The scope of this public health crisis is deep and wide.
Yesterday, the Council passed a number of emergency measures to help cope with the immediate fallout from the spread of the novel coronavirus, we’ve had several additional school lunch locations set up this week, and WMATA just announced a further reduction in service. Also, tomorrow I'd like to hold a virtual field trip for any kids at home as a chance to meet their Councilmember and ask me questions on Facebook. More information below.
If you’re like me, the reality is setting in that the crisis we’re experiencing will be months long, and the recovery will last years after. A lot of people are being asked to stay home right now. And because we are all connected, this has immediate consequences on many people's income. The Mayor has rightly closed down bars, nightclubs, and restaurants in an effort to slow transmission of the virus, but that's a scary reality for a lot of our neighbors. Other families are juggling still going to work to keep basic services running, trying to figure out childcare, and trying to avoid exposure to the virus. Still others have lost a paycheck (or likely more than one) -- it's scary. And if you have kids who are now home all day and you’re trying to telework at the same time, it's... it's a lot to manage.
Of course, these are necessary steps and they are the only way to slow the spread of a dangerous virus and save lives. My message to you today is to please listen to the important advice by our doctors and healthcare professionals to stay home and to stay the course.
The federal government's response has been woefully inadequate and has hamstrung the ability of each state lab to test as many people as we should so we can have a clearer picture of what's happening. It’s a failure of federal leadership that has cost us precious time and will cost us lives. That's why these painful measures and self-isolation are so important -- we all must take steps to protect our health care system, its workers, and everyone else who can't stay home right now.
In the coming days, even with social distancing and shutdowns, know that the total number of new cases will increase (and will likely increase dramatically). That isn't because our measures aren't working. It's that it can take 10 days or more from the point of exposure to the time someone would show symptoms, be tested, and receive their results. So the efforts we take this week to reduce exposure and slow transmission won’t show up in the nightly numbers of positive tests being reported for about two weeks. Stay home as much as you can. Take walks or step outside when you need fresh air, but let's make these sacrifices work. This is hard. Really hard. But we will get through this. We will recover. I trust that we will see some of the best in our neighbors and we will see creativity to adapt. What's crucial right now is to slow the spread of the disease and help as many people as we can.
I want to take a moment to publicly say thank you to to the thousands of people working as first responders, working around the clock at our Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), providing health care, working to get meals to our students and seniors, operating Metro to help people who do need to get to work to do so, restocking the shelves at our grocery stores, and keeping our pharmacies open. It takes a lot of courage to show up to work in an emergency and provide these essential services. I am incredibly grateful to each of you.
To keep up with the latest on DC's coronavirus, this is still the best web resource:
Council Passes Emergency Legislation to Help DC Residents
The Council (while observing social distancing) unanimously passed emergency legislation in response to the coronavirus. It’s not the only emergency relief effort we will need, but it’s a start. And there’s a lot that was included. I'll cover a few of the big items I think most people want to know more about below, but you can read a more detailed recap here.
Unemployment Insurance for District Residents: Perhaps most urgently needed was an expansive and fast-acting way to get more people receiving unemployment benefits who have lost their job, or are even just losing income from coronavirus closures.
You are eligible to apply without having been fully laid off -- if your working hours have been reduced, you can apply right now. Our bill means you can start receiving benefits as soon as you apply without having to wait a week. It has a broad definition to include the many unique cases, including many who are self-employed or independent contractors.
I'm sure your next question is how to apply. It will go into effect immediately. Keep an eye on the Department of Employment Services for information on how to apply Be mindful that since the bill just passed yesterday, this website likely hasn't updated its language yet but that will be coming soon.
- A quick note: I know there was an ask to increase the weekly maximum benefit available. We couldn't take that step because we don't know how much this current expansion will tap into our existing unemployment funds and we need to exercise caution since much of the District's revenue is also dramatically slowing down. It's something I will keep in mind as we move forward, but I did want to acknowledge these benefits aren't going to fully replace lost income for everyone.
Small Business Support: Another key piece needed right away is help for our businesses, small and local businesses especially. We are in what can essentially be considered a severe recession for the next few weeks of widespread closures. For many businesses, the drop-off in sales is going to threaten their ability to keep the doors open. Others might be able to weather the storm for a bit. Either way, we need to help support our small and local businesses immediately. The Council took two key steps:
Created a small business grant program: The Council authorized the Mayor to provide grant funding to DC small businesses that need financial support with payroll, operations, or meeting loan requirements with the Small Business Administration. Businesses, non-profits, and independent contractors will be eligible. I will share updates on how to apply once this is up and running. I expect it to be administered through DC's Department of Small and Local Business Development.
