Ward 6 Update: 3-12-23

This is a jam-packed newsletter. There's so much happening at the Council, and of course, a lot more is happening to the District of Columbia by the powers that be. I'll get into that in a moment, but I hope you and your family are doing well as we head into the unpredictable days of March when the weather can't seem to make up its mind. Spring is just around the corner - and I hope you survived the lost hour today of daylight savings (remember to check those smoke detectors). This is a long update, so please use the quick links to jump around to the topics most relevant to you. As always thanks for reading and I welcome your thoughts.

Quick Links: Hands Off DC | DCPS Lunch | Budget Town Hall | Oversight | SW Seniors | ANC Visits | Public Safety | Teacher Retention | Spy Museum | Health Link Breach | Monthly Basic Income | Medicaid Re-EnrollmentCOVID Centers | E-Bike Rebate | 4th St. SW | DPR Hours & Lottery | Solar Installations | DC AG Listening Tour | Great Ward 6 Spring Clean | Office Hours | Caps Tickets

Hands Off DC

This was a tough week for DC statehood and autonomy. On Wednesday, for the first time in three decades, the Senate voted to disapprove legislation unanimously passed by DC's duly elected representatives to modernize the District’s 120-year-old criminal code. I joined hundreds of residents and leaders from DC Vote, Neighbors United for Statehood, NAACP DC, Don’t Mute DC, DC Justice Lab, and dozens of other organizations that morning to demand Congress keep its #HandsOffDC.

We know this was just political theater by House Republicans to nationalize an issue and play politics. They didn't even try to hide that. But as I tried to drive home at the rally, for DC residents, it’s a very real threat. Home Rule is under attack and will be until the District is a state and those in power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue stand with us. House Republicans have already filed a second resolution to disapprove the Council’s unanimously-passed policing accountability and transparency legislation – a bill that’s actually been law since 2020. It includes common sense reforms, including many recommendations from law enforcement, the Attorney General, and the Police Reform Commission, like banning chokeholds, requiring body-camera footage to be public after police shootings, and keeping bad apple officers who commit misconduct in other cities and states from joining MPD. But much like last time, most in Congress aren't going to pretend to know or try to learn the details. DC leaders and neighbors must stand united.

Tell your friends and family, tell your neighbors, and add your name to Neighbors United for Statehood’s petition to Congress and the President to oppose disapproval resolutions and budget riders on DC’s local laws!

Some reading from this week to help make sense of this fast moving and ongoing assault on DC autonomy: 

Related: I sat down with NPR's Here And Now to talk about the challenges of trying to modernize our criminal code when Congress can freely turn it into a political mud fight. 

DCPS School Lunch Tour

Last week, I spent half a day visiting several Ward 6 schools to check on meals and cafeterias - and yes, I ate lunch at them all and might have eaten my body weight in chicken nuggets... I did this regularly before the pandemic and am excited to start this again. Since food service contracts with DCPS come before the Council, it's a great way to see what food we're providing our kids. And by sitting down to eat and talk with the kids themselves - they don't hold back on sharing what they like and what they don't. This trip took me to Payne Elementary, Maury Elementary, Stuart-Hobson Middle, and Jefferson Middle schools. I looked at everything from food prep and the equipment in each kitchen, to the meal itself and what was most frequently ending up in the trash cans. I don't think we can overstate how important nutrition is for growing kids and classroom success. To check out more details from these visits, you can read my longer recap and takeaways from my four-school tour over on my Facebook page.

Ward 6 Budget Town Hall Returns April 6

In less than two weeks, the Mayor will propose her city budget for next year. It's a crucial time we're about to start to look at where the priorities and needs are, and what changes we need to make. I outlined several recommendations to the Mayor that I want to see included in the budget - everything from schools and public safety, to transportation and Ward project priorities, to helping vulnerable neighbors make ends meet, to adding more pickleball courts! Read my letter here. What happens next? Once the Mayor sends her proposal to Council, we hold weeks of hearings and will vote on changes to the budget in May. But first, I will be holding my annual Ward 6 Budget Town Hall on Thursday, April 6th. It's a chance for me to walk through what's in the budget, what needs to be added, and open up the floor to answer your questions and get your input on your city's budget priorities. Stay tuned for more information, but pencil in April 6 for an evening to dig deep and wonk out on the budget. We'll be holding it in person and also provide a way to participate online as well.

