Since my last newsletter, my team and I have been busy digging into DC agencies’ performance over the past year and hitting some milestones. Before we look deeper at these moments, I invite you to look at DC’s progress in fighting COVID-19. To date, DC has administered 255,636 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Many of you experienced the stress and scramble of DC’s old vaccination appointment site that has since been replaced with a pre-registration system which is working to administer the vaccine in an equitable, efficient way. While all adults will become eligible to receive the vaccine on May 1st, the pre-registration site is open right now for all DC residents and essential workers to sign up for the appointment waitlist.
With the pre-registration site, 100% of residents over 65 have received an invitation to sign up for an appointment, as well as 82% of residents with a medical condition and 47% of those in newly eligible groups. These are all positive indicators of a system operating for our residents.
Starting 3/29, Libraries are able to provide the following indoor services: access to public computer, printing and book pick-up and library card registration
Outdoor groups can gather with masks on and at a safe distance with up to 50 people
Fitness studios can host classes with up to 10 people or 25% capacity indoors
The Nationals will host opening day with 5,000 fans in the stadium (woo-hoo!), and DC United can now host 2,000 fans at their stadium
Restaurants are permitted to sell alcohol until midnight
Low- to moderate-contact sports may resume on a casual basis
Live entertainment is resuming as waivers will continue to be accepted and approved.
Performance Oversight Hearings are Complete
In the last month, I participated in numerous performance oversight hearings of our District agencies. I was able to attend and ask questions at hearings for committees on which I serve, as well as a few that I do not. Here are a few highlights from hearings held in the past month:
The performance oversight hearing for the education agencies all happened on the same day. Here are some highlights from my exchange with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education:
88% of child care centers in the District closed during stay-at-home orders. Currently, 70% are back open and have daily attendance.
Unfortunately, in FY20, 29 child care centers permanently closed and to date in FY21, 7 centers have closed. We have to double down on stabilizing our child care market both for subsidy payers and private pay.
DC is expected to receive $16.6 million in federal child care relief. OSSE reports this money will be dispersed on a formula basis for all licensed providers.
Data collection on critical things like mobility and student discipline stopped in March of last year. OSSE has assured the Council that this picked back up again at the beginning of this school year.
Here is the a copy of the waiver OSSE submitted to the Department of Education as it pertains to PARCC testing this year.
Much of the March 5 oversight hearing focused on the ongoing struggles with the unemployment compensation system. Frustratingly, we need to clear serious claim backlogs, we need better notices and translation services, and we need an entirely new unemployment software system.
In February, the system experienced a failure which delayed payments for about 39,000 people. The agency is working through a backlog of claims that accumulated during the glitch, and on top of this, a backlog of roughly 3,000 claims from 2020. I pressed for a blitz to clear these backlogs.
A Request for Proposals to replace our antiquated software system has been issued, but we have at least another 18-24 months before it is replaced due to the sensitive data involved.
To end with a silver lining: while the software update process is underway, DOES is working with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer to build an entirely new unemployment website - the public-facing, informational pages - with possible delivery in May.
I'm particularly focused on juvenile justice issues and reducing the school-to-prison pipeline and approached the oversight hearing with this in mind.
As our students return to in-person instruction, I called for a critical examination of the ways MPD, including School Resource Officers (SROs), treat youth. I requested school- and age-specific data on arrests and crimes that are occurring on campus to assess whether we are able to explore other avenues beyond arrest.
I also referenced stop-and-frisk data which was recently released by MPD and shows even wider racial disparities for adults. The data did the talking, and Black youth are stopped and searched at far higher rates that their white counterparts.
In response to questioning around our Safe Passage to School Expansion Act (which I introduced in February), Acting Chief Contee shared that he would like to complement law enforcement presence on routes to and from school with community involvement. Through collaboration with DCPS and the Public Charter School Board, we have heard a need for an adult presence beyond MPD on the journey to and from campus. We will continue to probe on opportunities for community stakeholders to take on this role.
We are expecting recommendations from the Police Reform Commission in April, and I will continue to dig into these issues.
Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) / The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF)
The HPTF has a statutory requirement for 50% of the funds to go to housing for 0-30% AMI. In FY20, however, we only hit 18% which was mostly all permanent supportive housing.
We learned through the hearing that we’ve never met the statutory goal and I probed on this to figure out why. Director Donaldson noted that most 0-30% AMI units need a sustaining operating subsidy and we haven’t increased the number of vouchers in years.
