The Districts Dime

Improving the Economic Security of DC’s Early Care and Education Workforce

July 28th, 2016 | by Soumya Bhat

Too many of the professionals who care for our youngest children live in poverty because of low wages. Not only is this challenging for people in a demanding job, it’s bad for children because it leads to high turnover and a stressed child care workforce. Improving the wages of workers in DC’s child care settings should be a top priority for the city.

Mother feeding little boy

Nationally, nearly half of child care workers rely on public assistance such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF benefits, according to recent research, and the story in DC is the same. Our report on child care providers in DC, Solid Footing, highlighted low compensation that does not match the credentials of child care workers.

Offering high-quality education and development options for our youngest children – those between birth and age three – can make all the difference for their school readiness and health outcomes later in life. Increasing payments to providers who serve children in DC’s child care subsidy program is one critical step to making sure workers are well paid and that child care quality is high. With low reimbursements, providers simply struggle to have enough revenue to pay a living wage.

But, that alone may not lead to a better paid workforce. One way DC can improve retention and recruitment of quality ECE staff by supplementing salaries for early care and education staff in community-based settings. A Child Care Salary Supplement Program could contribute to higher quality early care and education by:

  • Supplementing low wages that most ECE programs pay their staff, making it more economically viable to stay in the field and increasing the appeal of the field to new talent.
  • Increasing retention by requiring participants to commit to an additional period of time (6 months to a year) in their position.
  • Increasing education levels of the ECE workforce by linking supplements to educational attainment and/or continued professional development.

There are several models that could inform this work. For example, in Illinois, an early care and education worker is eligible for a pay supplement if they earn $15 an hour or less, have been in the program at least one year, and work at least 15 hours per week. In Pennsylvania, child care facilities meeting certain performance standards can receive grants to fund staff bonuses and continuing education. Supplements range from a low of $200 to $500 per year to a high of $1,500 to $6,250 a year for administrators with advanced experience and education.

We hope the District will take a look at these models as a starting point to develop and sustain a program specific to the needs and challenges of the District’s ECE workforce. See here for more information on bringing a child care salary supplement program to DC.

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Helping Residents Beat the Heat

July 27th, 2016 | by Kate Coventry

The heat wave is creating inconveniences such as metro trains running slowly and very sweaty bike commutes. But, more importantly, it puts all of us at risk for heat-related injuries like dehydration, and heat stroke that can lead to death. Homeless residents are particularly at risk because they often lack access to water and a cool place during the hottest daytime hours. The District develops anwarm-weather-clipart- annual Heat Emergency Plan to ensure that all DC residents, but particularly the most vulnerable, are protected from heat-related injuries.

Most of the District’s shelters for homeless residents without children are only open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., meaning residents cannot stay in the shelter during the warmest daytime hours. When the temperature or heat index, the measure of perceived temperature that takes into account humidity, reaches 95 degrees, the District opens Cooling Centers and encourages residents to take advantage of recreation centers, public libraries, and senior wellness centers. United Planning Organization (UPO) vans travel the city looking for persons in need of water or a ride to a Cooling Center.

If you see someone in need of water or a ride to a Cooling Center, call 1-800-535-7252 and a UPO van will respond. Working together, we can help homeless residents beat the heat.

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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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