Welcome to August. Normally the month when DC and Ward 6 tends to quiet down for vacation or a little slower pace, this year feels a little more uncertain.
With the rise of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, I think everyone is a little uncertain about what the next few months hold after we've enjoyed a semblance of normal these past few months. In the meantime, the Council has wrapped up most of the budget work and at the same time taken on work to respond to ongoing gun crime. And I want to touch on schools, something I know is front of the mind of every parent. So let's jump into a lengthy update. I'm going to start with the budget, since that's the $17 billion dollar question in the room, and then hit on a few neighborhood topics after.
Quick Links: Budget - Federal $ - Ward 6 Wins! - Public Safety Updates - Schools and Families - Housing - Transportation - Odds and Ends - Taxes | Getting Ready for A Return to Schools | Get Vaccinated | Eastern Market Metro Park | Safe Passage School | Fair Elections Works! | Recess
Council Passes FY22 Budget with Major Investments in Housing, Schools, Public Safety
Today, the Council took our second and final vote on allocating funding for the District's FY22 budget, which begins on October 1. As I've said before, we have to get this budget right in order to have a more just recovery. We are enduring a pandemic that continues to hit some neighbors much harder than others, deepening and widening gaps in income, health outcomes, opportunity, and more. We can't simply hope to get back to business as usual and there's a lot in this budget I'm proud to support in furthering that goal. I stumbled upon this op-ed by a DC resident who is a single-mother raising a one-year-old. Her story, and the help that's come from both the federal and local government, is being experienced by tens of thousands of our neighbors and we shouldn't lose sight of the investments we're making together.
Because the budget is so large, I'm going to walk through a few specific areas where I get the most questions or interest. This won't be exhaustive, but should cover much of what Ward 6 neighbors value and prioritize.
The Role of Federal Funds
In order to understand what's shaped this budget, it's important to understand the role federal funds from the American Rescue Plan are playing. Without question, the ARP funds are a critical lifeline for DC residents, totalling around $2.7 billion. This money helps the District backfill holes from last year's enormous drop-off in tax revenue as the city had to shutdown much of normal life.
But, it is important to recognize that while we do have some flexibility with these funds, they all must be spent within two to three years. They are not "recurring" dollars, which limits their uses a bit. So yes, while the total of $17 billion is the largest budget in DC's history, it's a bit misleading since a significant portion is intended to help the city recover in the short-term, not fund investments in long-term needs.
Ward 6 Projects Funded in the Budget
The budget moves forward a number of important projects within Ward 6 that I've been working on. And my many thanks to neighborhood leaders and residents across Ward 6 who have worked with my team on these various projects to move them forward. Here's a quick rundown of some big wins we've made for Ward 6 in the budget that was just passed. It includes funding for:
- Southwest Town Center, creating a permanent park and green space connecting the Southwest Library and Southwest Duck Pond;
- Repairs for historic Eastern Market;
- Activating and programming our brand new Eastern Market Metro Park;
- Maintenance of both Yards Park and Canal Park in Capitol Riverfront;
- Repairing the HVAC system at Rosedale Library in Hill East;
- Next steps to create Cobb Park in Mt. Vernon Triangle;
- Completing the H Street Bridge (known as the Hop Scotch Bridge) as part of the future Union Station overhaul in H Street;
- Planning for a new Shaw Middle School;
- A new playground for Peabody Elementary School;
- Adding a full modernization for Brent Elementary School;
- Protecting the modernizations for JO Wilson, Tyler, and SWS;
- Garfield Park upgrades in Capitol Hill;
- Fully funded modernization of Seaton Elementary in Shaw;
- Lansburgh Park maintenance and upgrades in Southwest;
- Upgrading Jefferson Middle School's field in Southwest;
- Repairs at Watkins Playground in Capitol Hill;
- Funding for the Capitol Hill Classic.
Public Safety Investments & Update
As I've written before, this budget makes transformational change in our public safety responses. You can read a summary of the Committee's recommendations here, which remain largely unchanged. The budget includes transformational investments in violence prevention, in restorative justice (this podcast is an excellent primer on RJ), significant increases in resources and support for victims of crime, access to legal help in civil court with a big emphasis on preventing evictions, and an expansion and modernization of our elections systems and rights of voters.
Last Thursday, I co-chaired a Council roundtable to better understand the District's response to gun violence. The use of guns in our city continues, year after year, to tear apart families, rob us of loved ones, and hold our neighborhoods back. The all-day hearing dove into not just what the police are doing, but our newer programs focused on violence prevention through a public-health lens: building relationships in the community through violence interrupters or credible messengers, dealing with trauma, studying the blocks with the most gun violence to understand what environmental factors invite gun use, and more. If you'd like to better understand my plan on reducing gun violence, you can watch my opening statement here or watch the entire roundtable here.
