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?
In order for us to reduce youth homelessness, we need to look at how the system has failed to serve families, children and youth. Immigrant, low income, LGBTQ and Black and Brown youth across all these groups are most at-risk. For 30 years, I served District residents in the front lines, including working with incarcerated parents, and working with young people affected by violence. For six years I served as the Director of the Office of Human Rights where I oversaw cases of residents facing discrimination. I will serve the District by funding emergency housing programs during this economic crisis, investing for an equitable education system, and ending police brutality and ensuring all District residents feel safe in our city.
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?
Racial equity is about systematically directing funds and resources to a system that has been out of balance and that has left behind Black and Brown communities for way too long. Communities of color need to be given the proper infrastructure within their schools, health centers, and access to stable housing in order to thrive. My vision for advancing racial equity includes greater access to support services across all District agencies and LEAs, equity in funding and resources for students and schools struggling the most so we close achievement gaps in education, and increase at-risk funding to adequacy level and expand the definition of an “at-risk” to include ELL students and other special needs students (e.g. dyslexic).
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?
We need more creative “out of the box” thinking when it comes to raising revenue in our city. Instead of raising taxes, for example, I support a mini-bond financing program so that residents, who want to and can afford to, can invest in our recovery efforts and see a return 20 years from now. The city of Denver has done this quite successfully over many years to fund health care clinics, construction projects and much more. Additionally, as your councilwoman I will convene a taskforce to review our current tax structure and explore other options for raising revenue.
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?
Now more than ever, we need to fund initiatives such as the Birth to Three Law and D.C. Child Care subsidy program so that we can expand mental, physical, nutritional, parenting and family support programs. Lack of high-quality early childhood education for children in low-income families is a big contributor to racial and economic inequities throughout the city. We need more creative “out of the box” thinking when it comes to raising revenue in our city. Instead of raising taxes, for example, I support a mini-bond financing program so that residents, who want to and can afford to, can invest in our recovery efforts and see a return 20 years from now.
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?
Coordinating collaborative efforts between our schools and community based organizations must continue and are crucial for the well-being of all children in the District. COVID-19 has made any disparities in household incomes and access to resources brutally apparent. First and foremost, we need to continue receiving federal funds that support out-of-school time programs and those programs must be available to the Black and Brown children who need them the most. There are many organizations in our city that are doing great work to ensure that our children have all the resources available to be able to have access to virtual learning and we need to continue funding those programs to serve our most vulnerable communities.
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?
Now more than ever, we must invest in our health care infrastructure so that all residents can access high-quality health care in every corner of the city. I believe healthcare is a human right and I will ensure that the city fully funds the two new hospitals that will be built east of the river so that they can deliver services in a way that resonates with communities of color and vulnerable populations.
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?
I believe the District needs a Children’s Cabinet and also a Children’s Bill of Rights. I will sponsor legislation in order to create these and ensure we have racial equity metrics that focus on delivering better outcomes to Black and Brown children and children from all vulnerable communities.
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 consider myself a youth worker and dedicated the first 10 years of my public service work helping young people develop the leadership skills and experience they need to lead their own communities. I will continue to be a strong ally to young people and also sponsor legislation to create and fund more evidence based programs that help young people recovering from poverty, early life trauma and violence to become champions for themselves, their families and their communities.