Hello from my home office in Ward 1, where each day we get a little bit closer to being together again in person. I’ve got a lot of Council updates today, but wanted to quickly mention some great work being done by my team in the Ward 1 Council office.
My team and I have been working incredibly hard to help get people vaccinated. Prior to the pre-registration system, the 10 of us would log in and try to register seniors who did not have access to technology. This effort grew and soon we had commissioners from each of our ANCs join, as well as neighbors volunteering! We’ve helped register more than 150 seniors now.
We’ve also worked directly with DC Health to identify building and areas in Ward 1 where we need more targeted efforts to get shots in arms. Several senior buildings have since been vaccinated on-site. Yesterday, our constituent services team worked with DC Health, Medstar and several buildings in Columbia Heights to identify high-risk seniors. Together we were able to vaccinate 112 Ward 1 residents. It was a great day.
If you have not pre-registered for a vaccine appointment, register today. Many of you have been in touch about adding 20010 back into the system as a priority zip code, and this week, it was! If you have friends, family or neighbors in 20010 who need help registering for the vaccine, please lend a hand and help them register.
The District received 39,690 doses of vaccine this week. The number of doses we are receiving continues to increase. Back in January, we were receiving 4,000 a week. We still need more, and I want to thank all those at DC Health and all of our healthcare providers in the District for helping us with a strong distribution effort. We continue to be at around the 85% mark for distribution of the vaccine that we receive directly. If you’re interested in doing some data-mining, take a look here.
In a few of my newsletters, I’ve mentioned how I’ve been working with the community to decriminalize street vending and launch sidewalk vending zones where licensed vendors can safely vend. In the legislation, we created a viable path for vendors to get licensed. Our office partnered with Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and Beloved Community Incubator to provide ServSafe training to vendors. ServSafe is a food and beverage safety training and certificate program. The certification is required by DCRA to be a licensed vendor and ensure safe food handling guidelines are being followed. Thank you to Benjamin Velasquez, Food Services Director at Carlos Rosario, for facilitating the program for 20 participants while also following COVID-19 safety guidelines!
In addition to these recent events, our constituent services team closed out 173 cases in March! I’m so proud of the hard-working team we have in Ward 1.
Save the Date: Ward 1 Telephone Town Hall
I’ll be hosting my next telephone town hall on April 19th at 5:00pm, with guest speaker Emily Gasoi, our Ward 1 State Board of Education Representative. I’ll share a brief Ward 1 update, she and I will have a discussion about education in the District, and then you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions during our live Q&A portion. If you’ve joined one of our previous town halls, you won’t need to sign up again. If you’re new to the town halls, I’ll share a link to sign up closer to the date.
Today I participated in a hearing on the initial school budget funding. Four schools in Ward 1 have been informed that they will be suffering budget cuts of $223,000 - $437,000. This is unacceptable. In the hearing today I urged DCPS to restore funding to these schools, and many more across the District. Now is not the time to make cuts to teaching and support staff in our schools. Students need more academic support and more emotional support and their teachers need to be fully supported by DCPS, especially after an incredibly traumatic year. The formula we are using to fund schools is just not working. It’s time to fix it. The Mayor will be transmitting her full budget to the Council later this month, and this hearing was our attempt to highlight the need for significant changes before she does.
Performance Oversight Hearings
The Council has wrapped up what is one of my favorite times of year: performance oversight hearing season! For all the government nerds out there (myself included) this is like our own little March Madness. We heard from members of the public and government witnesses (all using a virtual platform) on how all of our District agencies have been performing over the last year. Thank you to all who participated. Your feedback is critical and helps me and my team push for improvements in government services. As you can imagine, a great deal of the public testimony was related to how agencies handled the public health emergency and suggestions on how to move forward. While I attended hearings held by several different committees, I will highlight just a few from the issue areas that I hear most about.
Housing & Human Services
As Chair of the human services committee, I heard from public witnesses and had a lengthy dialogue with the Director of the Department on Human Services (DHS) for a total of 12 and a half hours. We discussed how to prevent homelessness through expanded, more accessible rental assistance programs, as well as hot to improve the primary tools used by the District to exit individuals and families from homelessness: Rapid Rehousing, the Family Rehousing and Stabilization Program, Permanent Supportive Housing, and Targeted Affordable Housing.
