Updates

COVID-19 Update: 4/7
April 7, 2020
Article Type
Update

As we continue social distancing and adjusting to this new normal, I want to keep you informed on the District’s current outlook, the Council’s latest response to the public health emergency, and provide resources that may be helpful. 

Last Friday, the Mayor and our health experts briefed Councilmembers and the public on the model they are using to estimate the potential impacts of the Coronavirus outbreak, known as the CHIME model. If you’re interested in viewing the full presentation, you can find it here

The CHIME model estimates that the ‘peak’ of the outbreak may be in June or July, and that an estimated 93,000 DC residents will contract the virus over the course of the outbreak. We must continue to practice social distancing to “flatten the curve,” and stop the spread of the virus. Let’s continue to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our community by staying home.

Today’s Emergency Legislation

Today, the Council voted on and passed the COVID-19 Response Supplemental Emergency Amendment Act of 2020. This is “Part 2” of Council’s efforts to help our city recover. We previously passed the COVID-19 Response Emergency Act on March 17th. Now that we know that the health emergency will continue beyond the end of April, we’ve set forth additional legislation.

On the federal level, Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The $2 Trillion stimulus package will only provide the District with $500 million in aid, compared to states, who will be receiving $1.25 billion. Despite District residents paying all federal income taxes, and having a larger population than some states, we were classified as a territory in the bill. This is the only time the District has been treated this way – it is treated equal to a state in all other federal funding formulas. In the legislation that the DC Council passed today, we updated parts of our first response bill to align with the new federal guidelines, and we also had to find ways to provide local relief while we work with the Mayor, Congresswoman Norton, and our allies in Congress to correct this outrageous discrepancy in federal aid. 

There are several technical provisions that allow the District to continue modifying operations and provisions that authorize critical funds and expand assistance. Here are key measures to know: 

District Operations

Extends the Mayor’s authority to declare a public health emergency through mid-June; this grant of authority was originally only through April 27

Health

Aligns the District’s Sick and Safe Leave with the CARES Act

  • Requires employers with 50 to 499 employees to provide emergency paid leave to an employee consistent with the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act

  • The leave may be for 2 weeks and up to 80 hours

Housing & Utilities

Helps homeowners and renters by requiring residential and commercial mortgage servicers to develop a deferment program (of at least 90 days) for borrowers who can demonstrate evidence of a financial hardship resulting from the public health emergency, which then allows commercial and residential tenants to request rent deferral from a landlord receiving a mortgage deferral 

Prohibits rent increases during the public health emergency and for 30 days after the emergency

Residents who gave notice of intent to vacate, are allowed to stay until after the public health emergency

Prohibits cable television and phone service being shut off; this is in addition to the current prohibition of evictions and utility shutoffs

Doubles penalty fines for unfair or deceptive practices under the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) 

Public Safety

Amends good time credits and compassionate release policies to allow prisoners who have terminal illness or are 60+years old to apply for early release

Primary and Special Elections

The D.C. Board of Elections will be required to mail an absentee ballot request form and a prepaid return envelope to all voters

The District’s 144 voting precincts will be closed on upcoming election days; instead the D.C. Board of Elections will open 20 voting centers for early voting and election day

Foster Care

Allows Child and Family Services Agency to maintain custody of youth past the age of 21, with consent of the youth, during the public health emergency. Youth may choose to stay in place until 90 days after the public health emergency.

Education

Waives the 100 hours of community service graduation requirement for high school seniors

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Aligns the District’s unemployment guidelines with the CARES Act

  • Independent contractors and gig workers now are eligible for UI under the CARES Act

  • UI benefits will also be retroactive to your first week of unemployment after January 27, 2020.

  • Claimants will receive an additional $600/week April - July

  • The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development has an updated explainer here.

Expands the District’s Shared Work Plan, which allows employers to partially compensate their workers for a reduction in hours

Business

Encourages greater investment in Certified Business Enterprises; this allows the District to spend more with local businesses

Not Included

There are three areas that bill does not address, and that I will continue to work with my colleagues to try to resolve. 

