The Districts Dime

Council Chooses to Take Time To Get Paid Family Leave and Fair Scheduling Bills Right

July 22nd, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

The DC Council decided to hold off voting on two important pieces of legislation, the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 (UPLA) and the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015, until this fall, after its recess. While this is unfortunate news, considering that District workers strongly need family leave and fair scheduling, it reflected a reasonable desire to take the time needed to craft the strongestPaid Family Leave legislation possible on both fronts. We look forward to the Council taking up these bills in September.

The current paid family leave proposal would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers in DC to care for themselves, a new child, or an ill family member. It would be funded largely with a tax on payroll paid by employers, equal to less than a $1/day for workers earning minimum wage, and less than $4/day for workers earning $100,000 annually.

While there appears to be broad support in the Council to establish paid family and medical leave insurance, some key questions remain about how to structure the program with the available resources. The considerations that remain to be worked out include:

  • The level of benefit that the proposed payroll tax will support, including the number of weeks of benefits;
  • Details on certain qualifications for the program, including the definition of family;fair scheduling pic
  • The start-up and ongoing administrative costs of the program; and
  • Which government agency will run the program.

The fair scheduling bill would mandate that employers make additional hours available to current employees before they can make a new hire. In addition, the bill ensures that employees are provided with advance notice of their schedules, and entitles employees to additional pay should their employer make changes to their schedule after the notification period.

Similar to UPLA, some technical details are still being hammered out. These include:

  • Allowing employers to change a worker’s schedule on short notice in certain circumstances, without added pay, such as when certain large events are cancelled or rescheduled; and
  • Ensuring that recordkeeping requirements are not overly burdensome to businesses.

We hope that the Council utilizes the rest of the summer to make the necessary changes to these bills so that strong, sustainable legislation can be passed and implemented quickly.

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Affordable Housing to Expand in DC With Vote to Strengthen Inclusionary Zoning

July 21st, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

New apartments affordable to low-income residents will be available throughout the city, thanks to a decision by the Zoning Commission to strengthen DC’s Inclusionary Zoning program.

Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) harnesses the District’s hot real estate market to create affordable housing throughout DC. IZ requires new residential developments to reserve 8 to 10 percent of the new homes at below-market rents or sales prices, in return for allowing greater density than normally permitted by zoning rules. Importantly, IZ can produce affordable housing wherever development is occurring – including in neighborhoods with access to public transportation, good schools, retail amenities, and job opportunities – without requiring tax dollars. About 900 IZ units have been built or will soon be coming on line in DC, with thousands more planned.

IZ is an affordable housing tool with tremendous potential, and thanks to a Wednesday night vote by the Zoning Commission, it will soon help more residents who are burdened by high housing costs. DCFPI and other affordable housing advocates had asked the Commission to revisit the program, which to date has largely produced units too expensive for DC families most likely to struggle to afford housing.

With the Zoning Commission’s decision, going forward all new IZ rental units will be within reach of families with incomes at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $52,000 for a family of two. IZ condos will be targeted to a somewhat higher income level. Because of this decision, IZ will generate over 2,600 apartments affordable to low-income families over the next five to 10 years, based on the pace of new development which has climbed to a 25-year high.

Before, the vast majority of IZ units were rentals targeted to households at 80 percent AMI, which amounts to a $Figure 1 for IZ blog1,600 a month one-bedroom and is very close to private-market rents in most DC neighborhoods; this means that the current IZ program creates apartments for households who are largely accommodated by existing housing in the private market. By contrast, there are few rental units affordable to families at 60 percent AMI in DC, and they are concentrated in only a few neighborhoods (see Figure 1).

Thanks to the Zoning Commission’s move, thousands of low-income renter households who now pay most of their income for rent, will have expanded affordable housing options throughout DC, increasing economic diversity and inclusion in DC neighborhoods. The DC Council will likely join in support of the Zoning Commission’s decision: last year, the Council unanimously passed a resolution last year calling for strengthening IZ’s affordability.

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DC Is Doing a Lot to Help Unemployed Workers, But New Report Suggests Even More Can Be Done

July 19th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

The District helps unemployed workers in a number of important ways, including recent reforms to improve the city’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. But there are still creative ways DC can further assist the unemployed, especially extending UI benefits to workers who are forced to leave their jobs due to domestic violence or other personal traumas. Recommendations for DC and the states were highlighted in a report released last week by several national organizations.

The following reforms to DC’s UI program were part of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget:

  1. Raising the maximum weekly UI benefit amount to $425, the first increase in a decade;
  2. Helping workers retain part-time employment to supplement their UI benefits;
  3. Ensuring that all workers can get UI benefits for 26 weeks if needed; and
  4. Authorizing the Department of Employment Services (DOES) to adjust unemployment benefits each year for inflation.

capThanks to these changes, the District now incorporates six out of seven recommendations from a new report on strengthening UI from the Center for American Progress, the National Employment Law Project, and the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.

One recommendation that DC does not currently follow would be to allow workers to get help from UI when they leave work due to unreasonable scheduling practices or for compelling personal reasons, such as escaping domestic violence or caring for a sick family member. Instead, DC workers can only get benefits if they lose a job “through no fault of their own,” such as being laid off.

