Council’s Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Releases Roadmap for How District can Recover to Better

At a press conference on Tuesday, March 29, Councilmember Charles Allen and Councilmember Vincent Gray, co-chairs of the DC Council’s Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery, will present the Special Committee’s recommendations ahead of a vote on its final report on Wednesday afternoon.

The Special Committee’s final report lays out a roadmap to close gaps in economic inequity, educational achievement, small business growth, and more. To do this, the Special Committee makes numerous legislative, budget, and policy recommendations for the Mayor and Council to take up, including:

  • Putting the District’s sterling credit rating to work by backing local businesses – particularly DC native-, Black- and brown-owned businesses – who currently have to compete with national chains for retail space and lines of credit;
  • Extending the District’s new monthly basic income program – created in last year’s budget and set to benefit tens of thousands of low-wage parents, beginning in 2023 – to undocumented workers and more low-wage workers without children;
  • Passing Metro for DC legislation to provide every DC resident $100 per month to use on transit and improve both bus and rail and investing in improved bus services;
  • Proactively reimagining DC’s downtown core with a greater balance of mixed-use, dense neighborhoods to mirror the growth and success other neighborhoods have enjoyed with the rise of remote work;
  • Ensuring every household and neighborhood is connected to high-speed internet as early as 2023; and
  • Creating a portable subsidy for after- and out-of-school care for low-income children that would support working parents and keep children safe.

Taken together, just these six recommendations alone could launch a more equitable, just recovery. They could put hundreds of dollars per month into the pockets of lower-wage, working DC families, provide access to high-speed internet and out-of-school programming for their children, and level the playing field for local businesses competing for opportunity and growth,” said Councilmember Allen.  “We can’t thrive with business as usual – our collective goal must be to transform the District through these hard-earned lessons and take this incredible opportunity to prioritize equity and put DC businesses front and center.”

“We lost over 1,300 District residents to COVID, and over 1,000 were African American.  Our work on the Special Committee focused on what we need to do to protect our communities and make them safer and address harmful policies that further historic inequities,” said Councilmember Vince Gray. “I am thrilled as the Chair of the Committee on Health to include healthcare recommendations such as expanding access to Medicaid school-based services and increasing the number of rental inspectors looking for contaminants. Our children should not live in moldy, smoky conditions or places with poor ventilation because of the negative impact it will have on their health.”

The Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery was created in Council Period 24 by Chairman Phil Mendelson and is co-chaired by Councilmembers Charles Allen and Vincent Gray, with Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George, Brooke Pinto, and Robert White as Committee members. Its recommendations were developed over the course of a year, with dozens of hours of public testimony in five public hearings on safety net programming, housing, education, infrastructure, economic development, and support for small businesses. The Special Committee also received technical and policy support from the Urban Institute.

A handful of the recommendations made in the Special Committee’s report are described in more detail below:

  • Put the District’s Excellent Credit to Work for Small Businesses: For small, locally-owned businesses, the Special Committee recommends creating a local credit support program that will provide small businesses with low-interest loans, technical support, and rent guarantees to allow them to thrive and compete on equal footing with large, national chains.

    • Councilmember Allen: “This is about putting the power of our government behind local businesses. To successfully recover and thrive, our local businesses have to be able to compete against national chains with deeper pockets and longer lines of credit. If we truly want our neighborhood stores to survive and our empty storefronts filled with our businesses instead of corporate chains, then it’s time to move aggressively and leverage DC’s strong economy and government. This recommendation shows our local businesses that we’ll bet on them by providing rent guarantees, letting them use our line of credit, and working with them every step of the way to succeed. Landlords can’t let a storefront sit empty, so when a national chain comes knocking and brings major banks and rent guarantees to the table, the local entrepreneur and independently-owned business just can’t compete. We can change that and give our businesses an edge in the recovery.”

  • Expand DC’s New Monthly Basic Income to Undocumented Residents: Beginning next year, low-wage District parents will be eligible for monthly basic income payments that will average around $250 per month, thanks to the Council’s recent action through the “Hearts and Homes Amendment” to expand DC’s local Earned Income Tax Credit match and distribute it monthly. For undocumented workers who didn’t benefit from many of the safety net programs that kept other District residents afloat during the pandemic, the Special Committee calls on the Council and the Mayor to now make them eligible. As our revenues continue to grow, the Special Committee also recommends increasing the amount of that monthly basic income and making more workers without children eligible.

  • Pass and Fund Metro For DC: For essential workers who continued to ride the bus to work and keep all of us safe, fed, and healthy during the pandemic, the Special Committee calls on the Council to approve the Metro for D.C. Amendment Act of 2021, which would put $100 monthly into those essential workers’ pockets for their commutes. This legislation will also ensure better bus service to get transit-dependent workers to and from work.

  • Be Proactive in Transforming the Downtown Core: The Special Committee recommends continuing the transformation of the downtown core with more vibrant, mixed uses. In some ways, this transition is already underway, so the Special Committee notes that care must be taken to ensure the District doesn’t subsidize growth that would happen regardless. The recovery also provides a tremendous opportunity to advance the District’s housing goals and create significant affordable housing in the centrally-located space of downtown.

  • Universal Access to High-Speed Internet by 2023: For the majority of Black residents on the East End of the District who didn’t have equal access to affordable, high-speed internet service to learn and work from home during the pandemic, the Special Committee recommends the Council approve the Internet Equity Amendment Act of 2021 and the District of Columbia Public Schools Technology Equity Act of 2021 that would force the District government to ensure every household and neighborhood had access to affordable, high-speed internet and that our classrooms were outfitted with the technology needed to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.

  • Expand After- and Out-of-School Funding for At-Risk Young People: For students and families who can’t afford the out-of-school time programming and aftercare that provides academic enrichment and allows parents – and single mothers in particular – to get back to work, the Special Committee calls on the Council to fund a portable subsidy for out-of-school time and aftercare programming.

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