DC Council approves emergency legislation in response to COVID-19

The DC Council approved a wide-ranging emergency bill today that makes significant changes to expand eligibility for unemployment insurance, extend grants to small businesses, and greater temporary powers to the Mayor during this public health emergency.

“I want to thank Council Chair Phil Mendelson and all of my colleagues along with the Mayor and her team for a collaborative approach on this important first step to provide relief to as many District residents and businesses as we can,” said Councilmember Charles Allen. “We aren’t getting the support we need from the federal government, but we will keep working to do whatever we can to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and support those who are feeling the pain right now of those steps.”

Here’s what is in the bill:

  1. Protections for workers and employees who have been laid off or had income reduced

  • Provides unemployment insurance (UI) for all eligible employees upon application. There’s no one-week waiting period and no requirement to search for work, as there normally is for UI. Here’s who is eligible:
    • Someone laid off from a workplace closing permanently or eliminating a position.
    • Someone who is laid off temporarily, with a promise that they’ll be hired back will also receive UI.
    • Expands eligibility to include most self-employed and independent contractors – however, if you aren’t eligible, please see below for small business grants you would be eligible for.
    • Ensures that someone who self-quarantines, or whose hours are reduced because of a public health emergency—including an employee of a business that’s required to shut down—is considered unemployed for purposes of receiving unemployment insurance.
    • It also includes employees who left a job because the employer did not comply with DOH public safety directives, or who quit/was fired because the employer required them to show up after work after they’d been advised to self-quarantine.
  • Allows the Mayor to identify additional funds to make UI payments if the unemployment fund runs out.
  • Creates a new type of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, called “declaration-of-emergency leave” (or DOE). It allows all employee whom DOH recommends to self-quarantine or who tests positive for covid-19, to take DOE leave. DOE leave is available to all employees—regardless of their employer’s size. It does mean the employee gets up to 16 weeks of medical leave (every 2 years) without fear of losing their job.
    • DOE leave will not be “charged to the experience rating accounts of employers.”
  • We’re also waiting to see if Congress approves disaster unemployment assistance, which the District could apply for to provide additional assistance to residents who might not usually be covered by UI—that’s freelancers and anyone in the gig economy.

Small Businesses

  • Creates the “public health emergency grant program.” Grants are available to eligible entities that can demonstrate, “to the satisfaction of the Mayor, financial distress caused by a reduction of business as a result of the cause of” a declared public health emergency. Grants can be used for employees’ wages and benefits, operating costs (which includes taxes or debt payments), or repayment of SBA loans.
    • Eligible entities are
      • small businesses, eligible to certify as a small business enterprise. Short hand: they are based in DC and they have fewer than 500 employees or have revenues below certain thresholds;
      • nonprofits; and
      • independent contractors or self-employed folks who DOES says are not eligible for UI
    • Allows hotels to delay the first property tax installment until June 30 without penalty.
    • Allows all other businesses to delay its February and March sales tax filing till July 20. Sales taxes still must be paid in full by the end of the year.
    • Allows restaurants or taverns to sell alcohol for carry out or delivery. Delivery is only allowed if the alcohol is accompanied by prepared food. They don’t need approval from the alcohol control board, but they do need written authorization from ABRA.

Public health emergency clarifications

  • Allows the Mayor to make changes to the District government’s personnel rules to shift District employees to other agencies or jobs, or to require telework.
  • Requires the Mayor to send the Council a summary, within 7 days, of any emergency contracts entered into during the public health emergency.
  • Healthcare providers are shielded from liability (other than gross negligence) for actions taken to implement the District’s response to the public health emergency—for the duration of the emergency. This just clarifies that if a healthcare provider takes an action during the public health emergency, they are still shielded from liability if a suit is filed after the emergency is over.
  • Gives the Mayor authority to “use crisis standards of care or modified means of delivery of health care services in scare-resource situation” and “coordinate health-care delivery for first aid within the limits of individual licensure in shelters or facilities as provided in plans and protocols published by the Department of Health.”
  • Allows the Mayor to extend this public health emergency by 30 days once, without any other approval or action, and then again by 15 days with Council approval.
  • Allows the Mayor to revoke the Certificate of Occupancy of anyone who violates an emergency order.
  • Gives DISB authority to issue emergency rules, orders, or bulletins to make changes to rules as necessary during the emergency.
  • Allows DOC, during the emergency, to issue additional “good time credits” to effectuate the early release of anyone sentenced for a misdemeanor.

 Consumer protections

  • Allows the Mayor to prohibit price gouging during a public health emergency—in addition to during a natural disaster. Sets penalties for price gouging when OAG brings a civil enforcement action.
  • Prohibits stockpiling of good necessary for first responders.
  • Prohibits disconnection of electric, gas, and water service during a public health emergency.
  • Prohibits evictions during a public health emergency.
  • Allows folks to “maintain an adequate supply of necessary medication” during a public health emergency.
  • Allows the Mayor to waive any provisions of law necessary to ensure folks don’t lose public benefits during a public health emergency—and to allow for first-time applications for public benefits. That would include reenrollment or recertification.
  • Allows the Mayor to extend the validity of and waive requirements to recertify in person for licenses—including driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, and professional licenses—through 45 days after the end of the emergency.

Housing and homelessness 

  • Allows the Mayor to place families experiencing homelessness in interim housing for up to 60 days, and the Mayor can extend that interim housing for the duration of the public health emergency. That’s normally 3 days.
  • Allows the Mayor to waive the right to meet with a lawyer (or some other professionals) in-person and to have guests in their home, as part of the process of placement in housing through the continuum of care.
  • Allows housing providers, as part of the continuum of care, to send by email notices of denial, transfer to another provider, suspension, termination, or discontinuation, during the emergency—rather than by mail or in person.
  • Allows housing providers, in the continuum of care, to transfer residents to new housing to prevent or mitigate the spread of contagious disease.
  • Extends the period that tenants can organize—for TOPA, for example—to 30 days after the end of the emergency.
  • Prohibits late fees on rent during the emergency.


  • Allows the Chancellor to waive promotion criteria during this school year.

Government operations

  • Allows ANCs to cancel required monthly meetings and to hold virtual meetings during a public health emergency.
  • Waives requirements for boards and commissions to meet during a public health emergency.
  • Allows agencies to delay FOIA responses during a covid-19 closure.
  • Waives the posting requirements of Open Meetings Act during the emergency, and allows some flexibility, provided that the agency makes reasonable efforts, with the requirement to make meetings open to the public, but retains the requirements to post in a timely manner records and transcripts of meetings
  • Amends the Budget Submission Resolution to allow the Mayor to transmit her budget by May 6—or a later date if the Council approves another resolution.
  • Allows remote voting for Council meetings.
  • Allows the mayor to accept federal or private grants during the emergency.

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