Throughout the past month, my team and I have been hard at work drafting and introducing legislation that moved the needle towards an equitable future for all District residents. In this newsletter, you’ll find four bills I introduced in February that center healthy families and communities.
In addition, I have been laser focused on performance oversight hearing questions that draw out quality and informative responses. We are moving into the tail end of our performance oversight hearing schedule, so be sure to check out upcoming hearings and sign up to testify. I greatly appreciate every public witness that has taken time to share their perspective this year.
As we complete the performance oversight schedule, I am already thinking about the fiscal year 2023 budget process, which begins on March 16th when the Mayor submits her proposed budget to the Council. To be sure my priorities are heard, I submitted my budget letter to Mayor Bowser and her team last month. Please read the letter in full here and see its highlights below. The Mayor will submit her budget proposal to the Council on March 16th. Budget hearings will then begin on March 21st, run until early April, and Committee markups are set to begin in late April.
As a final note, earlier this week on March 1st, the District’s indoor mask mandate for many facilities lifted. I anticipate many businesses to continue requiring masks, and many residents will choose to continue wearing their masks. As a best practice, you should always carry one with you just in case. Find vaccination and testing resources here.
Christina Henderson Councilmember, At-Large ChristinaHendersonDC.com
The Health System the East End Deserves
On February 17th, I had the honor of attending the groundbreaking at the newly named Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center at St. Elizabeth’s in Ward 8. With the date for full-service operations set at December 2024, we know the journey to today has not been short of easy. I want to recognize Councilmember Vince Gray for his dedication and unwavering support that has been integral in this success story.
We know that there are 39 facilities that provide prenatal care services in DC, yet most are located in Northwest. And there are now no facilities east of the Anacostia River where a mother can give birth. This project will change that. This hospital will include a 136-bed, full-service hospital, a pavilion dedicated to ambulance services, specialized clinics and community space, and a helipad for emergency transports. I look forward to visiting the hospital once open and operating.
The services this hospital will provide, specifically the services for our current and future moms, will begin to close the equity gap our residents face right here. Too often we have asked residents to travel West for high-quality care. This development and the construction of 2 new urgent care centers in Wards 7 and 8 will finally renew our promise to residents who deserve robust access to health resources that many enjoy in other Wards.
In early February, I was proud to send my fiscal year 2023 priorities to Mayor Bowser and her team. I believe we can be even more ambitious and innovative with how we -- as a city -- deliver essential services, community support, and an equitable distribution of resources. I have approached my work with the belief that your zip code should not determine your opportunity for success, and my budget recommendations are no exception.
Include funding to increase the grant funding and rates to enable the community-based organizations who partner with the Department of Behavioral Health on matching behavioral health professionals with schools to better recruit and retain qualified candidates for this important work.
Maintain and increase the $5 million enhancement that the Council funded in the fiscal year 2022 budget for out-of-school time programming.
Invest local funds for a public visioning process as we apply for the federal Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program to restore community connectivity to neighborhoods that have been divided by highways or other transportation facilities. It is time to underground DC-295, knit our communities back together after 70 years, and improve Ward 7 residents’ access to school, jobs, public transportation, and retail.
Invest in two program initiatives to further our climate change and environmental goals: (1) Install a uniform recycling program for public spaces and public housing. (2) Implement zero waste initiatives like commercial food composting.
Provide the one-time expenditure of $110,000 to fund the Maternal Mental Health Taskforce Act you signed into law in 2018 (L22-139).
Give SNAP a raise! I introduced legislation earlier this year (B24-600) that proposes a change to the maximum SNAP benefit to 15 percent of the maximum allotment for his or her family, as opposed to the current flat rate of $30. It will take significant investment to tackle food insecurity.
Allocate $40 million to ERAP in local dollars in Fiscal Year 2023 to ensure that residents facing ongoing housing insecurity have support throughout the District’s recovery.
Invest the $412,000 necessary to fund the Opioid Overdose Treatment Prevention Omnibus Act (L22-288), permitting MPD and DOH to purchase and distribute opioid antagonist kits for use in the community.