- With the Child and Family Services Agency, I asked questions around how they’ve adjusted their services to assist and reach children and families during the pandemic and raised my concern over the academic performance of children under the care of the District.
- I discussed with Department on Disability Services how expand supports for residents with intellectual disabilities, and really look forward to continuing the collaboration on this with advocates and community members.
- This year, my committee gained oversight of the DC Housing Authority as it pertains to the administration of DHS housing programs. In our joint hearing with the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration, I pushed Director Tyrone Garrett on eliminating the lag time between when a resident is deemed eligible for housing and when they are ultimately housed. Year after year I have invested resources in housing for those experiencing homelessness. Government inefficiency should not be the reason people remain homeless.
Parents have made themselves clear: they need to know the plan for getting kids safely back to in-person learning. This is an issue that I’ve prioritized throughout the pandemic. Early on, I pushed for alternative, additional spaces to be procured for safe, socially distanced learning. As students and teachers began returning to school in person, I asked the Department of Health to add asymptomatic testing in schools to help us catch any spread, which they later implemented into the reopening plan.
During oversight, I was focused on transparency for families and teachers and pushing the education agencies to give us answers on how we will reopen safely. Today, we are still waiting on those plans. I will keep pressing.
As a mom to two little ones, access to safe child care options has been at the front of my mind as well. I was the first Councilmember to raise the alarm around a need to move away from attendance-based funding streams for early childhood centers during the pandemic, and have worked to ensure that we were supporting all childcare providers at risk of closing, due to lack of funds. I worked closely with providers, OSSE, and advocates on this and ultimately secured millions of dollars to providers, but it’s clear that we will need to do more.
Evidence-based approaches to public safety remain at the forefront of my approach to keeping our neighborhoods safe. I was thrilled to see this week that President Biden plans to invest in these programs, which I hope will bolster our efforts locally.
Participating in the MPD oversight hearing ensures that I have the opportunity to bring community concerns directly to the police chief in a public forum, and also to hold him accountable. This year Councilmembers pressed on the ongoing implementation of the NEAR Act, and I asked questions around the new gun-violence prevention program Building Blocks DC, that the mayor just launched. We anticipate that parts of Ward 1 will be included as the program expands.
Next up, budget!
- I asked Chief Contee about the timeline for background checks for police officers. ICYMI: Back in February, Chief Contee said he wanted to have background checks conducted on all officers who may be affiliated with extremist groups. There is no defined timeline for the background checks yet, but Chief Contee stated that they are in the process of hiring a consultant to get this done.
- You’ve probably heard me talk about the need to serve residents better through human and social services, rather than deploying the police for every community need. Chief Contee and I discussed this and I look forward to working with him on achieving this goal as we re-imagine public safety for our community.
- I am STILL waiting on the MPD report on police actions taken the night of June 1st on Swann Street, despite multiple requests. Chief Contee responded that the Council would receive a briefing on the report soon. Worth noting the ACLU has released its own report on what transpired that night.
Now that we have oversight performance testimony from public and government witnesses, we move on to budget performance oversight. I sent Mayor Bowser my budget requests on February 17. While I will be fighting to fund shared priorities and new issues that came up during oversight that may need more investments, I focused my letter on critical funds needed that others may not champion. You can read the letter here.
Despite the surplus in Fiscal Year 20 as compared to what was budgeted, the revenues over the next four years are projected to be over $2.3 billion below pre-pandemic levels. The federal stimulus funds will allow us to fulfill many urgent needs, but they will not be available in perpetuity, so they cannot meet all of our recurring needs. If we want to maintain certain enhancements over time, we will need new revenue streams. I’ve been working closely with my colleagues Councilmembers Charles Allen and Janeese Lewis George to draft a budget proposal that will raise taxes on the wealthy.
Click here to see the schedule for the budget process.
In order to address sound levels in residential neighborhoods while protecting and expanding the local music culture in the District, I introduced the Harmonious Living Amendment Act of 2021. My goal is to ensure that the artists and performers who make our communities so special can co-exist with those who reside in vibrant neighborhoods throughout the District.
