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In the first of two votes yesterday, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the District’s $19.5 billion 2023 budget. Big-ticket items on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s wish list—like more police officers and greater investments in affordable housing—made it in. So did tens of millions of dollars dedicated to programs ranging from additional school and family support services to a curbside composting pilot.
“While this budget includes many good things, there’s one glaring omission,” said Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. “I’m disappointed the Council was unable to prioritize funding for excluded workers … The negative impact of the pandemic continues to be felt by a much larger community of excluded workers than those that would qualify [for the expansion of earned income tax credit].”
The expansion of EITC to include undocumented workers with a tax ID number was one of Council Chair Phil Mendelson’s major changes to the mayor’s proposed budget. The initiative would offer a path toward monthly basic income of about $300 to some residents who weren’t previously eligible.
But critics say the move isn’t interchangeable with support for excluded workers. EITC wouldn’t be available for undocumented workers in the District until 2024. Many excluded workers are struggling right now and still haven’t received previously approved funds to catch up from earlier in the pandemic, according to statements on the DC Excluded Worker Coalition Twitter account.
This EITC expansion would also exclude many excluded workers. Many workers are not undocumented but participate in the gig economy, were formerly incarcerated and are unable to find work, or are otherwise left out of federal unemployment insurance and pandemic aid.
The EITC extension to undocumented workers was a recommendation by the Council’s Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery, co-chaired by Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen. EITC was never meant to address the budget requests from the Excluded Workers Coalition, Allen’s office says via email.
Members of the D.C. Excluded Worker Coalition have pressured Mendelson, who has been noncommittal about including aid for the District’s excluded workers this budget cycle, for the past several weeks. That work continued yesterday ahead of the legislative meeting. At various entrances of the Wilson Building, workers dedicated songs to “Uncle Phil” and carried paper cutouts of Mendelson’s face. They also rolled out a red carpet to create a “Walk of Fame vs. Walk of Shame” situation in front of the building for councilmembers who supported them and those who did not.
“I don’t think we can do any better,” Mendelson told the workers gathered outside the Wilson Building. “I’m not sure what the problem is. Unemployment has dropped considerably … There are employers looking for employees. So, unless this is just simply making cash payments for last year or the year before. But that doesn’t really, um, invest in people’s futures.”
There are some gray areas in Mendelson’s argument. Department of Employment Services figures show a decline in the District’s unemployment rate since 2020, but recent DOES snapshots of changes in unemployment show the District has lost jobs in sectors such as construction, which employs many excluded workers.
The extent to which excluded workers—an undercounted population—are included in unemployment stats is unclear. Mendelson’s office says the EITC covers many excluded workers, including returning citizens. The cash economy “is tough to tackle,” Mendelson’s office says via email. “We have little data about who is in the cash economy and what their economic circumstances are.” But low-income workers for whom the government lacks this income data might still be eligible for existing income-based benefit programs, according to Mendelson’s office.
“It’s infuriating that we are not included in the budget, even after we have worked so hard to be seen and taken into account,” the DC Excluded Worker Council told City Paper in a statement. “ … It is frustrating for us to have to keep telling [the] DC Council that excluded workers still need help.”
Other items received significant attention during the budget debate, including…
Removing police officers from schools
At the recommendation of the Police Reform Commission, the Council voted last year to remove police officers from D.C. schools through 2025. Bowser’s budget included funding for these officers and Mendelson agreed (in a reversal of an answer he gave at a recent debate, Martin Austermuhle reports). But a successful amendment from Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen reversed the chair’s proposal and re-removed school resource officers.
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, citing rising violent crime, sided with Mendelson on the losing side of the 8-5 vote, as did Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray. In voting “no,” Gray rejected one of the major recommendations from the Police Reform Commission that he had a big part in setting up.
