I hope you're staying safe and warm this Friday! With the DCPS delay this morning, I just came back inside from clearing our sidewalks with Cora and Everett. A neighbor chipped in and we were able to make quick work of clearing those icy sidewalks for several of our older neighbors as well. Before the refreeze tonight, please take a couple of minutes to clear the sidewalks to make it safer for everyone. And if you can spare an additional 5 minutes, go ahead and help out your neighbor!
It's been a big week on a lot of fronts, but before we dig in, I want to highlight some key metrics on COVID-19 because there is some good news but also some urgency. First the good news: we're seeing new infections drop consistently not just in DC but across the region. And we're also seeing an increase in the number of vaccines we're getting from the federal government. On March 1st, appointments will open up for residents with underlying health conditions (more on this below). These are positive signs we haven't seen before and point to a new phase in this crisis. But make no mistake, COVID-19 is still spreading in the community and we're still losing lives to this disease. So while there are many encouraging signs, I want to stress the urgency of this moment. If we can keep at it -- sticking to the hard choices and sacrifices you've been making -- we will see these trend lines continue moving in the right direction. But if we get complacent and relax too soon, we'll see the trends move the other way and delay the re-openings many are hoping for. So hang in there! Stick with it! Stay strong! Look after one another! We can do this.
Quick Links: Vaccine Update | Evictions Ban | Crime Victim Help | Gun Violence Update | Schools | US Cap Fence | DC Jail | Car Thefts | Utility Help | Unemployment | A Shout Out! | Tax Help | DCRA Chat | Union Station
COVID-19 Update: Expanded Eligibility for Vaccines, Eviction Ban Saving Lives
The District continues to work to improve the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19, but demand remains much higher than our available supply. It's going to be this way for a while, but the good news is that we are seeing increases in the amount we receive from the federal government (hence the expanded eligibility below) and plenty of DC residents who want to get vaccinated. DCist published a helpful round-up of the latest changes and information: https://dcist.com/story/21/02/18/vaccines-open-march-1-residents-with-qualifying-medical-conditions-in-march/
If you're interested in tracking total vaccination data, there are some helpful displays here you can monitor weekly: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/data/vaccination
For all eligible groups, there are two main ways to reserve an appointment when released each week through DC Health:
Call Center: 855-363-0333 (appointments are filling up online much faster, so please remember to try the Call Center too! There were still available appointments this morning when I checked.)
Web Portal: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccinatedc (scroll down on the landing page)
Eligible residents are also encouraged to seek an appointment through hospital health care providers and community health centers - full list here. Earlier this week, Howard University Hospital had open appointments available. The slots are limited, but I've been able to direct several Ward 6 neighbors to this option with success. If you're looking for an appointment, be sure to check this option.
Understanding the Difference between Thursday and Friday Appointment Releases:
- For all groups who are eligible, if you live in a priority ZIP code, you can apply for vaccine appointments every Thursday and Friday.
- Prioritizing these ZIP codes is an effort to increase vaccine access in the neighborhoods that are hardest hit by the pandemic but falling behind in receiving the vaccine, likely due to a number of factors around accessibility and historic racial inequality. The Council has spoken with a strong voice on this effort to achieve greater equity, particularly racial equity, as we know health outcomes and who bears the burden of this pandemic are not equal. That said, I've also pushed on the fact that ZIP codes are too blunt a targeting tool to best reach those who most need our help -- for example, within ZIP code 20003 in Ward 6 (which is not listed as a priority area) there is tremendous disparity in COVID impacts and vaccine access. I will continue to advocate for a more refined way to target our equity efforts.
- If you do not live in a priority ZIP code (this is the case for about half of Ward 6), you can apply every Friday.
- **Here's an important change to the process**: Moving forward, for both Thursdays and Fridays, the release time will alternate each week between 9 am and 6 pm. Today's release is at 6 pm.
And here's the latest and newest information on eligibility:
Grocery Store, Manufacturing, Frontline Social Workers, Food Packaging (Eligible Now)
Beginning at 6 pm tonight (Friday, Feb 19), anyone who reports to work in-person in a grocery store or similar food packaging job, frontline social workers, or works in-person in manufacturing can begin reserving appointments to receive the vaccine. This group will remain eligible moving forward, and can also apply on Thursdays if the applicant lives in a priority ZIP code or Fridays for all eligible residents and employees.
Seniors Age 65 and Older (Eligible Now)
DC continues to offer new appointments to all DC residents 65 and older every Friday morning at 9 am. I know many have asked for a waitlist rather than the frantic weekly scramble. This is something that I and most on the Council have pressed for and the Mayor's team has pledged to roll out a waitlist in March. In addition to the DC Health phone and online portal, please remember to check available appointments through the hospital and health care providers mentioned above.
