As the long weekend winds down, I've got a number of updates I want to share with you. Last week was a busy week at the Council and in local government in general.
At the Council, we're in the middle of the annual season for agency performance hearings - where each agency comes before the public to review what they're doing right (and wrong) and hear directly from the public. Thank you to all the Ward 6 neighbors that chimed in with your feedback as well - it helps me follow-up on your questions in those hearings! And looking ahead, especially for neighbors that live near the Capitol, stay tuned for updates on road closures and with the upcoming State of the Union address and other possible impacts (yes, we're monitoring the potential for truck conveys in the DC area very closely and emergency managers are coordinating across the region).
Public Safety Update
Last week, I wrote about the District's response to an uptick in carjackings and car thefts that have taken place across the District, including here in Ward 6. I wanted to continue that focus in this newsletter and make sure you also saw that recently, MPD closed 17 different incidents with the arrests of two young people they believe responsible, including for several carjackings on Capitol Hill, as well as another batch of arrests for similar charges among many other people, mostly adults. I want to note the efforts of MPD's regional carjacking task force in closing these cases. This is the type of focused and coordinated effort that's needed, and MPD has added additional detectives to this group's work and closer information sharing with colleagues in the surrounding jurisdictions.
These arrests also resonated because they speak to something we know is true about violent crime - especially gun violence - here in the District and generally in major cities across the country: the majority of gun violence is committed by a very small, largely identifiable group of individuals. I'm sharing that link to a DCist article on an analysis that was just released by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and the District's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, an independent government agency on which I sit with the MPD Chief, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, US Attorneys Office, Attorney General, DC Superior Court, other criminal justice agency leaders in the District. I've been pushing for a detailed analysis like this for some time, and it's going to be absolutely crucial to focusing and coordinating our various public safety efforts. Reducing gun violence requires a fully funded public safety response that strategically focuses on this small group of individuals, both in terms of accountability when harm is done and in terms of interventions to stop it from happening again. The release of this analysis means we're taking a big step toward the city fully investing in this evidence-based approach and getting on the same page across government and community.
Highlighting this need for coordination, the Washington Post has an article today outlining the great potential of efforts like Building Blocks DC to tackle violence with a focus on at-risk people and neighborhoods, and underscores how important it will be to get all of government and all community partners on the same page and pulling in the same direction.
Finally, I've also recently chaired a series of oversight hearings at the Council this week and last to take a deep dive into public safety and violent crime in the District. We heard from victims and survivors of violence, returning citizens, violence interruptors, police officers, social workers, emergency room physicians, and many neighbors who simply want to see a safer and more just city. I'm sharing links to the videos, but fair warning, many are hours long. If you want to check them out, our Committee first hears testimony and asks questions of members of the public and then turns to the government agency witnesses:
- Office of the Attorney General (includes prosecution of juvenile crime, restorative justice, and violence interruption programs)
- Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, begins at the 4:59:00 mark (includes violence interruption and prevention programs, including programs for victims and young people to break cycles of violence)
- Metropolitan Police Department, Part 1, Part 2 (linked on Facebook, as the archived video isn't up yet)
It isn't likely most Ward 6 neighbors are able to tune in for these hearings or even watch them in their entirety. But I did want you to know where to find them if you'd like to get a more direct look at my oversight work in the Wilson Building to make our community safer.
Related - A Moment of Healing in Southwest: Last week, I joined a vigil for our Southwest neighbors who recently passed away from opioid overdoses. Let this sink in: we lost more DC residents to overdoses last year than homicides. Unfortunately, it's a public health crisis that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, and I think that's mostly because opioid use disproportionately is impacting our older, Black residents. The vigil was raw, but filled with love. And it was apparent to everyone how important each of the victims has been to the Southwest community. These were incredibly painful losses, and I wanted to acknowledge them, their families, and the vigil organizers in this newsletter. Please take just a moment to learn where you can find Narcan near you and maybe save a life.
COVID-19 Update: Vaccine and Mask Mandate Changes; New Guidance for Schools and Daycares
In an abrupt and unexpected change, Mayor Bowser announced last Monday that the District's requirement that most businesses and venues would no longer need to confirm someone was vaccinated would be rescinded as of Tuesday - giving everyone less than 24-hours notice. She also announced the mask mandate would be ending for many businesses beginning March 1 (click on the image to the right to see where masks will and won't be required.)
I think the Mayor's 24-hour notice the vaccine requirement was ending was rushed and unwise for both residents and businesses. The vaccine requirement has worked to encourage some to take that final step to get vaccinated and also give others (myself included) greater confidence in going out. And of course, for those residents with small children who can't be vaccinated yet or who are immunocompromised, it's helped give them more confidence to go out safely.
To the first goal, over time, that effect will wane as the number of people we can get vaccinated diminishes, and we're left with a small number that refuse. To the second goal, I think most people understand that a vaccine requirement won't be permanent and will eventually phase out, but pulling it back in fewer than 24 hours is destabilizing. I heard not only from many residents unhappy with the decision, but also businesses unable to pivot on a dime - contracts had been signed, customers had made reservations, all under a certain set of rules. Rather than change that overnight, I think a wiser approach would have been to announce a date in the future to allow for planning and to communicate a clear public health rationale.
