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?
Transitional Age Youth Shelters are woefully underfunded in DC, receiving only around $2 million total a year. These facilities are critical for children and youth experiencing homelessness, and merit a substantially large budget, as do other programs that deal with youth housing and street outreach services. It is imperative that we augment funding for these critical programs, and also pay special attention to supporting LGBT-safe spaces such as Casa Ruby.
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?
As a Latinx immigrant with a Black stepfather, I have had the benefit of experiencing a very racially and culturally diverse upbringing. I am lucky that because of my parents’ hustle, I never had to want for food or housing. However, I know that many of my peers were not as fortunate. True racial equity involves acknowledging and remediating the real, historic intersectional disparities that exist between the hardships and lack of opportunity people of different backgrounds experience. The required actions for addressing these disparities need to be equally intersectional; we need to invest deeply in education programs, quality healthcare, Internet for all, food systems, and put an end over-policing and segregated housing practices.
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?
DC is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that could be used for critical social services. In order to meet these needs, I would fully support increasing income tax for high-earning residents, and gradually dropping the threshold for the Estate Tax back down to its previous level of $1 million. Moreover, I would get rid of tax loopholes for corporations, such as the Supermarket Tax Exemption, which has failed to be effective in opening grocery stores in the areas that need them the most.
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?
Childcare is an essential and intersectionally important service that carries substantial benefits for both parents and children. We need to raise wages and protect childhood educators, especially in the context of the pandemic, which has put their vocation, like many others, in jeopardy and on the front lines. Birth to Three is an incredible legislation, and must be funded. The Act’s financial demands could be covered easily with a marginal wealth tax increase–likely less than .5% a year on high-earners–or by adjusting the floor of the Estate Tax. Moreover, DC could use its massive $1.1+ billion reserve to fill any gaps. I would also propose cuts to bloated, unjustified budgets like those of Events DC or Metropolitan Police Department.
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 programs are unfortunately one of many aspects of life that have been turned upside down by the pandemic. In addition to its relevance to remote learning, affordable–or even free–municipal broadband service and digital literacy programs are essential to connecting students to virtual iterations of these programs. As for increasing collaboration between in-school and out-of-school providers; I would propose the creation of Individual Development Plans (IDP)s, which are often used in academic organizations. These Plans could delineate a student’s activities and goals and receive input and supervision from multiple parties, in order to ensure the student is staying on track and committing out-of-school time constructively.
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?
Beyond addressing the need for substantial investment in health facilities in Wards 5, 6 and 7, I would be a strong proponent of expanding telehealth and health promotion services. Language and distrust of the system can often be a motivating factor for certain populations in avoiding seeking care. We must expand health education and outreach programs that are culturally sensitive and facilitate remote care via telehealth, which has proven to be a life-saving and cost-saving preventative practice, and serves a critical role in relieving the burden on hospital capacity during the pandemic.
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 think inter-departmental cabinets are a fantastic idea, since children and youth programs are scattered across many different public agencies. Establishing such a collaborative body, and perhaps assigning each child a single specialist within the system, who would serve to lead on and facilitate all of the moving parts, could ease the bureaucratic burden and ensure that there are streamlined responses to a child’s needs.
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?
In addition to lowering the voting age to 16, I believe that we should extend municipal voting rights in DC to all permanent residents. Immigrant children are often informers and interpreters for their parents as they try to navigate the political landscape of the US, and if DC is a true Sanctuary City, it should enfranchise its immigrant residents. Additionally, I would look to fund programs to provide activist organizations the resources and tools to create internships and training programs, so that young people can get a head start on community organizing and other forms of political action.