Testimony of Doni Crawford, Senior Policy Analyst at the Budget Oversight Hearing on Events DC, DC Committee on Business and Economic Development

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) and a member and supporter of the Fair Budget Coalition’s FY 2022 budget priorities and recommendations. 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 to DC workers who have been excluded from unemployment benefits and federal stimulus payments through the establishment of the DC Cares Program and applauds the Council’s supplemental investment in the program for a combined total of $14 million. While we are happy to see that Mayor Bowser proposes support for excluded workers in her supplemental budget, the $15 million allocated is simply not enough to meet the needs of workers who have only received a one-time payment of $1,000 over the past year. We join a campaign led by excluded workers and supported by over 50 organizations in calling on the DC Council to:

  • Invest a total of $200 million in cash assistance to support excluded workers, which would provide $12,000 per person to the 13,100 workers who qualified for DC Cares (equivalent to $1,000 per month for the first year of the pandemic) and would also provide support for 1,900 new excluded workers who have yet to receive cash assistance, program outreach, and administration; and,
  • Follow other states in devoting federal relief funds to excluded workers and providing cash assistance that is on par with unemployment insurance.

DC is Still Recovering from the Pandemic and Assisting Excluded Workers Must be an Intentional Part of Our Efforts to Pursue an Equitable Future

In this pivotal moment, DC policymakers must spend federal rescue funds in a timely way, with a laser focus on addressing the racial inequities that have excluded Black and brown communities from economic gains and left them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis. Within DC’s hardest hit industry of leisure and hospitality, employment is still down by 48 percent or nearly 40,000 jobs, and occupational segregation within that industry has exposed Black and brown workers to the worst job losses.[1], [2] These workers, many of whom are excluded from federal assistance, faced elevated levels of unemployment and lacked high-paying job opportunities before the pandemic due to a long history of structural racism, discrimination, and economic exploitation.[3]

It will take intentional investments and interventions to reverse course and pursue an equitable future for these workers. But unfortunately, federal policymakers excluded certain residents—including those who are undocumented, returning citizens, or otherwise in the informal cash economy like domestic workers, day laborers, sex workers, and street vendors—from federal relief efforts that provide vital cash assistance to help with bills and basic needs. The District stepped up and approved cash grants to help them pay for basic needs, totaling $5 million in FY 2020 for undocumented workers and $9 million in FY 2021 for excluded workers. [4] Still, the total funding of $14 million for excluded workers—a one-time payment of $1,000 per person—is not enough to meet ongoing needs during this prolonged crisis.

An Investment of $200 million will Allow Families to Get Out of Debt and Pay for Basic Needs

A coalition of DC’s excluded workers have called upon the DC Council to provide a total investment of $200 million in cash assistance for them to support their ability to pay for basic needs such as medicine, transportation, diapers, childcare, and debt that they have incurred throughout this pandemic. This investment would provide each qualified excluded worker with $12,000 (equivalent to $1,000 per month for the first year of the pandemic), which is still substantially less than the roughly $42,000 that unemployed workers who were eligible for federal assistance received, at most, over the past year.

This direct call is supported by research which has shown that having flexible cash assistance is crucial to provide stability for individuals and children, reduce stress, and avert extreme hardship.[5]  And new research from the Economic Security Project, in the context of guaranteed income programs, demonstrates that unrestricted cash is care for Black women and mothers. Cash enables them to provide safety, security, and choice for themselves and their families. And providing that assistance helps reject the way that society prescribes a “strong Black woman” trope on them – demanding strength, caregiving, and resiliency from Black women without positioning them as needing the same.[6]

This $200 million investment would also provide support for program outreach and administration. Through outreach, we would be able to make sure we reach 1,900 new excluded workers, and provide technical assistance for recipients to learn how cash (either as a large lump sum or recurring payments) could affect their other benefits.

Join Other States in Devoting Federal Relief to Excluded Workers and Providing Assistance that Is Roughly on Par with Unemployment Insurance

The U.S. Department of the Treasury encourages states to use the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds of the American Rescue Plan to address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harms to workers and households, and to serve the hardest-hit communities and families.[7] The District should follow the lead of other states – such as Washington, Oregon, and Colorado – that have used federal or a combination of federal and local dollars to fund cash assistance for excluded workers.[8] Additionally, New York recently was the first state to provide cash assistance to undocumented workers that is on rough par with unemployment insurance – with each worker in the first tier of eligibility receiving $15,600.[9] DC should learn from these state models and leverage the one-time federal relief dollars to fulfill the demand of $200 million in cash assistance from our excluded worker community.

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

[1] Economic Policy Institute analysis of data from Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics, April 2021

[2] Elise Gould and Melat Kassa, Low-wage, low-hours workers were hit hardest in the COVID-19 recession: The State of Working America 2020 employment report, Economic Policy Institute, May 20, 2021.

[3] Doni Crawford and Kamolika Das, Black Workers Matter: How the District’s History of Exploitation & Discrimination Continues to Harm Black Workers, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, January 28, 2020.

[4] Kate Coventry, Qubilah Huddleston, and Alyssa Noth, What’s In the Approved FY 2021 Budget for the Safety Net?, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, September 21, 2020.

[5] Tazra Mitchell, TANF at 22: Cash Income Is Vital to Families Living on the Edge, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 20, 2018.

[6] Ebony Childs and Madeline Neighly, In Celebration of Black Moms: Cash as Care, Economic Security Project, April 29, 2021.

[7] U.S. Department of Treasury, Fact Sheet: The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Will Deliver $350 Billion for State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal Governments to Respond to the COVID-19 Emergency and Bring Back Jobs, May 10, 2021.

[8] Nina Shapiro, Washington Legislature approves $340M for COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund, making it one of the country’s largest, The Seattle Times, April 29, 2021.

[9] David Dyssegaard Kallick, Brief Look: Excluded Worker Fund: Aid to Undocumented Workers, Economic Boost Across New York State, Fiscal Policy Institute, April 7, 2021.