Implement and fund the District Government Paid Leave Enhancement Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0615), expanding benefits to attract and retain top talent in local government.
Homeowner Resource Center Establishment Act of 2022 (B24-667)
This legislation would create a one-stop shop of resources for homeowners and aspiring homeowners in the District on matters such as home valuations, property taxes, property maintenance and improvement, and relevant District laws and regulations. The Center would also offer counsel from a Housing Resource Officer.
Context: The District strives to be a national leader in housing policy. However, resources that support owning a home, not just purchasing a home, can be difficult to identify after all the paperwork has been signed. The District’s housing policy choices speak to the priority we place on safe, affordable housing, and the unique value of homeownership for historically excluded communities.
Diaper Affordability and Access Act of 2022 (B24-669)
This legislation would provide an additional $100 per month to families with children under three enrolled in the Temporary and Needy Families (TANF) Program intended for diaper expenses. This bill would also establish a new diaper bank grant program, increasing access to free diapers for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Context: According to the National Diaper Bank Network, the need for diapers increased 500% when compared to pre-pandemic need. In contrast, diaper donations have only increased 86% during this same timeframe. The increasing cost of diapers places a serious burden on low-income families forcing them to make the hard decision between keeping the lights on or purchasing diapers.
Hazardous Tree Removal Assistance Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0659)
This legislation will enable government support for our most vulnerable residents when removing hazardous trees. This enhancement to the existing Income-Contingent Tree Removal program would expand homeowner eligibility to include neighbors like senior citizens.
Context: Today, residents who qualify for any income-contingent government assistance program, like SNAP or TANF, have access to government support when they need to remove a hazardous tree. This legislation would add senior citizens who qualify for property tax relief to the eligible group.
Expanding Access to Fertility Treatment Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0699)
This legislation would expand coverage provided through private insurers, Medicaid and the DC Healthcare Alliance to include diagnosis and treatment for infertility.
Context: Many people don’t anticipate that they will have difficulty conceiving a child. Once they realize that they do and that there is a clear solution, they are then met with another obstacle – cost. One cycle of IVF alone can cost between $20,000 to $25,000, and insurance providers are not required to cover this treatment. State mandated coverage has been shown to increase 3-fold the use of infertility services, which is also linked to better public health outcomes. This will close the gap we see today where only 8% of Black women age 25 to 44 seek medical help to get pregnant, while 15% of white women do so.
Apply for DMPED grants open to small businesses in the District
Just released:Locally Made Manufacturing Grant Program (“Locally Made”) now accepting grant applications from small businesses in these great street corridors. DMPED describes this opportunity as one that “incentivizes and bolsters the Great Streets initiative to grow the District’s local small business economy and bolster neighborhoods with inadequate access to retail opportunities.” This opportunity closes on Friday, March 25th, 2022. Find application instructions and more information here
Just released: The Neighborhood Prosperity Fund (NPF) has $4,000,000 at its disposal to award successful grantees under this program. The funding priorities within this grant program are three-fold: economic growth and employment, food access and security, and healthcare equity. This opportunity closes on Friday, March 25th, 2022. Please review eligibility and further details on how to apply here.
2022 DC Government Job Fair
The "New Year, New Career Virtual Hiring Fair" will take place virtually on Wednesday, March 16th and Thursday, March 17th. The DC Department of Human Resources will connect residents to recruiters and hiring managers for participating agencies. On the spot job offers in multiple industries will take place during this event. The event is free and registration is required for jobseekers. Register for the 16th here or for the 17th here.
Councilmember Christina Henderson appreciates the artwork by students at EL Haynes Public Charter School.
Performance Oversight February Round Up
Hearing Highlights The month of February was jam-packed with performance oversight hearings. Below you will find a few pieces of key details discussed at each agency’s hearing. These are not all the hearings that were held, or even all I attended. If you are interested in signing up to testify at hearings coming up next month, please visit this website. If you have questions about the sign up process or just in general, reply to this email!
