The Districts Dime

“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

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

[ii] Herbert et al. See also: Fontaine, J. & Biess, J. (2012). “Housing as a Platform for Formerly Incarcerated Persons.” Urban Institute. Retrieved from

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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.


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What’s In the Final Fiscal Year 2017 Budget? DCFPI’s Updated Toolkit

June 30th, 2016 | by DCFPI Staff

With the DC Council’s approval of the budget for the fiscal year starting October 1, 2017, DCFPI wants to make sure our readers know where to find tools to help you understand what the new spending plan means for schools, housing, homeless services, and other areas important to the District’s economic well-being and quality of life.

Here’s what you’ll find in the DCFPI Budget Toolkit:

  • How the Budget Stacks Up:  Our analysis gives you a detailed look at the approved budgets for education, affordable housing, homeless services, Temporary Assistance for Chartbook-FY-2017Needy Families (TANF), workforce development, health care, Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), and revenues. We highlight a number of important investments, including increased funding for schools, new shelters for homeless families, and an increase to unemployment insurance benefits; and also the very large gaps that remain, including the need to develop a permanent TANF time limit policy and to end chronic homelessness.
  • The Budget Made Simple:  A timeline on the budget process and primers that explain how the city sets its budget, the revenue structure, and how schools are financed.
  • Important Events and Documents:  If you want to find the final Budget Request Act, the Budget Support Act, or any other budget materials, they are all in the Toolkit.
  • Key Budget Trends:  DCFPI’s Chartbook highlights of key budget trends through graphics, ideal for making presentations to community groups.

You can check out DCFPI’s updated Budget Toolkit here!

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What’s the Best Way to Spend $56 Million to Improve the Health of DC Residents? Your Input is Needed!

June 28th, 2016 | by Jodi Kwarciany

Recent actions by the District government open the door to create new initiatives to improve the health of DC residents. The city’s Insurance Commissioner recently announced he will develop a plan to spend $56 million of excess surpluses held by CareFirst, because the nonprofit health insurer failed to come up with a community health reinvestment plan for that money. The District is seeking public input over the next few weeks on the best ways to invest in the community’s health. Residents and organizations who care about health issues should plan to weigh in. (See details below on how to do that.)option for carefirst blog 2

The DC Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB) determined in 2014 that CareFirst (also known as Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc. or GHMSI) had $56 million in excess surplus in 2011 based on its insurance activity in DC. The Commissioner ordered GHMSI to file a plan on how it would reinvest the $56 million within the community. But CareFirst failed to submit a satisfactory plan, and this month DISB rejected CareFirst’s claim that it did not need to make any new community health investments.

As a result, DISB Commissioner Taylor will use his authority to develop and approve a plan for GHMSI’s $56 million excess surplus. DISB will accept public comments on that plan until July 14. This represents not only an important step forward, but an extraordinary opportunity for advocates in the community to provide input on District health needs.

The following investments represent possible uses of CareFirst’s excess surplus.

  • Making the Healthcare Alliance Program more accessible. This program for low-income residents of DC who are not eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or subsidies on DC Health Link has some the strictest eligibility requirements of any public benefit programs. Beneficiaries must re-enroll in person every six months, a requirement which, on top of prohibitively long lines at service centers, present a barrier to continued coverage that keeps many eligible residents off the program. DC government has shown a willingness to ease these requirements, but cost is a major factor – about $13 million to change the requirements.
  • Helping homeless and newly-housed residents get access to health services and care coordination. The District is combatting chronic homelessness with programs like permanent supportive housing, but is still seeking ways to fund the health and case management services needed to really support residents and keep them housed.
  • Expanding the maternal and child health home visiting program. This evidence-backed program helps families with small children get access to health insurance, immunizations, preventive care, and nutrition and wellness resources that can help children enter school healthy and ready to learn. Right now the program is limited primarily to Wards 5, 7, and 8, and will lose federal funding after 2017.

The Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking should be applauded for holding insurer CareFirst accountable to its community obligations and furthering an opportunity to bring much-needed health care dollars to the District. The public can submit comments by July 14 to the Commissioner at

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DC Should Pass Fair Scheduling for Retail and Food Service Workers

June 27th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

The DC Council has the chance this week to help 22,000 DC residents working at low wages improve their ability to earn a decent income and to manage their work and family responsibilities. Legislation before the Council on Tuesday would require large restaurants and retail chains to give worker schedules two weeks in advance, and to offer part-time workers more hours before hiring new staff. DC’s restaurant and retail sectors are among the strongest parts of DC’s economy, and some of the largest chains already have adopted such practices. This suggests that the District can take this step to help workers without hurting our economy.

Last Thursday, the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs marked up the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2016. This bill would help workers at large chain retailers and restaurants in the District by requiring their employers to:

  • offer available hours to qualified employees before hiring new staff,
  • post employees’ work schedules two weeks in advance,
  • provide one to four extra hours of pay when a worker’s schedule is changed on short notice, and
  • provide equal pay for part-time employees doing the same job with the same qualifications as full-time employees.

The bill only applies to large companies – restaurants and retail stores with at least 40 locations nationwide. Smaller locally owned businesses would be exempt.

Retail and Restaurant Workers Need Fair Schedules

The bill stands to help 22,000 low-wage District residents avoid erratic schedules so that they can better manage their monthly budgets, arrange childcare, continue education, or hold down a second job. (See Table 1.) Workers in DC’s service sector typically earn around $10 an hour, yet most are adults trying to support themselves and their families, according to a study of retail and food service industries released in June 2015 by Georgetown University, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and DC Jobs with Justice. Nearly half said they receive their work schedules less than a week in advance.[1] For the typical worker, work hours in a given varied from as low as 25 some weeks to 38 in others, creating uneven and unpredictable incomes. Nearly all said it was important to receive more hours at their primary job.

Table 1. Estimated Number of Workers Affected by the Fair Scheduling Bill, by Ward[2]
Area Number of workers
Mostly upper Northwest (Ward 3)            2,138
Mostly Ward 4, some of Ward 1 & 5            7,077
Wards 5 & 6            3,155
Wards 7 & 8            4,001
Downtown Core (Ward 1 & 2, some 6)            5,885
Total           22,256 


DC’s Retail and Restaurant Industries Are Strong Enough to Manage Fairer Scheduling Practices

DC’s retail and restaurant sectors have been booming in recent years in the District. This strength suggests that large retail and restaurant chains can manage requirements to give workers their schedules in advance and help part-time workers get more hours.

  • Over the past three years, retail and food services accounted for more than one-third of  new jobs in DC.[3] Both of these sectors have seen steady employment increases since 2009. See Figures 1 and 2.[4]
  • From April 2015 to April 2016, food service jobs increased by nearly 2,000 — more than any other sector in DC.[5]
  • Retail trade employment grew 6 percent over the last year, a faster rate than any other sector in percentage terms.[6]

fair scheduling_Restaurant fair scheduling_Retail






















Many of DC’s Employers Already Provide These Practices

Many large retail and restaurant chains, including many with stores in DC, are beginning to understand their employees’ need for advance notice of their schedules, and are adopting the practice. The Gap, Marshalls, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods have moved to provide their employees with advance notice of their schedules, ranging from 10 days to over two weeks, according to the BCRA Committee Report of the bill.

In addition, at the bill’s hearing in January, several small DC employers testified in favor of the bill, saying that they already adopt these practices, as it provides for lower turnover and higher employee morale – despite the fact that they are small enough that they would be exempt from this legislation.

This suggests that other large restaurant chains and retailers in the District have the capacity to provide fair scheduling for their workers, which would dramatically help their workers plan for their lives.

DCFPI hopes that the DC Council will act quickly to pass fair scheduling.



[2] DCFPI analysis of ACS 3 year data for 2011-13, person file. Data covers two different reporting periods so PUMA location is not exact, but very close. The PUMA boundaries shifted slightly during reporting. Retail and restaurant locations with 20 or more employees are used as a proxy for large employers with 40 or more locations nationwide.

[3] DC OCFO. June 2016. “Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s April 2016 Review of District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends.”

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Annual averages for the District of Columbia based on NAICS sectors 722 and 44-45, 2009-2015.

[5] DC OCFO. May 2016. “District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends: May 2016.”

[6] Based on a 12-month rolling average. DC OCFO. May 2016. “District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends: May 2016.”


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