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?
First, we need to make to make our city more affordable for all residents. Although the mayor should be commended for reducing family homelessness, individual homelessness has increased over the last few years. We must address the underlying causes of homelessness, such as expensive rent, an insufficient supply of affordable housing units, and a lack of economic opportunities for residents, especially black and brown residents. Second, schools with homeless students should have dedicated staff to help students navigate the system more effectively.
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?
I define racial equity as the state in which every resident has the same opportunity to succeed regardless of their race, essentially a level playing field. We must close the digital divide and better fund schools in low-income neighborhoods, break down barriers for minority and female-owned businesses, implement better vocational job training programs, and address our racial wealth gap by expanding home-ownership opportunities for longtime residents, who are disproportionately black and brown.
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?
I would ensure that everyone pays their fair share. We must close loopholes that enable individuals and companies from paying their required obligations. Further, I would provide more tax support for longtime residents, so they don’t get priced out of their neighborhoods. I will say, we have one of the most progressive tax systems of any city in the country. I think we’re on the right track, but we should remove some of the burden from our city’s small employers who are forced to pay higher rates and pay for the new paid leave legislation.
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?
Early childhood education is a critical step towards building a more equitable education system. We should fully fund the Birth to Three legislation. We can use money in non-essential capital projects like the H street rail car and cut ineffective government job training contracts that don’t lead to employment, to fund this important legislation.
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?
A top priority of mine on the Council will be to rapidly expand after school programming for all students. Let’s give our students more opportunities to try new things, be challenged, find their passions and gain life long skills. I will work to have the District partner with our region’s largest employers to expand after school programing for high school students that gives them the training and certification they need to get a good paying job upon graduation. Additionally, no teachers should be forced to front the money to pay for virtual learning. I spoke with a new DCPS teacher this past week, and I found out he had to pay out of pocket for a monitor so he could teach remotely, that is unacceptable, and we can do better.
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?
I would build more hospitals and health care facilities east of the river. I would also work with my constituent services team and those in the community to educate residents on the importance of yearly checkups.
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?
Creating something along the lines of a Children’s Cabinet is a good start. In addition to Children’s Cabinets, DC could invest into community resources such as counselors that deal with homelessness, domestic abuse, addiction, and more. Aside from counseling, DC can rely more on community members to bridge communication between youth and departments. We should also get more student representatives involved in government services that affect our youths, so we can get effective feedback and adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.
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 would give them more platforms to speak on than just the DC Council hearings. As I have had the opportunity to speak at a multitude of platforms such as the Palm Collective, I would use my experience and my connections to give children, youth, and families to expand the platforms they can speak on. I would also advocate for student representatives in government. We could also create a committee on youth civic engagement that has youth-determined leaders to help teach our future lawmakers how to start improving our city.