Testimony of Elissa Silverman, At the Public Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Performance Oversight Hearing Department of Employment Services DC Council Committee on Housing and Workforce Development

Chairman Brown and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Elissa Silverman, and I work for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engagesin research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.

I am going to focus my testimony today on three critical areas: the need for parity between adult and youth employment funding; regulation of the District’s landmark Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008; and the need to modernize the District’s unemployment insurance program. All three demand urgency by the Department of Employment Services.

The need for parity between adult and youth employment funding and training.
Chairman Brown, I know you are aware that the District’s unemployment rate reached a record-breaking high of 12.1 percent in December. According to data provided by DOES, unemployment is at least double that rate in communities east of the Anacostia River.

Despite the urgent need for adult job training programs and services in our city, the Mayor and Council have not made this a budget priority. A majority of the agency’s workforce funds go to two areas: the summer youth employment program and its year-round youth program. For FY 2009, summer youth jobs cost $41 million. Yet all funding related to adults seeking job opportunities’including one-stop centers and transitional employment’was less than half this amount. The FY 2010 funding level for summer youth employment was set at $22.8 million by the DC Council.  Narrowing the program makes sense, but it still exceeds local funding for adult training.

I am not saying that youth employment isn’t beneficial. But I believe that the parents of these youngsters need workforce training and experience as well. The mayor recently cut $6 million from the DOES FY 2010 budget to help close the $200 million budget gap. I am very fearful this money will be taken out of the $4.6 million in local dollars put into the FY 2010 budget for adult job training. I urge you to help protect this money for residents who need our assistance re-entering the workforce.

Regulations for the District’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act
In November 2008, the District became the second locality in the country to require employers to provide sick leave benefits to workers. However, this landmark accomplishment is unfinished because 16 months after its implementation DOES still has not issued the final regulations required by the law.

This unnecessary delay has caused confusion about the act. I want to make clear to all those watching that the Sick and Safe Leave Act is indeed in effect, which means that most people who work in DC and have been on the job for a year are entitled to receive paid leave from their employer when they are sick or need to deal with a health or domestic violence issue. DC employers are under obligation to follow the law.

After many inquiries and help from Councilmember Mendelson, DOES issued a revised draft of proposed regulations last month and the 30-day comment period will end today. It is important that the final regulations are published in an expeditious manner. One portion of the regulations, the hardship exemption, needs to come before the Council for approval. I hope we can work with you and DOES to finalize these rules quickly.

Modernization of the District’s unemployment insurance
Chairman Brown, I want to thank you and your staff for helping us move forward to modernize the District’s unemployment insurance program.

Research has proven that unemployment is one of the best stabilizers for the economy during a downturn. As you know, the federal government has provided an incentive for states including the District to expand and modernize unemployment insurance during these difficult economic times. Specifically, the District will receive $18 million in stimulus money if it permanently adopts certain provisions to expand unemployment to workers. At a hearing on this proposed legislation last fall, DOES Director Joe Walsh explained that the District adopted two provisions, one that gives a dependent allowance to those on unemployment and another to extend unemployment for jobless workers who have exhausted benefits and are participating in a certified job training program.

The bill is awaiting a committee vote to move to the full Council for consideration. Director Walsh said he was supportive of the bill.

Director Walsh also expressed his support for boosting unemployment payments. Currently, the District has the lowest maximum unemployment benefit in the region, $359 per week. Maryland is $380, and Virginia is $378. As you know we have been working with your office to find a way to modernize and update the calculation of benefits. We look forward to working with you to move such legislation forward quickly.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am happy to answer any questions.