Despite the snow and cold weather, we’ve gone full steam ahead into Performance Oversight season. As chair of the Council’s Committee on Health, we have already had three very productive oversight hearings for agencies under the Committee’s purview. You can read more about these hearings farther down in this newsletter. But first, I’d like to give updates on three important matters we’ve been working on.
Secure DC Public Safety Legislation
This week, the Committee of the Whole moved a step closer to approving the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024 to help address DC’s recent rise in crime. As noted in the Committee Report, violent crime increased by 39%, and property crime rose by 24% in 2023 compared to 2022. There were also six times as many carjackings in 2023 compared to 2019. These numbers are simply unacceptable. But these aren’t just numbers: these are human lives. These are disruptions to our community trust. There is not a singular action or event that led to this moment, but swift change is needed.
Secure DC is an omnibus of 10 different bills, compiled by Councilmember Brooke Pinto, chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, on which I serve. With this bill, we are bolstering law enforcement’s ability to apprehend those who commit crimes, enhancing penalties for certain serious crimes, and improving information sharing among agencies.
When it comes to public safety, I am not looking to support policies that revert to a posture of mass incarceration or roll back reasonable police accountability measures. However, I do believe the District has lost its way when it comes to accountability for breaking the law. Secure DC is one step toward getting us back on track.
This bill is not a panacea, but one piece of the puzzle. The Council passes the laws, and the Executive implements them, including MPD. The United States Attorney and the Attorney General bring charges, and the Court system adjudicates and sentences individuals. I’ve met with the Sentencing Commission and with the United States Attorney, who both have a part to play in this conversation. For our laws to be meaningful, investigations, charges, and trials must be swift and just, to show victims, communities, and those engaging in unlawful behavior that there are consequences for violating our laws and community bonds.
You can find more information on the Secure DC Omnibus below. There are some areas where I will still work with my colleagues on improvements, but I voted for the bill in the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, and I look forward to DC getting back on track for accountability for criminal behavior.
SNAP Benefit Increase Update
As I’ve been sharing, I worked with the Mayor and my colleagues to provide a local enhancement for participants in the SNAP program, known as Give SNAP a Raise. Guaranteeing food accessibility and security for District residents will always be a priority for me. Over 100,000 DC residents will be impacted by this temporary benefit boost starting in February. Give SNAP a Raise is officially under way and the administration has officially released the schedule for benefit increase. See below.
I am also pleased that the Bowser Administration has decided to implement the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (Summer EBT). This implementation will help fill the gap in food resources that many District families with school-aged children feel during the summer months. Summer EBT aims to fill these gaps by providing $120 per student to the 80,000 eligible children of families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. This program is pivotal in addressing childhood hunger and food insecurity, which is known to increase during the summer months. Food accessibility is a human right, and it is pivotal that the Executive continues to recognize its role in combating hunger in the District. There will be more information released on this soon.
The rest of the newsletter is full of information about Council business, the anticipated opening of the DPR Summer Camp Lottery and more. Keep reading...
Health Committee Updates
On January 18, we kicked off the Committee on Health’s FY 2023 Performance Oversight season by hearing from public witnesses about DC Health’s performance over the last year. On January 22, we asked questions and heard from DC Health Director Dr. Ayanna Bennett and her team. Issues that came up at the hearings included:
Members of the public can watch the hearings on the Council website and read the public testimony and agency’s responses to pre-hearing questions on the Council’s Hearing Management System. The Committee will accept written testimony regarding DC Health until February 1 at 5pm.
On January 24, Councilmember Henderson attended the performance oversight hearing for the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants and checked in with Director Porter about the hospital-based violence intervention programs serving crime victims at District hospitals, requested information about the stability of the funding providing competitive salaries for forensic nurse examiners, and probed grant administration processes that enable community-based organizations to provide critical services for crime victims, youth, and families.
On January 25, as chair of the Committee on Health, Councilmember Henderson heard from United Medical Center. She asked questions from Angell Jacobs, Chair of the United Medical Center Fiscal Management Board, Dr. Payne-Borden, United Medical Center Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer, and Lilian Chukwuma, United Medical Center Chief Financial Officer. The Councilmember requested information about their practices in rerouting residents that visited their center for delivery services, their surging FD-12 (involuntary hospitalization) admissions and its strain on staff, clarification around their distinction between a psychiatric patient and a FD-12 patient, and their lockdown procedures in relation to the arrival of new patients.
