% of District residents have health insurance, free preventative healthcare services remain underutilized. When specifically discussing the high maternal mortality rate in the District, studies indicate that less than half of women on Medicaid are receiving the recommended number of prenatal or postpartum visits. It has been a priority of mine to introduce legislation to reduce the maternal mortality rate, provide support for our most vulnerable families, and expand our health infrastructure to underserved areas of the District of Columbia.
The first bill I introduced was the Maternal Health Resources and Access Act (B24-26). Since, I secured funding for this bill and continue to oversee its implementation.
Through the FY22 budget, $480,000 is earmarked for the DC Healthcare Alliance to cover transportation options like rideshare or public transit for travel to and from prenatal and postpartum appointments.
Across 2022 to 2025, more than $4 million is authorized for reimbursement of doula services to all insurance holders.
I recently met with the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, the head of the DC Medicaid program and the medical director for the Medicaid program to ensure we are on track for full implementation in October 2022.
In follow up to this crucial first step in reducing our maternal mortality rate, I recently transmitted a letter to the District’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Francisco Diaz. I requested an update on the recommendations of the Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC), which will inform the next steps in this space. (Sent December 13, 2021)
I also introduced the Interagency Council on Behavioral Health Establishment Amendment Act (B24-65) focused on improving communication between health agencies and improving outcomes for District residents.
Another bill focused on a population who too often cannot advocate for themselves is the Minor Access to Medical Records and Transcripts (SMART) Act (B24-0231) which would allow residents 16 years and older to book health appointments and request medical records on their own behalf.
I co-introduced the Certified MidWife Credential Amendment Act (B24-0143) which was led by Councilmember Gray and will work to further reduce the maternal mortality rate in the District.
I voted in favor of the Medical Cannabis Emergency Amendment Act (B24-0194) which was enacted into DC law. In addition to the progress this bill supported in the medical marijuana industry, it is crucial we create a pathway for a safe, regulated marijuana industry – beyond just the medical marijuana industry – in the District. I will continue to advocate for Congress to remove the rider preventing further work to tax and regulate cannabis.
In August, I penned a letter to Mayor Bowser requesting the requirement for vaccination against COVID-19 for all public school employees, child care facilities, and DC government connected individuals who have regular contact with minors. This letter was sent in direct response to the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine. (Sent on August 24, 2021) The Mayor announced these requirements on September 20, 2021.
I transmitted a letter to DOEE on Mold Violations and the future of enforcement and fines on this issue. (Sent November 30, 2021) Members of the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment have raised this paradox in multiple hearings: DCRA holds general housing violation enforcement authority, but claims a lack of capacity and expertise to conduct mold inspections – while DOEE has mold expertise but no related enforcement authority. I have requested clarity along with a plan for action.
I sent a letter to DC Health requesting further information in advance of the Committee of the Whole public roundtable on testing programs planned for the return to in-person learning. (Response received September 20, 2021)
Supporting the District's School Communities
The District’s public and charter school systems support school communities that must set up our future generations for success. Education affects every other aspect of our lives, and when you look at the data, the information is striking.
According to some research, all DC students have experienced learning loss of at least 4 months in math and 1 month in English language arts, with at-risk students experiencing even more loss. Children’s National Hospital is reporting an increase in the number of children needing treatment for self-harm, with 60% reporting suicidal ideation. According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), more than 7,000 DCPS students experienced homelessness at some point during the 2019-2020 school year.
Additionally, the families of English language learners have faced particularly severe disruption during the pandemic and require additional resources with the return to in-person instruction. These conditions require thoughtful oversight on the part of the Council and my colleagues to position our students for success. I will continue to perform the needed oversight and support transformative legislation for our school communities.
During my first month in office, I introduced the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act (B24-66) which received a hearing in the fall of this year. We heard moving testimony on the necessary focus on equitable support across the District for safe passage, free from traffic violence and crime.
I worked with colleagues to ensure my first piece of emergency legislation passed unanimously. The DCPS 2021-2022 Funding Stabilization Emergency Amendment Act (B24-0216) provided an assurance our schools needed when planning for the return to in-person learning for SY21. This emergency legislation made sure schools did not lose funding unless undergoing a grade realignment when administrators were planning for school year 2021-2022.
In response to the Police Reform Commission’s recommendation for police in schools, I introduced the School Police Incidents Oversight and Accountability Amendment Act (B24-0254). When we have the data and transparency as to what happens on a school campus, we can make informed decisions on how to improve.
I also introduced the Facility Allowance for Child Development Centers Amendment Act(B24-0250) which would provide funds for child development centers to help with facility upgrades while requiring OSSE to assess how these investments were made. The goal here is to increase access to high quality development facilities across the District.
