Omicron and COVID have hit DC hard, and the lagging effects of spiking cases are playing out at every level of our community -- from DPW's ability to collect trash and clear streets, to WMATA running enough buses, to many of our small businesses' ability to operate.
Every day I'm meeting and working with Ward 6 neighbors who are shouldering extra burdens and work loads -- coping while family, friends, and co-workers are out sick. I'm saying this to acknowledge a lot of things are hard right now. Almost everything is. It's hard to be a parent right now. It's hard to be an educator. It's hard to be an essential worker dutifully showing up for work - be it as a bus driver, custodian, health care aide, crossing guard, or restaurant worker.
All that is to say, I know you're carrying a lot and doing your best. And our community is better thanks to you and your family taking the precautions you take. As we get through this winter and Omicron, I'm looking forward to better days soon when we're back at our favorite Ward 6 spots. Until then, let's dive in to the updates.
Shortcuts: COVID-19 | Testing | Vaccines | DCPS Pre-K Testing | Small Business Help | Agency Oversight | Public Safety | DC Court Judicial Vacancies | Court Fees Hurt | Bus Service | Visitor Parking Permits | New H Street Bridge Funded | Pay Raise for Childcare Workers | MLK Day March | Free Tax Prep | Job Opening
COVID-19 Update: Vaccine Mandate and Testing Options
There have been a number of updates and changes in our fight against COVID-19 that I want to run through as it relates to businesses, schools, and hospitals. I'll also include information below on both testing and vaccines. First, a word of caution. We're starting to see headlines and news reports speculating on whether or not DC is on the far side of its wave. Data is suggesting that new infections is trending down hopefully, but please remember we are still at pandemic-level record levels of infection that just a month ago would have shattered records. We might be headed in the right direction, but I think letting down our guard right now is premature. Please continue all those efforts to keep yourself and others safe.
Jan 15 Business Vaccine Mandate is in Effect: This weekend, the District's vaccine mandate for a number of businesses went into effect. DCist has a good round-up of who and what this applies to. I've been in contact with a number of Ward 6 businesses to understand how the first week is going, and I also sent out a longer update just to Ward 6 small business owners. For the public, the mandate applies to customers of a business, so when you enter, be prepared to produce proof of vaccination. And please, don't give the staff a hard time -- it's on you to remember (save your proof of vaccination on your phone or make a copy, if you're bringing a hard copy). And if you aren't vaccinated yet, it's definitely time to get protected and help DC do its part to end this pandemic.
Finally, I'd recommend this column from the Post's Theresa Vargas about Sen. Ted Cruz's plans to introduce legislation to rollback DC's vaccine mandate at certain businesses. It won't go anywhere, don't worry; the Senator from Texas knows that and just likes to keep the headlines away from certain topics.
Coming Soon! - Ward 6 COVID Site: Just this week, the Mayor announced the creation of new COVID sites meant to serve as one-stop shops for testing, vaccinations, and more. Sites in Wards 5, 7, and 8 were launched this week, with Ward 6 coming next week at a location TBD. I'll share more info when I have it, but this is a great idea. We'll need to make sure folks know about the resources, though.
Testing Options: Last Friday, I spent some time at the Southwest Library distributing rapid tests to neighbors. It's easy and quick to grab a test, and I enjoyed meeting with lots of neighbors. DC residents have a number of public options for getting tested for free. Residents with proof of residency can pick up two rapid test boxes at libraries, take a self-administered PCR test, or get a PCR test from a rotating location of DC firehouses or testing sites -- all at no cost. You can find all of the options available each day right here.
Remember, if you're taking a rapid test at home, you need to report the results here: https://dccovid.force.com/overthecounter/s/?language=en_US
Federal Tests Mailed to Your Home: The Biden Administration rolled out home delivery of four free rapid tests per household via the US Postal Service. It takes less than two minutes to sign-up: https://special.usps.com/testkits
It's Easy and Safe to Get Vaccinated: There's a huge difference in how severely COVID-19 hits vaccinated versus unvaccinated people. I'm including below all of the ways to easily get vaccinated (including boosters for those eligible). At all of these locations, your shot is free and easy. It's time to protect yourself and those around you from this virus and help us stamp it out.
- Vaccines.gov: This continues to be a great and easy way to find your vaccine, combining both private businesses and public options nearby. Here are locations within one mile of the 20002 zip code.
- Here is a daily list of DC-run sites and locations where children 5-11 can get vaccinated.
DCPS Rules for Early Childhood Education: Parents of young children in pre-k 3 and 4 are likely already aware of this, but new rules require weekly testing and uploads before your child can return to the classroom. For kindergarten and up, you'll see a similar back-to-school testing requirement coming back to school after both the February and April breaks. For families with a student in a charter school, each school ultimately determines their testing requirements as the LEA. I've argued for more testing, so this step was one in the right direction. But I will continue to push for better testing systems in place to protect students and educators that ultimately keeps more students in-person and in school where they can thrive.
