We're about a month out from the official start of the District's budget season. As a top item below, I'm sharing my letter to the Mayor with several of my budget recommendations for Ward 6, the entire city, and a few specific to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment that I'm now chairing.
But I also want to thank and commend so many people who rallied to Crazy Aunt Helen's this weekend. Reports had surfaced that the Proud Boys, a hate group, would show up to protest and harass folks attending a drag story hour for kids hosted by the Barracks Row restaurant. The word went out and the response was strong. Hundreds showed up. I had checked in with the restaurant, MPD leaders, and other law enforcement agencies in advance to make sure everyone was prepared to protect the community, taking the risk seriously. They were great and MPD was on hand Saturday morning. I stopped by Crazy Aunt Helen's with my successor Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Councilmember Brooke Pinto to check in on the team as well. All I wish is that families and our community can spend their Saturday mornings however they like in peace. And I am thankful that when the call went out, people were ready. That's the Ward 6 you and I both know and love.
Quick Links: Budget Letter | Public Safety | School Budgets | Hands Off DC | Monthly Basic Income | Rumsey Pool | Ward 6 Spy Museum | WMATA | Eastern Market 150 | Constituent Services in the Community | Great Ward 6 Spring Clean | Tickets!
Ward 6 Budget Letter
This week, I transmitted a letter to Mayor Bowser laying out several recommendations for next year's budget. Currently, the Mayor and her team are preparing her submission to the Council, which will kick off the next phase of the budget process in just about a month. Here's a few of the key priority areas for me headed into our next budget, which needs to continue to push the District's recovery in a fair, equitable, and prosperous direction. This letter includes recommendations on citywide issues, Ward 6 issues, and issues specific to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. I've focused many of my citywide issues around reaching our young people at a time when too many are falling through the cracks:
Investing in Our Youth
Schools + Education
Increase the Per-Pupil Student Funding and At-Risk Funding: Right off the bat, too many Ward 6 schools are looking at cuts to their budgets. We shouldn't be cutting school budgets at a time when enrollment is increasing.
Funding Flexible Scheduling, Teacher Wellness, and Grow Your Own Pipeline: Our teachers and educators are tired and burnt out. These ideas are several ways to invest in keeping our educators in the classroom as well as ready the next generation. We need to create a robust pipeline for DC residents to become teachers, social workers, and educators for a career serving their city.
- Expanded Out of School Time Funding: Most schools have dismissal in the early afternoon, but many parents and caretakers might be working still. Ensuring your child is safe and still in a good environment is crucial. Additionally, I've asked that DC government absorb security costs for these grants to ensure when we award funding to an organization to provide this critical service, we aren't then taking a chunk of those funds right back into the city's account and out the very programs we want to reach our kids.
Transforming Our Rec Centers
I introduced a bill earlier this month to open DPR Rec Center's on weekends to ensure young people (and all residents) have a place to go on the weekend and enjoy themselves. But expanding hours isn't enough. We need to think about rec centers the same way we think about our libraries. I included some specific rec center requests (noted below), but in general I want to see our rec centers move away from fees for programming and improving staffing at rec centers in general.
Investing in a Fully Funded Public Safety Response
Over the past few budgets, the District has dramatically scaled up our investments in every aspect of public safety, including MPD as well as growing our violence prevention and interruption work from nascent efforts into professionalized agencies. As far too many District neighbors continue to be concerned about their safety, we need to keep making these investments - it takes a both / and approach to reach immediate and long-term sustained reductions in violent crime.
Ward 6 Priorities
To save space in this newsletter, I'm just running through a list of Ward 6 projects. Click here to read through them with a little more detail.
- A New Recreation Center for Hill East, Re-Open Randall Rec Center (and add Pickelball Courts), Invest in Greenleaf Rec Center
- Fund the Penn + Potomac Ave Intersection Project
- Maximize the Renovation at Rumsey Pool to Create a New Ward 6 Senior Wellness Center
- Close the Inflation Funding Gap for Southeast Library Modernization
- A New Community Center or Rec Center in the Northwest One Neighborhood
- Maintain (Or Speed Up) School Modernizations for Amidon-Bowen, Brent, JO Wilson, Ludlow-Taylor, Miner, and Tyler
- Fund the Garfield Park Connector Construction (and Add Pickleball Courts!)
- Explore Ways to Improve Pick-Up and Drop-Off in Mt. Vernon Triangle to Improve Travel
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
Similarly, these requests are quite long and if you'd like to read the specifics, click here.