The report also recommends several new policies to better serve unemployed workers across the country. First, in order to help unemployed residents find quality work, the report recommends increasing and improving re-employment services, and providing additional technical assistance to workers who must “reskill” in order to find a job in a new career or industry. Second, the report proposes a “Jobseekers Allowance,” a small, short-term weekly benefit that would be available to all jobseekers—whether or not they qualify for UI—in order to support their job search activities. (In the District, only 32 percent of all jobseekers actually qualify for unemployment.)

While DC’s unemployment program clearly serves its workers well—and will be even more robust thanks to the new legislation—this new report highlights the fact that more can be done to better ensure that city workers are able to make ends meet when they face unemployment.

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“Banning the Box” on Apartment Applications Will Make DC’s Investments in Affordable Housing More Effective

July 11th, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

The DC Council is considering a bill that would help remove a barrier faced by many residents who have had interactions with the criminal justice system – getting an apartment – when those interactions are unlikely to have any bearing on their worthiness as a tenant. The “Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act” would not only make tenant screenings fairer and make it more likely that returning citizens can reintegrate successfully, it would also smooth the way for the District’s investments in rental assistance programs.

It’s not uncommon for people to have their rental application denied simply because they were flagged in a background check based on a non-violent offense or something that happened long ago. The Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act would require landlords to instead take a more holistic approach to screening potential tenants. Modeled on the “ban the box” law for job applications, the Act would only allow landlords to deny housing after reasonably considering the nature and circumstances of the crime, as well as any evidence of the applicant’s rehabilitation.

Expanding access to housing for people who’ve interacted with the criminal justice system:

  • Helps Rebuild Stable Lives. People who have recently interacted with the criminal justice system often experience housing instability and periods of homelessness.[i] Yet access to stable housing is critical to a successful reintegration, and is associated with a reduced likelihood of parole violations or subsequent offenses.[ii] It’s also key to having a fair shot at a second chance. A person with stable housing is better able to find employment and be a reliable employee, care for a chronic health condition, or invest in their future by going back to school or attending a job training program.
  • Supports DC’s Investment in Rental Assistance Programs. The Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act will help very low-income and formerly homeless residents assisted by the District’s rental assistance programs move more quickly into affordable housing, as they will be less likely to be rejected by some landlords simply because of their background. The fiscal year 2017 budget includes $5.6 million in new funds to help formerly homeless residents – some of whom have had past interactions with the criminal justice system – pay the rent at a private market apartment. The Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act would help those new funds work more smoothly.

The Council should support legislation that makes it easier for people who’ve interacted with the criminal justice system to find housing.

[i] Herbert, C. W., Morenoff, J. D., & Harding, D. J. (2015). “Homelessness and Housing Insecurity Among Former Prisoners.” Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 1(2), 44-79. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4762459/pdf/nihms-729845.pdf

Metraux, S., Roman, C. G., & Cho, R. S. (2008). “Incarceration and Homelessness.” In D. Dennis, G. Locke, & J. Khadduri (Ed.), Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/pdf/p9.pdf

[ii] Herbert et al. See also: Fontaine, J. & Biess, J. (2012). “Housing as a Platform for Formerly Incarcerated Persons.” Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/412552-Housing-as-a-Platform-for-Formerly-Incarcerated-Persons.pdf

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DC’s Higher Minimum Wage Will Help Thousands, But Enforcement Is Needed to Make Sure Workers Get It

July 5th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

Last Friday DC’s minimum wage increased to $11.50 per hour, instantly boosting the income and standard of living for nearly 64,000 workers—roughly 10 percent of the people who work in the District.[i] And thanks to legislation just signed into law, DC’s minimum wage will continue to increase to $15 per hour by 2020, and to $5 per hour for tipped workers.

Yet the value of this and other important protections for DC workers is only as good as the willingness of city leaders to enforce them, and in that regard the District can do a lot better. The minimum wage increase is one of several new labor laws in the District that stand to help DC working families. Others include expanding paid sick leave protections, ensuring the rights of pregnant and breastfeeMin Wage Picding workers, and “ban the box” rules that prohibit employers from asking about any criminal arrests or convictions before making an offer of employment.

The DC Just Pay Coalition (of which DCFPI is a member) held a rally on the steps of the John A. Wilson building on Friday, both to celebrate the minimum wage increase but also to remind policymakers that the lack of strong enforcement of progressive wage laws has limited the actual gains for DC workers. Enforcing these laws in robust and intentional ways is imperative to ensuring that workers are fully supported and treated with respect.

At the rally, the coalition recommended the following improvements in enforcement at the Department of Employment Services:

  • Proactive, increased enforcement of these worker protections to assess business compliance;
  • Assessing fines when businesses are not complying, as specified in the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014;
  • Following through on requirements to collect damages and compensate workers both for wages owed and costs associated with delay and recovery process;
  • Multilingual, accessible services, including but not limited to more bilingual intake specialists at the DC Office of Wage-Hour;
  • Outreach, education to workers, including publicity throughout the Metrorail and Metrobus systems; and
  • Creation of an Interagency Wage Theft Task Force that would allow for coordinated, proactive enforcement with other agencies.

[i] http://www.dcfpi.org/the-workers-who-will-benefit-from-raising-dcs-minimum-wage

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