Funding for the Woodley Park Main Street program
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh wanted to hit pause on sending city money to the small business assistance organization, arguing that such a move would put a hold on its activities until an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General into this organization (and others like it) can play out. With the backing of Chairman Phil Mendelson, she’d slipped a provision into the budget to strip it of funding in fiscal year 2023.
Cheh made the move following allegations raised by several people close to the Main Streets program that the agency overseeing it, the Department of Small and Local Business Development, has turned a blind eye to mismanagement and played favorites in handing out city grants. DSLBD routinely awards hundreds of thousands of dollars to local nonprofits to run these Main Street efforts, which seek to support local companies and create attractive commercial corridors, but the process of doing so has come under fire in recent months.
Specifically, Cheh believes the agency was retaliating against the nonprofit that used to manage the program, District Bridges, after executives there raised questions about DSLBD’s management of the Main Streets program. She and many others believe the agency was playing favorites in awarding a grant instead to Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets (claims that both the agency and the Dupont Circle group have vehemently denied).
But Cheh’s efforts were stymied by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs the Council’s business and economic development committee and oversees DSLBD. He convinced six of his colleagues to vote to remove Cheh’s provision from the budget, arguing that it would be inappropriate to defund the organization before the OIG investigation played out.
Even still, several councilmembers urged more scrutiny of DSLBD’s management of the Main Street program as a whole, considering there have been similar issues raised about the Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street (which is also part of OIG’s review).
- To see today’s COVID-19 data, visit our coronavirus tracker.
- D.C. police have hired their first chief equity officer to lead diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives: former U.S. Park Police Chief Pamela Smith. [WTOP]
- Here’s a closer look at WMATA’s new general manager, Randy Clarke, who is set to start the Metro position late this summer. [WUSA9]
- A 16-year-old was charged in connection with the shooting of 15-year-old Malachi Jackson in Columbia Heights last month. [WJLA]
- Here’s what you can expect with the abortion protest on the National Mall this weekend. [DCist]
By Ambar Castillo (tips? email@example.com)
- Mayor Bowser calls D.C.’s recent lack of COVID-19 case reporting a “kerfuffle,” stemming from “some kind of miscommunication or disconnect with the CDC.” She hopes to see it fixed soon, and the city did drop some new numbers yesterday. [WJLA, Twitter]
- The 2023 budget still includes money to buy the old Key Bridge Exxon site in Georgetown, which could be used as space for a future Metro stop or a landing point for a long-debated gondola to Rosslyn. But the price tag and environmental challenges concerned some lawmakers. [Twitter, Twitter]
- Attorney General Karl Racine is suing the owner of a Capitol Hill building for tax evasion. The building has notoriously sat empty in the neighborhood for many years, yet Racine says the owner has been claiming it’s occupied to avoid paying a higher tax rate on vacant properties. [Post]
By Alex Koma (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Chef RŌM’s new seafood ghost kitchen serves up seafood fried rice, crabcake topped cheesesteak, and crab cakes that he calls the “crack bomb.” [DCist]
- Sandwich pop-up shop Fight Club opened its own place this week at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. [WTOP]
- The sixth annual Books in Bloom Festival in Columbia, Maryland, kicks off this Sunday. Enjoy some books and booze and listen to Carl Bernstein (and others) talk. [Washingtonian]
By City Paper staff (tips? email@example.com)
Starting in the early 16th century with touring troupes of masked performers famed for their […]
- Anthony Anderson, star of Black-ish, went to Howard University in 1988 as a college freshman; this weekend he graduated. [Post]
- Local poet James Lloydovich Patterson talks with Washingtonian about his short but impactful child acting career in Russia. [Washingtonian]
By Sarah Marloff (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
- WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February. Why do pro players go east? It’s not just about the money. It’s the competition and camaraderie, too. [Post]
- It will surprise no one that a rat ran onto the field at Nats Park during a game last night. [NBC]
- Joey Zanaboni is a wild man on the mic for the Fred Nats. [Post, Twitter, Twitter]
By City Paper staff (tips? email@example.com)