This year is already off to a whirlwind start. DC saw double its typical January snowfall. The District’s COVID-19 case count is rapidly declining, while vaccinations are steadily increasing. And events like the Washington Auto Show have returned for the first time in 2 years. In terms of the work of the city: Ward taskforces have kicked off their work to redraw ANC boundaries, a new facility for unhoused residents has finally opened, agencies annual performance oversight hearings are underway, and I have introduced four pieces of new legislation this month.
This month’s newsletter is packed full of information to keep you in the know. We are building on the momentum of last year, working hard to best support families, small businesses, and our most vulnerable neighbors.
Christina Henderson Councilmember, At-Large ChristinaHendersonDC.com
Summary: This legislation would provide local funds to the SNAP program, increasing the maximum benefit to 15% of the maximum allotment per family, opposed to the current flat rate of $30. This investment would make the District of Columbia the first in the United States to establish a SNAP local supplement, giving its residents greater flexibility to purchase healthy food throughout the month.
Context: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2019 approximately 94,000 residents of the District of Columbia – nearly one in eight – depended on SNAP. Further, more than ten times as many Black District residents are relying on SNAP than white residents. This is an equity issue. It is time to give SNAP a raise.
Summary: This legislation would allow DC government employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave in one year for bonding with a new child, caregiving for a family member, or for personal medical recovery, with a maximum total of 16 weeks over a two-year period. The bill would also establish 2 weeks of pre-natal leave.
Context: Currently, DC government employees are provide up to 8 weeks of paid leave for parental bonding, but have no access to personal medical leave or prenatal leave even though its available in the paid family leave program for employees in the private sector. In partnership with Councilmember Elissa Silverman, and with the support of all 13 Councilmembers, we believe in retaining and attracting top talent in DC’s public sector. Additionally, comprehensive paid family and medical leave is proven to not only keep employees healthy and improve retention, but also can reduce gender and racial wage gaps, while promoting workplace equity.
Number of weeks of paid leave available for D.C. government employees
Up to 8 wks of parental/bonding, OR
Up to 8 wks of family caregiving
No paid medical leave
No pre-natal leave
Up to 12 wks of parental/bonding plus 2 wks of pre-natal leave, OR
Up to 12 wks of family caregiving, OR
Up to 12 wks of medical, OR
A combination up to 12 wks total per year & up to total 16 wks per 2 years
Summary: This legislation would establish a program to provide up to $82,500 over five years in grants for tuition and non-tuition expenses not covered by other non-loan assistance for District students without lawful status in the United States. Eligible participants must graduate from a District school, have attended school in the District for at least grades 9-12, be enrolled in an institution of higher education on at least a half-time basis, be 24 years old or younger, and be from a family with an annual household taxable income of no more than 200% of the median family income.
Context: Higher education is often priced as if it were a luxury good. Undocumented students face a uniquely challenging situation funding their higher education pursuits as they do not qualify for federal financial aid or the DC Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG). This legislation would provide financial support for immigrant families and their children, opening a door that is too often closed to those without citizenship status.
Summary: This legislation clarifies that the school psychologist licensing exception applies to professionals at both District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and District of Columbia Public Charter Schools, should the individual meet the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) certification requirements.
Context: Current DC law states that school psychologists who work for “in accordance with the regulations of the District of Columbia Board of Education” are exempt from Board of Psychology licensing obligations. However, in a recent decision, the Board of Psychology has interpreted this exemption to apply to only school psychologists who are employed by DCPS, excluding public charter schools – despite the fact that the OSSE issues a certification to school psychologists in both sectors. This has led to school psychologists at public charters, who are similarly situated as their DCPS counterparts, facing sanctions for unlicensed practice.
Out in the Community
Over the past month, it has been a privilege to meet new neighbors while connecting with old ones. I most recently was able to tour the new 801 East Men’s facility for unhoused residents which just completed its construction. With 396 beds with spaces specifically designed for those working and seniors, daytime services, and a space that men can be proud to utilize when accessing services, this shelter will transform lives. Please see two photos of the new infrastructure at the facility below.
I also spent time this month with parents and leaders with DC PAVE for their annual Parent Voice and Choice Week. We discussed in-depth the need for more investments in school-based mental health supports and programs for Out of School Time. We will not stop pushing for an education system that works for everyone.
Finally, out the in community, I hope you have also seen the announcement of COVID Centers across the District. The Mayor has opened 7 permanent locations where you and your family can get vaccinated, boosted, or tested all in the same place. Please see a list of the locations here and below.
The 2022 Bridge Fund Grant Opportunity is Open
If you or someone you know owns a small business in the District that has been struggling due to COVID, please consider applying for the bridge fund relief grant program. The fund will prioritize businesses that have not received federal aid. You are eligible to apply if your business has no more than $2.5 million in revenue in each year 2019, 2020, and 2021 and you did not receive an award from the Paycheck Protection Program. The application window will close on February 25th. Apply for the program here.
Summer Youth Employment Program Opened January 28th, 2022
This is a message for all District residents ages 14 to 24: The Summer Youth Employment Program began accepting applications starting January 28, 2022, at 12 PM until February 28th, 2022. This is the 43rd year that the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program has offered opportunities for young people in DC. I hope you will spread the word to youth who qualify! More information on the program and how to apply is on this website.
Councilmember Christina Henderson on zoom talking to multiple Capital City Public Charter School 5th grade classes to enhance their understanding of local governments. These 5th graders will present to 12th graders at their school, convincing them to register and exercise their vote in the upcoming elections.