Friday, Feb. 4 – Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
In the past year, many more DMV services became accessible through the agency website dmc.dc.gov. In addition, you can sign up for free for the ticket alert service (TAS) that will give you near real-time notification of ticket-related activity for your vehicle.
There have been some improvements on the road test. Residents can take their road test on a hybrid vehicle provided by DMV. Also, parallel parking was added back to the test after years during which DMV did not have enough physical space at the testing site to require that skill which seems so essential for DC driving. Since parallel parking was added to the road test, there has been a modest increase of about 10% in the failure rate.
Tuesday, Feb. 8 – Department of Public Works (DPW)
The boot crew is currently booting 55 vehicles per day, up from 35 last year. There’s a summer plan for nighttime booting in entertainment areas of visitors with high fines. Related, the request for proposals for alternative booting technology closes on Feb. 28 and a contract will be awarded in the spring or early summer, potentially making booting easier.
DPW services 1,700 public trash cans per night, but during the pandemic collectors have seen a huge increase in people putting trash bags from their homes into public cans. DPW is emptying some cans more often, but it has limited capacity to increase that.
An organic waste management plan that will detail the capacity for curbside collection will be released in 2023. Meanwhile, the Food Waste Drop-Off Program which collected 320 tons in FY20 and 413 tons in FY21 will be expanded to more sites in the year ahead.
I strongly urged DPW to engage with neighbors around its plans for the Benning Road trash transfer station. If we’re going to right wrongs around environmental justice, we need to work differently. I asked the agency to report back to the Council’s Transportation and Environment committee on its timeline for a public process.
Wednesday, Feb. 9 – Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB)
As we near the date for federal student loan payments to resume, the Student Loan Ombudsman has already seen an increase in frequency of complaints and requests. His office recently held workshops with federal government employees discussing the nuance and details of the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program. Over 900 attendees were at both webinars.
I asked further about how we are reaching young residents in the District. College planning really begins your Freshman year of High School. I learned the Ombudsman collaborates with DOES, the Office of Youth Programs, and specific DCPS schools all based on capacity. I am interested in increasing this capacity, and reaching more young students so families are confident once application and acceptance dates arrive.
Thursday, Feb. 10 – Office of the Attorney General (OAG)
I probed further on the Attorney General’s decisions regarding outcomes for young people charged with carjacking and violent crime. I learned the office evaluates each charged child’s needs, and that we continue to have a statutory obligation to propose the least restrictive prescription.
To date, the Social Justice division of the OAG has 30 open investigations, about 10-15 current active litigations. This number includes 5 new cases filed this year, while continuing to prosecute cases filed in previous fiscal years.
The violence prevention program run by the OAG, Cure the Streets, continues to work across the District. One interesting fact that could spark improvements in violence prevention across the city is how little the many programs talk to each other. Cure the Streets, Building Blocks DC, and the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement should all be sharing data, working together, and utilizing resources more strategically.
Wednesday, Feb. 16 – Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED)
DMPED has been charged with fulfilling the Mayor’s goal of building 36,000 new affordable housing units by 2025. Of this total number, Deputy Mayor Falcicchio shared they are 67% of the way there, which translates to 20,699 new affordable units built.
I dove further into the details on the federal funding DMPED received and has begun distributing through different grant opportunities. While many grant applications are still open (see the last chance announcements section of this newsletter), I was able to receive information on the Inclusive Equity Impact Fund. Over 155 applicants submitted for consideration of this grant, which closed on Jan. 25, 2022. Of this total, about 103 met the qualifications for the grant, and the top 30 will be awarded funds.
Thursday, Feb. 17 – Department of Employment Services (DOES)
I asked about youth receiving assignments in the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program that aligned with their interests. I learned that the team does their best to match job openings according to broad interest categories in the application, however we could be doing more. In order to have engaging, meaningful programs that keep kids coming back, we must be sure it serves their interests.
I also probed on the training programs and pilots funded in the FY22 budget, and learned that implementation is underway. Administering these programs, the new DC Infrastructure Academy identified a location on Shannon Pl SE was identified and the site will be operational by the summer of 2024.
