Testimony of Ilana Boivie at a Public Hearing on Bill 21-0211, The Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act and Bill 21-0244, The Fair Credit History Screening Act of 2015, January 26, 2016

Chairmen McDuffie and Orange, and members of the Judiciary and Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs Committees, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Ilana Boivie, and I am a Senior Policy Analyst with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI is a non-profit organization that promotes budget and policy choices to expand economic opportunity for DC residents and reduce income inequality in the District of Columbia.

I am here today to testify in favor of The Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act and The Fair Credit History Screening Act. These bills stand to help many vulnerable DC residents find and maintain employment and thereby better support their families.

The Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act would ensure that victims of domestic violence are not retaliated against by their employer in the case that they miss work due to a situation related to their domestic violence issue. This law will help all of these victims keep their jobs.

The Fair Credit History Screening Act would prohibit employers from asking about a job applicant’s credit history before they are made an offer of employment. This law will be especially helpful to low- and moderate-income residents, since the gap they face between earnings and monthly bills often leads to financial problems that can lead to low credit scores.

Increasingly in the District, while the overall economy has been growing, certain populations are finding it harder and harder to find a job at all, and to maintain quality employment. Black residents are five times more likely than white residents to be unemployed,[i] for example, and residents with a high school diploma or less are nearly five times more likely to be unemployed than those with a college degree.[ii]

Non-college educated residents are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet, even if they already have a job. DCFPI recently found that between 1980 and 2014, all of the wage growth that DC has experienced has been among those with a college degree; residents without a college degree have actually seen their wages fall, adjusted for inflation. Residents without a college degree are also experiencing high rates of part-time work, despite wanting a full-time job.[iii] For example, the underemployment rate for those with less than a high school degree is nearly 30 percent, while the rate for those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is just 5 percent.[iv]

Meanwhile, as the cost of living in the District continues to rise, more and more residents spend the majority of their income on rent and utilities, struggling each month to maintain stable housing and afford other necessities.[v] Thus, finding and maintaining good employment is all the more necessary, albeit difficult, especially for lower-income workers.

For victims of domestic violence, whether they are low income or not, they should not be discriminated against in the workplace for needing to take time off to deal with their domestic violence issue. Because they are already in a vulnerable state, keeping their job is all the more important to help stabilize their situation. In addition, it is likely far more critical for these survivors to be able to support themselves financially, as they are likely to have precarious living situations, and need the security of a regular paycheck in order to pay their rent.

Regarding those with low credit scores, having low credit is not in and of itself a measure of job worthiness, and therefore should not be taken into account in employment decisions. Being low-income can by itself lead to having a low credit score.[vi] Low-income families face regular challenges to pay their bills, and can easily fall behind financially. So, a lower income worker may have a poor credit score despite trying to make good financial choices. In addition, those with low credit scores are likely to experience greater financial difficulties in other areas — for example, being approved for credit or purchasing a car or a home — so holding down a job is even more critical in getting them back up on their feet financially.

The DC Council made strides recently in passing legislation to prohibit employers from asking about a potential worker’s criminal and incarceration history, under the principle that although employers may be inclined to discriminate against these workers, this information should be irrelevant, because it does not affect any individual’s ability to do a particular job well.

Similarly, it should go without saying that neither being a victim of domestic violence nor having a low credit score inherently affects any individual’s ability to do the job, and so these factors should not be taken into consideration for employment purposes, or when on the job, either.

In summary, because these two bills would go a long way in helping some of DC’s most vulnerable workers find and maintain work, DCFPI is in favor of these bills, especially with the additional improvements to the domestic violence bill, as outlined by members of the domestic violence coalition.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify today. I’m happy to answer any questions.

[i] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2015. “While DC Continues to Recover from Recession, Communities of Color Continue to Face Challenges.”

[ii] DC Fiscal Policy Institute Blog, 2015. “Hearing on Unemployment Worker Profiles Underlines the Need for Improved Services for Job Seekers.”

[iii] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2015. “Left Behind: DC’s Economic Recovery Is Not Reaching All Residents.”

[iv] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2015. Two Paths to Better Jobs for DC Residents: Improved Training and Stronger Job Protections.”

[v] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2015. “Going, Going, Gone: DC’s Vanishing Affordable Housing.”

[vi] USA Today. “Demographics weigh on credit scoring.” March 31, 2007.