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?
It’s a shame that DC’s prosperity has come at the cost of rising homelessness. We have an obligation to ensure that the trauma of homelessness does not hold kids back. I’m committed to funding DC’s plans to end homelessness, including youth homelessness, and investing adequately in affordable housing, the key in the long-term to ending homelessness among families with children. We also need better and more coordinated efforts to support homeless families with children. That includes reforming Rapid Rehousing to make sure that it truly works for families. It also requires greater collaboration across agencies that serve children (like DHS, DCPS, PCSB and OSSE) to facilitate enrollment in child care and school and transportation to school.
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?
DC’s economic, health, and other inequities reflect the effects of systemic racism, including housing segregation, urban renewal, and discrimination in jobs, education, and wealth-building. Racial equity requires acknowledging the role of racism and making policy and budget decisions to undo the impacts. This will take investments in low-income families: high-quality early childhood education, school-based mental health, home visiting, at-risk funding in schools, out of school-time programs and more. It will take investing in families, such as affordable housing. And it will take employment equity measures, like eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, fair scheduling laws, fighting wage theft, and investments in job training.
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?
Through my work at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, I worked to make DC’s tax system more progressive and I would continue to do so on the DC Council. DC’s top income tax rate for millionaires is barely above the tax rate for someone with $60,000 in income. It also is worth noting that high-income residents are benefiting from over $500 million in federal income tax cuts from the 2017 tax act. I support raising income taxes on our highest-income residents and on profitable corporations. I support closing loopholes that allow wealthy households and businesses to escape taxation. I support taxing high-value estates — the current tax only affects those above $4 million — and setting a higher property tax rate on high-value homes.
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 am proud to have been part of the advocacy coalition that drafted and supported passage of the Birth-to-Three Act. And as a Council member, funding it’s full implementation would be a top priority. I would raise revenue to implement this legislation using the prorgressive tax ideas noted above. I also support reducing funding for the Metropolitan Police Department and shifting the savings to Birth-to-Three and other community investments.
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?
We know that after-school and summer school programming can make school more exciting, support academic achievement, and help students become their whole selves. Through my work at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute I worked to increase funding for out-of-school-time programming, which had been cut deeply in the wake of the scandal over the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation. As a Council member I would push for further investments in OST but also to ensure that every DCPS school and every charter school LEA has robust OST programs. That could come from developing a school-by-school process to assess student and parent interests in OST options and then working to partner appropriate OST providers with schools.
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?
DC has near universal health insurance coverage and yet enormous health inequities by race, income and geography. Part of that reflects limited access to care, including only one hospital east of the Anacostia River — UMC — which has been under-funded and lacks key services such as obstetrics. The District must support UMC and ensure that the new hospital in Ward 8 provides a full range of services to meet the community’s needs, and we must support non-profit health providers. I support expanding the number of community health workers to provide health education and connect residents with health services. I also support doing more to address the social determinants of health, including grocery store access and good-quality housing.
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 support conducting an annual assessment of the state of child well-being in the District, including identifying key shortfalls in services or in services coordination. Such a report should make recommendations for targeted service improvements for children, including the DC government agencies that would need to carry them out. I think it would be best if the commission were staffed and independent of DC government agencies, which may be resistant to change or unwilling to recommend the bold actions needed to improve child well-being.
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 come to this race from the advocacy community and have built relationships across DC. At DCFPI, I worked to develop our annual agenda by listening to stakeholders, engaged in extensive budget trainings and conversations with them, and partnered with them to respond to emerging advocacy threats and opportunities. I want to bring that same approach to the DC Council. Rather than wait for advocates and stakeholders to approach me, I want to engage them as a way of educating myself and shaping my agenda. It would be a stronger agenda because it is authentic, and it would have a greater chance of success because I would have the community with me.