Most recently, the Council took its second vote and passed the Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Amendment Act (B24-0423) requiring all students and childcare workers eligible to be vaccinated by a fully authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
This month, I sent a letter to City Administrator Kevin Donahue to request the supply of rapid tests the District has on hand be distributed to students in communities that have been most impacted by COVID-19 cases in schools, namely Wards 5, 7 and 8. Access to rapid testing will be crucial over the holiday break. (Sent December 13, 2021)
I have also transmitted a letter to Superintendent Christina Grant requesting data on absences and distance learning for the 2021 school year. I hope to understand trends as students have returned to in-person learning, further understanding the impact the last two years have had on our students. (Sent December 10, 2021)
The tax increase I supported on our wealthiest earners in the District of Columbia will fund an investment of $53 million for childcare workers’ raises, $65 million for 2,400 new housing vouchers and preventative programs for those at risk of homelessness, and $24 million to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit from 40% to 55% to help our low-income families thrive.
I was proud to play an integral role in the allocation of the $53 million raised from this tax increase. We ensured this funding will be used based on the recommendations of the Early Childhood Educator Compensation Task Force. This money will go out in 2022.
The increased investment in School Based Mental Health Programs I championed with my colleagues is providing $28.6 million for the full implementation of at least one mental health professional in every public school in the District.
I led the call for and implementation of $10.2 million for adult, residential and early childhood public charter schools and further established a 3.1% increase in charter school facilities allotments starting in FY24.
I advocated for the increased investment of $18.5 million for Out of School Time Grants that will support services for students before and after school.
My visits to 9 different schools throughout the District gave me a chance to speak with administrators, teachers, and students about their time learning during a pandemic and when returning to in-person learning.
Our streets must be safer for families, pedestrians, cyclists, and other modes of alternate transportation. Investment, implementation, and enforcement of transformational infrastructure is how we achieve this. Throughout my first year on the Committee on Transportation and the Environment I have probed DDOT on pressing issues like the 295 pedestrian bridge collapse and the wider conversation that must happen surrounding this highway running through historically black communities; how we can implement safer infrastructure outside schools; why a stop sign or sidewalk fix takes far too long to complete; and the list goes on. The Committee has fully funded vision zero through earmarked revenue of the new Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) cameras installed in 2021. It is time to implement this plan. Our communities deserve transformational change because one vigil is too many.
In May I penned a letter to DDOT Director Everett Lott in response to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment’s Roundtable on the Surge in Traffic Crashes, Fatalities, and Injuries in the District.
Following that, I sent a letter to Dir. Lott on expected timelines for updates to the Traffic Safety Investigation Program.
I introduced the Rightsizing Residential Permit Parking Regulation Amendment Act (B24-0433). This legislation would resize Residential Permit Parking (RPP) zones to align with Advisory Neighborhood Commission boundaries.
I championed the request for the $25 million investment needed to replace the Kenilworth pedestrian bridge that connected communities across 295 until its collapse earlier this year.
As a member of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, I supported the establishment of all new revenue generated from the 118 new automated traffic enforcement cameras to fund implementation of the Vision Zero omnibus. Funds are expected to fulfill the $41 million per year necessary for this action.
Sustaining Safe, Vibrant Neighborhoods
Public Safety remains one of my top priorities across the District. We know that throughout 2021, violent crime has increased in many neighborhoods. The Council hosted multiple public hearings and roundtables on the District’s gun violence prevention and intervention efforts. I will continue to work towards local and federal partnerships that will support safety in the District. This is an emergency that requires an equally urgent response.
To welcome neighbors home and reduce high rates of recidivism, I introduced the RESTORE Amendment Act (B24-0180). This bill dramatically simplifies current laws related to record sealing, expands eligibility for people with felony convictions, and provides an avenue for record expungement.
In addition to supporting safety through violence prevention and response, we know investing in our communities equitably yields positive results. I wrote to the Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter to request an update on the process of establishing the first Dog Park east of the river on Texas Ave SE. (Sent December 13, 2021)
I supported an additional $12.3 million for new violence interrupters and an expansion of the pathways program under the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.
When the Mayor requested an $11 million investment in public safety, I was proud to support the immediate increase in crime prevention and intervention services, while also providing the funds necessary for services and roles in the Metropolitan Police Department.
The Council provided the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants with $16 million to support community-based reentry services, survivors of abuse, and eviction diversion coordination and legal representation.
I worked to further enhanced investment of the Office of Unified Communications to fund the redirection of 911 calls for mental health crises to DBH first responders.
