Quite a lot has happened over the two weeks since my last newsletter, and I want to comment on three things in particular – our ongoing fight to give SNAP a raise, the recent announcement regarding Monumental Sports, and the WMATA budget proposal.
Give SNAP a Raise
Three weeks ago, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and the Department of Human Services (DHS) Director informed me that the Mayor does not intend to implement the Give SNAP a Raise Amendment Act of 2022 as required under the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Support Act of 2023. This means that more than 140,000 residents will not receive the expected increase in SNAP benefits starting in January 2024. The $39.6 million intended for this benefit boost would come from excess revenue the District collected in Fiscal Year 2023. The money has already been transferred to DHS and is fully available for use, but the agency has made no movement in the past two months to prepare to administer this increase in January. The Executive has chronically underfunded public benefit enrollment and allotments, and now they claim they cannot implement Give SNAP a Raise because of spending pressures that they have created. I’m not naive to some of the financial challenges the city is confronting, as I’ll explain later in this letter, but we also have to take care of our people. Food access should always be at the top of our list. We have explored ways to compel the Executive to distribute this funding, but none of them will quickly get residents the assistance they need. This week, my colleagues and I sent a letter to Mayor Bowser asking her to reverse course. With rising food costs, our residents need this boost.
I am deeply disappointed by this week’s news that Monumental Sports has decided to move the Wizards and Capitals out of downtown DC, their home for the last 26 years. As an avid basketball fan, this is not only a devastating loss to the loyal fanbase in the District, but also to the surrounding restaurants, hotels, and small businesses that rely on the cultural tourism generated by the events at Capital One Arena. What is even more frustrating about this news is that it was entirely avoidable.
Earlier this summer, I met with Monumental Sports about the capital needs of the arena, but more importantly, about their vision to revitalize the area surrounding their home base. Since economic deals are not initiated by the Council, for months prior they had been in conversations with Mayor Bowser’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development but felt they were not making any progress towards resolution. I had heard rumors that Virginia was aggressively courting Monumental, and after my meeting with them I began sounding the alarm to the Mayor, my colleagues, and business leaders that the District needed to focus on retaining our existing sports teams before courting any new ones. These warnings apparently went unheeded until the 11th hour. In response to this announcement, we need action and urgency. My full statement on this situation and what needs to happen going forward can be found here.
We’ve all known for some time that WMATA is facing a fiscal cliff with the ending of federal pandemic funding. This week, the General Manager Randy Clarke released his proposed budget for 2024, which includes massive cuts across the entire system. I’m committed to working to ensure that his proposal is only a worst case scenario and does not become reality. The slightly good news is that our region saw this coming and the three jurisdictions – DC, Maryland, and Virginia – have been meeting to discuss how to achieve $650 million more in funding for WMATA. The problem is that the budget processes of our jurisdictions do not align with WMATA’s budget process.
The WMATA Board will need to vote and approve a budget in April 2024, before DC, Maryland, or Virginia vote on their budgets. Further, Maryland and Virginia have provisions in their laws that state their WMATA contributions cannot increase more than 3% in a year – this will need amending. I am providing this important context in hopes that you all do not think elected leaders in the region are simply going to let WMATA fail. I know Mayor Bowser will be including the WMATA funding in her FY25 budget proposal, and I hope that Governors Moore and Youngkin follow suit.
The rest of the newsletter provides updates on the legislative work of the Council. The work continues…
Health Committee Updates
Joint Oversight Roundtable on Health and Human Services Benefits Enrollment and the DC Access System (DCAS)
On Monday, December 4, the two committees held a Joint Oversight Roundtable on Health and Human Services Benefits Enrollment and the DC Access System (DCAS). During the hearing, Councilmember Henderson listened to members of the public discuss their challenges with the DC Access System. The purpose of this roundtable was to address the challenges District residents have faced when enrolling in health and social services benefits through DCAS. DCAS, also known as District Direct, is a web-based application that is intended to allow District residents to apply for certain public benefits available in the District. The goal of DCAS is to streamline the application and recertification processes by linking a central system to various data sources to eliminate repeated data entry through forms and applications. After more than a decade of implementation, concerns with the performance of the software remain.
In her discussions with government witnesses from the Department of Human Services and the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, Councilmember Henderson inquired about their plans to strengthen the DCAS workforce and address backlogs in Medicaid renewal applications, as well as SNAP and TANF applications. She also sought information about their strategies to reduce technical errors and duplicate applications within DCAS, and manage the incoming influx of Medicaid renewal applications. Information and testimony from the hearing can be found on the Council’s new Hearing Management System here, and a recording of the hearing can be found here.
Committee on Health and Committee on Facilities & Family Services Joint Public Hearing
On Wednesday, December 6, the Committee on Facilities & Family Services and the Committee on Health held a joint public hearing on legislation introduced by Councilmember Henderson and the following matter:
During the hearing, Councilmember Henderson listened to legal experts, advocates, and members of the public voice their sentiments about her legislation and the status of mental health services for children in the care of the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). In her conversation with government witnesses from the Department of Behavioral Health and the CFSA, Councilmember Henderson asked about their plans to provide bilingual services in languages other than Spanish, their strategies to address backlogs in connecting youth to family therapists, ways to ensure that youth experience smooth transitions to new therapists, and the administrative tools needed to implement her Alternative Restorative Therapy (ART) Options for Youth Amendment Act of 2023. Information and testimony from the hearing can be found on the Council’s new Hearing Management System here, and a recording of the hearing can be found here.