Council Approves Emergency Funding for Small Businesses
Last week during the Council's legislative meeting, we passed an emergency law to speed up funding in the budget meant to provide relief to our small businesses who might be behind on rent or other operations costs from the pandemic's shutdowns and changes. During the budget, we at the Council allocated $40 million to assist small businesses with rent as the pandemic continues to make it hard to keep the doors open and the lights on. But the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development hasn't been able to get any of the money out yet, even with the budget beginning on Oct 1. So the Council took action to clarify and speed up the process. The funding is limited to businesses who have had no more than $5 million in annual, gross receipts in each of the last three years. I'd like it to be even more focused on businesses with less than $2.5 million just to be sure we're supporting the businesses that likely have the least cushion. I sent a longer note to Ward 6 business owners on a specific list: if that's something that could help you with your business, just reply to this email, and I'll add you.
But good news - DMPED is moving quickly now and the grant application window opens Monday, January 24! You can get the details here and will be able to make a submission beginning Monday.
What are the biggest issues in your neighborhood or your day-to-day?
The Council is beginning annual Performance Oversight Hearings. These are opportunities for both residents and Councilmembers to dig into nearly every agency's operations. I won't be able to get to every hearing, unfortunately, as I'll be chairing a number myself for the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. If I can't be there, my staff will be. But I do want to know -- what issues do you want me to be asking agency directors about? What issues do you want me to bring up with my colleagues? What's not working in your neighborhood that we need to fix?
I've set up a form to help me and my staff get a better sense from you of the issues you think we need to push hard on in oversight in the next two months. We've listed some of the issues we hear about the most to help serve as a guide, but feel free to let us know about anything that's important to you. Even if I can't ask about it in the hearing itself, we can help you get it resolved and raise it with the relevant Council Committee. In an effort to head off a major issue many of us are experiencing, the DC Council doesn't have authority over the US Postal Service and the simply unacceptable mail delivery issues we've been experiencing in the past year. It's an issue I've been working on with my colleagues and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. But it won't be a topic that can be covered productively in any local agency oversight hearing.
Public Safety Updates
I've written in past newsletters about several aspects of the District's public safety response and my efforts to fully fund a complete response to crime that includes prevention, intervention, accountability, and rehabilitation. These will be key priorities as we head into agency oversight, and I welcome your feedback. When I often say we need to get at root causes and focus on the small group of people committing most violent crime, that's a long-term plan, but it's also an immediate strategy. Thomas Apt, a leading criminologist, had a very informative op-ed in March 2021 about the spike in crime we're seeing across the US, and I think it all still stands nearly a year later. A lot of the strategies he recommends are ones I've led the District to implement or pushed to get government to take seriously. I'd also share 10 recommendations from the Council on Criminal Justice's Violent Crime Working Group that were just released and speak to how to reduce violent crime immediately. I may have an opportunity to expand more on these in the coming months, but for now, I'll say that most of these are great recommendations that I want the Executive to implement, with coordination and focus being my top priorities. I hope these two resources can help folks understand where I'm pushing the Council in response to our serious violent crime challenges.
Ward 6 Updates: Because many residents don't hear about arrests, I try to share updates here so folks understand the work that is ongoing. This comes with an important caveat: an arrest does not mean guilt, nor does it mean justice.
Arrest Made in 12/24 Armed Robbery on H Street
Arrests Made in 1/17 Robbery at 3rd and D, SW
Arrest Made in 1/17 Attempted Carjacking on 400 block of 3rd St., SE
Arrest Made in Multiple Armed Robberies (more on this one in the Post)
Arrest Made in Robbery at 300 10th St., SE
Arrest Made in ADW on Unit Block of M St., NW
I want you to take note of the ages in many of these arrests. The people arrested are almost all young men. Regardless of guilt, what are we doing to reach these young men or others at risk of committing violence or becoming victims of it to break the cycle? And for those convicted, what will we do now to ensure that when they return to our community, they're prepared to be successful and not reoffend? And of course, the big question that must be answered, is why a person ultimately made a choice to commit harm in the community? With arrests and convictions, there has to be accountability when harm is done. But when I talk about fully funding public safety, that means we need good answers to these questions to stop repeating the same cycle over and over again. I've worked over the past five years as Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety to make progress on the city answering those questions -- and it isn't well-established or coordinated yet -- but this is what we need to be pushing toward. And in the same way we have funded and expanded traditional policing for decades, we need to stand up and stand behind similar, complementary efforts that get at prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation.
Federally-Appointed Judicial Vacancies Delay Justice, Accountability
Our "local" court - the DC Superior Court - is actually a federal court that relies on the US Senate to confirm its judges -- something that hasn't been happening. As a result, these judicial vacancies are creating a huge bottleneck in both our civil and criminal justice systems as there simply aren't enough judges to hear cases, to issue marriage licenses, or to process probate matters, for example. This has life-changing impacts on defendants, victims, and everyone else involved in the justice system. I spoke more with the Washington Post about how serious the backlog has become. Just a reminder - none of the 50 states depend on Congress to confirm their local judges who rule on their local laws. It's ridiculous and does great damage to our justice system when the US Senate plays politics with our courts.
