Majority Leader for the Virginia House of Delegates, Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), joined The Politics Hour to discuss the latest on Virginia’s response to the coronavirus and look ahead to next week’s special legislative session.

Virginia House Majority Leader Charniele Herring will join legislators next week for a special session — which will take place outdoors. (VCU Capital News Service / Flickr)

Northam Extends Non-Essential Business Closure, Delays Minimum Wage Increase

  • This week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) extended the closure of non-essential businesses from April 23 to May 8. The state is still under a separate stay-at-home order that’s in effect until June 10.
  • More than half of Virginia’s reported outbreak spots are in long-term care facilities, like assisted living centers. Northam has added people at these facilities to the list of people who get priority for testing, reports Caleb Stewart from WHSV. Northam is also boosting funding to these facilities by $20 per Medicaid recipient.
  • Northam froze spending in the state’s budget and delayed worker-friendly bills, like increasing the minimum wage and allowing public employees to unionize.
  • On The Politics Hour, Herring said that the minimum wage increase is something that Democratic lawmakers have been pushing since it was last raised in 2009. “I’d prefer that it not be delayed,” she said. But Herring also mentioned that the economic impacts of the coronavirus will be felt across Virginia: “This will probably affect anybody’s pay raise that they were expecting at the beginning of the year.”
  • A recent poll from Virginia Commonwealth University finds that 76% of Virginians approve of Northam’s response to the coronavirus.

Virginia Lawmakers To Reconvene Outside — And Explore Meeting Virtually

Bills From Virginia’s Democratic-Led Session Become Law

  • Northam signed a slew of bills into law by last Saturday’s deadline, including a priority of Herring’s: The Reproductive Health Protection Act, which repeals the state’s mandatory ultrasound and 24-hour waiting period before an abortion.
  • Some states are using the coronavirus crisis to limit access to abortion. But Herring said that isn’t a risk in Virginia.
  • He also signed five gun control measures into law, including a bill mandating background checks for all gun sales in the state and a “red flag” law, which allows authorities to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
  • Northam also passed a series of laws related to voting. Election Day will now be a state holiday, photo identification is no longer required to vote (although some form of identification is still needed) and no-excuse absentee voting will be allowed.

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman was disappointed that financial assistance for undocumented workers wasn’t included in the D.C. Council’s recent emergency legislation. (Victoria Chamberlin / WAMU)

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) chairs the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. She joined The Politics Hour to talk about unemployment benefits and D.C.’s latest emergency legislation.

Additional Aid To D.C. Residents And Businesses

  • Last week, the D.C. Council had its first virtual meeting and unanimously approved a second emergency bill to help District residents and businesses affected by the pandemic. WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle covered the meeting and the legislation.
  • The legislation prevents rent increases during the public health emergency and in the 30 days that follow. Some mortgage companies will be required to offer property owners a 90-day deferral on payments.
  • The legislation also creates a $25 million fund for hospitals that add extra beds to help brace for the pandemic.
  • A new coalition of business leaders called DC2021 held a call with D.C. councilmembers this week where they shared a proposal for a recovery plan, which includes a tax abatement and eliminating the franchise tax, among other recommendations. 
  • On The Politics Hour, Silverman said she understands the urgency of helping the business community, but also raised concerns about the District’s funding. “We need to make sure we’re being strategic and skillful with our dollars, because we’ve also seen a decline in revenue,” said Silverman.

Financial Assistance For Undocumented Workers

  • Missing from the D.C. Council’s latest legislation: financial assistance for undocumented and non-traditional workers, like street vendors and child care workers.
  • Silverman was disappointed that this aid was left out of the bill. “We need to support all of our neighbors right now and keep them stable,” she said on The Politics Hour. 
  • Events D.C. will provide $18 million in aid for hospitality workers, with $5 million set aside for undocumented workers.

Seeking Unemployment Benefits In D.C.