Committee on Health and Committee of the Whole Joint Public Hearing
On Thursday, December 7, the Committee on Health and the Committee of the Whole held a Joint Public Hearing on the following legislation:
During the hearing, Councilmember Henderson listened to counselors, occupational therapists, and health policy experts discuss their sentiments about both pieces of legislation that would impact state compacts. She also asked officials from the Department of Health about their conversations with local education agencies regarding the impact of the Counseling Compact Approval Act of 2023 and inquired about the consequences of disbanding the Board of Occupational Therapy and merging it with the new Board of Rehabilitative Therapy. Information and testimony from the hearing can be found on the Council’s new Hearing Management System here, and a recording of the hearing can be found here.
Public Hearing on Health Occupations Revisions
On Thursday, December 7, the Committee on Health held a Public Hearing on the following legislation:
During the first half of the hearing, Councilmember Henderson discussed the impact of the Health Occupations Revision General Amendment Act of 2023 with dozens of medical professionals and listened to their sentiments about changes affecting multiple health boards and health licenses within the legislation. She also addressed the impact of the Dental Hygiene and Dental Assistants Scope of Practice Amendment Act of 2023 with dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and members of the public.
In her conversation with DC Health officials, Councilmember Henderson delved into the effects of the Health Occupations Revision General Amendment Act of 2023. She also voiced her concerns and questioned DC Health officials about whether the changes to the makeup of health advisory committees, scopes of practice, licensing regulations, and health boards within the legislation will have a net positive impact on the District's diverse healthcare workforce and community members. Information and testimony from the hearing can be found on the Council’s new Hearing Management System here, and a recording of the hearing can be found here.
Health Committee Markup of 9 Bills
On Tuesday, December 12, the Committee on Health held a markup on the following nominations and legislation. All measures passed unanimously.
Committee on Health, Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, Committee on Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs Joint Roundtable
On Wednesday, December 13, three committees held a Joint Public Hearing on Public Safety and Behavioral Health Services and Support for Youth. In her discussion with government witnesses from the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), and the Public Defender Service, Councilmember Henderson raised concerns regarding medical service delivery and enrollment.
She inquired about the lines of communication between DYRS and Mayor Bowser’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. Additionally, she asked about DYRS’s plans to fill behavioral health staff vacancies, the importance of interagency data sharing agreements, and the grantee evaluation process at the Department of Behavioral Health. Information and testimony from the hearing can be found on the Council’s new Hearing Management System here, and a recording of the hearing can be found here.
On Thursday, December 14, the Committee on Health held a public oversight roundtable on the following matter:
During the hearing, Councilmember Henderson listened to midwives, doulas, OBGYN physicians, and members of the public give their testimony. In her discussion with government witnesses from the Department of Health Care Finance and the Department of Health, Councilmember Henderson inquired about roadblocks to accessing real-time maternal health data, the issuance of vital records, the status of the Perinatal and Infant Health Advisory Committee established in the Better Access for Babies to Integrated Equitable Services Amendment Act of 2020, and whether the recommendations from the Perinatal Mental Health Task Force have been implemented. Information and testimony from the hearing can be found on the Council’s new Hearing Management System here, and a recording of the hearing can be found here.
Upcoming Health Committee Hearings
The Council has a NEW centralized system for signing up for hearings. Check it out here: https://lims.dccouncil.gov/hearings/
Key Legislative Updates
This week, Councilmember Henderson introduced two bills:
Christina in the Community
On Saturday, December 2, Councilmember Henderson and her little intern attended My School DC’s EdFest, a fair that gives families the opportunity to explore the District’s many public school options (PK3-12) for their children. Representatives from more than 180 DC public schools (DCPS) and DC public charter schools showcased their programs. There were also fun activities and free services from the Department of Health, Department of Parks and Recreation, and the DC Public Library. My School DC is the common application and common lottery for the District’s public school options. Find out more at https://www.myschooldc.org/.
DC Health All Hands
On Wednesday, December 6, Councilmember Henderson thanked DC Health employees for their service and spoke about the importance of a strong government response to COVID-19, the need for accessible public health data, her plans to expand food access in the District, and her goal to improve maternal health outcomes through home visiting, DC Healthy Start, and other programs.
On Monday, December 11, Councilmember Henderson joined Educare DC staff for a tour of the Parkside campus. Educare DC is a non-profit serving more than 400 children and their families in Wards 7 and 8 with high-quality childcare, early learning, and comprehensive services. During the tour, Councilmember Henderson sat in on classroom activities, listened to Parent Ambassadors discuss their experiences with Educare DC, and spoke with Educare DC leaders about the organization’s programs.
St. Elizabeths Hospital
On Tuesday, December 12, Councilmember Henderson toured both wings of St. Elizabeths Hospital alongside St. Elizabeths CEO Mark Chastang, Interim Director of Medical Affairs Philip J. Candilis, and Department of Behavioral Health Director Barbara Bazron. During the tour, Councilmember Henderson learned more about St. Elizabeth’s programs, initiatives, and history.
AARP Panel on Health Equity
On Thursday, December 14, Councilmember Henderson spoke on a panel organized by AARP about the need for timely maternal health data, expanding food access, and acquiring innovative medical technology to improve senior health outcomes.
In Case You Missed It: Councilmember Henderson in the News
. Constituent Services Corner