Council Wraps Up Oversight Hearings: Focus on Transportation

As the new Chair of the Council's Committee on Transportation and the Environment, one of the first things we've jumped into are the annual agency performance oversight hearings. Oversight happens all year long, but these focused hearings on how the agencies are working (or not working) are crucial steps before the Mayor releases her proposed budget (more on that below). Over the last couple of weeks, I've chaired detailed hearings on WMATA, the Department of Energy and the Environment, DC Water, and more. The hearing that got the most attention by the public was certainly the Department of Transportation. We had nearly 100 neighbors from around the city take time out to speak about the agency. The hearing lasted just over 12 hours and we dug in deep on traffic safety, slowing speeds, helping people move around the city, and how the District is investing in the future of transportation for our residents and businesses. 

I and my staff also spent time in oversight hearings for DC Public Schools, Metropolitan Police Department, Department of General Services (always issues with construction and maintenance), Department of Parks and Recreation (checking in on several improvements to Ward 6 sites), the new Department on Licensing and Consumer Protection (why is it so hard to get your business license renewed?!), and others. Thank you to all the neighbors that emailed in their comments and feedback so that we could help turn those into questions for agency directors and improvements!

Visit with Seniors and Waterfront Village

Last week, I joined a great panel of speakers at the Waterfront Village in Southwest meeting at St. Matthews church focusing on senior safety issues. I was joined by Captain Harding from the 1st District, leaders of the city's Safe at Home program, and representatives from the District's agencies looking to protect against fraud and abuse. It was a great discussion with seniors around Southwest about everything from safe sidewalks and intersections, to taking advantage of DC's Safe at Home program to make improvements and adaptations to their homes to improve safety and livability, to how to protect ourselves against people looking to take advantage of seniors and steal personal and financial information. Thanks to Len Bechtel for putting together a great meeting!

ANC 6A Visit and upcoming ANC Updates

This week, I joined ANC 6A for a check in to talk through several priorities in the city and neighborhood. We talked about the economic health of the city, our Metro system, RFK, public safety on H Street NE, school issues, conditions at Sherwood Recreation Center, planned upgrades at Kingsman Field and Dog Park, and much more. Capitol Hill Corner has a nice write-up. This week, I'll be joining ANC 6D and 6E to check in with them as well, and in the coming weeks, I'll do the same with ANC 6C, 6B, and 6/8F. Thanks to all the great work from our ANC Commissioners and I hope to see you at one of their upcoming meetings soon!

Public Safety Updates

First, I want to share a little more detail from the dangerous crash and arrest of four young people involving  that took place earlier this week near Brent Elementary. I connected with ANC 6B Commissioner Frank Avery that afternoon to share updates. In talking with MPD, the vehicle was stolen from outside of the neighborhood and recklessly driven and crashed near Brent Elementary. Thankfully US Capitol Police were fast to respond, coordinated with MPD, and the four juveniles were arrested. 

Second, in Southwest, MPD made an arrest from a December unlawful discharge of a firearm that took place near the library. I also joined a community meeting with ANC 6D Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton to bring DC Housing Authority leadership to the table to hear the frustration and fear from residents and push them for concrete action for improvements. DCHA responded this week with detailed assessments of the properties and outlining their plan of action. This work is in addition to the regular, ongoing public safety meetings we're holding at King-Greenleaf with MPD, community leaders, violence interrupters, and others to focus on the specific causes driving violence in the neighborhood and share information for more coordinated action.

Third, I wanted to share a bit about a tragic loss of life on D Street NE earlier this week. What was initially reported as a stabbing death taking place on the 1000 block of D Street NE has new information. MPD has has confirmed that the incident and injuries did not take place at the residence or on the block. It apparently took place on Monday evening at a different location. The victim then came home and it appears may not have sought any medical attention. The next day on Tuesday afternoon, a call was made that the victim was found unresponsive in their home and when EMTs arrived, they noticed the stab wounds. So the report that went out on the MPD lists indicated the block and a stabbing wound (although, they did not know at the time that the wounds had taken place elsewhere). Unfortunately, the individual passed away from their injuries and the loss of life is being treated as a homicide. MPD and others are working with the family to help support them and get what they need in the follow-up and their investigation is ongoing. I know neighbors are very concerned about any loss of life and I as get any additional information, I’ll be sure to pass it along. But MPD also wants to assure neighbors that there was no attack or violence that took place on the block or immediate neighborhood related to this tragic loss of life.