  • The number of people applying for unemployment insurance has spiked in the District. D.C.’s Department of Employment services has received 66,188 claims from March 13 through April 15. In 2019, D.C. received 37,720 claims.
  • People filing claims have had to endure long wait times and filing issues.
  • “A lot of our technology is old,” Silverman said on The Politics Hour. “The programming language that we use for our [unemployment insurance] system … was created when Elvis was popular.”
  • Freelancers, independent contractors and gig workers can file for unemployment. WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer reported on what gig workers should know about collecting unemployment.

Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Produced by Cydney Grannan

Guests

  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Charniele Herring Majority Leader and Member (D-District 46), Virginia House of Delegates; @C_Herring
  • Elissa Silverman Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large); @tweetelissa

Transcript

  • 12:00:11

    KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood, who's broadcasting from home. I'm Kojo Nnamdi also broadcasting from home. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Elissa Silverman. She is an At-Large Member of the D.C. Council. Joining us now is Charniele Herring, Democratic Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates. She represents District 46, which is in Alexandria. Charniele Herring, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:00:47

    CHARNIELE HERRINGThank you so much for having me. I'm excited to join you and talk about what's coming up for us.

  • 12:00:54

    NNAMDIWell, first I think Tom Sherwood has an announcement. I know, Tom Sherwood, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was supposed to be having a press -- or talking this morning about changes in the school system schedule.

  • 12:01:07

    TOM SHERWOODYes. Good morning. Good afternoon, everyone. The mayor just held her daily briefing on the Coronavirus impact on the city. She announced the D.C. Public Schools, which have been closed will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. The schools will close on May 29th, three weeks earlier than normal. Distance learning will continue. It's very difficult in the city where there's a digital divide with many students, who do not have access to computers and digital learning.

  • 12:01:41

    TOM SHERWOODBut the big announcement today is the mayor is not going to reopen the schools. They're going to close on May 29th. And she also announced unrelated to the schools that the D.C. Washington Convention Center, which has also been closed since the middle of March will have a 500 bed facility later this month, 500 beds to care for any overflow of Coronavirus victims or patients.

  • 12:02:10

    NNAMDIAnd, of course, the Coronavirus pandemic is leading to the postponement of all kinds of things and changes in how other events will occur such as voting. Tom Sherwood, talk a little about what's going on in Maryland. There's going to be limited in person voting for that special April 28th congressional district election to replace the late Elijah Cummings. And in D.C. people are requesting absentee ballots for the June primary, talk about that.

  • 12:02:42

    SHERWOODYeah. I was just exchanging messages with the mayor's office. You know, Michelle Obama, the former first lady, has a nationwide effort to get people to be sure to vote and that includes absentee mail balloting. I said, you know, maybe Michelle Obama ought to say something about the District of Columbia. The Board of Elections and the mayor decided that the June 2nd primary here in the District will be essentially a mail in ballot.

  • 12:03:08

    SHERWOODBut you have to -- here's the key question. You have to request the mail in ballot. The city is not going to send out 400,000 plus ballots to people, who may or not still be registered. So they are trying to do a public information campaign for voters to call in, email, text and get a ballot sent to them before the June 2nd primary. Virginia is even eased up its restrictions on mail in ballots so that people can vote by mail.

  • 12:03:42

    NNAMDISo that's happening. In addition to which, Charniele Herring, the Virginia's House of Delegates is scheduled to reconvene next Wednesday. It's my understanding that you'll be meeting outside on the grounds of the Capital. House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn is also exploring a plan that would allow delegates to conduct future sessions remotely. What can you tell us about the plans for next week?

  • 12:04:03

    HERRINGRight. Again, thank you so much for having me on.

  • 12:04:06

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 12:04:07

    HERRINGThanks. So the speaker along with leadership on both sides of the aisle came to a decision. The speaker thought it was very important that we maintain the health and safety as much as possible for our members as well as our staff. In consulting health care professionals and experts the decision was made to meet outside. And with remote voting we're still trying to work through that on how that will be done, but I think it's good idea to have that remote voting option as long as we have, of course, transparency. So the public knows what we're doing. And so we're hoping that that will be in place and that for future sessions while this pandemic crisis is occurring that we'll be able to vote remotely.

