The Districts Dime

Two Major Wins for Workers’ Rights

September 3rd, 2015 | by Ilana Boivie

With Labor Day just around the corner, two recent developments will make a big difference for workers around the country and here in DC, especially for people with low-wage and part-time jobs.

A new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), issued last Thursday, will make it easier for labor unions to negotiate for better jobs for broader swaths of workers. And on the same day, The Gap, Inc., announced that it would end “on call scheduling,” a practice that leaves workers with unpredictable schedules and makes it hard to manage the rest of their lives.

More Predictable Schedules for Workers at The Gap

The Gap and all five of its brands (which also include Old Navy and Banana Republic) will start giving workers 10-14 days’ notice of their work schedules, beginning this month. This will replace The Gap’s “on-call scheduling,” a common practice in retail under which workers are told to call their employer at the last minute to see if they must work a shift. This scheduling makes it very difficult for workers to make other plans—including school or a second job. In making employees clear their schedules —without a guarantee of actually getting any hours — employers are ostensibly getting away with uncompensated work.

2.24.15 DOES perfOn-call work is common in the District, a report from DCFPI and Jobs with Justice has found. Half of D.C. service workers who reported working on-call/call-in shifts said that this occurs at least several times per month. And workers facing on-call shifts reported that half the time they don’t end up actually working – meaning they don’t get paid.

The Gap joins other global retailers Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, both of which recently ended on-call scheduling for their employees as well. Since all of these companies have stores in DC, this will mean better working conditions right here at home.

Helping More Workers Organize for Better Wages and Working Conditions

The NLRB ruling allows unions to negotiate on behalf of workers at companies that rely on subcontractors, franchises, and temporary staffing agencies. Before the ruling, workers employed indirectly for a large company, by working for a subcontractor, could not come together as a union to protest their wages or working conditions or ask for improvements.  Now, if one company hires a contracting company to perform certain work, the union can now negotiate with both companies (considered “joint employers”) on behalf of the employees performing the work.

The ruling is meant to increase companies’ responsibilities to its workers, especially as there are more and more contingent workers in the new so-called “sharing economy.” This model, which includes companies like Uber, Lyft, and Air B&B, depends heavily on workers that the companies claim to be independent contractors. In doing so, they have been able to sidestep many labor laws associated with traditional employment, including preventing workers from organizing through a union for better working conditions.

With more employers abandoning unfair on-call scheduling practices, and unions being given the right to negotiate on behalf of more workers, Americans should find much to celebrate this Labor Day.

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New Calculator Shows DC is an Extremely Expensive Area for Families; Stronger Supports Are Needed

August 26th, 2015 | by DCFPI Staff

The cost of living in the District of Columbia is extremely high, a new report finds, which highlights importance of having a strong minimum wage as well as additional programs to help families meet basic needs.

The new Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that expenses contributing to the extremely high cost of living in DC include:

  • The highest child care costs in the nation, with care for a two-child family costing $2,600 per month. This is nearly 25 percent higher than the next most expensive area for child care, New York City (about $2,000 per month).
  • Very high food and housing costs. The cost of food in DC is the third highest in the country, at $782 per month, and housing costs of $1,469 are the thirteenth highest in the nation (and this housing cost estimate is likely very low, due to EPI’s methodology).[1]

Fortunately, the District has some policies that help to mitigate certain expenses. For example, most residents have access to affordable health insurance. Residents with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty line ($48,500 for a family of four) qualify for DC’s Medicaid program, many others get health insurance through an employer, and the remainder have access to affordable health plans through the DC Health Exchange. As a result, typical health care costs are only $747 a month, less than that of 445 out of the 618 jurisdictions studied by EPI.

DCFPI also has a very generous earned income tax credit for people with children; a two-parent family of four is eligible for income tax refund of up to $2,200. The helps residents near or below the poverty line deal with the high cost of living.

However, in a city where expenses are so high, these policies are not enough. Working families need good-paying jobs, as well as additional support services, to make ends meet. Such policies can include:

  • $15 minimum wage. Although the District recently passed a law to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 by July 2016, this does not go far enough to provide a living wage for families, given the extremely high cost of living. A ballot initiative for the November 2016 election would gradually raise the District’s minimum wage to $15 per hour; this initiative will be on the ballot if supporters can collect sufficient valid signatures from DC residents.
  • Affordable child care. Working families need to have access to quality and affordable child care. But DC’s extremely high child care costs, coupled with low reimbursement rates, makes it hard for families to find decent care. Child care subsidies should be increased for low-income families.
  • Paid family leave. Currently, very few employers offer paid time off for the birth of a child or care of a sick family member. However, research shows that paid family leave enables workers to make ends meet during times of personal need, and encourages women to stay at jobs that they might otherwise leave in order to provide care.
  • Increased housing assistance. Housing assistance isn’t reaching everyone who needs it. Some 47,000 low income households spend more than 50 percent of their income just to have a roof over their heads. The District should expand housing assistance to help mitigate the high cost of housing for working families.

[1] EPI uses the HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR), which is the 40th percentile rent for the whole metropolitan area. DC proper has much higher rents. It is for this reason that the DC Housing Authority sets is own neighborhood-based FMRs, which are usually higher than HUD’s.