Finally, many of you replied back to me that the information about MPD staffing levels was very helpful in the last newsletter. I was really glad to hear that. During the MPD oversight hearing, the Chief and I were able to outline the funding and data around officer hiring - noting that while the Council has been providing all funding needed for MPD hires of new officers (347 new officers this year alone), for the last two years they've been unable to actually recruit and hire for the large number of positions we've provided. That's not unique to our police department, it's part of a larger trend impacting police departments across our region and country - and its why we've invested so heavily in recruitment and retention incentives for officers to join and stay on the force. In case you missed it and want to review the details, you can click here.

As always, if you have any questions on public safety or specific incidents, please feel free to ask and I'll work with you to get answers.

Related: This Courtland Milloy piece in the Post was very insightful and I am grateful for his efforts to tell some of the stories behind the crimes we rarely get to hear. I think this piece speaks to the challenges we are facing in trying to drive down violent crime and why our efforts must entail policing and accountability along with serious, targeted prevention and interventions along with investments in families who are struggling. And part of this has to be examining ways to we can relieve stress on parents. That's just one of the benefits I see with both my Metro For DC law and the Monthly Basic Income program. Let's help put a little more money into these households' monthly budgets to help them have more resources and bandwidth to be a parent.

DC Releases Teacher Data Showing Retention Struggles

Speaking of challenges recruiting and retaining folks we need, there was troubling new data that came out last week about teacher retention in our schools. The Office of State Superintendent of Education released data comparing year over year retention of teachers at DC public schools and DC charter schools. In short, the news isn't good. For DCPS, only 70% of teachers stayed at their school from last year - with 17% leaving teaching in DC altogether. For our charter schools, the numbers were worse with 38% of teachers leaving their schools. That instability across all sectors isn't good for our educators, and it's especially bad for our students and classrooms. We know the last few years have been incredibly hard on educators and we've been pushing for the Mayor to take this more seriously. DC needs to create a better environment to keep our teachers - that can include flexible hours, more mental health and behavioral health supports in the schools, and of course, better pay. At the Council, I'm working with colleagues and have called for investments in efforts like this. We've also been working on legislation to create stronger pipelines and supports for our educators. This week's release of teacher retention data makes these efforts all the more urgent. I put some more thoughts out on Twitter.

Ward 6 Night at the Spy Museum

We had a fantastic first-ever Ward 6 Night at the Spy Museum. In total, more than 400 Ward 6 residents from every neighborhood in the ward joined us. My team worked out to ensure we got tickets to our public housing residents, our seniors, and community groups working with young people to give them a fun and safe night out. I was thrilled to meet many folks and have the chance to connect in a fun and interactive museum. A big thanks to the team at the Spy Museum for their thoughtful outreach and willingness to partner with our office -- this was their first "Ward Night" and I hope they found it successful. Let's do it again next year! A few more photos on Instagram.

DC Health Link Data Breach

It was reported this week that DC Health Link had a serious data breach for residents with a health plan through the exchange. I'm told that they are working closely with the FBI on this investigation, and DC Health Link is contacting every individual that was impacted. I can share DC Health Link have contracted with a cybersecurity firm that is working to fortify their system against any additional attacks. If you're an enrollee with DC Health Link, you should be hearing from them directly about next steps, which will include providing three years of credit monitoring. They'll also be providing some form of credit monitoring for every enrollee, regardless of whether they were impacted or not.

Big picture, I've been pushing through the city's Homeland Security Commission in recent years to strengthen our cybersecurity measures and fully evaluate the systems and vulnerabilities across government. This significant breach highlights the need because while offering credit monitoring is needed, it's also coming too late to stop the breach in the first place.

