It's that time of year again - pools are open, humidity is way up, the Nats are slogging through the season. For the first time in well over a year, new COVID-19 cases are regularly in the single digits.
Which is all very good. But we aren't done yet -- we have to get the recovery right. And I need to hear from you on one of the most consequential budgets we've faced in recent memory. I'll be holding my annual Ward 6 Budget Town Hall this Tuesday, June 15, from 8-9:30 pm. It'll be virtual, and hopefully after dinner and bedtime for younger children. Hope you can make it -- more information below on how to participate.
For now, let's jump into the updates. I know I say this every time, but there's a lot happening.
Long Newsletter, Shortcuts: Budget Town Hall | Vaccines vs Variants | Stay DC | DCPS Volunteers | DMV | Pro Bono Bill | Flavored Tobacco Ban | Metro Improvements | New DV Shelter | Reservation 13 | Pools and Spray Parks | Wonk Alert | Otters! | Go Solar (yes, you!)
Ward 6 Budget Town Hall: Send me your questions and comments via video
As I mentioned above, I'll be holding my annual Ward 6 Budget Town Hall this coming Tuesday, June 15, from 8-9:30 pm virtually (RSVP here to receive the link on Tuesday). Every year, this is the best opportunity for me to walk you through the budget as it was proposed by the Mayor, share some my priorities, and then open up the floor to Ward 6 residents to share your questions, comments, priorities, or concerns. How do you want your tax dollars spent? What's in this budget for Ward 6? How do we get the spending right for a long term recovery? I want to be sure you're aware of the ways to participate if you want to share a comment or a question on the budget. Here are two easy ways you can participate:
1) Submit a video comment or question ahead of time: This was something we tried out last year and I thought helped the event feel a little more normal by hearing directly from Ward 6 residents. If you want to record yourself asking me a question, or just a comment on what you want to see funded, you can easily upload it here. We'll show as many as we can during the Q+A portion of the Budget Town Hall.
2) Live Questions/Comments: Ask your question or make your comment in real time! I'll answer questions submitted during the Budget Town Hall using either the Q+A function in Zoom or comments on the Facebook broadcast as well. I'll try to get to as many people as I can!
Want more budget? The Council is in the middle of budget oversight hearings right now (I chaired two hearings this week that went a combined 22 hours - whew!). You can find the full schedule by committee and how to submit testimony live or in writing here, and you can watch every hearing that has already happened here.
Vaccines vs Variants
I want to begin by recognizing that Ward 6 residents have answered the call to get vaccinated - we lead the entire city in total vaccination rates, which is great. DC is closing in on the goal set by the President to get to 70% of residents vaccinated at least partially.
But we also are hitting a wall. we've got work ahead of us to convince skeptical or hesitant neighbors to take the shot. While daily case rates are falling into single digits for the first time since this started, there are dark clouds on the horizon as the Delta variant of the virus is proving very transmissible overseas. The good news so far is that our existing vaccines seem to be effective against it. The bad news is that right now it appears that the effectiveness of vaccines is much higher after both doses have been administered than just one. Because it spreads easily and there's a time lapse in getting both doses (for Pfizer and Moderna), we really need to get more and more neighbors vaccinated to make it hard for the Delta variant to get a foothold here. This Washington Post article is a good, levelheaded explainer.
Where to Find Vaccines: In the next month, several changes are happening to public sites that have been serving as vaccine administration sites. For Ward 6, Eastern High School has ceased operations as a vaccine site and will transition to summer camp duties. In Southwest, Arena Stage will close as a vaccine site on June 27, and for our Shaw and MVT neighbors, the Convention Center will stop offering vaccines June 25. See the full list of changes here.
Residents who are not yet vaccinated can still receive their shot for free almost any day of the week at local pharmacies and doctor's offices after these mass vaccination sites close (or book now through the end of June). Use Vaccines.gov, which is a very simple and easy-to-use website, to see what is available and in-stock near you: https://www.vaccines.gov/
DC Health continues to offer in-home vaccinations for any residents who are homebound. Yes, you read that correctly. DC Health will bring the vaccine and administer it right in your own home if you need it. Call 855-363-0333 to schedule that visit.
Keep (politely) talking to friends, neighbors, and co-workers who might have hesitancy about the vaccine. I've found being respectful, but also sharing your personal experience, can help people start to think more seriously about the benefits and risks of continuing to be unvaccinated against COVID-19 variants.
Finally, don't assume everyone who hasn't been vaccinated is choosing not to get the shot on purpose. Earlier this month, my team canvassed a senior building in Shaw and knocked on every door to share information on both vaccines and Stay DC rent assistance. While we were relieved to find most seniors had already gotten vaccinated, we met one person who did not know how or where to sign up and we got them all set on the spot!