- Yesterday, the federal government also approved DC's emergency declaration, which makes targeted, low-interest loans available to businesses. More information here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance
- Deferred when businesses need to pay taxes until later this year, including an extension for our hotel industry.
Preventing Evictions, Utility Cutoffs: The Council also froze all evictions and utility cutoffs for non-payment during the public health emergency.
Plenty More: I'd encourage you to check out this longer update on what else was included. And keep in mind, this is only the first step we will take to address challenges around this unprecedented pandemic.
NEW LOCATIONS!!! During the closure period, there will be daily meals for students served at multiple schools, including three in Ward 6 - and shelf-stable breakfasts provided for the next day at each DCPS location.
- DC Central Kitchen is opening sites serving grab-n-go breakfast and lunch daily, and distributing fresh produce while supplies last each day. In Ward 6, find them at Banning Courts Community Center (1713 Banning Road, NE Monday-Friday from 12-1 pm) and The Pentacle Community Center (1509 Banning Rd, NE Monday-Friday 2:15-3:15 pm)
- Jefferson Middle School (801 7th St., SW)
- Eastern High School (1700 East Capitol Street, NE)
- Walker-Jones Education Campus (1125 New Jersey Avenue, NW)
- Howard University Middle School of Math and Science PCS (outside of Shaw Metro) | 12-1 pm Monday-Friday
- Friendship Chamberlain PCS (1345 Potomac Avenue, SE) | 8:30-11:30 am
- Kingsman Academy PCS (1375 E Street, SE) | ***Beginning March 23, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. M-F
- Full list: https://dcps.dc.gov/coronavirus and full list of DC Public Charter School meal locations
**These meals are available for ALL students, regardless of what school they attend. There is no need to present a student ID.**
DC Public Schools will be closed for students from March 16 through March 31. Here's how those days breakdown:
- Spring Break is now this week (March 17-23), moved up from April. Happy Spring Break...
- March 24-31 students will participate in distance learning.
I know many Ward 6 families also have DC Public Charter School students. Each school makes its own decision, but almost every school has followed the same guidance. The DC Public Charter School Board is maintaining a running list of closures here.
Free Internet Service for Low-Income Families, Seniors, and Veterans: Passing on this offer from Comcast that is offering two months free for the Internet Essentials service for low-income families, seniors, and veterans. Learn more here.
Resources for our Ward 6 Senior Residents
My staff have been checking in on seniors around Ward 6. I want to thank family members and neighbors who have been helping with errands or groceries.
Some grocery stores are reserving store hours just for seniors and other folks who might be more vulnerable to coronavirus to do their shopping earlier in the day. That includes Whole Foods (60 years and older can shop every day from 7-8 am). That means that if you are less vulnerable, please shop later in the day.
Here's some information on meals and food available or coming online shortly. If you have a senior neighbor who might not be online, feel free to print out this information and share:
1) Daily meal pick-up at the Hayes Center (500 K Street, NE) is available, as well as boxed lunches available daily at the normal senior meal sites. Previously scheduled home-delivered meals are continuing as usual.
Just to be Prudent, Go Ahead and Order an Absentee Ballot: If you're looking to plan ahead a bit, you can order an absentee ballot ahead of DC's June 2 Primary Election here: https://www.vote4dc.com/ApplyInstructions/Absentee
Explore the DC Public Library's Online Catalogue: Libraries may be closed, but you can still tap into a whole host of resources and materials for all age groups: https://www.dclibrary.org/godigital
Let's do a virtual field trip Thursday: Look, I have two young kids at home who usually are in school. I know how tough it is to keep the learning going and balance telework. In our home, we’ve tried to set up a schedule to mix in a little learning, a little fun, and a little exploration. So we might as well make the most of it. On Thursday, March 19, at 10 am, I'll host a Facebook Live "virtual field trip" and chat with you and your kids about our government and answer questions from the kids. I'm happy to do this soon just for adult constituents, but I'd like to keep this focused on kids' questions. Head over to my Facebook page Thursday at 10 am and let's see how it goes. I'll answer questions via your comments, or have your child email me the question in advance and I’ll read it online and provide an answer.
Update on District City Services: For an ongoing list of what is open and what is not in DC government, check out: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/whats-open
WMATA Reducing Service, Wednesday, March 18: Sharing this change in service beginning today, Wednesday, March 18 from WMATA.
Contacting Me and my Team: My team and I have transitioned to work remotely. But we are here and ready to help! We’ve got things set up so that you can still call the main office line 202-724-8072 to reach a staff member immediately during normal business hours or email or call any of us here.
Alright, that's enough for today. Share this update with your neighbors - it can be hard to get information out to everyone, so please feel free to post or share this as you find it helpful. Let me know what other questions you have and I'll keep you posted on changes in how our government is operating or any big changes coming. Stay healthy and stay strong!