The Districts Dime

New Bill Would Ensure a Living Wage for Workers on Projects that Get DC Tax Subsidies

January 21st, 2016 | by Wes Rivers and Ilana Boivie

A bill before DC Council would ensure that workers employed on city-subsidized development projects earn the city’s living wage, or about $14 an hour. This would help many workers in the District receive adequate income to support their families, and it would make sure that jobs resulting from DC tax subsidies are good jobs.

The Living Wages for Publicly Supported Jobs Amendment Act of 2016 would close a major loophole in DC’s 2006 Living Wage law. Currently, the requirement to pay DC’s living wage only applies to firms that receives grants, loans, and a specific type of tax benefit called tax increment financing. But the District has aided many economic development deals with other kinds of tax subsidies, such as $43 million in tax abatements for the soccer stadium or $60 million in tax breaks over 10 years for the Advisory Board Company. While the soccer stadium has collective bargaining agreements with construction and operations workers, there are no guarantees that workers in the other deals receive a living wage.

The proposed legislation would ensure that future companies who receive the same types of abatements would be required to pay the living wage. All companies receiving a government contract or assistance of $100,000 or more, and subcontractors receiving $50,000 or more, would be subject to the legislation.

DC’s living wage is $13.85 per hour, or roughly $28,800 per year on a full-time basis, for 2016. The Department of Employment Services (DOES) recalculates the living wage each year, based on annual inflation. The 2016 rate represents an increase of $0.05 from last year.

The living wage rate is higher than the city’s minimum wage rate, which is currently at $10.50 per hour, scheduled to increase to $11.50 per hour on July 1. This bill will help to boost the pay of many workers of government-aided economic development projects, so that they can fully take advantage of the economic boom the city has been experiencing.

Given the city’s high cost of living, if enacted, this bill will go a long way to ensuring that more workers in the District of Columbia receive adequate income to support their families.

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DC Residents Need Fair Scheduling: A Personal Account

January 19th, 2016 | by Rasimani Diggs, Guest Blogger

This past Wednesday, the DC Council on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs held the first public hearing on the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act. We asked Rasimani Diggs, an employee at Marshalls in Columbia Heights, to share her testimony on our blog:

 

My name is Rasimani Diggs and I’m here to support the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act. First I want to thank Councilmember Orange and the other Councilmembers who introduced and co-sponsored this important bill. I also want to thank all of the Councilmembers for talking about this very important problem with hours and scheduling. I’ve worked at Marshall’s in Columbia Heights for over two years and live in Kenilworth. It was not easy to request time off and lose hours for being here today.

It was an easy decision to come testify. It’s not easy for other workers in my position to take time off and I know a lot of them are scared to speak up about what’s happening to them. It’s important for me to be here because I’m speaking not only for other people who need these opportunities, but on my own behalf as well. I’ve worked hard enough that I want what I deserve.

Right now, life is hard. I was told I would get 20 hours a week when I started, but I almost never do. When they make the schedule, they don’t care about our availability. Even when I open my availability up or volunteer for overnight shifts, I still don’t get scheduled for hours I expected. I got a second job working with an aftercare program at J.O. Wilson, where I went to school. It hasn’t helped. They just cut me back to one or two days a week at Marshalls. Since I’ve started speaking out, my hours are very slim.

We don’t have a schedule really. They post a schedule a day or two before the week starts, but it can change at any time. I wish they even just had a digital schedule. They only post the schedule on paper in the store. I have to try to call in or take metro from Kenilworth on a day I don’t even work just to check my schedule and see if it’s changed. I can’t plan anything in my life. With a second job and trying to help my family, if my schedule changes, all of my plans have to change too.

It makes it difficult for me to take care of helping like I’d like to. Even though my sister is able to take care of herself and her daughter, I want to be able to pitch in. I also have my own career plans and dreams. I’m working at Marshalls because I want to work for a future, but my job holds me back from being able to pursue anything else.

If you pass this bill I could afford a sewing machine to pursue my business dreams. I would be able to have my own place and mobility. I could help out my mom and help my sister to look out for my niece. This would help with a lot of important things that I need in my life right now that I don’t have. It would make life a lot better for me and all of my co-workers.

I strongly support the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act and I’m asking for your support too. My co-workers and I talk about this every day and we’ll be watching closely. I just want to thank Councilmember Orange again for introducing this bill and all of you who have sponsored and supported the bill. Finally, I want to thank all of the Councilmembers for having this hearing. This is a very important issue and we need this change.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

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DC Should Reduce Traffic Fatalities Without Fines that Could Hurt Many Residents

January 12th, 2016 | by Ed Lazere

The District should explore ways to reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities without steeply raising traffic fines, as has been proposed as part of the Vision Zero initiative. The proposed increases would cause real hardship for households already struggling to make ends meet. With DC’s wide and growing income gaps, and housing costs that continue to grow further out of reach for many, the District should explore other ways to improve driver behavior.