- Protect Existing Funding for Fare-free Metrobus Service, Expanded Overnight Service, the Bus Improvement Fund
- Fund the $100 Monthly SmarTrip Balance for All
- Fund Remaining Parts of the Vision Zero Omnibus Law Passed in 2020, the Safe Streets for Students Act, and the Safer Streets Amendment Act, and Make Permanent Improvements At Temporary Safety Installations
- Pursue Climate Equity: Plan for Passage of the Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Act, Fund the Greener Government Buildings Act
- Create a Fund to Help Co-ops (a major source of high-quality, affordable housing) With Technical and Financial Assistance to Make Required Upgrades for Building Standards
If you didn't see a priority on this list or in the letter that you think needs to be there, don't worry! This list isn't exhaustive and I'll be looking for your feedback when I hold my annual Ward 6 Budget Town Hall in April. Details forthcoming.
Public Safety Update
1st District Substation Will Not Be Changing
For about 72 hours, there was a great deal of confusion about the future of MPD’s 1st District Substation located at 5th and E Street SE. MPD was apparently looking to restructure how they used the substation at the beginning and ending of patrol shifts, but given the confusion and questions that took hold quickly, it’s clear they did not communicate to neighbors their plans in advance. I started hearing concerns from neighbors and immediately reached out to our 1D Commander. I do not support closing or reducing services at the 1D substation. Commander Bryant has my complete confidence and she explained to me that they had been looking to ensure that the substation would be staffed 24/7 and also assured me that there would be no reduction in patrols serving the neighborhood. But the lack of coordination and communication with the community understandably led to a lot of questions and concern. After neighbor feedback, MPD decided to not move forward with any changes to the substation and its operations. The Hill Rag has a good write-up if you’d like to check out more.
MPD Staffing Levels Citywide
There’s been a good deal of conversation lately about MPD staffing levels overall. For many years, attrition has been outpacing new hires of officers. It's something a lot of police forces around the region are facing as well. It's also a conversation that can come with heated rhetoric rather than detailed and constructive conversation. At an MPD hearing this week, the Chief and I dug into the numbers and had a good conversation about some of the strategies that are working and what more can be done. As he walked through the budget the Council has approved and number of hires MPD has been able to make, he noted that they’ve been unable to hire new officers to the level that the Council has approved noting “This isn’t a budget issue.” I want to spend some time here to help take some of the heat out of the discussion to let us be more clear-eyed in pursuit of the solutions.
The Council has given MPD the funding and authority to hire hundreds of new officers, but he noted MPD is unable to hire the officer positions they've been funded for - a trend that isn't unique to DC and that we see in departments across the country and region (for example, WMATA's Metro Transit Police are down 25% in officer staffing, a force not overseen by the District). Last year, MPD hired about 25 fewer officers than the budget supported. And for this current year, while the Council budgeted for 347 new hires, the Chief noted hiring is not on pace to hit that goal. These headwinds are why I worked as former Chair of the Council's Judiciary Committee to create strong incentives for both recruitment and retention. It's always been about a both / and approach to public safety. Let's run through a few specifics we covered:
- Last year, we worked together to create a $20,000 signing bonus for new recruits. It’s one of the largest in the region and while the Chief told us this week that has resulted in a 24% increase in applicants, it has not dramatically increased new hires. Chief Contee reiterated his commitment to ensuring we aren't sacrificing on our standards for officers even as the hiring environment becomes more challenging.
Over the last couple of years as Judiciary Chair, I worked with MPD to grow DC's Cadet Program to 150 cadets per year helping DC residents get an education and start a career track. It's already a steady pipeline of new officers, and at this week's hearing, the Chief told us that the Cadet program is going to create the single largest pipeline of new officers coming into MPD moving forward. That's good news as it brings in DC residents into careers where currently only about 18% live in DC.
- We’ve also added new housing incentives that give new recruits six months of rent free housing in DC when they start their job and provide a significant down payment incentives for officers and first responders to buy a home in the District. Officers tell me these are meaningful efforts we’ve made that make a difference when they’re deciding where to apply for a job. Digging in to see what’s working and what’s not, helps us see that the city is funding the Department to recruit and retain officers, and that we need to continue looking at other tools to help as well.
- And a couple of years ago, we partnered to extend the Senior Police Office Program, which allows officers who are retirement-eligible to stay on. It's been a great way to keep both patrol and experienced detectives on the force until new officers are ready for promotion.
I know there has been a lot of concern about MPD staffing levels, and some misinformation. There is a separate ongoing audit to assess just what the appropriate force size should be, which the DC Auditor has been tasked with. If you really want to dig in, the entire conversation was about 15 minutes. You can view the full conversation with the Chief here.
