The John A. Wilson Building in Washington, D.C.
The John A. Wilson Building. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

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One day before the D.C. Council’s budget work session, and weeks before the Council votes on the fiscal year 2023 budget, the fight for funds is on. The DC Excluded Worker Coalition is facing an uphill battle. In her fiscal year 2022 budget, Mayor Muriel Bowser initially allocated $15 million for the District’s excluded workers—substantially less than the $511 million the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute estimated these workers would need to achieve parity

This year, the situation got much worse for the city’s street vendors, day-laborers, domestic workers, and others who work in the informal economy. Amid a pandemic that is still very much alive in the District and with COVID case counts continuing to rise, Bowser’s 2023 budget proposal doesn’t allocate a single cent to excluded workers. These workers are not eligible for federal pandemic aid programs and unemployment benefits despite contributing to unemployment insurance and other taxes. They are largely Black and Brown, low-income, have limited options for COVID-safe working conditions, and are still among those hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“We’re not asking for any … welfare, we’re just asking for a little bit of assistance while this pandemic is raging and until we’re able to get rid of the pandemic and we’re able to work,” Solomon Gebre Tekle testified through an Amharic interpreter at a D.C. Council hearing on April 8. Tekle, who came to D.C. from Ethiopia, is among the coalition’s leaders.

The DC Excluded Worker Coalition is pushing for the Council to approve $160 million for excluded workers in the 2023 budget. It’s a tough sell considering that councilmembers have $0 to work with from the mayor’s budget proposal, but several have voiced their support in letters to the mayor. 

“Workers in the informal or cash economies, a large majority of whom are undocumented residents, continue to need urgent and significant local financial assistance on account of their exclusion from federal aid programs,” Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George noted in her March 4 appeal for $100 million for excluded workers. She explains that many of these workers still struggle to pay for rent, phones and utility bills, food, diapers, medicine, and transportation. 

In her budget letter dated Feb. 3, Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto asked for twice that amount. She described the plight of excluded workers, many of whom haven’t received the full $3,000 payment that the Council approved in August 2021. A $200 million allocation to excluded workers would “help prevent an eviction crisis and continued instability for so many of our residents,” Pinto wrote. 

At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who is challenging Bowser in the June primary, requested $160 million for excluded worker relief in his letter to Bowser dated March 2. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who is running for re-election, asked for the same amount in her Feb. 18 budget letter. She shared her plans for the upcoming budget work session with City Paper via email. 

“I was disappointed to see that there was no funding for Excluded Workers in the Mayor’s budget, and I have already requested that the Chairman add funds through the Council budget process,” she writes. “I plan to raise this issue with all of my Council colleagues at our work session this week.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has much less to say. 

“This is one of many requests we receive, and we’re looking at it, along with the many other demands on the budget,” he tells City Paper through a spokesperson.

Members of the DC Excluded Worker Coalition are planning to stop by his house tonight around 8 p.m. They are also calling on allies to join them and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington DC in a May Day rally for workers’ rights at Columbia Heights Civic Plaza this Sunday at 3 p.m.

“The real measure of an equitable recovery is whether we stick by our most vulnerable community members through the end of this crisis,” Lewis George says in a statement to City Paper. “Many excluded workers continue to struggle from the devastating job loss and illness caused by the pandemic. They fully deserve the support of their city.”

Note: A previous post had the incorrect time for the May Day rally. It is scheduled for this Sunday at 3 p.m.