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?

The applications for housing assistance are designed for adults, and we are relying on the assumption that youth seeking assistance have a trusted adult that can help them. I would like to see a diverse, youth-centered task force that can recommend to the Mayor and the Council how to make the services more youth-friendly, or create supports to help youth can more easily navigate. Also, now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing the additional challenge of students not being able to safely return to in-person learning yet. We don’t have adults currently identifying cases where a child or youth may be facing housing insecurity. We will need to rethink how we are doing more direct outreach to the youth in our communities.

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 when the opportunities people have and the humanity we see in them are not affected by the color of their skin. For many low-income children of color, education is the only way to break generational cycles. Right now, only roughly a quarter of Black students in our public schools are proficient compared with about 80% of their white peers. Something is not working for students of color in our schools, and we have to get more serious about that. I have been outspoken about the urgent need to close the opportunity gap, expand mental health and wrap-around services in our schools to help children work through trauma, and work more closely with parents and teachers to improve school communities.


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?

The current tax structure is not fair to low-income residents. While low-income residents may pay the lowest income tax, they are the most heavily burdened group by sales taxes. Residents earning less than $30,000 don’t have a chance to save money, they have to spend it to survive. We have to reduce the tax burden on our lowest income residents. The District could benefit from finding ways to generate revenue other than automatically creating a sales tax. It doesn’t make sense to have low-income residents pay more and more sales taxes to generate revenue to fund programs for those same residents. We made positive steps in eliminating taxes on female hygiene products and diapers and we need to continue to this progress.


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?


Co-authoring the Birth-To-Three legislation is one of my proudest accomplishments of my first term. I knew that the fiscal impact would be large, but I also recognized that we couldn’t continue to ignore the burden this was having on families and workers. This legislation is not only about affordability and tackling disparities, but it is a way to also prevent families from being displaced due to rising costs. In the FY19 budget cycle, I worked hard to find 300k of recurring funds from my committee budget to go toward the implementation of the legislation. It was a small, but important start to funding the program and I will continue to champion for the full funding of the program through cuts to inefficient programs or a dedicated tax.

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 important for students’ growth. I mentioned in an earlier response wrap-around services at schools, and these types of programs should be fully integrated into the students’ school system in a way where the program staff, teachers, and parents are all on the same page about a student, their needs and progress. When we pull these services and programming all into the schools, it creates a community for parents and teachers. It would help parents trust a centralized source, and improve students’ self-confidence, knowing they have a community behind them supporting them. Some families will need a dedicated resource coordinator to make sure all these services are reaching students.


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?

Many low-income families do not seek care until the health concern is dire, and it is usually because it is difficult to access care or they are concerned about the cost. We have to work on educating communities about the benefits of preventive care.The disproportionate number of deaths in the Black community show how COVID-19 has affected residents with underlying conditions that stem from disparities caused by structural racism. I have introduced legislation around a community-based solution to address the maternal mortality rate, and the same model of training members of the community that neighbors will trust could also be expanded to other forms of care or educational health programming.

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?

City/State Coordination

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?

When children testify before the Council, they aren’t shy about pointing out the issues they see in their schools or community. A Children’s Cabinet would be a great opportunity for us to take it a step further and get youth involved on the problem-solving side of government. One way that adults can contribute to breaking down internal silos is by authorizing more data-sharing and collection between our agencies. This could help us look at ways to identify gaps in our services, streamline processes, and see what combinations of resources or assistance are effective. Right now, because of those internal silos that agencies operate within, we lack the necessary information to significantly reform how our agencies are serving children.

Youth Voice

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 take pride in the engagement I’ve done in my first term. I do not base my decisions on who can participate in public hearings. Instead, I make a concerted effort to reach out to families, teachers, and others, and I make myself accessible to them. To engage with youth, I work with groups to meet with members of Black Swan Academy, Boys and Girls Club, Fair Girls, Vote16, Mikva Challenge, and more. With parents, I spend a lot of time on calls and in meetings with individuals and groups of parents discussing their experiences and needs. If I am re-elected, I will continue to do vigorous outreach and continue looking to use technology to make sure our coronavirus emergency does not impact people’s ability to talk to me.

Learn More about Robert White

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Questionnaires were sent to all candidates running for the at-large and ward 2 council seats, as well as the at-large State Board of Education seat. Candidates were given the same amount of time to complete their questionnaire. Multiple reminders were sent out with the deadline for response. If a candidate did not return their questionnaire, we noted it in our candidate gallery.

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