Related: In partnership with Johns Hopkins, United Medical Center, and DC Housing Authority, senior residents in several Ward 6 public housing buildings have had the opportunity to receive their first dose of a vaccine. I want to shout out the full team, including folks on my constituent services staff, for working to get the word out in advance and help reach these seniors.
DC Residents with Qualifying Health Conditions 16 and Older (Eligible Beginning March 1)
Much awaited by many residents, Mayor Bowser and DC Health announced that the next eligibility tier will open March 1. This group includes all DC residents aged 16 and older who have a qualifying medical condition (click the graphic to the right to see the full list), which notably includes pregnant persons after I made this a specific ask of DC Health. Anyone in this group can begin applying on March 1 and should look for more specific guidance as we get closer.
A Personal Note: I wanted to share with Ward 6 residents that I have received my first dose of the vaccine and will be receiving my second soon. Every Councilmember has been offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine as part of our continuity of government plan. I'll be honest: I felt conflicted about receiving the vaccine while I know so many of my neighbors continue to wait, including many who don't have the option to work remotely. However, I am one of only 13 people who can pass laws, including emergency laws that approve resources and create protections during this pandemic. I am tasked with representing the interests of nearly 90,000 Ward 6 residents when we decide how to fund the government in the coming months, not to mention leading oversight efforts for our public safety and elections systems. While much of the Council's official work has transitioned remotely, there are still many times I am meeting in-person or around other people -- such as security briefings for the inauguration or when responding to a crisis. Finally, I want to lead by example for any constituents who may be wary of taking the vaccine. My background and training is in public health. I understand how vaccines work and I know unequivocally they save lives. I've had members of my family battle COVID and I know too many friends and neighbors we've lost to this disease. I also understand why some people may be hesitant. It's okay! If you have questions or concerns or want to hear how my experience went, please just reply to this email. But with my public health background, let me stress that if you have an opportunity to get the vaccine, I recommend you do so. As Dr. Fauci has said, the best way to stop the virus from mutating is to get on with vaccinating.
The Evictions Moratorium is Saving Lives
Earlier in February, I teamed up with my council colleagues Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Anita Bonds to host a tri-committee roundtable examining the health impacts of the District's ban on evictions. Among the witnesses who testified were authors of two recent studies comparing health impacts of COVID in jurisdictions with ongoing moratoriums on evictions with those who had ended them. The studies were definitive in showing that preventing people from being evicted is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives (you can find links to both studies in this tweet thread). You can watch the testimony and questioning here, beginning around the 1:20:00 mark: https://www.facebook.com/CMcharlesallen/videos/740637950210693
There is obviously a larger conversation we will need to have on transitioning out of the evictions ban, supporting landlords for whom monthly rental payments are a critical part of their income, and more. But we should take some measure of comfort knowing this is the right step from a public health perspective. This is the kind of work I intend to explore and continue as co-chair of the Special Committee on COVID-19 Recovery. More on that to come.
Crime Victims Supports Expansion
Last week I introduced a bill aimed at expanding the District's work supporting victims and survivors of crime. From the time immediately after a violent crime through navigating the criminal justice system, it can be an incredibly difficult experience for victims and/or their family. I've pulled together a bill proposing a series of improvements:
- Expand who is eligible to receive financial support from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which can be used for a wide range of needs from paying the rent or mortgage to therapy and counseling to burial expenses.
- Create a new advocate to guide victims of violent crime through the entire process in their pursuit of justice and recovery. The position would be modeled on similar advocates already working with sexual assault survivors and human trafficking survivors.
- Strengthen one of our most effective violence interruption programs - hospital-based violence interruption - which works to break the cycle of violence as soon as someone with a stab or gunshot wound shows up at the emergency room. My bill proposes giving conversations and information shared between victims and hospital-based violence interrupters the legal protection of privileged communications, which will help interrupters earn the trust of victims in time to take steps to stop any cycle of retaliation.
The bill was endorsed by the Network for Victim Recovery DC, one of the leading organizations working on behalf of crime victims and survivors. The overall goal is to understand that there are real challenges and trauma many victims endure, and by providing the right tools to heal that trauma, we can do enormous good in our community. There is an old axiom in the criminal justice space that's been getting a lot more attention lately: "Hurt people hurt people." It means unresolved trauma can lead to bad outcomes like more violence, poor performance in school or the workplace, and much more. When I say we need to treat violence, and gun violence in particular, like a public health crisis, it is because we have seen trauma and violence spread in the same way a disease does. Treating trauma and supporting victims are two ways to stop that disease from spreading hurt in the community.