It takes approximately 2 years for a housing project to go from selection to online. Currently, we have 30 projects in the pipeline to deliver 1926 affordable units.
DC is expected to receive $350 million in rental assistance from the federal government through the latest relief bill. Director Donaldson estimates that 20,000 are rent burdened in DC and that the federal assistance could cover 17,000. A discussion needs to happen on how to fill the gap.
Even during the pandemic, home buying did not end. 360 residents went through the Home Purchase Assistance Program. I was able to ask questions about how to improve the purchasing power for residents going through that program as home sales are so competitive in DC.
Understanding the Budget Process and My Priorities
The budget will now be introduced to the Council by Mayor Bowser on April 22nd. The Council will host a briefing on the budget with the Mayor and City Administrator on April 23rd. In the month following this, we will host Council committee hearings in which we will discuss and debate changes to this budget. Additionally, the Committee of the Whole will hear public testimony on all aspects of the budget on May 21st. These hearings will then inform Committee markups scheduled for May 25th to May 27th. We will have the first reading of the budget and vote on it on June 15th and the second on June 29th. Find all of these dates on the Council calendar.
Ahead of this process, I have shared my priorities with Mayor Bowser, and hope she will include my recommendations in her first iteration of the budget. Beyond this, I will have the opportunity to fight for these priorities during both the committee hearings in April and May and the committee markup period in late-May. A few highlights on what I will be advocating for:
Use of stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan to close the digital divide, while investing in safe out-of-school activities for students who have voiced interest in this.
Significant investments be made available to Out-of-School-Time partner organizations and the Department of Parks and Recreation
$6.4 million for the expansion of the School-Based Mental Health Program, thus supplying 80 new schools with needed resources
$1.5 million from one-time to recurring funding to continue supporting the growing demand for the Library’s collections and help reduce wait times on digital and physical materials
The inclusion of as many schools as feasible from the PACE ranking list for school modernizations in the six-year Capital Improvement Plan.
Here are some highlights on how the District will benefit from the American Rescue Plan, from which DC is poised to receive $2.3 billion in overall payments. This includes:
$1,400 payments to every individual making under $75,000 and $1,400 per dependent
$400 per week federal subsidy to state unemployment payments
$1.4 billion for WMATA, $1.5 billion for Amtrak, $81.7 million for National Airport
Robust investment for vaccine distribution, testing and support.
You have the opportunity to testify on either of these bills. To sign up, click here. You can also sign up or submit written testimony by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (202) 341-4425. Please include your name, e-mail, phone number and the specific bill you would like to testify on. Thank you in advance for your testimony!
Sneak preview at upcoming legislation: We are excited to invite you to learn more about an upcoming bill, The New Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights. I will be joined by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and the Student Borrower Protection Center for an event introducing this bill. I hope you will join us. RSVP for the event here.
DC Public Library Round-Up
As I mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter, there are many new opportunities for libraries, restaurants, fitness studios and the like under revised recommendations from Mayor Bowser. Specifically, at the newly renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on G St NW, a few notable services are now back up and running.
From Monday – Friday, you can visit the library from 10 am – 2 pm and check-out books and other reading materials. You can also use their public computers during this time starting Monday, March 29th.
Take an American Sign Language class with other beginners! Learn more here.
Starting Monday, 3/29 the library’s public computers on the first floor are open for use.
Wondering which DC Public Library is open near you? Find out here.
Constituent Services Corner
Our constituent services director, Ana Berrios-Vasquez, has been hard at work connecting you with the services you need. I hope the following ‘how to’ explainers help you receive the services you need. Please reach out to her at 202-724-8105 or ABerriosVazquez@dccouncil.us should you have any questions.
If you or someone you know has submitted an application for unemployment benefits and have yet to receive payments, please contact our office with the following information:
Full name as it appears on the Application:
Last four digits of your Social Security Number:
The type of claim you have filed (traditional UI, PUA, PEUC, etc):
A description of your issues:
Have you reached out to another DC Council office about this issue? If so, which one(s):
If you’d like to submit an application for unemployment benefits on your own behalf, please click here.
How to submit a 311 request
Download the 311 app
Snap a photo of your crooked sidewalk, overflowing trash can, sideways street sign or bulk dumping in your neighborhood.
Open a ticket on the app and submit your claim.
You can also tweet your photo with a precise location tagging @311DCgov – they will open a ticket for you!
Stay in Touch
I want to keep you up to date on what my team and I are working on. Will you please follow and like my pages below?