(1) The bill does not allocate funds to those working in the shadow economy, including sex workers and undocumented residents. Undocumented residents in particular are not eligible to apply for most of our public benefits. It is crucial that we find a way to support all of our workers, as vital members of our community. I supported the proposals by Councilmember Elissa Silverman that would have created two different tracks to support these residents, and I will continue working with her and all of our leaders in government to establish this critical safety net.

(2) The bill does not provide additional assistance to child development facilities. Many residents cannot afford to pay for a service they aren’t using during the public health emergency, which puts private providers, as well as those that receive subsidy at risk of survival.We have to support and provide stability to the entities that care for our children right now, so that in turn, they can be ready to support working families as we emerge from this health crisis.

(3) Finally, while the bill does now link mortgage relief to rent relief, the bill does not include a full rent holiday. Once the public health emergency ends, residents may be facing several months of accumulated rent due. For now, I will continue to push to ensure that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is robustly funded and accessible to all residents in need. The Council will need to work with the Chief Financial Officer to look at our budget and see how we can continue to assist renters.

Committee Updates

Department of Human Services

Handwashing Stations

Twitter/Muriel Bowser

I requested public handwashing stations to help our residents who may not have access to sinks to wash their hands or hand sanitizer. The District now has 17 handwashing stations throughout the city.

I’ll continue to work with the agencies under my committee’s jurisdiction and the Mayor to ensure we are including and protecting all residents when figuring out how to mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Check out the locations here.

 

Public Benefits

If you need assistance, you can apply for one or more of the following public benefits programs:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) - financial assistance

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - assistance for food purchases

  • Medical Assistance - Medicaid, Alliance and other medical assistance programs 

To apply:

Department of Human Services 
Economic Security Administration 
Case Record Management Unit 
P.O. Box 91560 
Washington, DC 20090

If you have questions regarding your public benefits, contact the agency’s call center at (202) 727-5355 from 7:30 AM - 4:45 PM, Monday - Friday.

I participated in a Facebook Live, hosted by Councilmember Elissa Silverman and moderated by Hook Hall owner Anna Valero. DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s Kate Coventry and DC Hunger Solution’s Melissa Jensen also joined, and we answered common questions about the programs and the application process. Watch here

Additional Updates

Business

As I mentioned earlier in the newsletter, Congress passed the CARES Act. The legislation includes additional relief efforts to help business recover. This guide provides information about the loans and programs that will be available. 

SPANX is donating $5 million to help female business owners continue to operate. There will be 1,000 gifts of $5,000 each. To apply, visit their website here.

Education

Contributions to the DC Education Equity Fund allowed for the District to begin distributing devices to students to be able to complete their coursework during distance learning. Last week, students in grades 9-12 received their devices. Those grades were selected first so that students could stay on track for graduation. This week, students in grades K-8 should begin receiving devices. 

In Case You Missed It

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 represents 35,000 members working in food, health, retail, and service industries. UFCW Local 400 asked the Council to support grocery workers being designated as First Responders. The designation would provide employees access to free testing, treatment and protective equipment during the public health emergency. I fully support UFCW Local 400’s efforts, and shared the following statement:  

The District currently has a Stay-At-Home Order in place, however our grocery stores remain open to ensure residents can purchase what they need to stay home and comply with the Order. Our grocery store employees are undeniably on the front lines, risking their health to keep our city operating. Not only do these jobs not allow for workers to practice social distancing, but they require close interaction with residents, some of whom may be a part of our vulnerable populations. We must make every effort possible to protect our workers.”

Read the full press release here.

Reminders and Resources

Know Your Rights

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is helping protect District residents’ rights during the public health emergency. 

“If you are a victim of a scam, or have been overcharged, or otherwise have been treated unfairly by a business, contact OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection at (202) 442-9828”

Census

If you haven’t already, take 10 minutes to respond to the census. The census count determines where billions of dollars in federal funding go to – schools, infrastructure, hospitals. You can respond to the census by phone, online, or mail. More information is available at 2020 Census.

Additional Aid

For information on the economic impact payment (stimulus checks), visit the IRS website

For Temporary Relief on Student Loans, visit the Federal Student Aid website

Please remember, this situation continues to quickly evolve. For the latest updates, news, and resources, visit coronavirus.dc.gov