  • 12:04:59

    NNAMDIAnd this week, Governor Ralph Northam extended the shutdown order for non-essential businesses through May 8th. A separate stay-at-home order for Virginia residents is still in effect through June 10th. In this uncertain time many people are looking for specific dates for when things will go back to normal. Is that realistic? Should residents expect May 8th or June 10th to be that day?

  • 12:05:22

    HERRINGWell, look that's a goal, but, you know, this is a deadly virus that we're dealing with. And so unfortunately they don't operate by a calendar. I believe our governor is -- we are fortunate to have a governor, who is a physician. And if he is using --

  • 12:05:45

    NNAMDIWe seem to have dropped off. Charniele Herring seems to have dropped off for a second. But if you have comments or questions for Charniele Herring she's the Democratic Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates, you can call now at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Email to kojo@wamu.org or go to our website kojoshow.org join the conversation there. Charniele Herring, are you there? Okay. We seem to be having trouble reaching Charniele Herring. So, Tom Sherwood, anything else about Mayor Bowser's press conference today that you can tell us.

  • 12:06:20

    SHERWOODI don't have anything at this moment. I am interested -- I hope we get Delegate Herring back, because this idea of them meeting outside, I wonder if anyone familiar with Richmond the legislature is up on kind of a hill in the City of Richmond. I'm not sure where they can meet and what are they going to do if it rains. How are they going to have a speaker system so that everyone can hear? I want to hear a lot more about that. So I do hope we get Herring back.

  • 12:06:49

    NNAMDIIn the meantime ..

  • 12:06:52

    SHERWOODIt's just an extraordinary change.

  • 12:06:53

    NNAMDIWell, Charniele Herring, can you hear me?

  • 12:06:56

    HERRINGYes. I can. Yes.

  • 12:06:58

    NNAMDIOkay. Well, you were giving us your response to when people -- what people should expect in these uncertain times.

  • 12:07:07

    HERRINGRight. And so, again, I was going to the governor's decision and his, you know, regarding non-essential businesses not being able to open till May 8th. And then our stay-at-home order that we are under. And I was saying that the governor's decisions are based on, you know, science. It's just going to be blunt. I mean, he's looking at the evidence and the numbers and what we're seeing and coming up with that. And the fact that the virus, I was saying, doesn't operate by calendar. But his decisions I believe are in the best interest of Virginia and keeping us safe. And he does recognize, I think we all recognize that it's, of course, affecting our economy. But what's important is that we also minimizing our exposure and minimizing deaths and so that we can hopefully soon be on a downward trajectory.

  • 12:07:56

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:07:58

    SHERWOODDelegate Herring, thank you again for joining us. I want to ask you about meeting outside when we lost connection with you. How would that work? I mean, first of all, it does rain in Virginia. Secondly, would it just be there on the grounds of the legislative session? How will you set up an ability for people to talk, a microphone system; how is that going to work or do we know yet?

  • 12:08:24

    HERRINGYeah. So good questions. And so we do know. We will be outside of the Capital's south portico steps and then members will be along the sidewalk area towards the east entrance of the Capital. There are microphones that will be setup. There will be voting machines. And then basically we're recreating the chamber, but also keeping that distance of at least six feet between members. So there will also be a covering so that if it does rain that we will not be sitting in the rain. So, I mean, there are plans for everything to make sure that we're safe. There will be non-medical grade masks available so we're not breathing on each other and sanitizer available as well.

  • 12:09:13

    SHERWOODThat's an extraordinary arrangement, but first of all that's the same location where the inauguration is I believe.

  • 12:09:20

    HERRINGYes.