Families Who Earned Less Than $50,000 Are Likely Eligible for a Monthly Payment

The top line message here? Do your taxes. Two years ago, I led the Council to expand the local match to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps provide additional cash to very low-wage households, particularly those with children. That's a wonky way of saying low-wage households (earning $20,000-$54,000) will receive a larger tax return starting this year and moving forward -- and more and more will see that benefit in a monthly check. In future years, this benefit will grow and hopefully be a reliable way to help these families make ends meet. The good news it that this is very easy to enroll in - all someone needs to do is file their taxes. If they are eligible for the program, they'll be enrolled automatically. If you have questions, start here at the Office of Tax and Revenue's dedicated website for the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

So anyone you know, especially a working parent, should really apply before the April 15 deadline. Many low-wage workers are below the required filing threshold, but if they don't apply, they're leaving money on the table. Tip: If you earned less than $73,000 last year, you can use the IRS' Free File for your federal taxes, which is free as the name implies. 

Related: Last week, I joined my Ward 5 colleague Councilmember Zachary Parker to introduce legislation to expand this monthly basic income benefit to more low-income people who aren't eligible right now. I'm excited to work with him and build on our initial success this year.

A few other updates impacting neighbors working to make ends meet:

    • Thousands of our neighbors will see their monthly SNAP benefits, which help pay for groceries, reduced this month, which will only exacerbate their stress and challenges. The reductions were voted on by Congress earlier this year as part of winding down pandemic increases. That's one reason I've been pushing so hard this tax season to ensure as many eligible DC residents are filing their taxes in hopes of getting enrolled in our Monthly Basic Income.

    • DC's Department of Human Services announced this week that due to a high-volume of applications for emergency rental assistance, the portal has closed as of this past Friday. This is going to be distressing news to many of our neighbors who are behind on their rent and are terrified of losing their housing. And it's another sign that even as the District's recovery has been quite strong, it has not been equitable. I'm going to stay engaged on this issue and certainly look to understand how funds have run out so early in the year.

    • For all seniors and other residents enrolled in Medicaid, a quick heads-up: don't forget to re-enroll. Find out all the information you need and Don't Wait to Re-Enroll

COVID Centers Closing March 31, 2023

Last Friday, the Mayor announced she would close the District's COVID Centers that have been open in each Ward since January 2022. In announcing the closure, DC Health cited low rates of COVID combined with high uptake in vaccination. I know many residents appreciate these centers as one of the bright spots of the District's response to COVID-19. I would love to have seen these sites remain open or to use them creatively for not just COVID needs, but other drop in services and needs for residents - from teens to seniors. For anyone in need of a test or vaccine or booster, there are many options available still. And should we see an uptick or a new wave, I would fully expect the District to quickly mobilize to bring these centers back. This should be in our game plan for any future pandemics moving forward.

Some impressive stats from DC Health on the District’s COVID Centers provided residents with:

  • More than one million free masks;
  • More than 80,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, boosters, and flu vaccine;
  • More than 400,000 rapid antigen COVID-19 testing kits; and
  • Nearly 40,000 PCR tests.

For anyone in need of the services provided by the COVID Centers, including COVID-19 vaccine, booster, or test kits, including through:

Would a rebate on a new e-bike help you in buying one? Testify this Thursday.

Last month I introduced legislation to create a rebate program for DC residents to purchase an electric bicycle, or e-bike. If you haven't ridden an e-bike yet, you can try out the many great ones that are part of DC's Capital Bikeshare program and see what you've been missing. For day-to-day life, e-bikes offer a lot of solutions for DC residents at all ages for most trips - including with children. There are also a lot of benefits to the broader community to get more people taking more trips on an e-bike. I've tried my best to design a bill that makes this practical for lots of people, not just those who an afford it. For instance, for our lower-wage residents, I propose that they can receive the rebate at the point of purchase, rather than getting it back as part of their annual taxes. Not everyone can afford to put out even a few thousand dollars, so this helps speed it up. And it includes funding for a lock, maintenance, and modifications for any neighbors with a disability. 

So how can we ensure this is the best possible policy? By debating it in public. If you have thoughts, if you support the idea, the Council needs to hear you. I'll be chairing a public hearing on Thursday, March 16. Sign-up to testify with a quick email to [email protected]. It's a remote hearing, so you can testify for anywhere.