Thursday, Feb. 17 – Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)
I utilized my time with MPD to first ask about our tactics for recruiting women to the force. In the District, about 26% of our recruits are women, and currently there are more than 800 women on the force, or 23%. The cadet program is currently 50% women.
In general, MPD is working to bring on 25 new recruits per month, which fulfills their goal of 300 new hires this year. On average, MPD hires 1 out of every 25 applicants, which means that MDP fields over 1,400 applications for every 25 new recruits. I was discouraged to learn that despite generous benefits, including housing benefits, only 16% of the force lives in the District.
On the topic of overtime, Chief Contee shared MPD caps overtime at 18-hour limitations and if an officer has more than 18 hours, an investigation is initiated.
Friday, Feb. 18 – District Department of Transportation (DDOT)
Lane Place Bridge, the pedestrian bridge that collapsed and needs to be replaced, is on track and in the final design phase. Construction will start at the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023.
I expressed my concerns about the mixing of streateries, buses, delivery trucks, and double parked cars and about safety and accessibility compliance for streateries. As some streateries are becoming permanent, the agency will be finalizing safety and ADA guidelines by end of the year.
I asked how pedestrian accommodations around construction sites were enforced and whether 311 is the only way that the agency becomes aware of problems. I am assured inspectors are out every day and will proactively respond to problems. They can issue a stop work order if necessary, demand that fixes be made while the inspectors are still on site, and then will return to check on compliance.
Tuesday, Feb. 22 – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
I talked with the retiring general manager about the barriers to bringing back riders. Trains are running every 10 minutes on the red line and every 20 minutes on other lines. He believes the level of service is less of a barrier than workers’ attitudes about in-person work and covid travel behavior. I disagree.
Metro has seen a severe drop-off in peak-hour travel but less of a drop-off on off-peak and shorter weekend trips. To meet the shifting interest, Metro has lowered weekend fares. Shifting resources to bus from rail and from traditional commuter hours to off-peak travel is a conversation that needs to happen, the general manager said, especially as WMATA faces a $500 million budget hole in FY24 when covid relief funds dry up.
WMATA works with the DC Infrastructure Academy. An entry-level job as a bus operator can lead to becoming a train operator, train manager, or station manager.
Thursday, Feb. 23 – Department of Health (DC Health)
Since the Council has weekly calls with DC Health regarding COVID-19 response, I decided to spend time at this performance oversight hearing discussing some of the other work of the agency such as licensing and HIV/AIDS prevention.
Most noticeable to me is the work of the Office of Health Equity, which seeks to partner with other agencies to incorporate a health equity lens into policymaking across the government. Additionally, DC Health is working with its staff to view racism as a public health issue.
I also checked in on the status of maternal health legislation that I secured in the BSA to ensure that we are on track to cover doula services later this year, which will expand the availability of support services for pregnant women during childbirth.
Constituent Services Corner
DC Health recently released updated guidance on childcare facility COVID-19 quarantine and mitigation protocols. If you have been tuned in to local issues this past month, you’ll know I have been asking the City Administrator and DC Health leaders to update this guidance for months. I am assured discussion forums for childcare centers are available as teachers and leaders interpret and enforce the below, new protocols.
When traveling outside the DMV, families are no longer automatically required to quarantine for 14 days. It is recommended all unvaccinated individuals take a test after traveling before attending any in person gatherings.
Our youngest residents under 2 years old are required to quarantine for 10 days when they test positive. Close contacts may take a COVID-19 test on day 7 of their quarantine and return to childcare with a negative test.
Our residents older than 2 years old are required to quarantine for 7 days when they test positive. Close contacts may take a COVID-19 test on day 7 of their quarantine and return to childcare with a negative test.
Masks continue to be required by children over 2 years old and early educators.
Councilmember Henderson discusses the future of our health protocols for families with young children, especially those in childcare, and more on ‘Newsy Tonight’. Click the image to watch.