Stay DC Improvements Needed, Decision on Evictions Ban Pushed Back
Stay DC is the District's program to help residents catch up on missed rent payments, drawing from a large pot of mostly federal dollars that needs to be used by the end of September. The program holds a lot of potential to help, but has also had a lot of challenges. I've heard from a lot of people about a lengthy and complex application process, as well as difficulty getting updates once applications are submitted. And since it relies on matching a tenant with their landlord before issuing a check to make up missed rent payments, both parties have to be on the same page and engaged. My staff has been part of a working group with the Council Chairman, several other CMs' staff, and landlord and tenant advocates to come up with reforms to improve STAY DC that will be part of legislation introduced later this month.
The program is a challenge, but if you are behind on rent or have tenants who are behind on rent dating back to April 2020, please still get an application in. Payments have been going out, though it is taking longer than I like. The smooth operation of this program is critical to ensuring as we pull back from the District's eviction and utility shutoff moratoria, we aren't seeing a massive cliff of people facing evictions and cutoffs. I know this is frustrating and can be scary for anyone afraid of losing their home. We're working on getting it right.
DCPS' New Drug Testing Policy Makes No Sense
Earlier this month, DCPS announced a new drug testing policy for all volunteers, including parents, that would require a negative test for marijuana. Let me state very clearly up front: we all share the goal of having sober and clear-minded individuals working with our students. The problem is this: personal consumption of marijuana is legal in the District of Columbia. And tests for cannabis use can't distinguish between someone who is currently impaired from using marijuana, or if they consumed it a week ago legally in their home. If we require a drug test for parents and volunteers in our schools - for a legal substance - then we will create significant barriers to being engaged in the wellbeing and success of our students. I wrote a letter co-signed by the entire Council pushing back on this policy, and if we need to, we'll vote on Tuesday on emergency legislation to stop DCPS from implementing this policy. Yesterday, a group representing all of the DC area's colleges and universities - which operates dozens of university-run volunteer programs in DC schools - weighed in supporting our concerns. As we come out of this pandemic and we know our students are going to need extra support to overcome the last year, we really don't need to block willing volunteers for no good reason. More from DCist here.
DMV Enforcement Update
The Mayor and the DMV have announced delaying enforcement for replacing identification cards until September 9, 2021. This makes sense since DMV services and expirations were essentially frozen during the last year. Since announcing an intention to resume enforcement, we haven't seen enough DMV appointments to help people who need to handle business in-person and can't do it online, especially for residents who need to go in-person to get a Real ID. I have asked city leadership for *months* about their plan to resume enforcement before residents have been given a reasonable chance to update license, vehicle registrations, and anything else that couldn't be handled by the DMV online.
While this is a welcome step, I suspect the majority of enforcement will be around expired inspections and registrations for vehicles that couldn't simply be renewed online for whatever reason, for which there wasn't a delay in enforcement. Let me or my team know if this is an issue you're encountering.
That being said, be sure you check DMV's full list of services being offered online before you make your appointment.
DC Gov Attorneys Aren't Allowed to Volunteer Pro Bono, But They Should Be
This week I introduced a bill that would allow any lawyer who works for DC government to be allowed to do pro bono volunteer work. And if you are surprised to learn that DC government attorneys cannot practice pro bono in a city that has a sizable legal industry where many people routinely practice pro bono, you aren't alone.
I did a tweet thread to explain the problem, make the case for my bill, and why, as our city stares down a serious evictions cliff coming out of the pandemic, we could definitely use the expertise of attorneys offering their services pro bono in civil courts.
Bill Banning Flavored Tobacco Products Passes Committee
This week the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety voted unanimously to advance a bill that bans the sale or purchase of all flavored tobacco products, as well as banning the sale of any tobacco product within a quarter mile of a middle or high school. As Chair of the committee, I was proud to work with Councilmember Mary Cheh to move this bill forward. There are both significant public health reasons, as well as social justice reasons, to take this important step. While smoking has dropped in the last decade among adults, it is skyrocketing among young people and Black residents. This is largely thanks to e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products, for which Big Tobacco has manipulated their marketing directly to young people, Black residents, the LGBTQ+ community, and women as a more pleasant, "cooler," and safer way to smoke. But the health outcomes tell the same story -- these same communities, targeted by these tobacco companies, are bearing the brunt of serious, long-term health issues. Here's my press release ahead of the vote - the bill passed unanimously and now heads to the full Council for consideration.