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New Guidelines Will Ensure Affordable Housing Programs Better Serve DC’s Homeless and Low-income Families

August 13th, 2015 | by Claire Zippel
Photo by Ted Eytan, Flickr

Photo by Ted Eytan, Flickr

Affordable housing funding this fiscal year will be better directed to DC’s lowest-income and most vulnerable residents, thanks to new guidelines set by Mayor Bowser.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which allocates most funding for affordable housing, released these new criteria in its 2015 Request for Proposals.

Here’s what’s new in how DHCD will distribute FY16 affordable housing funds.

  • Housing for very low income families will be prioritized. This year’s funding will be prioritized for housing that serves DC families most likely to struggle to afford housing. Only projects that produce units for households with incomes below $54,600 for a family of four—half of the median income for the DC area—will be considered for funding. This is a positive step, because it directs limited affordable housing resources to those suffering the most from DC’s high housing costs. The majority of DC renters at that income level spend more than half their income on rent.
  • Permanent supportive housing (PSH) will be connected to those who need it. At least 5 percent of units in a funded project must be PSH (housing for vulnerable residents with supportive services on site), per a best practice adopted in DC last year. The new guidelines clarify that PSH funding will be directed to projects that use the “Coordinated Entry” system. Coordinated Entry streamlines access to housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, prioritizes the most vulnerable, and connects them to the housing that best meets their needs.
  • PSH projects will follow a Housing First model. The “Housing First” model, in which clients don’t have to meet prerequisites before accessing housing and services, is another recognized best practice in combatting homelessness. The new guidelines prioritize projects that use this model.

This year’s budget included significant funding for affordable housing, including $100 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund. DCFPI applauds the DC Council for making those investments, so that more DC families will have a decent and affordable place to live. The next step is to direct those resources to meet the most urgent needs of DC’s poorest, most vulnerable residents. The new funding guidelines are an important step in that direction.

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Students and Families Likely to Benefit from the District’s Expansion of Community Schools

August 11th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

The concept of schools serving as community hubs that connect children and their families to other services is getting a boost in the District. The budget that took effect July 1 will enable the city’s pilot Community Schools program to expand to two more sites and provides for evaluation measures that will help to assess whether the program is reaching its goals.

The idea behind the Community Schools model is that if public schools provide services beyond those that are purely educational, ultimately, students and their families will see benefits.Features of Comm Schools

The model uses schools as central hubs for students and the community to make use of services such as physical and mental health care, afterschool activities, adult education, and early childhood services provided by community-based partners. This combination of opportunities can help families become more engaged, help kids do better in school, and build stronger communities.

The strategic expansion of Community Schools is a good idea, and should become part of the city’s broader strategy to close the student achievement gap. Currently, six DC grantees receive local funding to develop Community Schools. The District’s budget for this year includes $400,000 for two more, including one serving a large homeless student population.

As the pilot project expands, it is important to set clear goals and document how the program affects students and families. The budget includes an additional $66,000 to support this evaluation. Tracking school readiness, student attendance, adult education, and other indicators can help measure the model’s effects on student learning, health, and family engagement over time.

DCFPI will be following the progress and evaluation of Community Schools. Stay tuned to the District’s Dime for updates.

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DC Has Big Opportunities to Cover Housing-Related Services with Medicaid

August 7th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

Last week, DC government officials gathered to strategize on how to use Medicaid — a health program that comes with federal funding — to help more homeless residents get stable housing. There is evidence that stable housing leads to better health, and both DC and the federal government are exploring how housing-related services could be paid for with Medicaid dollars. The meetings, which included researchers, agency officials, and health and housing providers, uncovered several new opportunities that DC should consider to coordinate Medicaid and housing to help combat homelessness.

The District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness and Medicaid agency, the Department of Health Care Finance, have been researching and identifying overlaps in the Medicaid benefits chronically homeless residents use and the supportive services Medicaid covers. They found that certain Medicaid benefits — especially for people with mental health issues in community-based treatment — cover up to 80 percent of the housing support services delivered in Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) programs. DC’s PSH program places homeless residents with chronic health conditions and other barriers into housing and then provides services to address those issues.

The federal government also issued guidance which could help states leverage Medicaid dollars for housing-related services similar to those delivered in PSH. There is lots of evidence that PSH participants are better able to get to the doctor and keep up with prescriptions, are more likely to stay healthy and housed, and are less likely to go to the emergency room.

The District’s health and housing leaders who met last week identified a number of promising opportunities.

  • Medicaid now covers or will soon cover many of the services that chronically homeless residents and residents in PSH need. There may be opportunities to link residents in PSH with a Medicaid case manager. Still, there are gaps and implementation barriers that need to be explored further.
  • Medicaid Managed Care Organizations can play a part in linking Medicaid and PSH. The District’s Medicaid managed care program paid for millions in unnecessary health costs last year, related to uncoordinated care, avoidable hospital visits, and emergency room use for non-emergencies. These companies will soon be paid based on how they improve these measures and will have an incentive to partner with PSH providers to provide case management.
  • Medicaid services for people with severe mental illness look a lot like PSH services. Medicaid’s intensive treatment and case management for mental health (known as Assertive Community Treatment) closely mirrors what the services delivered in PSH. Pairing residents who receive these Medicaid services with rental assistance could expand supportive housing.

These developments are exciting and could lead to more stable and affordable housing for our homeless residents. All of the options explored will need further refinement, cross-walking, and study to see if they can realistically be implemented. And the District will have to do more to create partnerships and information sharing among providers. But last week’s meeting was a great start.

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