Performance Oversight Briefing
January Hearing Highlights It is time for the annual agency performance oversight hearings. Below are some highlights of things raised and learned during the hearings I attended:
Thursday, Jan. 20 – Public hearing on the future of budgeting for DC public schools
The future of how we budget for DCPS will be of the utmost importance for our school communities. In November, DCPS announced that they would be implementing a new budget model this year but there has been very little information shared. Last year, if you recall, I introduced and passed emergency legislation to hold harmless any schools that would be facing a budget cut. As we head into the new year, we must avoid any delays or confusion.
Summary from the hearing – decisions about the new budget model and the UPSFF are not finalized yet. Along with other Councilmembers and parents, I was frustrated we were unable to dive into the details of the new DCPS budgeting model. I asked Chancellor Ferebee about specific engagement tactics, format, and rollout related to the new budget model. Once the model is released, I will keep you updated.
Monday, Jan. 24 – Department of Behavioral Health (DBH)
The value of in-person learning goes beyond academics. So far this year, we are exceeding the number of students who have benefited from treatment in the School Based Mental Health Program, compared to the entirety of last year when students were all virtual. This can be attributed to access to technology and stable internet, as well as in-person interaction with teachers and school staff who can more easily identify and refer students in need of services. We still need to step up our staffing as many schools still have not been matched with a mental health professional even though funds are available.
DBH is conducting a rate review to examine how the School Based Mental Health Program funding model supports the service delivery. While this is good news, I certainly hope that we can make investments in the FY23 budget if need be to continue to support our school based clinicians and partners.
Opioid deaths continue to be a great concern of mine and we have seen a spike in cases this past year. I was frustrated to learn of grant lapses (millions of dollars!) at DBH that were intended to address this issue. Two reasons given for the grant lapses was the inability to perform in-person services during the pandemic and challenges with procurement. I was pleased to learn that one of the grants was allowed to carry-over, and DBH has improved internal processes and partnerships with other District agencies to better do this work.
Tuesday, Jan. 25 – Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE)
I used my time during this hearing to follow-up with Dir. Tommy Wells on my previous inquiries about DOEE’s indoor mold enforcement program and when the agency will have the authority to enforce fines for landlords who fail to mitigate mold in tenants’ homes. DOEE will publish regulations for the program soon, Wells reported.
However, DOEE only has one mold inspector and needs more to address the hundreds of complaints – 420 in FY21, and more than 100 so far in FY22 – it receives each year. Another inspector will be added soon, but I will be looking to see that three inspectors are funded in the FY23 budget.
The Solar for All program was hampered by some supply chain issues and covid outbreaks among crews and inspectors but with the help of covid recovery funding is on pace to install more panels for low-to-moderate income families through community solar arrays and on individual homes, giving residents equal access to clean energy and the benefits of lower electricity bills.
Wednesday, Jan. 26 – Department of Human Resources (DCHR)
It is important that District residents participating in DCHR’s Apprentice Program who are required to take college courses are earning credits and degrees that are transferrable. Some apprentice programs require that the apprentice take courses from a for-profit school, and I expressed to Interim Director Maxwell that DCHR should consider local schools like UDC or Trinity University for all apprenticeship programs that require college courses.
I further requested information on the number of medical and religious vaccine exemptions DCHR is reviewing. DCHR reported that they had processed around 900 requests and that the agency is in the process of issuing decisions. Director Maxwell explained that it is a very time-consuming process, involving a great deal of interaction between DCHR specialists, the agencies, and employees. He shared that the process is actually an investigation involving interviews between DCHR and employee, the employee’s clergy, and the agency.
Thursday, Jan. 27 – Office of Unified Communications (OUC)
The Office of Unified Communications is responsible for routing all the calls for 911 to the appropriate agencies. It is a fast-paced, high-stress job and unfortunately, like other agencies, has faced serious staffing issues over the past year. I asked the Interim Director about staffing and morale. She cited recruitment as a challenge. For their most recent round of applications they had 300 individuals apply, but after the skills test (mainly typing), background check, and interview process, only 10 applicants entered the training process. And throughout the 16-week training process they anticipate even more attrition.
OUC also manages the 311 application. I raised the constant complaints from residents that cases are “closed” out without resolution. OUC claims there is an interagency working group on 311, but it hasn’t met in months.
Thursday, Jan. 27 – Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)
I asked about several playground repairs including the persistent turf issues at Marvin Gaye Playground in Ward 7. There is funding available for repairs, upgrades and installation of turf to begin in the spring once temperatures stabilize. Overall, I believe we need a public capital schedule, similar to that of schools which lets people know where their park is in the queue for upgrades.
Texas Avenue Dog Park: Bids are under review, and they expect a contractor to be selected over the next 6 months. Construction will begin in September. The dog park should be completed in November 2022. Why is this important? There is currently not a single dog park east of the Anacostia River.
Summer Camps: DPR will be going back to pre-pandemic levels of slots of approximately 7,500. Last year there were 5,600 slots. Investments of federal funding in boost camps will allow for camps to reach 10,000 camp slots for the first time. For the first time DPR will have tween camps for 10, 11, and 12 year-olds which will include E-sports, coding, broadcast journalism.
Hearing Calendar Highlights Preview for February 2022 I will continue to focus on asking provoking and thoughtful questions throughout performance oversight hearing over the next month. My team and I prioritize receiving answers and information on covid recovery, ongoing support on the appropriate administration government services, ensuring ease in access to these services for all residents, and supporting our school communities as we head into budget season.
Performance oversight hearings are a great opportunity for residents to testify and share what they are experiencing in their day to day. Please be sure to check out these instructions on how to sign up to testify at upcoming hearings. Be sure to scroll through the full document as each Committee has a different sign-up process.
Please click the image to watch this quick video recap on all I’m proud to have accomplished in my first year as your At-Large Councilmember.