The starting point of the bill was the “Agent of Change” principle that first came out of London after 35% of its live venues closed in less than 10 years, often due to complaints from buildings constructed well after a venue’s founding. In anticipation of neighborhoods continuing to grow, I worked with local artists, music venues, and acoustics engineers to identify how the District can modify that principle to fit the challenges the District has seen to avoid the same fate.
Ward 1 has always celebrated music, from Black Broadway and the Funk Parade to the Go-Go tapes playing from the speakers of the Shaw Metro PCS Store at 7th Street and Florida Ave, NW! The District is a dynamic city with a rich musical heritage and I believe this bill is a path forward to finding harmony. The bill was recently featured in DCist – check it out!
- The bill sets soundproofing standards for new residential construction on mixed-use corridors and entertainment districts, with higher requirements for buildings within 300 feet of a performance venue to address crowds and low frequencies. Currently, the District does not require any soundproofing standard for building exteriors.
- For existing buildings, the bill requires a new disclosure on lease or purchase agreements for residential properties in an entertainment or activity area that informs a new renter or buyer of nearby activity and long-established cultural institutions. New incentive programs are created for soundproofing retrofits, both in existing venues and in smaller residential units.
- The bill also celebrates outdoor performance by initiating a study to take a closer look at places where street performance frequently occurs and how to remove barriers from holding performances in public space, while also reviewing buildings in proximity that may be insufficiently soundproofed.
I also introduced the Nutrition Equity Act of 2021. The legislation increases access to nutritious foods for families at District shelters and transitional housing facilities, and promotes healthier beverage options by repealing the current existing 8% sales tax on sugary drinks, and instead imposing an excise tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on the distribution of sugary drinks in the District.
The legislation will allocate revenue to programs that increase access to healthy food options, expand community based nutritional programming, and target chronic disease prevention and management. The revenue generated by the tax will be administered by the District’s Food Policy Director. The proposed allocations include funding for:
In drafting this bill, I brought together members of the communities impacted by health disparities, health experts and advocates to identify areas where public health interventions and investments can make a difference in the health and lives of our communities. One of the members in the working group is Pediatrician and health and wellness expert, Dr. Yolandra Hancock. Dr. Hancock shared with us a brief quote ahead of the bill’s introduction:
- “Healthy Food as Medicine” programs for food-insecure populations, through the Department of Health Care Finance;
- programs at DC Health aimed at reducing and preventing nutrition related chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease;
- funding to the Families First DC program to deliver nutrition education, cooking lessons, and healthy shopping lessons at Family Success Centers, which are all located in Wards 7 and 8; and
- funding to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to expand experiential food literacy education for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten - 5.
“I’ve seen firsthand how the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events drives increased risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It is our collective responsibility to support policies that counter these effects and to provide equitable access to healthy foods.”
Read the full press release here.
AARP Community Challenge Grants
The AARP Community Challenge provides small grants to fund quick-action projects that can help communities become more livable for people of all ages. Applications are accepted for projects to improve public spaces, housing, transportation, civic engagement, coronavirus recovery, diversity and inclusion, and more. The deadline to apply is April 14.
Congresswoman Norton’s Community Project Funding
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton announced an extension of the deadline to submit an application to her office for fiscal year 2022 Community Project Funding. The Appropriations Committee extended the deadline for members of Congress to submit requests for Community Project Funding, which allowed Norton to extend her office’s deadline. Click here for more Information.
DC Water Art Contest
The Cool Arts and Cleaner Rivers contest is now open for submissions. The contest will award four artists $600 each to create murals telling the story of the District's waterways and the work Clean Rivers is doing to better the future of our rivers. Submissions must be received electronically or postmarked by Friday, April 16.
The DC Public Charter School Board is hosting Ward-based meetings with ANCs and school-based community engagement staff. The meeting for Wards 1 and 2 will be April 6, 5pm to 6pm. Any of our Ward 1 ANC Commissioners interested should register here.
Vaccine Info Session
DC Health Link, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of African Affairs, is hosting a town hall about access to health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 7 from 5:30pm – 6:30pm. The town hall will have translation capabilities for the Spanish, Arabic, Amharic, and French speaking DC African communities. Click here to register.