The proposed regulations would increase many traffic fines to substantial levels. For example, fines would rise from $50 to $200 for failing to yield to a pedestrian while turning right on red, and from $65 to $300 for parking in a bike lane. Stopping this kind of behavior is, of course, important to pedestrian and bicyclist safety.wages falling wo college degree graph

However, attempting to achieve this goal through very high traffic fines could place a substantial burden on many residents in the District. In the midst of sharply rising housing costs, incomes have been flat over the past decade for the poorest 40 percent of DC renter households. And wages have fallen for workers without a college degree. As a result, a majority of lower-income households spend at least half their income on rent and utilities.

A fine of $200 or $300 for a family with no wiggle room in their budget could mean getting behind on rent, an empty refrigerator, or a child who cannot participate in extracurricular activities. Moreover, many low-income families will see fines doubled if they are not able to pay a fine promptly due to a lack of resources. A growing body of research confirms that adding to a family’s financial instability creates stress that makes it hard for parents to make sound decisions and hard for children to succeed at school.

For these reasons, the District should put a hold on traffic fine increases to assess the impacts on low-income families and to explore alternatives.

  • It may make sense to install more red light or stop-sign cameras than to increase fines. The Greater Greater Washington blog suggested that substantial fines will not have much impact if offenses are not regularly enforced.
  • Penalties for the most serious traffic safety violations, such as driving more than 25 miles per hour above the speed limit, could be addressed by strengthening DC’s procedures for suspending driving privileges.
  • The District should consider other approaches that incentivize better behavior without causing as much hardship. For example, the District could wipe out fines for a first or second offense if the driver maintains good behavior for a specified period, such as a year.
  • The District should analyze the current impact of traffic fines by income, by comparing aggregate traffic fines with incomes by ward or zip code. And as a long-term strategy, the District should explore ways to adjust fees based on income, as some European countries do, to ensure that fees and fines match residents’ ability to pay.

The goal of reducing traffic-related injuries is important, and so is the goal of helping all DC residents thrive in the city’s challenging economy. Hopefully our leaders can find ways to meet both goals, rather than put them in conflict.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

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Come Work With Us!

January 11th, 2016 |

Here’s our job announcement for DCFPI’s next Policy Analyst. If you have been looking for your next step – something that combines policy analysis, advocacy, research, writing, and a whole lot of good fun – you will want to check this out.

Want to hear great reasons to work at DCFPI from someone sad to go? Hear from Wes Rivers:

Your research has a tangible and often visible impact on the community in which you live. DC is a small town geographically, but District residents face major challenges. DCFPI’s research informs local policy making and that can have a sizable mark on residents’ daily lives. From more afterschool programs for kids to the construction of new, affordable housing – you can actually “see” the impact of your work in the community.

You work with some of the best advocates in the city. Internally, you will get to work with a super effective team of wonderful researchers – smart, kind, and extremely passionate. Externally, you will work with and learn from a diverse group of local advocates who have many years of grassroots and organizing experience.

DC is a unique place to do policy analysis. DC is a city with a state’s budget, which presents big opportunities to influence positive policy changes.

Know somebody who might be a good fit? Encourage them to check us out!

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New Education Task Force Formed to Improve Planning and Collaboration between School Sectors

December 22nd, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

With enrollment growing in both DCPS and the city’s public charter schools, and with the number of students in charter schools almost as high as the number in DCPS, it is increasingly important for these two pillars of public education to work well together. However, the city still falls short when it comes to true planning and coordination between the two sectors. Too often, there are examples of how schools and communities are forced to compete over scarce resources instead of embracing joint strategies to build a better city-wide educational systemclassroom.

The good news is, steps are being taken to tackle these systemic challenges. The Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) just launched a two-year effort to improve the city’s coordination between DC Public Schools and public charter schools by creating a Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force. This group will focus on concrete strategies on a range of policy issues, including how to share best practices and data, coordinate school openings and closings, and promote student enrollment stability.

The Task Force will meet on a monthly basis, starting in January, and will wrap up in July 2017. It will be co-chaired by DME Jennie Niles and former Mayor Anthony Williams and includes 26 members from DCPS, the Public Charter School Board, other District agencies, parents, and community members.

All Task Force meetings will be open to the public, but DC residents can also participate in the process in other ways. Eight focus groups will be held in February to provide issue-specific input into various policy options and strategies being considered by the Task Force – you can sign up here. Other public engagement opportunities – such as community meetings and an online survey – are also being planned, but details are not yet finalized.

DCFPI looks forward to watching the progress of this work over the next two years. You can learn more about the DME Task Force here or with this FAQ sheet.

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