WMATA Lowers Fares and Increases Service!
There's been a lot of very encouraging news out of WMATA recently, but none bigger than the WMATA Board's recent approval of a budget that would lower fares and increase services in an effort to bring back riders as more and more of normal life returns. I find this to be the right step forward by WMATA - prioritizing a broader range of riders than just commuters and putting an emphasis on some of your most reliable riders -- workers with early or late-night commutes who depend on public transit. The most noteworthy changes here have to be dropping the rail-to-bus transfer fee, reducing wait times on rail and 16 major bus lines, and extending service hours for the summer. The Post's Justin George has a really thorough breakdown of the changes, which are good news for riders and our city!
Related: WMATA smartly is doing a push to reassure people it is safe to ride again - masks are still required. Here's a neat story on how air circulation works on Metrocars from GGW.
Related, Again: WMATA also has recently added both Apply Pay and Google Pay options to pay for your ride. More ways than ever to easily get onboard with public transit!
Breaking Ground on a New DC Crisis Shelter
This week I was thrilled to join DC Safe and my fellow city leaders as we broke ground on a new crisis shelter to provide help and housing to survivors of domestic violence. This was a project I secured funding for in last year's budget and it was great to see it advancing forward.
Coming out of the past year, advocates and front line workers have warned it became even more challenging for victims of abuse or domestic violence to find refuge or safety. DC badly needs more shelter space to support and serve victims in the immediate aftermath of leaving a dangerous situation, as well as their children, to begin the recovery and healing. In addition to a safe place to stay, this new shelter offers onsite services, communal space, and play space for kids. Learn more about DC Safe and their work here.
Reservation 13 is a Huge Opportunity. Let's Get it Right.
One of the largest areas set to be developed into more city is Reservation 13 on the east end of Hill East. Longtime neighbors know this has been a long process to get this point. But we are starting to see the possible details coming into focus. Just last week, there was a public presentation before ANC 6B on the different project bids. You can review all of them here. Because this will eventually come before the Council for consideration, I won't be weighing in on which project I think offers the most. But I did send a letter to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development outlining what I think are five priority areas for the winning bid.
DPR Pools and Spray Parks are Open!
Folks, the pools and spray parks are back. My kids are thrilled and we were splashing away last weekend in the heat! I know this is something we all missed last year because, no lie, Ward 6 has the best pools and spray parks (I think, anyway). And after staying closed all of last year, they're back open.
Until DCPS school ends on June 28, pools will only be open on weekends before shifting to seven days a week. Find your closest pool here: https://dpr.dc.gov/service/find-pool
Spray parks are open and operating every day already. There's a new one at Watkins or check out Greenleaf or Kennedy Rec, or any other location: https://dpr.dc.gov/page/spray-parks
Policy Nerd Alert - District Measured Post on TIF Funding
I fully acknowledge the number of people who will be interested in this is very, very small, but I know Ward 6 loves a good policy blog. So I wanted to make sure you know about District, Measured, an unapologetically wonky blog from DC's Office of Revenue Analysis. The latest blog looks at five major projects that used TIF funding as financing. This blog asks the question: did these TIF projects ultimately pay off and raise revenues for city's general fund?
River Otters Show Anacostia River Health is Improving
I'm not sure how many DC residents are aware of the massive effort (mandated by the federal government) that has been underway to dramatically turn around the health of our rivers -- especially the Anacostia. And all in all, it's actually going really well. So well, in fact, that North American River Otters seem to be making a comeback. This is something every DC resident should feel proud to see happening. Our city, including Ward 6, has a long history on the river. And while I think we lost track of our relationship with it in recent decades, that's changing now for the better.
It's Solar Season. Here are options for turning your energy bill green.
There is nowhere else in America with better financial support to install solar than the District of Columbia. Without getting too complicated, rooftop solar creates Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, which can be sold as an offset. Nowhere is the value of a single SREC higher than DC. This allows for different ways to pay for solar or quickly recoup your costs -- all while generating clean, renewable energy for your home (so you don't have to sweat the AC temperature as much).
And with DC's Solar for All program, there's a simple application for lower- and moderate-income households to cut up to 50% of their monthly power bill -- at no extra cost to you (for single households, you can earn up to $67,950 and be eligible. For a family of four, you can earn $97,050). Learn more at a DC Solar for All event next Friday, June 18, from 3-6 pm at the Southwest Library.
Finally, if it's not the right time to go solar, don't forget you can tell Pepco to source your electricity from a renewably generated source right now. More information (including differences in rates) from DC's Public Service Commission.
Thanks again and I hope to see you soon!