We're Back in Session!

We’re back!

Actually we’ve been back from recess since September 16, but it’s been a busy couple weeks. I’ll get back into a biweekly schedule of sending out these email updates starting today.  Recess was not exactly leisurely; in addition to the focus on public safety, our office also took the break as a time to work on our fall legislative agenda. We also met with a number of D.C. agency directors and staff, community-based organizations and service providers, and residents. You’ll read about a few of those meetings below.

I did get in some down time, and I worked in a few great trips to the Eastern Shore, Brooklyn, Durham, and Baltimore. Thanks to all my hosts!

Legislative Work

Last Tuesday, my colleagues and I met for our first legislative meeting of the fall. Thanks to the hard work and leadership of Legislative Director Ari Weisbard, I was proud to introduce two significant pieces of legislation, which modernize our unemployment compensation benefits and keep us on track to meet our solar energy targets. Our office also worked with the Bowser administration and my Council colleagues to strengthen oversight over the expanded jobs program that was part of the Mayor’s supplemental budget. Ari was assisted by the rest of our dedicated policy team: Chief of Staff Kitty Richards, Senior Policy Advisor Sam Rosen-Amy, and Legislative Fellow Kelly Hunt. Here’s a brief overview of the proposed legislation:

Unemployment Benefits Modernization Amendment Act of 2015

Our bill proposes to update the District’s unemployment benefits, which have not been increased for a decade. The bill raises benefits from $359 a week, which is the lowest in the DMV area, to Maryland’s weekly maximum benefit of $430. This rate will then be automatically indexed to keep pace with inflation. If passed, this bill would also allow unemployed workers to receive higher partial benefits while working part-time.

Unemployment insurance (UI) is one of our most important safety net programs and benefits 30,000 District workers each year. Similar to social security, UI is considered an “earned benefit,” a benefit only available to individuals with a history of working. The current $359 weekly cap is less than a minimum wage worker earns and has lost roughly $100 in real value since 2005 due to inflation. The District’s current unemployment law also severely cuts benefits of claimants who try to obtain some part-time work while looking for a full-time job.

Thanks to my eight colleagues who signed on to co-introduce the bill (Bonds, May, Todd, McDuffie, Allen, Cheh, Nadeau and Chairman Mendelson) and two others who co-sponsored the bill (Orange and Grosso). I am eager to see the bill progress through the Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs Committee to the full Council. You can read the full press release here and follow the bill’s status here.

Solar Energy Amendment Act of 2015

This legislation will help us meet our solar production goals by keeping current incentives in place until 2023, which will make it easier for DC residents to afford to install solar panels. Our bill proposes to maintain existing compliance fees for energy producers that will help increase incentives for additional solar development in the District, as well as increase funds collected and deposited in the Renewable Energy Development Fund. These funds can be used to provide loans, grants, rebates, and other financial incentives to support the creation of new solar energy sources. The bill also focuses the existing Renewable Energy Development Fund at households earning less than the D.C. metropolitan Area Median Income and adds residential energy efficiency improvements as a permissible use of the fund. Energy efficiency is one of the most economically and environmentally sound ways of lowering utility costs and reducing carbon emissions.

I introduced the bill along with support from eight of my colleagues and the Office of People’s Counsel. You can read the full press release here. Chairman Mendelson is still determining where to refer the bill, which will go to either the Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs Committee or the Transportation and the Environment Committee.

Where I’ve Been

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Minnesota Avenue Metro: As a member of the Finance and Revenue Committee, which has oversight over WMATA, I was concerned after receiving a number of complaints about the Minnesota Avenue Orange Line Metro station, which is undergoing a necessary renovation. I decided to see for myself, and I found a hazardous platform; poor lighting; a dangerous pedestrian entrance; an elevator that hadn’t been working for months; and excessive debris and trash in the bus waiting area. I spoke with Corbett Price, who was recently appointed by Mayor Bowser to the WMATA Board, and he visited the station with his family as well. I am thrilled to say that when he and I returned a few weeks later, all of the issues had been addressed. Thank you to Board Member Price for urgently resolving these issues, along with WMATA Deputy General Manager Rob Troup, and for reinforcing that all residents deserve access to quality transportation.