On Monday, I worked with Chairman Phil Mendelson and my council colleagues to respond to a request from Mayor Bowser to find $11 million more in the budget. Originally the request was entirely for hiring MPD officers on top of all the new hires the budget was already making. But we know we need a more comprehensive response and use a "both/and" approach rather than just an "either/or". So on top of all the historic investments in public safety being made, I recommended that take that "both/and" approach to both increase funding for MPD and make several immediate and important investments in violence prevention programs that would invest the money directly into the communities experiencing gun violence most directly. This includes not only funding additional violence interrupters, but expanding a successful leadership academy model to three new DC schools to work directly with young people before they get involved in a gun violence.
The funding for MPD can be used to hire more officers, which will help relieve the pressure and cost for overtime. I was skeptical at-first, since Chief Contee himself had said the budget MPD was funded at the highest number of MPD recruits he could responsibly hire. However, the Chief has gone back and revised what he thinks he can do with hiring. The Council did not agree to the full request, but felt $5 million would refresh the pipeline of future recruits without sacrificing the standards and process MPD has for new hires. Read the press release if you have additional questions.
If you missed it, and remain concerned about public safety, I invite you to read a much longer email I shared two weeks ago about the District's work to reduce, and end, gun violence.
Schools and Families
The Council approved the Mayor's recommended increase of 3.6 percent to the UPSFF (the formula where schools are funded "per student"). Additionally, DCPS is changing the way both at-risk students and English Language Learner (ELL) are funded to ensure classrooms have additional resources.
An increase of $3 million to fund out-of-school time programming to ensure working parents can know their children have a place to be outside of the school day. This funding will help expand our capacity by ramping up funding over the next two years. This was something I worked with the Chair of the Council to ensure was funded.
DC becomes one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to fund a "baby bonds" program, which will provide $600-$1,000 annually into a trust fund account for DC residents starting at birth through 18 for children in families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line, around $80,000 for a family of four. The goal of the program, introduced by my colleague Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, is to close the racial wealth gap by giving more young people a better cushion as they transition to adulthood. The fund can be used to pay for college or additional education, a home, starting a business, or retirement. I fully support the proposal and am excited to know this is going to redefine the future for so many District children.
Finally, the District's Universal Paid Family Leave Law will expand coverage for several instances: personal medical leave (from 2-6 weeks) and adds 2 weeks of leave for pre-natal care.
Ensuring All District Residents a Home
A few big items in the ongoing work to make it more affordable to call the District home:
- $50 million for repairs to District public housing sites;
- $400 million into the Housing Production Trust Fund;
- $17.7 million to repair existing homes and return them to use with affordable prices;
- $20 million to expand the District's Access to Justice Initiative, which will be working overtime to ensure DC resident aren't going into evictions hearings unrepresented.
- As I'll describe below, I worked with colleagues to ensure thousands of people who are experiencing homelessness can get a permanent home in this budget.
Transportation Investments: Building for a Future City
On transportation, I'm grateful to my colleague Councilmember Mary Cheh, who funded the Vision Zero enhancement law I led through the Council by dedicating new revenue from automatic traffic enforcement cameras into our sidewalks, bicycle lanes, streets, and curbs to transform our shared public space to prioritize the safety of all road users. This is a massive change, but it should be great news for anyone who has ever wondered why it takes more than a year to fix a sidewalk while pothole repair can take as little as a week. It will allow for transformational changes in our infrastructure, making the built environment safer, rather than trying to change behavior through punitive enforcement.
And, I know I've talked with many residents who have fallen in love with the Capital Bikeshare program, and especially our new e-bikes. I'm pleased to share in this budget we've funded a purchase of 2,500 e-bikes in FY22 -- hope to see you cruising through Ward 6 soon if you haven't tried one of our e-bikes yet.
Also, planning and design funding for the Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lane, which will be built on 9th St., NW. This construction will begin in 2022 after community outreach.
Odds and Ends in the Budget
As I said at the beginning, there's an enormous amount in the budget. Way too much to cover. Here are a few more line items I think you'll find interesting and/or important:
- The Office of Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing is funded - I wrote the legislation to create this office to ensure better service to DC's sizeable Deaf and Hard of Hearing community;
- Funding to begin the creation of a District Composting and Organic Waste Diversion Program;
- $41 million in relief for excluded workers;
- $500 for DC residents who were unemployed and experienced weeks or months waiting on unemployment benefits.
Asking a Little More From Individuals Earning $250,000 or More
Finally, I worked with my colleagues Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Janeese Lewis George on an amendment that raises by small percentages the tax rate on income earned by individuals (not households) above $250,000. It passed the Council 8-5 and will raise $100-$170 million annually. Around three to six percent of DC residents will see an increase in their annual taxes, the vast majority of people won't see any changes. And to help put it in perspective, an individual earning $300,000 per year would be asked to pay just $31 more per month. The chart to the right shows the proposed changes at different income levels (click to make it larger).
Let me tell you what we will fund with this increase by asking our highest-income individuals to pay just a little more.
First, we'll be able to make a massive investment in our child care industry by funding important parts of the Birth-to-Three law that ensure fair pay for the overwhelmingly Black and Brown women who take care of our children. For any parents out there, you know that child care is unbelievable expensive. And yet, most child care professionals make nowhere close to a living wage. This makes it challenging for centers to hire and keep staff enough child care slots across the city to meet the demand. We can make early childcare education a good-paying career and ensure high-quality care for our kids. We're about to require these educators to have more education and credentials, and we should pay them a commensurate wage.
