Race, Poverty, and Family Economic Security
On any given night in the District, more than 1,400 children and their families are in a shelter or on the street. Far more families are doubled up. During the 2018-19 school year, at least 7,700 students experienced homelessness. In addition, according to the 2019 Youth Count, approximately 1,300 unaccompanied youth, up to age 24, were homeless. DC residents experiencing homelessness are almost entirely Black and brown. The District’s system for serving families and young people in need of permanent housing is fragmented and challenging to navigate. How would you reform DC government services for children and youth experiencing homelessness to ensure the system effectively enables them to obtain the services they need?
I support the Homeward DC plan to end homelessness and support investing in what we know works – prevention, safe and accessible shelter, and supportive housing. As a Councilmember, I would look to build on the work of the community to reform the homeless service system, especially for families and youth. I believe our vision for ending homelessness needs to better align with the policies put forward in terms of affordable housing. We need to invest in permanent vouchers, and deeply affordable housing that’s suitable for families.
No one deserves to live in poverty, especially children and youth, yet far too many in the District face crushing circumstances that have lifelong consequences. In 2019, 37% of Black children and 17% of Latinx children lived in poverty, compared to just 2% of white children. For children and youth to succeed and meet their full potential, we must close the racial gaps and eradicate poverty. What is your definition of racial equity? How do you think the District should address the significant disparities in poverty rates of Black and brown children compared with white children?
A racially equitable society is one in which racial disparities in wealth, education, housing, health, and other areas do not exist. As a Councilmember, there are two big things I would focus on. First, I would prioritize funding for early childhood education students, students considered at-risk, English Language Learners, and special education students. There is a significant amount of learning loss we will need to make up for in the coming years. Second, I want to strengthen our vocational and job training programs in DC. I would push for our LEAs to develop more strategic partnerships with the UDC, so that more students are pursing their high school diplomas and an Associate’s degree or specialty credential at the same time.
Everyone who lives and works in the District has been affected by the pandemic, but not in the same way. Because of systemic racism, the impact has been particularly brutal on Black and brown residents who have suffered the greatest consequences in areas such as health, housing, job security and more. Unless we want to see these divides deepen, we need to take action. Earlier this year, DC Action for Children and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute conducted a poll of registered DC voters and found that 83 percent support raising local taxes on the highest earning residents to maintain vital public programs and services for families. Specifically, 78 percent of District voters support raising taxes on residents earning taxable income of $350,000 or more and 72 percent $250,000 or more, respectively. Would you support raising new taxes on DC’s highest income earning residents to maintain vital public services and meet children, youth and family needs?
What changes would you make to our tax system to ensure it is more equitable?
Even though we are facing an uncertain economic outlook due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic we have to make sure that we continue to support our communities in need. That will require a balance of increasing revenue and putting some enhancements or new initiatives on hold. I believe the Council will need to reverse some of the tax cuts from 2014. In particular, I would support an increase in income taxes for our wealthiest residents. I would also reverse the cuts we made to the estate tax. At this point, I would reject proposals to increase business and property taxes.
Since the pandemic, the importance of child care has only become more evident. Families will need access to safe, high-quality, and affordable care so they can return to work. Unfortunately, this kind of child care, costing an average of $23,000 per year, remains out of reach for most families, Early childhood educators, who are primarily Black and brown women, play a critical role in the learning and healthy development of infants and toddlers. Unfortunately, they earn about $30,000 per year, which is half of what their peers in public education earn, and they receive very few benefits. In 2018, the Council passed the Birth to Three for All Act, historic legislation that—if fully funded and implemented—will provide access to health and mental health care, early child development support, and high-quality, affordable child care to families with young children. The Act also raises wages for early childhood educators. To fully fund Birth to Three within 10 years, we will need to allocate nearly $300 million dollars. How would you plan to raise the revenue needed to fund the Birth to Three law?
I support the Under 3 DC initiative and would making funding for the Birth-to-Three for All DC Act a priority as a Councilmember. I am especially interested in seeing DC begin to investment in increasing the compensation for the early childhood workforce. The vast majority of these workers are Black and brown women who are making minimum wage. They are critical to providing a solid foundation for children in those first three years of life and their compensation should reflect their value. The Council will already be debating increasing revenue to continue critical services impacted by COVID-19, and if elected, I would advocate for funding for this portion of the Birth to Three law to be part of that conversation.
