Testimony at the Performance Oversight Hearing on Events DC on Cash Assistance through the DC Cares Program

Good morning, Chairperson McDuffie and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Doni Crawford, and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to address DC’s racial and economic inequities and to build widespread prosperity in the District of Columbia, through independent research and policy recommendations.

DCFPI supports Events DC’s ongoing efforts to provide assistance through the DC CARES program to workers excluded from unemployment benefits and federal stimulus payments. Last year, the District allocated a total of $41 million for this program in two budgets — $15 million in the fiscal year (FY) 2021 supplemental budget and $26 million in the FY 2022.[1] Unfortunately, these workers have yet to receive any of that assistance, forcing them to incur more debt and face economic uncertainty as the pandemic ravages on. As a result, my testimony today will focus on:

  • The urgent short-term need for workers to receive cash assistance as soon as possible; and,
  • The long-term need for DC to develop a sustainable program that provides economic relief for these workers, ensuring that all workers are seen and included.

Without Promised Assistance, Workers Excluded from Benefits Continue to Face Significant Hardship

Throughout nearly two years of the pandemic-induced economic downturn, DC has consistently held the highest Black unemployment rate—11.7 percent as of the third quarter of 2021—and the largest Black-white unemployment ratio in the nation.[2] And over 50 percent of newly food insecure respondents in our region identified as Hispanic, and Hispanic respondents reported higher rates of job loss and reduced work hours than before the pandemic, according to a 2021 Capital Area Food Bank survey.[3] These respondents are far less likely to receive public assistance due in part to ineligibility. This is all to say that many DC families, especially the largely Black and brown workers excluded from unemployment insurance, are still facing stark levels of economic hardship.

While we appreciate Events DC’s leadership and coordination with community partners to support workers who are excluded from federal assistance, we want to ensure that workers receive cash assistance in a timely and efficient way. It has been nearly a year since workers first advocated for this funding and almost six months since policymakers approved the money, yet workers have not received any assistance and their needs continue to grow. DC should keep the promises it made last year to residents struggling the most, including cash assistance from the DC CARES program, which is a vital lifeline to many residents in the current uneven recovery. Therefore, we encourage the committee to inquire about the following during government witness testimony:

  • Why have there been spending delays and what are the processing barriers that need to be eliminated before the next fiscal year?
  • Why was the $15 million that policymakers allocated in the FY 2021 supplemental budget neither moved on nor processed before awaiting the start of the new fiscal year in October 2021? This is hard to understand particularly given that administrators had already built the needed infrastructure to release the initial round of assistance earlier that year.
  • Have any of the 2022 DC CARES funds (from the FY 2021 supplemental and FY 2022 budget) been disbursed to community partners yet? If not, what is the estimated timeline for that disbursement?
  • What is the estimated date that recipients will start receiving funds and the estimated period of time it will take to completely disburse the 2022 funds?
  • How much assistance will 2022 DC CARES program participants receive? And how many recipients from the first two rounds are expected to receive assistance again?
  • How much of the $41 million is federal (i.e., American Rescue Plan) vs. local dollars?

Guided by Workers Themselves, DC Government Needs to Explore a Long-Term Solution to Make Inclusion Permanent

There is momentum for re-envisioning the social safety net and creating an inclusive economy in DC. This committee led on the landmark investments in the guaranteed income pilot, Strong Families, Strong Future DC, and the creation of a baby bonds program in the FY 2022 budget.[4], [5] The majority of the DC Council recently introduced a bill to provide financial assistance to DC high school graduates who are undocumented and pursing higher education.[6] Workers who have been excluded from federal assistance are vital to our DC community as members of our families, workplaces, schools, places of worship, neighborhoods, and businesses. It is time for DC to include them permanently into our work and income support policies, as guided by their vision and agenda.

These workers will soon determine their collective vision for a long-term solution that the DC CARES program has filled in its absence. Without getting in front of that process and workers’ right to self-determination, DCFPI recommends that DC government begin to converse with workers about program requirements such as eligibility. For example, one of the best features of the DC CARES program is that it is inclusive to all workers who have been excluded — immigrants who are undocumented, workers in the informal cash economy such as day laborers, sex workers, and street vendors, and returning citizens. This is commendable because other states, such as New York and Washington state, have established programs with strict and limiting eligibility requirements.[7] DC’s intentional and broad eligibility has also allowed workers to build solidarity with each other and a more expansive base for movement building. Other long-term solution considerations to discuss could include program structure, the frequency of assistance, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of giving assistance directly to workers.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] Doni Crawford, The District Moves Toward a More Inclusive Economy for Black Workers, Communities, and Businessowners, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, October 18, 2021.

[2] Kyle K. Moore, Racial disparities in unemployment rates persist, despite claims of a ‘labor shortage’, Economic Policy Institute, Updated November 2021.

[3] Capital Area Food Bank, 2021 Hunger Report: Insights on Food Insecurity, Inequity, and Economic Opportunity in the Greater Washington Region, 2021.

[4] Martin Austermuhle, D.C. Launches Pilot Program To Give Cash To New Parents And Pregnant People — With No Strings Attached, DCist, January 13, 2022.

[5] Crawford, 2021.

[6] Lauren Lumpkin, District bill could expand college access for undocumented students, The Washington Post, January 27, 2022.

[7] Samantha Wing, What We Can Learn From Efforts to Provide Aid to Excluded Workers, The Century Foundation, August 3, 2021.