Testimony of Kate Coventry At the Performance Oversight Hearing on the Department of Human Services

Chairperson Nadeau and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to reduce economic and racial inequality and build widespread prosperity in the District of Columbia through independent research and thoughtful policy recommendations.

I am here today to ask the Department of Human Services (DHS) to pause family Rapid Rehousing (RRH) terminations and to simplify the DC Healthcare Alliance recertification process.

DHS Should Pause Family Rapid ReHousing Terminations

DHS has reported that 913 families will be terminated from RRH due to time limits in fiscal year (FY) 2022. We ask the agency to delay these terminations, which can lead to evictions, through the end of the fiscal year by either extending families in RRH or transitioning them to other housing options, including Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH), or DC Flex. Preventing evictions is a key to avoiding significant socioeconomic setbacks for adults and children and preventing community spread of COVID-19. RRH extensions also promote a racially equitable recovery as people of color, especially Black people and immigrants, have faced higher risk of coronavirus infection, unemployment, and eviction during the pandemic.

And without extensions, many RRH families will face eviction. With evictions comes trauma, disruption of education and employment, and poorer health outcomes. They’ll also likely cause a surge in family homelessness, interfering with the progress towards DC’s goal of ending homelessness.

Ensuring DC Alliance Recertification Is as Easy as Possible Is a Matter of Racial Equity

The DC Healthcare Alliance program provides critical health care coverage to residents with low incomes who do not qualify for Medicaid, most of whom are immigrants. Given their shared purpose, the DC Healthcare Alliance and Medicaid program should have identical, low-barrier application and recertification requirements. But the DC Healthcare Alliance requires participants to recertify every six months and normally does not allow participants to do this online, while Medicaid only requires annual recertification and allows participants to do so online. The District should be doing all it can to ensure that as many residents as possible have access to insurance and that access is as easy as possible. It is a matter of public health and racial equity.

This policy primarily hurts DC’s Black and brown residents. In FY 2020, 50 percent of Alliance recipients were Hispanic and 20 percent were Black.[1]

DC’s current policy is part of a long, racist history of restrictions on immigrant access to public benefits. Prior to 1965, immigrants to the United States primarily came from Northern and European countries and federal law did not exclude immigrants from public benefit programs. [2] In 1965, the immigration system changed, leading to greater numbers of immigrants coming from Asia and Latin America. [3] Starting in the early 1970s, Congress and some states began restricting immigrants from public benefit programs. Political leaders and the press promoted stereotypes, including that Mexican women immigrated unlawfully to the United States to give children citizenship and public benefits, that Latinx immigrants were lazy and committing fraud when they accessed the benefits for which they were eligible.[4] A 1990 survey of white people found that 46 percent thought Hispanics “generally preferred to live off welfare rather than be self-sufficient.”[5] As a result of these racist stereotypes and a desire to cut spending on programs that benefited people who with low incomes, federal lawmakers excluded many legal immigrants and all undocumented immigrants from Medicaid. Because of this exclusion, DC immigrants have to rely on the Alliance but have stricter recertification requirements then other DC residents who receive Medicaid.

DHS should work with the Department of Health Care Finance to allow Alliance recipients to renew online annually, just like Medicaid recipients do. We should not erect higher barriers just because a resident is an immigrant or has a very low income—DC is a welcoming city, and our policies should reflect that value. The District waived the in-person interview requirement for the Alliance during the public health emergency. DC needs to make this improvement permanent and move to annual, virtual recertification to reflect our DC values.

Shortened Eligibility Period Has Led to Turnover, Poorer Health, and Higher Costs

In 2011, DC implemented restrictive procedures to maintain Alliance eligibility that immediately led to a sharp drop in participation. Thousands of residents who should have health insurance do not have it, and the uninsured rate is much higher among Latinx DC residents than others.[6]

The restrictive rules also contribute to a high rate of turnover in the Alliance, as residents join the program but then drop off due to the time-intensive requirements. Prior to the pandemic, only 55 percent of Alliance participants renewed their eligibility when it comes up, data from the District’s Department of Health Care Finance show.[7] Given that many Alliance members are working at jobs without paid leave and that visiting a DHS center can take an entire day or longer, it is not surprising that many are not able to renew their benefits.

We ask that the Department work with DC Health Care Finance to simplify recertification requirements so that residents can retain their benefits.

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

[1] DC Department of Health Care Finance. “FY 20-21 Oversight Questions Attachments.” Accessed on February 2, 2022.

[2] Elissa Minoff, Isabella Camacho-Craft, Valery Martinez, and Indivar Dutta-Gupta. “The Lasting Legacy of Exclusion: How the Law that Brought Us Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Excluded Immigrant Families & Institutionalized Racism in Our Social Support System.” Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. August 2021.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid

[5] Cybelle Fox ‘The Changing Color of Welfare? How Whites’ Attitudes toward Latinos Influence Support for Welfare.” American Journal of Sociology, 110(3): 580–625, 2004.

[6] Jodi Kwarciany, “DC Has Disparities in Health Coverage Despite Its Low Uninsured Rate,” DC Fiscal Policy Institute, revised September 25, 2017.

[7] Ed Lazere, “No Way to Run a Healthcare Program: DC’s Access Barriers for Immigrants Contribute to Poor Outcomes and Higher Costs,” DC Fiscal Policy Institute, revised March 17, 2019.