I was prepared to legislatively reinstate a vaccine mandate as proposed by one of my colleagues, although I did have concerns about locking in the proposed 90-day mandate without any flexibility to adjust as metrics or data informed our decision making in the weeks to come. For example, the first case of omicron in the US wasn't even 90 days ago. So making a decision like that in law, likely until June 15, was concerning to me because it wouldn't have allowed public health surveillance to help us reevaluate. I had plan to work with colleagues to amend the bill to address those concerns, but the bill was ultimately withdrawn before the scheduled Friday vote even came up.
I do want to emphasize with each wave, we are all (government, businesses, residents) improving our tools to mitigate the spread. The District is also in a better place to flex up new testing sites as demand goes up, and scale back when demand goes down. Getting everyone vaccinated and boosted remains job number one, but we know we can always put vaccine and mask mandates back in place, should another wave appear. Again, I think dropping the vaccine mandate so suddenly was rushed and unwise. But these tools - among others - remain at our disposal as the situation evolves. Let's hope we don't need to use them again, but we should be prepared.
Get Vaccinated: The evidence is clear - the vaccines, including a booster shot, are remarkably effective at saving lives and minimizing the harm of COVID-19. The vaccine is free and widely available. Here are locations near or in Ward 6 where you can get vaccinated. Do it for yourself, but also for your family and neighbors whose immune systems are compromised and for whom a vaccine can't offer as much protection.The map to the right shows a number of the locations where you can get vaccinated.
Fire Station Testing Closing, Ward COVID Centers to Remain: In a step that does makes sense, DC Health will be scaling back the fire station-based testing sites now that the Ward-based COVID Centers are up and running along with our test distribution at several neighborhood libraries. Thank you to all our first responders, DC Health staff, and volunteers who made those fire station testing sites successful. Ward 6's COVID Center is at 507 8th St., SE on Barracks Row and is open every day but Tuesdays. Click here to see the hours each day. You can get testing done on site and also get vaccinated -- all free and with no appointment required.
DCPS Pre-K Test-to-Stay Expands and February Break Reminder
For students in DCPS, a few quick updates. First, with the February break upon us, a reminder that students will once again need to provide a next test to return to school by February 27 at 9 pm. Test kits were sent home with students, so be sure to check those backpacks in case your student didn't let you know!
DCPS also announced that, as of February 10, they're expanding the Test-to-Stay pilot program to more kindergarten classrooms. This policy means if there's a positive case in the class, every student will need to provide a negative test result in order to return.
DC Health Rolls Out Updated Daycare Guidance
For families with a little one in daycare, the DC Health released updated "best practices" for COVID-mitigation in daycare settings. It's not mandatory but instead strongly encouraged for daycares to follow. Notably, it doesn't include a recommendation on test-to-stay for these classes and maintains a 10-day quarantine recommendation for children under 2 and those who can't wear a mask. I wish we could set a similar policy for children under five regardless of enrollment in Pre-K 3-4 with DCPS or a traditional daycare setting. I've raised this inconsistency with DOH leadership and will keep pushing for one, consistent policy for families to work with. If you have a child in daycare, look for any changes in policy directly from the daycare as they process this latest guidance.
Public Hearing for Metro For DC on Wednesday
Nearly two years after it was first introduced, I'm excited my Metro For DC legislation is getting a public hearing this Wednesday. You may recall there are two key parts to my proposal, which is meant to both improve the service of WMATA and make it far more affordable for DC residents to use their public transit system. First, it would allow every DC resident to sign-up for a recurring $100 month balance on their SmarTrip card.
Second, the bill would set aside $10 million annually to improve bus service specifically, with a priority on communities who depend on bus service. Those improvements could include paying for increased services, better bus shelters (or any at all), or more.
If you'd like to testify or follow along, here's the information you'll need.
Ward 6 ANC Redistricting Task Force Public Hearing
With the new ward boundaries officially in place, the work is underway to draw ANC (Advisory Neighborhood Commission) and SMD (Single-Member District) boundaries within each ward. As I've mentioned in prior newsletters, I've set up a Ward 6 ANC Redistricting Task Force, made up of neighbors from across the ward with different backgrounds and perspectives, to take on this important task. They'll ultimately make a recommendation about the boundaries to the full Council. The Hill Rag covered the Task Force's most recent meeting, where the members broke down their first draft map for discussion and feedback.
Tomorrow, February 22, the public can provide testimony during the Task Force's Zoom meeting beginning at 7 pm. To sign up to testify, please send a quick email to [email protected]. Witnesses are asked to keep comments to 3 minutes and the task force welcomes additional written comment sent to the above email address.
To see the first draft map the Task Force created, and to watch the presentation and discussion on the map, click here. The Task Force wants your feedback to help them create a map that meets constitutional and Home Rule requirements around size and equity and also makes the most sense for Ward 6 residents and neighborhoods.