Second, we will fund more than 2,400 people who are homeless moving into permanent housing. You read that right - 2,400 people. Many will be individuals and will also receive wrap-around supports. This represents a massive investment in ending homelessness in the District.
Third, the District will launch a monthly basic income for any individual or family who receives the Earned Income Tax Credit, which reaches around $57,000 for a family of three. These are District residents who are really struggling to afford to live in the District. We are doing this by increasing the local EITC we offer, based on the federal benefit, and turning those dollars into a monthly benefit. So someone getting the max amount (which is around $20k or less of income) would get at full implementation: with one child, $211 per month; with two kids, $348 per month; with 3 or more kids, $392 per month. That's going to be life-changing. More from WAMU.
I don't propose raising anyone's taxes lightly. But I do want to be mindful of the enormous benefits this will bring to the entire community, including those who are asked to pay a little more. We are coming out of a pandemic where there were major disparities between households who were already doing well and those who were already struggling. I think asking those who are doing well to help close some gaps isn't too big of an ask.
Returning to School - What Will it Look Like?
If you're like my family, right now you're really trying not to be too stressed about what the start of the school year is going to look like. But let's be honest, it's stressful.
First, I'm staying focused with the Mayor's offices to make sure that schools are being readied in time for a successful and safe opening day. That means conversations with DCPS, contractors, charter schools - all doing their best to ready for the first day. During August, I'll also be visiting a lot of our schools in Ward 6 to see first hand the progress they've made. And I'm also working to create a town hall before school starts back up to help answer your questions and concerns in the weeks before the first day of the new school year. If you have a question now, please let me know!
Second, I want to ensure schools are giving clear guidance to families and teachers about what to expect with masks (short version: expect them), distancing requirements, testing, and more. In addition, especially with the delta variant on the rise, there will be some students or families for which a virtual option is needed. I want as many kids as possible back in person and in their classroom, but I think we're going to have to give some families a better virtual option if that's what works best for their students.
Third, I think the city needs to be more assertive when it comes to vaccines for our teachers. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I think that we should mandate vaccines for educators and other critical government functions. I've asked the Deputy Mayor for Education about this in hearings and the response was "We're not even considering it." In the absence of that, I think the bare minimum that should be required is mandatory weekly testing for any teacher not vaccinated. Most kids don't have the option to be vaccinated yet, so it's up the adults to create as safe and confident a space as possible. Other jurisdictions are following this model around the country and I believe we should to.
Stay tuned through August as I'll share a more school specific update later this month.
The Best Way to Protect Kids from COVID-19? Vaccinated Adults.
At this point, I believe most DC residents are aware that if they need or want a vaccine, it is available right now. Today. You can find one right now easily in several places in Ward 6 and DC using Vaccines.gov. The delta virus is driving a rise in cases, and there's a growing concern that vaccinated individuals can transmit the virus, even if it has a relatively minor effect on that person.
So, here's my plea to keep talking with neighbors or friends who haven't gotten vaccinated -- or get the shot if you haven't yet. We have the tools. They are safe and effective. And for all of our residents under the age of 12 who can't get vaccinated, the single best way to protect them is to have vaccinated adults around them.
Eastern Market Metro Park is Here!
While it's been nearly month, I did want to note we've cut the ribbon and made it official - Eastern Market Metro Park is here! As I mentioned above, the budget includes funding to begin programming the space and bringing it to life on a regular basis for residents to use as a meeting place.
Students: Do You Feel Safe Getting to School? Take this Survey.
If you are, or have a student in your home 14 or older, please invite them to take this important survey on safe passage to and from school, run by the Urban Institute for the Office of the Student Advocate.
In repeat community conversations, safe passage always comes up when we're talking about public safety. This is a voluntary survey that will seek to understand where and how students commute to school, what mode they use, and how safe they feel.
DC Fair Elections Program Delivers: More Candidates Running, More Residents Donating
As the councilmember who lead the effort to create a public financing option for campaigns for local office, this last election cycle was particularly exciting to watch as we got our first glimpse at our Fair Elections Program in action. And now a DC Auditor's report confirms what many of us knew would come if you created a way for more residents to run for elected office without having to depend on wealthy or corporate donors: more diverse candidates, and more residents participating. All of which is good for the health of our local democracy. Check out the story on DCist.
Finally, the Council is on it's summer legislative recess. It looks a little different, given how late we had to complete the budget process. During legislative recess, I and my office are still here working every day in the Ward, but the Council will hold limited official hearings and can't take action on new legislation. That starts back up in the fall. After a long year and a half, it's a chance for most of my team to catch up on seeing their family or working through a clogged inbox. But again, we'll still be working in the office and handling all constituent needs and meetings - you'll just see the legislative side take a short break.
Thanks again and I hope you're doing well (and maybe getting a break with your family as well!)