Ongoing Improvements to 4th St SW

Just a quick note for my southwest neighbors -- we are in ongoing communication with DDOT and ANC 6D to keep improving the design of 4th St. SW south of M Street. We've heard neighbors loud and clear that we aren't there yet and need to do more to accommodate more types or road users safely. This includes working on signal timing, pick-up drop-off issues, and visibility between the sidewalk, bicycle lane, and travel lanes. Now is a good time to make changes because the new street design has been in place long enough for us to evaluate what the new normal looks like.

Good News at DPR! Weekends and New Lottery for Camps

Last month, you might remember ABC7 covering my proposal to keep DC recreation centers open on weekends. The goal is to transform our rec centers to be more like our libraries -- places available for people and community to come together, and especially to be sure our young people have a place to be themselves. On the heels of that recommendation, DPR announced it was expanding hours at some more rec centers on weekends (they first expanded at Greenleaf Rec Center after I wrote asking them to do so). While I applaud the expansion, let's not be shy about expanding hours to Sundays as well -- people like to have recreation on both days of the weekend!

In other good news, DPR will roll out a new way to enroll children in their very popular summer camps. Many parents are familiar with the high-stress enrollment process, as camp slots go very, very fast. Now DPR has heard the cries of many folks who couldn't be at a computer right at noon on a certain day and switched to a lottery. You have from March 13 to April 5 to enter the lottery. Good luck!

Removing Roadblocks to Solar Installation 

For years, I've received complaints from residents looking to add small solar panel installations to their roof that regularly comes with a surprise bill from Pepco to connect the system to the grid. “Interconnection” is the last step before you can start to actually generate electricity for your home from solar panels. Usually, Pepco charges a reasonable interconnection fee, but sometimes residents get 5-figure bills, which is outrageous. I recently asked the Public Service Commission—the body that regulates public utilities in the District, like Pepco—to look into a couple of complaints I’ve received. The PSC has begun the complaint process, and I hope that there will be a positive result that allows the residents to move forward. But while we are waiting, I want to encourage you to reach out to me if you have received a surprise interconnection bill like this. The PSC’s General Counsel is tracking this issue, so it’s important that the PSC knows just how common these big bills are. I also recently sent a letter to the PSC asking for more details about their enforcement staffing and practices generally. The PSC has an important role to play in helping the District reach our climate change goals, and I want to be sure the PSC has the resources it needs to enforce the rules.

Related: WAMU: DC's Climate Change Response is in the Hands of an Obscure, Unelected Commission

Attorney General Brian Schwab Listening Tour

Join me and your newly-elected DC Attorney General Brian Schwab at Westminster Church next Thursday and share your concerns with DC's juvenile crimes and civil prosecutor. You have questions or thoughts, he and I are here to listen. Hope you can join us! 

The Great Ward 6 Spring Clean is Coming! (add link for RSVP and graphic if we have one)

On Saturday, April 1, we're organizing a clean-up across Ward 6 and I want you to be part of it. RSVP here if you're willing to give a little time to getting out in your community and helping clean up. That could like like taking 15 minutes to just pick up trash on your block or in your alley, or joining larger clean-up events. We'll have a few central sites and are coordinating with other community leaders so that there are a bunch of places to help out. We will distribute bags and gloves and have them on-hand at our main Team Charles Allen sites. RSVP here and you'll get updates as we get closer. 

If you'd like to volunteer to help organize this effort or host a clean-up in your own neighborhood, would you send Kimberly Kennedy on my team a note? We can help support and get the word out. Kimberly is my point person for this event.

Office Hours Continues on Friday

I'll be holding community office hours - Coffee with Charles, if you will - this Friday morning at The Pretzel Bakery. I'll be there from 9-10:30 am. Come by and let's chat about whatever you'd like to know more about or flag any issues I can assist with. RSVP here.

Tickets for Caps vs St. Louis Blues

Reply to this email if you'd like to be entered into a random drawing for two suite tickets to the Caps vs. the Blues on this coming Friday, March 17 at 7 pm. I'll notify you if you won by Wednesday. You must be a Ward 6 resident to win, so please provide your address in your email. C-A-P-S CAPS CAPS CAPS!

Whew. Long newsletter. Thanks for reading.

See you around the neighborhood,

Charles Allen

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