  • 12:09:21

    SHERWOODAnd you have 140 members, 100 members of House of which you are a member. And then there's a 40 member Senate. Will you all be there jointly? How will that work?

  • 12:09:30

    HERRINGNo. The Senate has chosen a location at a science museum that's inside a building. That is what they have chosen.

  • 12:09:38

    SHERWOODThat's a nice place too. That's better than the legislature.

  • 12:09:42

    HERRINGWell, I think the House -- I mean, I'm going to be honest and of course I'm biased. But I think the House -- I feel safer that we are outside. If you talk to medical professionals experts said that that is actually a better environment to be in, and I'm pleased to be outside even if it rains or whatever. We're there to do the people's business. And I know that members of my caucus are anxious, you know, to get our work done.

  • 12:10:09

    NNAMDIHere is Janice in Alexandria, Virginia. Janice, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:10:15

    JANICEYeah, hi. I'm inquiring whether there is going to be early absentee voting available. I know we already have it for the presidential elections, but whether it would be available in other elections so that we can vote absentee without having to give a reason for it.

  • 12:10:34

    NNAMDIDelegate Herring.

  • 12:10:36

    HERRINGThat's a good question. So actually the bill that I sponsored and HB1 does provide for no excuse absentee voting 45 days before an election. The governor has briefed Virginia about selection. So absentee ballots will be available and there is an option that people will be able to select to send in their applications, you know, and get an absentee ballot. So that we are not exposing them or workers at the polls.

  • 12:11:08

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:11:09

    SHERWOODDelegate, I know you represent part of Alexandria and Fairfax County. I was looking at the Alexandria budget this morning. There's a more than $50 million cut in the operating budget and almost $150 million in the capital budget. As you go back to Richmond and the legislature has to look at the economic impact on the state, what are you seeing as the House Majority Leader? What are you seeing in terms of what Virginia will have to do to right size its budget in the face of this crisis?

  • 12:11:48

    HERRINGRight? So, um, first I just want to clarify I represent just the City of Alexandria not any part of Fairfax County. Right. I'm solely contained within the city. So I cannot comment on that.

  • 12:12:03

    SHERWOODOkay. I looked at the map that's available. And the 46th District appeared to be part of Fairfax County, but go ahead. Alexandria is enough to represent.

  • 12:12:11

    HERRINGOh, yes, sir. It is. It's a wonderful place. But I will say that with the budget we are going to, of course have to make sure adjustments, because of this pandemic. So first and foremost is, of course, providing the necessary funds for a response to the pandemic and unemployment compensation. The governor has reduced the budget actually taken from -- it's about a $58 million adjustment, $55.5 million will go to the disaster declaration authorization that was part of his executive order, and then $2.5 million goes for helping with housing and temporary shelter for our homeless.

  • 12:12:58

    NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt Delegate Herring because we have to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation with Charniele Herring. She is the Democratic Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:13:27

    NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. Later we'll be joined by Elissa Silverman, an At-Large Member of the D.C. Council. Right now we're talking with Charniele Herring, Democratic Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates. She represents District 46, which is in Alexandria. Herring, I'm not sure you were finished answering the last question. Were you?

  • 12:13:46

    HERRINGUh, no, just the other thing. We were talking about priorities in the budget in sort of addressing this pandemic. I will also say on the governors looking to increase Medicaid reimbursement by $20 a day. So that will hopefully help with providing direct care to those individuals in our nursing homes. So I think it's almost like a triage. We have to first address the crisis and the pandemic that we're in. And then, you know, look at other spending.

  • 12:14:15

    NNAMDIThe General Assembly passed a minimum wage increase in Virginia, which would gradually bring the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023. It would start with a hike to $9.25 an hour in January of 2021. But Governor Northam wants to delay that until May due to the Coronavirus. What are your thoughts?