DC Launches Emergency Operations Center for Gun Violence
In that same spirit, I was pleased to join Mayor Bowser and her team, as well as my Ward 8 colleague Councilmember Trayon White, at a press conference announcing the city has created an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) dedicated to eliminating gun violence. This is a big deal, and let me explain why, because I know it sounds a bit bureaucratic.
An EOC is a very focused effort to provide high-level coordination, resources, monitoring, and rapid response to achieve a clearly defined goal. As an example, the city has had an EOC up and running for the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year to coordinate everything from testing sites to vaccines to emergency food supplies, with the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting our residents. It brings all agencies under one roof for a coordinated and urgent response.
The EOC for gun violence is focused on reducing the use of guns in the District. It will focus on specific blocks (151 in total, or around 2% of all city blocks), and will bring a more holistic approach beyond a traditional law enforcement response. I fully support this because it makes reducing gun violence a high priority for every District agency.
Here's one way this EOC could have an immediate impact: violence interrupters are often working to build relationships with someone in the community who they know might be at risk of gun violence, either as a victim or a perpetrator. As a VI builds trust and establishes a relationship, they're trying to understand what that person needs in order to avoid further violence. It is at that moment - known as a hand-off -- that the VI needs to be able to deliver on whatever the need is, often housing, employment, income, food, or some form of counseling and personal support. Having all of the relevant agencies in one room, focusing on the needs of a high-risk individual on a high-risk block, can be the difference in a gun being fired or not. It's just one small example, but I hope it helps you get the picture.
The EOC will be launched and staffed by Linda Harllee Harper, the first Gun Violence Prevention Director, which I created in last year's budget as part of our response to ongoing gun violence. And it will be publishing a dashboard of data, similar to what residents can view for COVID-19. Here are my remarks from the press conference.
A Note on Schools
I wanted to share that I’m going to focus much of my next newsletter on my concerns about learning loss and what our school system leaders are doing (or not doing) to focus on this with the urgency I think is needed. At a recent hearing, I was extremely frustrated with the lack of plans and action to target assistance for kids struggling – especially with no strategies in place for this summer and fall. I also believe OSSE needs to seek a waiver from requiring schools to administer this year’s PARCC standardized tests. We’re already losing enough teaching and learning time to COVID-related challenges, that I think this test (which isn’t a measure of a students’ growth or loss, but takes a massive amount of time away from instruction) is not the best use of our academic time in a year when any standardized test is hard to administer to begin with, and likely carries a major asterisk next to it for this unique year anyway. More to come in the next newsletter.
US Capitol Fence Update
Thanks to the many Ward 6 neighbors who joined Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's town hall on the impact the fence around the Capitol Complex is having on our neighborhoods. Trust me, I was as disappointed and frustrated by the answers the US Capitol Police provided as everyone else in attendance. The fence has to come down, and it's a poor substitute for making actual, carefully considered changes to improve the safety of everyone at the US Capitol, many of whom are Ward 6 neighbors themselves. I will continue to press on this and coordinate any efforts I can until the fence comes down. I spoke with WAMU/ DCist recently about the issue.
Related: Washington City Paper has a very comprehensive "51 Reasons to Support DC Statehood" article. While I'm sure most readers of this newsletter are already firmly behind statehood, this is a good round-up of many of some very compelling problems unique to DC residents without statehood. Plus, there's a cool poster you can print out at home!
Update on Increase in Carjackings and Car Theft
I wanted to quickly provide some information around the increase the District is seeing in car thefts and carjackings. In general, these are crimes of opportunity and are not limited to any specific neighborhood or location -- though we have seen an uptick along commercial corridors where you would expect to see delivery drivers making shorter stops. It's also something we're seeing in cities around the country. MPD has created a task force dedicated to solving these crimes, and a few arrests have been announced in the past two weeks. They have issued guidance that's generally good advice at all times: don't leave a car idling or unattended; lock your car even if it's a quick trip into the house or store; don't leave children unattended in a car. The task force is made up of detectives with a specialty in robberies and violent crimes and will be coordinating with ATF.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG), who prosecutes crimes when the defendant is a young person, has reported that while relatively few of those arrested for car theft-related crimes so far are young people, it is a growing trend. In understanding possible motives for younger defendants, OAG reports that the reasons behind the thefts vary from being engaged in other acts of violence, to using the car as a warm place to stay. This is obviously only a limited sample, but when I talk about understanding the root causes of crime, this kind of context is helpful to understand both what justice should look like and understanding how we can head it off for someone in a similar situation -- i.e. people need housing and heat.
