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?
As a queer man, I know that youth homelessness is a serious problem, as 40% of youth who experience homelessness in DC identify as LGBTQ. As Councilmember, I will fund Rapid Rehousing for Youth, Extended Transitional Housing, and Drop-In Centers with 24-hour care. I will work to increase permanent supportive housing to help families transition from experiencing homelessness to having housing. As Councilmember, I will lead efforts to prevent discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. I will support the creation and funding of an anonymous complaint system regarding shelter and housing providers for youth so that LGBTQ youth can submit concerns without retaliation.
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 means race doesn’t determine opportunities for a healthy life in terms of physical health, mental health, financial health, and safety, nor opportunities to have basic needs met such as housing, food, and education. As Councilmember, I will support and expand funding for child care subsidies and protect against cuts. I will implement continuous eligibility for DC Medicaid and DC Healthy Families. I will ensure the District has an online SNAP application. It is wholly unacceptable that in 2020 we still would ask people to submit applications manually. Across programs I support streamlining data and applications so when residents apply for assistance with one need, we can easily check their eligibility for other assistance.
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?
Knowing that we could see a potential budget shortfall due to the impacts of COVID-19, I recognize that tax increases may be necessary to avoid cutting critical social programs. Whether through a tax on high-income earners or other tax solutions that would not impact middle- and low- wage families, I am open to exploring solutions to make our tax system more equitable, particularly in light of COVID-19 and its impact on our city’s budget.
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?
To fund important programs like Birth to Three, I believe we need to look at where we spend our money currently and whether there are expenditures that should not truly be priorities, especially in a budget climate that has been so impacted by COVID-19. For example, capital projects often end up way over budget and these should be examined closely to determine whether they can be delayed or adjusted to identify funds to allocate to Birth to Three. I am committed to fully funding Birth to Three.
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?
Out-of-school time programs are a central part of my platform, including for preventing violence and crime. Growing up in a trailer home in rural Missouri, mentors who had attended universities, who were interested in the arts, and who otherwise provided me new experiences showed me a world outside of my home. I want DC youth to have the same chance for mentorship that I did, and access to out-of-school time programs that provide them diverse learning. I will advocate for funding for out-of-school time programs and the Office of Out-Of-School Time and create incentives for schools to keep programs in place. I am committed to closing the outcomes gap between schools in DC and I know that out-of-school time programs can help bridge that gap.
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?
Although DC has one of the lowest uninsurance rates in the nation, we do not have equity when it comes to access. As Councilmember I will ensure there is a nurse in every school. I will establish recurring funding for home visiting programs for those who are pregnant or have young children. I will support Help Me Grow to ensure early identification and referral for children at risk for developmental and behavioral delays. I will support our network of federally qualified health centers and income-based clinics in DC, including Whitman Walker where I have volunteered. I will be a strong advocate of improving transit so that it is not a barrier to accessing care and work to ensure free or low-cost medical transport is available as needed.
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 would be interested in exploring a children’s cabinet, particularly focused on equity issues and eliminating the impacts of poverty and the educational outcomes gap among DC children.
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?
DC Council needs a better way to ascertain the priorities of youth and their opinions on how government services and functions are working. I would be interested in exploring surveys to gain quantitative data on what issues and policies youth prioritize in DC. I believe results should be published so there is a public report to which Council can be held accountable regarding how well it responds to the concerns of youth.