Join Hill Havurah and Watkins Elementary School for "Three Generations of Survivors"
I'd love for you to join Rabbi Hannah Spiro from Hill Havurah and the Capitol Hill Cluster PTA and its Race, Class, and Equity Group - which include Watkins Elementary School - for a special online conversation called "Three Generations of Survivors: Stories of the Holocaust". We'll be hearing from four Hill Havurah members - one a survivor, two children of survivors, and one a grandchild of a survivor - about the impact of their experiences and what reflections and lessons we can carry forward. The event will take place Wednesday, March 2, from 8-9:15 pm. Details and how to register here.
Unemployment Fraud Claims are Up. Here's What To Know.
I'm sharing some information provided by DC's Office of Employment Services for anyone who has or suspects they've been victims of fraud with unemployment insurance.
Incorrect 1099-G Due to Fraud
- Some individuals may have received a 1099-G form in the mail claiming they received unemployment benefits in calendar year 2021 when in fact those individuals did not receive any unemployment benefits.
- Because the 1099-G tax forms are automatically generated for all claimants receiving unemployment compensation payments, the receipt of a 1099-G form by a person who didn't file for unemployment likely indicates a case of identity fraud. In fact, receiving this tax form may be the only indication some District residents have that they are a victim of identity theft and fraud.
- The Department of Employment Services (DOES) will reach out directly to those that have flagged that they have received a 1099-G from DOES in error.
What Should Someone Do Who Received a 1099 Form and Did Not Receive Unemployment Benefits?
- If this applies to any of your constituents, they should call DOES at 877-FRAUD-60.
- After they call, DOES will flag the fraudulent unemployment claim for investigation and notify the IRS of any necessary changes to the 1099-G form.
- The IRS has indicated that victims of unemployment fraud should file their taxes and report real income – in other words, once victims report the fraud, they should ignore the 1099-G if they did not receive unemployment payments.
Disputing 1099-Gs for Reasons Not Related to Fraud
- Claimants of all unemployment programs offered during 2021 who received payments from DOES, including the $1200 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Stimulus payment or the $500 Delayed Unemployment Compensation payment, should have received a 1099-G tax form detailing their benefit payments. This form is viewable in their claimant portal here. Additionally, a copy was mailed by the end of January to all claimants.
- Any claimants who want to dispute the listed amounts in their 1099-G are reminded to factor in all unemployment payments, including any Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) or Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) payments processed by reviewing all payments made in their claimant portal here.
- Claimants who have questions or concerns about the amount shown on their 1099-G form can contact DOES during normal business hours 8:30am - 5:00pm. Local callers may contact us at 202-724-7000. Long distance callers may contact us at 1-877-319-7346.
DC Needs to be a State. Now.
I want to flag this article, in case you missed it this week: Norton ‘extremely concerned’ about possible Republican bill to repeal D.C.’s home rule. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (who the last time I checked, doesn't represent the people of the District of Columbia) has promised to introduce a bill repealing DC's Home Rule Act, our source of autonomy and democratic self-governance. While longtime residents are no strangers to this kind of sad and desperate political stunt, I do take our "Warrior on the Hill" - Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton - seriously when she says she's concerned. She's used to these antics and fights for us every day, but it's a good reminder that even the incomplete freedom and autonomy we do have isn't guaranteed. It's also important to understand there is a long history of racism (this is a great starting point to dive in) that underlies these efforts to deny DC residents the basic rights that other Americans enjoy. To that, as always, I say, Hands Off DC!
A Huge Thank You to Laura Marks
Finally, I'd like to take a moment of personal privilege to recognize the many years of hard work and public service of my outgoing Chief of Staff, Laura Marks. Laura (pictured with me to the right at the Barracks Row parade) has been with me since the beginning when I first ran to represent Ward 6. She rarely was in the spotlight, but Ward 6 neighbors have benefited from her expertise and passion in so many ways. Laura was critical to our successes in modernizing Ward 6 schools, building playgrounds and parks, and transforming community spaces. Her work made our schools more equitable and accessible to all students. She took our policy initiatives like Books From Birth and Made In DC from ideas on paper to reality, and she strengthened our relationships with so many Ward 6 neighbors, businesses, and organizations -- all in addition to her many duties running the office and building a great team. I really can't begin to sum up everything Laura did for me and Ward 6 residents.
While it's certainly been hard to get used to the idea that she's moving on, I'm so incredibly excited for what's next for her. Thankfully, Laura isn't going far, as she's taking on a brand new challenge in Southwest DC. She'll be working with the Southwest BID with a focus on funding and growing a stronger, healthier, and more peaceful Southwest community.
I feel fortunate that I didn't have to look far in my search for our next Chief of Staff. My longtime Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Director (and Hill East neighbor) Kate Mitchell has transitioned into the role and will also remain as Committee Director. I'm also happy to say that our Communications Director, Erik Salmi, is taking on our Deputy Chief of Staff role to continue to grow those community and stakeholder relationships, as well as help coordinate our constituent services work and communications.
So, if you see Laura out and about, please be sure to say a big thanks and wish her the best in the important work that lies ahead for her and the SW BID.
Have a great week, and see you around the neighborhood,