  • 12:14:35

    HERRINGYou know, of course, I don't like delay. But we are looking at an economy that has been impacted. But and I will say that this will probably affect anybody's pay raise that they were expecting at the beginning of the year. You know, this comes from the employee that's making minimum wage to a senior level employee, likely pay raises won't come about. So I think that the governor's delay in our unfortunate situation I can understand, but what's key, you know, I think to remember for Virginia workers who are at the minimum wage is that we are back on schedule. And when I look at it and the fight that it took more than a decade to get the pay increase, to increase minimum wage, last time it was increased was in 2009. And I've been there in that chamber every year that we have fought for the increase in minimum wage.

  • 12:15:32

    HERRINGAnd it was gallantly lead this year by Delegate Jeion Ward. We got -- now what we've got in fact is an increase over a span of years. And then finally, you know, putting that wage in the consumer price index so that we don't have to keep having this battle. And I do the math, you know, a couple of $400 more, you know, to buy groceries starting in May is going to make a difference in people's lives. So I would prefer that it would not be delayed. But this fight was too long hard fought. And I'm glad that we will be on schedule come May 1.

  • 12:16:08

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:16:10

    SHERWOODDelegate Herring, people may not know that after you graduated from law school back in like 1999 you went to work it the District of Columbia for several years with Leftwich and Ludaway. As I was checking up on your background for today's show one person said to me, well, you know, the Attorney General of Virginia is Mark Herring and he's running for governor or trying to do his campaign for governor. And there may be an opening to run for Attorney General and that perhaps the state could have another Herring, Charniele Herring. What are you looking at in terms of maybe a statewide race next year, which would probably start later this year?

  • 12:16:53

    HERRINGRight. Well, it's a consideration. I'm talking with family and friends, but I have to admit I've been focused on this pandemic reconvene session and our upcoming special session that will have to happen. But it is something that I have been considering, but first things first. We've got to take care of our situation.

  • 12:17:17

    SHERWOODYou can call her and blame Natalie Ludaway from planting that question.

  • 12:17:23

    HERRINGI love Natalie. My old boss. You've done your homework.

  • 12:17:28

    NNAMDIHere is Kitty in Annandale, Virginia. Kitty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:32

    KITTYI'd like to know -- hi. I'd like to know why Virginia has not extended the due date for Virginia income tax especially since you have to have your adjusted federal tax done first. And so since it's not due till July, you would have to do it now. And my particular case is that I am an older woman. I do my own income tax. I don't have a printer. I don't have a computer. I go to the library. I depend on a library. The libraries have been closed. So I'm unable to do anything. So can you answer my question?

  • 12:18:09

    HERRINGSure. And I'll do my best. We have to -- the Virginia revenues need to come in in May. And there is an extension. The governor provided it --

  • 12:18:23

    NNAMDIWe seem to have lost Charniele Herring again, but we have I think the same question. Maryanne, was that the same question that you had? Marianne in Falls Church.

  • 12:18:33

    MARYANNEYes. It is the same question.

  • 12:18:35

    NNAMDIYes. Go ahead, Maryanne.

  • 12:18:38

    MARYANNEAn extension for the Virginia taxes. Did I miss it or haven't they done it?

  • 12:18:44

    NNAMDII don't know. We're trying to get Charniele Herring back in order to answer that question. But in the meantime I can take another call. And this is Fitsome in Fairfax. Fitsome, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:58

    FITSOMEThank you. I'm going to talk about -- of course, I'm a lawyer. So I'm asking the delegate about the plan for court opening. I know the court is going to open the third week of this month. But after that, what is going to happen with the -- like getting a jury pool to come to court or we have small court rooms and handle people every day. So how is the House of Delegates planning to operate the court? How do they -- do they have any plan or suggestion about court hearings and jury selection and so on and so on?

  • 12:19:45

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We've got --

  • 12:19:47

    SHERWOODKojo, can you --

  • 12:19:48

    NNAMDIYes. Go ahead, Tom.

  • 12:19:49

    SHERWOODI took a moment to check with the Virginia Tax Office and it says that the individual tax payments due from April 1st forward are now going to be due June 1st.