How Do We Improve the Next DC Jail?
One final update from my work on the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety: the future of the DC Jail. It's an aging facility with enormous ongoing challenges, from HVAC problems to being poorly designed to foster any kind of rehabilitation. More than two years ago, I set aside funds in the budget for a study on what our next jail should look like. That study was just released -- the result of a lot of hard work and conversations representing a wide range of community members and public safety professionals including the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Justice and the Director of DC's Department of Corrections.
It seems obvious in hindsight, but any conversation about what a new secured facility should look like quickly becomes a conversation about our broader criminal justice system. What is the goal of our system as it exists? Are we accomplishing that goal? What should it be? Are we successfully rehabilitating people who will be returning home after their time is served? Is our jail making us safer? As I see it, the DC Jail that sits on the edge of Ward 6 is a relic from a time when punishment was the main priority. Holding people accountable for their actions will always be an important piece of our criminal justice system, but our current facility is completely lacking as an environment that fosters meaningful rehabilitation.
Resources for Utility Assistance
My constituent services team wanted me to pass on some helpful resources they use for neighbors who are falling behind in payments for utilities. First, many of the ways to get help with utility bills and improve your home to lower energy use are now located in one place: https://here2helpdc.dc.gov/
Additionally, each utility offers assistance for residents who are falling behind on payments - these funds exist to help customers, so let's use them!
- Pepco: 202-833-7500 or pepco.com/help
- Washington Gas: 844-WASHGAS or washingtongascares.com
- DC Water: 202-354-3750 or [email protected] or dcwater.com/cap
Unemployment Benefits Glitch
I also want to quickly share my office has received confirmation that there was a glitch in the unemployment insurance system with some folks not receiving their weekly benefits -- even if a claimant is marked as paid in the system. As of hitting send on this newsletter, DOES expects to get payment to everyone in 2 to 3 business days. If you are missing your benefits and need more info, feel free to touch base with my constituent services team here: https://www.charlesallenward6.com/contact
A Shout Out to the Ward 6 Constituent Services Team
It can be really difficult to share stories of the Ward 6 residents my constituent services team has helped. This is, in part, because people often come to us with very complicated situations and we want to give them privacy. But I am really impressed by their compassion, dedication, and innovation in helping residents navigate DC government and I want to shout out a few samples of their work, because it often goes unseen by the public. Back when we held our Ward 6 Job Fairs, we would ring the bell whenever someone was hired or secured an interview. In our office, we "ring the bell" anytime we help solve a particularly tough constituent problem.
Here are just a few recent "ring the bell" moments from the past two weeks thanks to the hard work of Jeanne, Kimberly, Naomi, and Jen:
- Helped a visually-impaired Ward 6 senior secure a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
- Helped a man who was somehow marked as deceased (he is very much alive) recover lost Social Security payments and medical coverage after a year of trying to fix the error, to no avail.
- A senior called our office with questions about the DMV and left with the needed information plus an appointment to get vaccinated at Howard.
If you need help solving a problem as a Ward 6 resident, our team is here to help. You can reach any of us right here: https://www.charlesallenward6.com/contact
Need Tax Filing Assistance? Call These Folks.
In the last newsletter, I included a link to a tax preparation service with Catholic Charities DC for filers earning less than $56,000 last year. A Ward 6 neighbor reached out to share another resource I'm passing along here: Community Tax Aid, Inc
Likewise, the AARP Foundation offers tax support for DC seniors who want to be sure they're filing correctly and receiving the largest return possible. Here's a helpful Facebook video from the DC office: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=426417545355650
Bend the Ear of the DCRA Director on Feb 23
The Director of DCRA will be holding one-on-one conversations with DC residents on February 23. You can sign-up here.
Finally, a Win on Union Station
Let's close out the newsletter with a little good news: be it the new administration or lots and lots of pushback from Ward 6 and DC neighbors, the Federal Rail Administration announced it would be making revisions to its proposed redesign of Union Station, hopefully to include far less parking and ensure it's a far more accessible transit hub for the region and part of the surrounding neighborhood. This is an issue I've been very outspoken about, since we only make these kinds of decisions once every few generations, and we need to plan for the future. The Post's Editorial Board agrees with me. Thanks to everyone who took time to submit comments or speak out.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay safe, wear two masks (seriously it is CDC recommended), and I'll look forward to seeing you around the Ward.