Streamlining Gun Violence Prevention Efforts
While we know MPD is a vital part of public safety, we also know it's not the only part. That's why I was glad to see the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement have a new permanent director named. The Mayor appointed Linda Harlee Harper to the role and she is a skilled and experienced leader working on gun violence prevention in the District. I'm excited to work with her in this new role. Many of you might be familiar because Linda is currently serving as the Director of Gun Violence Prevention in the City Administrator's office. This is a natural extension of her work to centralize and get our solutions to gun violence out of silos and into the same conversations.
Office of Unified Communications Launches Junior Academy
The Office of Unified Communications - the office that handles 911 and 311 calls - is branching out and creating a new Junior Academy. To help grow a stronger pipeline of future call-takers, dispatchers, and first responders, the Junior Academy will be a free of cost, five week program for high school students (age 14-17) that want to explore public safety communication careers in the District. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, please complete this interest form.
Initial Budgets for Ward 6 Schools Won't Cut It
Last week, the Mayor rolled out her initial DC Public Schools budgets for next school year. These are the school-by-school level budgets that are built separately from the overall city budget. To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. Most schools in Ward 6 are proposed to see a budget reduction - even schools that are showing a growth in enrollment for next year. The good news is that these are initial budgets and there is time to fix them, and I've already joined many parents and educators in urging the Mayor to reverse these budget cuts. We need to make sure our schools are funded with the increases they need. Compounding the problem, the timing for these budget releases are poorly planned out for DCPS school communities - they're released as schools are out this past week and make it much harder for LSATs to meet and get feedback. But many of us at the Council are pushing on the Mayor and DCPS to repair these budgets make sure our students get what they need. If you'd like to check out the proposed budgets, you can see them here.
Please note, since DCPS doesn't release all this information in one place, parent volunteers (thanks to Betsy Wolf and others) have pulled the data from hundreds of separate PDFs and compile them into one spreadsheet here.
Hands Off DC: DC Leaders Unified Against Congressional Overreach
This week, all 13 members of the DC Council signed a letter calling on the US Senate to keep their hands off of DC laws. So did our new Attorney General Brian Schwalb. And Mayor Bowser. As I wrote ahead of the House of Representatives vote, these votes have nothing to do with the substance of our laws and everything to do with scoring cheap political points in elections to come.
Related: Our friends and long-time DC Statehood advocates over at Neighbors United for DC Statehood have a petition circulating inviting DC residents to speak out. Add your name and pass along to your community!
Related, Pt 2.: I know I said it's not about the substance of the bills (because it isn't). But if you do want to understand the Revised Criminal Code Act and why its so important, this Law360 article does a great job walking through the entire thing.
This Tax Year the District's Monthly Basic Income Begins
I'm really excited to share the District's Monthly Basic Income is here. You might recall this was something I fought to create in the city's budget in the summer of 2021. The idea is to create monthly cash payments to very low-wage workers to help ensure they can make ends meet. It's rather simple to enroll: all you have to do is file your taxes. If you're eligible for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, you'll automatically be enrolled in this program. This can be a challenge because not every low-wage worker files their taxes because they don't owe money -- but that means they're leaving money on the table.
Our Monthly Basic Income will scale up the amount of support families receive in the coming years -- this year will be the smallest as we slowly increase the dedicated funds. The specific amount depends on both your income and the number of children you have. But, the key takeaway is this: if you think you might be eligible, or know someone who might be eligible, get your taxes filed and apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit. I shared a little more information on Instagram this week (image from post).
Rumsey Pool Closed by DPR for Scheduled Maintenance Feb 25 - March 6
Ward 6 Night at the Spy Museum
Thawing the Relationship Between WMATA and Its Safety Commission
You might remember in mid-January that tensions hit a fevered pitch between WMATA and the independent Washington Metro Safety Commission. There were competing press conferences and it wasn't good for riders or where our Metrorail system needs to go. I've been working with both leaders to hear their needs and help them hear each other. I also used my first oversight hearing with WMATA and the Safety Commission to improve the relationship between the two agencies and focus on what we all need - safe, reliable, strong transit. Because when they fight, riders are the ones who lose out. The Washington Post has a good recap of the oversight hearing.
Community Meeting on Eastern Market 150
Constituent Services in the Community
Save The Date: The Great Ward 6 Spring Clean Returns on April 1
Two Free Tickets to Wizards vs Atlanta Hawks
See you around the neighborhood,