  • 12:20:01

    NNAMDIDelegate Herring is back with us. I'm pretty sure you just heard Tom Sherwood. Is that your understanding also?

  • 12:20:08

    HERRINGYes. That is correct. That is correct. Yes. And I believe your guest had asked about why can we not do the date, you know, the same as a federal deadline and that is because of the impact it would take to the Virginia budget. And so there is an extension provided to provide some relief. But there is -- my understanding and I'm been told by the Secretary of Finance that there's no way that we could actually move that date back any further.

  • 12:20:41

    NNAMDIAnd our caller Fitsome wanted to know about court openings and what's being done about that.

  • 12:20:47

    HERRINGOh, yes. So, again, the courts are, you know, of course, taking their lead from what the state is doing. They're still -- I didn't hear the entire question. So there are still proceedings happening, but at a very minimum just to make sure that everyone is safe and not in a situation where we're spreading the virus. I will tell you just anecdotally, I'm hearing from attorneys that there is -- and not a bad thing that the people that they represent are actually looking at settlements of cases, which actually is probably a good thing. Being a past trial attorney, I can tell you that's good. Settlement is very good.

  • 12:21:27

    NNAMDIOnly have about a minute left. Tom Sherwood, your turn.

  • 12:21:30

    SHERWOODVery quickly, some states, Delegate, are trying to use or are using the Coronavirus crisis to limit abortions. Texas particularly are trying. You have been the leader in changing the abortion laws very restrictive under Republicans to something new now. Is that an issue in Virginia at all?

  • 12:21:51

    HERRINGNo, no. The governor has signed the Reproductive Healthcare Act, which I repealed all of, you know, trap regulations and ended the 24 hour waiting period and other things that were not evidence based that some legislators put into the code and thought it was important. So luckily it's not an issue. And the bill will become effective July 1. And so -- and unfortunately, again, I have to comment that those restrictions these other states are experiencing is unfortunate, because, you know, people still don't understand that not every woman presents the same. People sometimes need abortion just to complete a miscarriage. And it is unfortunate that politicians still want to play politics with women's bodies.

  • 12:22:43

    NNAMDICharniele Herring is the Democratic Majority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:22:48

    NNAMDIThank you for having me.

  • 12:22:50

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Elissa Silverman. She is an At-Large Member of the D.C. Council. Elissa Silverman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:57

    ELISSA SILVERMANKojo, thrilled to be with you.

  • 12:23:01

    NNAMDIWell, we don't have a great deal of time left, but I know that last night was the last night of Passover. So how was your Passover and how did you celebrate with social distancing? You have about 30 seconds.

  • 12:23:12

    SILVERMANWell, thank you, Kojo. Well, it was obviously a different type of holiday. People experienced that with Easter as well. I socially distance. I did a Zoom Seder with my family and with my synagogue on the Hill. And it certainly gave me insight into the challenges of distance learning.

  • 12:23:32

    NNAMDIWell, belated happy Passover. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Elissa Silverman. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:02

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Elissa Silverman, At-Large Member of the D.C. Council, if you have questions or comments for her. Tom Sherwood, Marian Wright Edelman, the Founder of the Children's Defense Fund, which promoted the Head Start Program liked to say, we need Head Start, because it works. Somehow or the other the District of Columbia has managed to lose millions of dollars in Head Start preschool funding and this is a preschool program for low income families. What happened?

  • 12:24:29

    SHERWOODWell, bureaucracy happened. It's unfortunate that the Head Start Program in the District of Columbia has a long history of not meeting all the needs of the poorest people eligible for the program. And now the school chancellor has announced that the city school system is not going to apply to continue the Head Start Program. I hope the councilmember has something to say about this.

  • 12:24:52

    SHERWOODBut that will mean, in addition to millions -- I think it's $13 million in lost funds, there will also be more than 80 jobs lost, and another blow to Head Start. Now, the school system says that there are fewer people who actually qualify for the program, but I would think every person counts.