Waiving Court Fees for Low-Income Residents Has Big Benefits
I recently chaired a public hearing to consider legislation I introduced to waive fees for a wide-range of court functions. These fees serve as barriers for lower-income residents, effectively denying them access to their legal rights. If you'd like to learn more, here's a short tweet thread I did on the bill. This is a great and easy change to make that will improve economic and racial equity within the justice system.
Bus Service Needs to Step Up - Especially for Students
This week, the Council received a very informative briefing from one of our representatives on the WMATA Board. As I mentioned up top, bus service in the District is far below acceptable levels, largely because of a driver shortage as folks quarantine. The good news? WMATA's workforce is more than 85% vaccinated after being at just 45% last August. There's no timetable for when we should expect bus service to increase, however I pushed our representative to have WMATA work with DDOT to ensure we're being strategic about bus service and ensuring the bus lines serving students are running with greater frequency, at the very least. For many students, the bus is how they get to school and moving to a Saturday schedule will have dire consequences on their education. I'm pushing the city and WMATA to make sure they are prioritizing those bus routes used by students - such as the D6 or the M4 - for dependable service.
Digital Visitor Parking Permit Program Update
Good news -- your old 2020 Visitor Parking Pass has been extended until April while DDOT continues to work out issues with the transition to a digital program. The 2020 pass (yes, I know we're in 2022 now) will remain in use until April. I've heard from many residents who are having a hard time switching to a digital program for visitor parking. And while I think long-term, it may offer residents more flexibility, until it works better for everyone, we can't stop using the old system. If you have access to a printer and want to give the new system a try, you can access it here.
H Street Bridge To Get Fully Replaced Via Infrastructure Package Funds
Big news for H Street, NE: the bridge connecting Union Station, the DC Streetcar, and H Street to the downtown corridor has been fully funded for replacement and an upgrade thanks to federal funding from the infrastructure package passed last year in Congress and signed by the President. Getting this bridge funded and replaced is a critical part of advancing a modernization and overhaul of Union Station, an issue I've stayed on repeatedly. We need to ensure this major transportation hub is overhauled in a way that looks to the future and incorporates the surrounding neighborhood into its daily operations. This is a really big deal and will lead to exciting changes and improvements.
Childcare Workers Could Soon Get a Much Needed Raise
During last year's budget debate, I helped lead an effort to make a modest increase in the tax rate for individuals earning more than $250,000 in order to pay for three critical areas: a monthly basic income for low-wage earners (begins next year), funding around 2,400 housing vouchers for the homeless, and beginning work for the District to increase the pay of childcare workers. As any parent with a kid in daycare can testify, daycare is expensive. And yet childcare professionals -- a field predominately employing Black and brown women -- are still barely earning more than minimum wage. Low wages for these critical jobs also means we continue to have a scarcity of available childcare options. With this work, we can increase pay that's been lagging and add capacity to meet growing demand for more childcare options. Learn more about the work to right this wrong and stabilize a critical part of our community in DCist.
Town Hall on Getting Insured and Vaccinated
Passing on this opportunity to participate in a DC Health Link Town Hall with District leadership today, January 20, and understand how to get insured, what that insurance can mean for your health, and how it plays a critical role along with vaccination and boosting in protecting yourself. Details here.
Highlighting Voting Rights and Statehood on MLK's Birthday
I was proud to join neighbors from every corner of the District on MLK Day to walk across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge and call for federal voting rights and DC Statehood. No longer can we deny tax-paying Americans, including those who serve and die for their country, from having a voice in their federal government. The fight is ongoing, and progress is never guaranteed, but I was heartened in this moment to see so many people out on a cold day for this important call to action. More from the Washington Informer.
Free Tax Prep Help for Families Earning $58,000 or Less
Tax season is here, and the United Planning Organization offers a great tax prep service for income-qualified DC residents, beginning in February. This is an excellent way to ensure you're getting all of the benefits you're owed, including both a federal and local Earned Income Tax Credit that often puts money back in your pocket. And if you need to, you can also talk with banking representatives, sign-up for Medicare or Medicaid if eligible, and more.
Another local nonprofit, Catholic Charities DC, also offers the same free tax prep services.
Join My Team: Hiring a Legislative Counsel / Policy Advisor
Putting this out there in hopes of reaching the right person to join my legislative team. We're hiring a legislative counsel or policy advisor to assist with our legislative work, including city-wide and Committee-related policy issues. If you've got a passion for serving your community and want to roll up your sleeves, come work with us.
Thanks as always! I hope you and your family are staying safe and doing well!