Upcoming Performance Oversight Hearings
The performance oversight hearing schedule is live and can be viewed here, https://lims.dccouncil.gov/hearings/.
Key Legislative Updates
The Committee of the Whole met on Tuesday, January 23, to approve several items for consideration by the full Council on February 6. There are a few items I’m particularly proud to share with you.
Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024
The Committee of the Whole on Tuesday considered the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024, legislation I worked closely with Councilmember Brooke Pinto on to secure the following changes:
The fact that guns can be easily accessed if you know where to get them is part of the increasing homicide rate. Therefore, Secure DC proposes new and enhanced penalties for firearm offenses including:
The DC Coalition for Domestic Violence noted in October 2023 that 39% of women and 25.5% of men living in DC have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, stalking, or a combination thereof perpetrated by an intimate partner. Additionally, strangulation is the biggest risk factor for later murder by the intimate partner. Secure DC seeks to address these disturbing trends and other instances of sexual violence by the following:
Extended Students’ Right to Home or Hospital Instruction Amendment Act of 2023
The Committee of the Whole approved the Extended Students Right to Home or Hospital Instruction Amendment Act, which I introduced. The bill adds pre-birth complications, childbirth, and postpartum recovery to the list of health conditions which render a student eligible for home or hospital instruction. Before it’s approval only students who missed school due to physical or mental illness, injury, or impairment which prevented them from participating in day-to-day activities during school attendance were eligible to receive home or hospital instruction from their LEA (local education agency). Students experiencing the aforementioned pregnancy related circumstances were not eligible to receive these services. The CDC reports that 90% of women who do not give birth during adolescence graduate from high school, versus only 50% of teen mothers graduating. Any additional support or common-sense accommodations we can provide to help pregnant students finish their education is key.
Public Roundtable on Health Board Nominees
On Tuesday, January 16th, the Committee on Health approved several nominees to health Boards, which the Committee of the Whole advanced earlier this week, including:
Restaurant Revitalization and DRAM Shop Clarification Amendment Act of 2023
The Committee of the Whole advanced the Restaurant Revitalization and DRAM Shop Clarification Amendment Act of 2023, which includes portions of a liquor liability reform bill that I introduced with Councilmember Brooke Pinto. The bill defines the term “intoxicated”, clarifies that licensed businesses can only be held liable for injury or damages if they knowingly serve, sell, or deliver alcohol to a person under the age of 21 or a person that obviously shows signs of intoxication, limits civil action to third parties, and caps monetary damages in civil actions. Councilmember Henderson co-introduced this legislation to address the District’s exorbitantly high liability insurance costs that are not only the highest in the region, but second highest in the nation. The legislation will bring DC’s liability insurance costs in line with much of the rest of the country. Reducing those costs for neighborhood bars and restaurants who struggle to pay these premiums at a time of increasing inflation and overhead costs will help our local economy and workers.
Christina in the Community
On Wednesday, January 24, Councilmember Henderson spoke on a panel at the R.I.S.E Demonstration Center for the “Health in All Policies (HiAP)” event. HiAP recognizes that health is created by a multitude of factors beyond healthcare and, in many cases, beyond the scope of traditional public health activities. We appreciate the Greater Washington Community Foundation for its work in highlighting this concept, and believe in its importance, particularly in local government where policies can end up affecting individual and community health.
Councilmember Henderson also met with Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) and discussed top concerns such as ensuring safe passage to school and improving access to specialized school programs. The parent advocates from across the District visit the Wilson Building each year to meet with Councilmembers and discuss issues they hope will be addressed through the performance oversight and budget process.
Later Wednesday evening, Councilmember Henderson had the chance to speak on a panel at “Health Equity Heroes: Advocates Making a Difference,” an event sponsored by Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company, at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library. She discussed ways that she leverages her platform to help those who face health disparities and access barriers through legislation, oversight, and budget. Legislation Councilmember Henderson highlighted included the recently passed Childhood Continuous Coverage Act that requires that any child enrolled in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or the Immigrant Children’s Program from 0 to 5 will not face redetermination or risk losing their coverage until the end of the month before they turn 6.
In Case You Missed It: Councilmember Henderson in the News
Constituent Service Corner
Know Your Rights When Making Purchases Through SNAP:
•Charge a transaction fee to consumers paying with a SNAP card;
•Set a minimum transaction amount for qualified SNAP purchases;
•Require a minimum SNAP card balance in order to make a qualified purchase;
•Require SNAP users to make a SNAP card balance inquiry before making a purchase.
Child Based Services
Thank you for reading! Please stay in touch.