How the Mayor Can Better Leverage the Bridge Fund

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the District’s residents and economy,  bringing into focus why this once-in-a-lifetime crisis requires innovative and creative solutions. Last month, the mayor used $80 million of DC’s reserves to create the $100 million Bridge Fund—a tool to provide relief for DC’s hardest hit business industries and their workers. Notably, the fund left out childcare providers, who were included in the initiative that the Council passed and on which the Bridge Fund was based. While this Fund will provide critical support to businesses struggling to survive, the Administration could have done much more to leverage the investment to assist District families and residents struggling to make ends meet.

Right now, the city is facing cuts to critical social service providers, such as nonprofits that serve our neighbors experiencing homelessness, and a potential additional drop in revenue. With fewer public dollars flowing to these providers, it will be more difficult, if not impossible, for them to provide broad access to these programs. The situation will grow more dire should we ignore it. Moreover, residents harmed by the pandemic have struggled to make ends meet. Many feel the day-by-day pressure of a looming eviction crisis, are struggling to find employment or access unemployment insurance, and fighting to put food on the dinner table. Even those lucky enough to find work still struggle with a lack of childcare—an industry that is also in danger of collapsing if not appropriately funded. Those hardest hit are mainly Black and brown residents that will undoubtedly face a harsher winter if not supported. In this crucial time, where funds are low and hypothermia season fast approaching, we cannot turn our back on our most vulnerable residents.

One upside is the Bridge Fund has provisions for certain grantees. For example, hotels that are unable to use the bulk of the award for payroll and compensation must participate in the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, among other rules. While it is a good start, we can significantly expand community benefit agreement requirements for all eligible businesses to serve our residents’ most pressing needs. DCFPI and its partners, along with nearly 500 coalitions and DC residents, recommend that the Administration consider some of the following innovative ideas:

  • Require hotel grantees to house our homeless population through hypothermia season
  • Require hotel grantees to provide temporary housing to the District’s public housing residents during building maintenance times so that they have a safe place to stay.
  • Require large entertainment venues to provide a COVID-19 safe daytime warming site for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.
  • Require small entertainment venues to provide donation storage space to mutual-aid providers.
  • Require restaurants receiving Bridge Funding to provide free to-go meals to low-income households or warming sites.
  • Ensure childcare businesses are eligible for Bridge Funding as part of the retail and/or minority-owned business set-asides.
  • Require businesses of all sizes receiving Bridge Funding to rehire offers to any laid off staff before hiring new staff, when their operations recover.

We urge the mayor to leverage the city’s rainy-day fund to better ensure that all our neighbors have the housing, safety, nutrition, employment opportunities, childcare, and health services they need to stay afloat. While the city is responsible for replenishing any funds used within two years, possibly before we fully recover, it is imperative that we do not cover this loss by cutting investments made for critical services, which would exacerbate racial inequality. We are hopeful that the incoming Biden Administration’s COVID relief package(s) will provide the funding necessary to backfill the hole being created by the Bridge Fund, and other reserve spending to date.  Along with many others, we urge the mayor to support DC residents alongside the DC business community.

Share your support for these changes by signing this letter here.