  • 12:25:13

    NNAMDIElissa Silverman?

  • 12:25:15

    SILVERMANOh, hi, there, Kojo. Yes. This is very concerning. I spoke to the chancellor about it actually earlier in the week. So, there are a few issues, and this would impact next year. So, first, the teacher-student ratios in our pre-K three, four classrooms are different than in the Head Start guidelines. So, that's one of the issues that has arisen. And DCPS needs to reconcile and perhaps negotiate with Head Start. And it brought about some safety issues with students.

  • 12:25:53

    SILVERMANThe other issue, as Tom just mentioned, is that they're changing demographics in our elementary schools. My big concern here, though, Kojo and Tom, is that one thing that coronavirus has really put a spotlight on is equity issues. And I told the chancellor I'm very concerned, as he is, about how this could exacerbate equity issues and, of course, the achievement gap, given that Head Start is such a successful program in helping our young people.

  • 12:26:24

    NNAMDIYou chair the Labor Committee on the council, which oversees the Department of Employment Services. The past three weeks, the city's unemployment services, as you pointed out, have seen double the amount of claims they normally process in an entire year. What is the Department of Employment Services doing to meet this high number of requests?

  • 12:26:45

    SILVERMANWell, first of all, Kojo, I am speaking to you from one of the auxiliary call centers that we have set up. I'm one of about 50 DC government employees who volunteered to become UI call takers. And, let me tell you, there is a lot of learning going on right now. The scope of what is happening in terms of our economy is just stunning.

  • 12:27:13

    SILVERMANListeners might see national figures. As you said, Kojo, in the District, we are seeing double the number of people who normally file claims for unemployment in the scope of a month. We have had -- the mayor gave statistics this morning, I was trying to write down, but we're nearing, I think, 70,000 workers who have filed for unemployment. That is more than one out of 10 people who work in our city. It is amazing.

  • 12:27:45

    SILVERMANSo, the number of people who need to access unemployment is beyond, I think, what we could have anticipated. Here's what I would say to those who are listening, is number one, first of all, please file for unemployment, if you qualify, because unemployment is in place to help you. It's a safety net to help you keep stable. I did find the numbers here. So, we have had more than 67,000 people file for unemployment. And unemployment is filed where you work. So, these are D.C., Maryland and Virginia residents.

  • 12:28:23

    SILVERMANWe have made 78,000 payments to 29,000 workers and that totals about 29 million in payments so far. But I know there are a lot of people who are listening, saying, I have filed my claim and I haven't gotten a check yet. Here's what I would say, is it is hard. I know how hard it is right now, but please be patient. If you filed less than 21 days ago, we're still processing your claim. If it's been more than 21 days, my suggestion would be first to let the agency know. And there is an email that you can send an email to, and that is COVID19.ui@dc.gov.

  • 12:29:09

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number if you have questions or comments for Elissa Silverman. You and other D.C. councilmembers were on a conference call with D.C. business leaders yesterday. The coalition of businesses called DC2021 presented an impact and recovery plan for the economy. Also listening in on that call was one Tom Sherwood, who I'm guessing has a few things to ask you. So, your turn, Tom.

  • 12:29:35

    SHERWOODI do. I want to just follow up with unemployment insurance, that Councilmember Silverman is the chair of the workforce committee that oversees the employment services. And I've seen the public hearing where she's grilled Dr. Morris Hughes, the director of that. But it does seem that the employment services still has outdated technology. And many people, hundreds, if not thousands of people say they can't get in to even apply because of the technology that's lacking.

  • 12:30:04

    SHERWOODBut let's move on, because that was the biggest thing this week is the business community, the people, the employers who pay all the people who are looking for unemployment now say they, too, are hurting. And they have asked for a quick response from the D.C. Council and the mayor to help support the businesses in town whose jobs are -- whose businesses have come to a screeching halt. And it's the employees who are hurting, but so are the people who own the businesses.