Supporting our Economy and our Workers
When the pandemic hit almost 2 years ago, our community thought we would head home for 2 weeks. We have asked residents and businesses to do so much to keep yourselves and your neighbors safe. The District of Columbia government must do its part to support residents through implantation of a recovery plan. We know that a new normal is forming before our eyes. Investments and legislation supporting a more equitable approach to the workforce will yield a successful recovery for DC.
One of the first bills I introduced was the Fair Wage Amendment Act (B24-64). This legislation begins to address the persistent gap in earnings between women and men in our city, specifically prohibiting employers from asking prospective employees about their previous salaries.
In 2021, I also introduced the New Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights Act (B24-0170). This bill attempts to combat predatory actions from student loan service providers through protections, transparency requirements, and more for the more than 116,000 DC residents with student loans.
Most recently, I introduced the College Student Athlete Compensation Amendment Act(B24-0445). This legislation would put guardrails around the newly amended NCAA rules allowing student-athletes to be compensated for endorsements or publicity deals.
I championed the investment in our families, and by association our workforce, with $105 million to expand the Universal Paid Leave Fund that increases medical leave from 2 weeks to up to 6 weeks and adds 2 weeks of pre-natal leave benefits.
During the budget process, I also worked to support economic recovery with $40 million to help small businesses recover from pandemic-related losses in addition to another $40 million to assist hotels that experienced significant occupancy reductions due to the pandemic.
I supported an investment of $28.6 million to permanently exempt unemployment insurance benefits from income taxes.
Transparency in Government and the Fight for Statehood
When I decided to run for office, I knew that a democracy could only work well when residents have trust in the officials that represent them. Having the autonomy of a state would also support better governing and better outcomes for our communities.
I introduced the VOICE Amendment Act (B24-0372) to bring ranked choice voting to DC starting in 2024. Ranked choice voting would complement the efforts of the District’s Fair Elections Program, including more voices and expanding representation in our democratic process, while also ensuring our elected officials have earned broad-based support from voters.
I co-Introduced new legislation that would require the Mayor to seek proactive approval from both the public and the Council regarding District owned recreational properties. This bill, the Fairness in Use and Negotiation for All Recreational Property Act (B24-0554) will go through the regular legislative process.
In an effort to increase access to information on the budget process, I hosted a Town Hall in June discussing my priorities and how the public can make their priorities heard. Watch the Town Hall recording here.
Just this year, we saw historic strides made for DC Statehood in both the House and Senate. We heard from President Biden that Statehood is the path forward. Our warrior on the Hill, Eleanor Holmes Norton, further pushed the issue of Statehood into the national spotlight – where it belongs! Watch the 2021 hearing of H.R. 51 on the House floor, here. Watch the 2021 hearing of S 51 on the Senate floor, here.
Once in a Decade: The Redistricting Process
The Subcommittee on Redistricting held 11 public hearings, engaged residents in all 8 wards, received 220 draft maps from our neighbors, and heard over 40 hours of testimony. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the leadership of Councilmember Silverman who chaired the subcommittee, making this process the most transparent and engaging we’ve seen in decades.
The law states that every 10 years we must right-size our Wards. When looking at the numbers, we knew three things for sure – Ward 6 needed to shrink, and Wards 7 and 8 needed to grow. The Subcommittee worked to fulfill the rightsizing of Ward population requirements while delivering equal and fair access to political representation.
In the Community
One of the best parts of my work is meeting all of you. As an At-Large Councilmember, I spent time in all 8 Wards this year, intentionally prioritizing the places I visited. Many events I attended or spoke at were held virtually. Among these were panel discussions where the audience was women, young female students, or young people of color looking to get involved in bettering their community. I believe that when you earn a seat at the table, you bring extra chairs.
In addition to engaging with these groups, I kept in mind my philosophy that your zip code should not determine your opportunity for success. My visits to schools and libraries and conversations with parents and families across the District further impressed upon me the importance of centering equity while legislating. I walked with Ward 7 residents following the Kenilworth pedestrian bridge collapse. While quite literally walking in my neighbors’ shoes, I understood that infrastructure and transportation equity intersects with every other issue we face as a community. The same can be said about access to a quality education. I was honored to attend both the Southwest Library and MLK Library grand openings. When we invest in infrastructure for students and families, we invest in our future. I continue to fight overall systemic investments that will improve opportunities across all zip codes in the District.
Finally, I enjoyed spending time with residents during community meetings to discuss legislation, neighborhood issues, and my priorities. I or my staff has attended an ANC meeting in every Ward, bringing to the forefront the important we need to keep doing. Please find photos from my first year as your Councilmember below. These are just a few that highlight the importance I place on our time spent together.