In addition to potential learning loss, one of the negative consequences of virtual learning is the disparities that surface between schools. Some teachers have the resources they need to be successful in the virtual learning environment while others do not. These disparities directly affect students’ ability to learn. Out-of-school time programs can play an important role in addressing inequality and closing opportunity gaps by providing social and emotional learning, internships, mentorship, and tutors in communities and schools. However, school systems and out-of-school time providers do not effectively coordinate in order to best serve students. What steps would you take to ensure schools collaborate with out-of-school-time programs and keep them in place to serve students?
When I served as Director for the Council’s Committee on Education, we passed legislation establishing the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes to support the equitable distribution of out-of-school-time programs through coordination. As a Councilmember, I would lean into my oversight responsibilities to ensure that LEAs are in fact collaborating with programs, and working with families to address costs and capacity issues. I would also urge programs to provide socially-distant opportunities even if our schools are continuing with distance learning. Organizations like DC Scores can help address some of the recreational and social-emotional learning needs of our young people during this challenging time.
Many District residents are enrolled in public health insurance, but they don't go to the doctor. What policies would you advance to ensure every family has a medical home in their community where they can access preventive and acute health care?
The opening of a new medical center at St. Elizabeth’s campus is certainly going to help more DC residents access preventive and acute health care but we need to work at rebuilding the trust and repairing the harm with communities in Wards 7 and 8 as it pertains to the new hospital. I think a Community Advisory Board could help address this issue and help the hospital team foster meaningful engagement with the community. I would push for its establishment and swift implementation as a Councilmember. I would also champion DC expanding the Health Professional Loan Repayment program to incentivize more general practitioners, pediatricians, and behavioral health specialists to locate in DC.
Many Black and brown immigrant parents have access to healthcare through the DC Healthcare Alliance. However, many report losing coverage due to the requirement to recertify every six months. Losing coverage in the middle of a pandemic can be a matter of life of death. Would you support a 12-month certification for the DC Healthcare Alliance, to align with Medicaid and DC Healthy Families, to ensure more consistent coverage?
Many states across the country, including Maryland, have recently created Children’s Cabinets to coordinate children and youth work across departments and to break down internal silos. The cabinets have created strategic goals to improve child well-being across issue areas. What are your thoughts about steps that DC can take to improve service coordination among departments and improve outcomes for children and youth?
The closest I’ve seen to true cross agency collaboration when it comes to youth issues has been the Truancy Taskforce, which is led by the Deputy Mayor for Education and the Deputy Mayor for HHS and has representatives from students, LEAs, the Council, Child and Family Services, the Office of the Attorney General, MPD, and community representatives. Through our work, we were able to make changes to the school attendance laws in DC to make it less punitive and exclusionary. Based on this experience, I do think breaking internal silos to create strategic goals and develop policies best for kids across agencies is a good practice. As a Councilmember, I would encourage the Deputy Mayors and agencies to continue this expand on this work.
We believe that young people play a vital role in our democracy. Recent actions, organizing and protests, led by young people have been critical in advancing political and social change. Many youth leaders are too young to vote, but there is a growing Vote 16 movement. Do you support lowering the voting age to 16?
DC Action for Children believes that in order for our advocacy work to be most effective, it must be centered around the voices of children, youth, and families. This work must go further than just testimonies during DC Council hearings and meetings. In addition to lowering the voting age to 16, what are innovative ways you would involve and elevate the voices of children, youth, and families?
I believe now more than ever that we must harness the power of our communities to outline and advocate for what they want to see from DC government in this next phase of progress, and in a world post-COVID 19. The Council has not always done the best job of representing the voices of residents who don’t have time to come down to the Wilson Building at 10am on a Tuesday to testify. I would be in favor of more field hearings, community conversations, and engaging underrepresented voices. I will always be willing to engage and have conversation, and even if we may disagree on an issue I will not shut stakeholders out of the process.