Washington Gas Public Pipes Program: Earlier this month, I met with Washington Gas for an update on their infrastructure modernization project. Similar to D.C. Water, Washington Gas’s pipes are aging, and the utility company will be replacing them over the next 40 years. Washington Gas is working with our other District agencies to coordinate this work, so that we only have to open up our roads once when replacing or repairing various pieces of our underground infrastructure. You can find more information on this initiative, as well as a calendar of upcoming work, at http://www.washgas.com/pages/PROJECTpipes. During the meeting, I also urged Washington Gas to update its online billing system, which has been an ongoing frustration for constituents over the years. They promised to look into this and said that they will be working to update their billing system over the next year.

Melinda Bolling, Director of the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs: Legislative Director Ari Weisbard, Legislative Fellow Kelly Hunt, and I also met with DCRA Director Bolling to learn more about the agency’s work and share concerns we’ve heard from residents about vacant properties and the inspection process for new developments across the city. As the District’s real estate market continues to thrive, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that new construction is well-constructed and sufficiently documented. Director Bolling shared that DCRA has cleared the backlog of permit applications and is now reviewing applications and issuing permits within 14 days, assuming there are no complications. We also discussed some legislative ideas that we will be pursuing in coming months.

Bikeshare Celebration: As many of you know, I often bike to work and strongly support cycling as a sustainable transportation option for residents across the city. Senior Policy Advisor Sam Rosen-Amy and I had a great time helping Capital Bikeshare celebrate its 5th anniversary! The last commuting census reported that nearly 11,000 District workers biked to work, while over 156,000 workers either walked or used public transportation. Thank you to Capital Bikeshare for including me in the program and providing an environmentally-friendly commuting option to the District!

DC Adult and Family Literacy Week: I participated in two events related to adult learning and literacy this week. Last Monday night, I was honored to participate in the Adult Education and Family Literacy Awards to support increased access to adult education and family literacy programs in the District. Many of our residents lack basic skills necessary to complete GED or workforce training programs, which means that they are not reaching their potential to contribute to their families and our community. Over 62,000 D.C. residents do not hold a high school diploma. Twenty-two percent of these residents are in Ward 8. There are many economic and public safety benefits to increasing adult education in the District, and I encourage you to take a look at ways to be an advocate for adult education initiatives across the city. Thank you to Academy of Hope, D.C. Adult and Family Literacy Coalition, and Busboys and Poets for hosting a great kickoff event that celebrated the winners of the AEFL Essay Contest! I also participated in a hearing at the Council on adult literacy last Thursday.

In the Community

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind: Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, a nonprofit that serves the visually impaired in the District, Maryland, and Virginia, is having trouble recruiting volunteers in the area and has requested our help. Individuals with disabilities contribute to all aspects of District life. If you or someone you know would like to assist someone experiencing issues with sight, contact Elianna Edwards at EEdwards@clb.org or 240-737-5179.

Department of Parks and Recreation: Over the summer, we heard from several of you that the Department of Parks and Recreation’s child policy for pool admission was too restrictive. I’m happy to report that DPR has since revised their policy and now allows parents to bring up to three children under the age of 6 (and up to six children if they are between the ages of 6 and 13) to DPR pools. This change will make it easier for single parents and larger families to enjoy the benefits of our public pools. You even a few more days to take advantage of this! East Potomac Pool is open until September 30 for some last minute fun.

Community Partnerships Mini Grants Info Session: This initiative will support programming in violence prevention and mediation, mentoring, youth enrichment programs, and community-based services to support parents. It is part of the Mayor’s supplemental budget. Interested applicants must attend an information session and can register online. The last session is Tuesday, October 13, 2015 from 6 pm – 8pm at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity (2235 Shannon Place SE, Suite 3040, Washington, DC  20020).

The Wilson Building is buzzing again, and I hope that we will see a few more familiar faces now that session is back in full swing. Community safety continues to be a priority for me, and I especially hope you will continue to share things happening in your neighborhoods and your ideas on community-oriented solutions with me and my staff.

Happy Fall and L’Shanah Tovah (Happy Jewish New Year)!

Take care.

Elissa.