  • 12:30:34

    SHERWOODWhat is the Council going to be able to do, Elissa Silverman? Some people complain that you're anti-business. You ardently deny that. You're just looking for responsibility and equity. But what can the city do to help the businesses who say they are losing hundreds of millions of dollars?

  • 12:30:51

    SILVERMANSure. Well, usually, like, I flag down when I'm able to talk, and we're not able to do that, socially distant. So, let me address both the business need and the worker need because they're a lot one in the same. Let's just go back to UI for a second.

  • 12:31:07

    SILVERMANSo, you mentioned, Kojo and Tom, the outdated systems. It's true. You know, we haven't had an emphasis -- especially in our city because we weren't as impacted, I think, by the great recession. So, a lot of people in our city have never had to rely on unemployment, and we haven't prioritized modernizing the system. One thing I do hope that comes out of coronavirus is that there is the sense of urgency and priority on modernizing our system. I think a lot of our residents are seeing why that's important.

  • 12:31:41

    SILVERMANThe second thing I want to say is, just on UI, in collaboration with the federal government, there's some big things that we've done to help get cash into people's hands, which is also going to help our small businesses, help their workers. So, one of the things that we've done is we've expanded UI to make sure it covers COVID cases. Two big things that a lot of people are hearing about, number one, a $600 additional payment. So, this is a payment that comes out of the Federal Cares Act.

  • 12:32:15

    SILVERMANSo, if you applied for UI for the next four months, from April to July, you're going to get an extra $600 payment. Now, there are a lot of people that are listening in, saying, where's my $600. We are going to start making those payments next week. I just talked to Dr. Morris Hughes moments ago, and we are actually getting the system up and running to make those payments.

  • 12:32:39

    SILVERMANAs you said, Tom, a lot of our technology is old. I mean, the system the programming language that we use for our UI system, and many states do, was created when Elvis was popular. I mean, that's how old it is. So, you're...

  • 12:32:54

    SHERWOODBut you've been the chair of that committee for three years, I think.

  • 12:32:59

    SILVERMANI have and...

  • 12:33:00

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Has that not been an issue?

  • 12:33:02

    SILVERMANIt has been an issue and we keep asking about it, and we have asked. We have allocated money for modernization, and we've been asking, what is the contractor doing? You know, when are users, when are actual workers going to be able to see the difference? But let me talk about one other big thing in UI that's impacting a lot of people in our region and in our city, which is UI has expanded its eligibility. So, if you're an independent contractor, if you're a 1099 worker, if you are newly hired -- there are a lot of people who just got on their job and then their business closed, their employer closed because of the mandatory closure of nonessential businesses -- you are now eligible for unemployment.

  • 12:33:49

    SILVERMANBut we also need to address our system to be able to accept your application. So we are working on that...

  • 12:33:57

    SHERWOODOkay. Let's -- let's...

  • 12:33:58

    SILVERMAN...let's go to business, okay.

  • 12:34:00

    SHERWOODYeah, let's go to the business, because that's a really important call.

  • 12:34:03

    SILVERMANIt is.

  • 12:34:03

    SHERWOODI heard about it and I got into the call. I heard you -- I heard skepticism from councilmembers, but also I heard most of the councilmembers thinking, something needs to be done. We're just not sure what, but it has to help the workers, not just the owners of the business.

  • 12:34:18

    SILVERMANWell, I don't think there's skepticism. I think what council members want to do is use our limited resources, because we're facing the same problem many households are declining revenue to directly help those businesses who need that help the most. And I think the questions that we kept asking are, you know, is this going to help Andy Shallal of Bus Boys and Poets meet his monthly expenses in the most direct and urgent way possible?

  • 12:34:49

    SILVERMANThe proposal that the business community presented to us was a tax abatement proposal, I think suspending the franchise tax for a year and, I think, sunsetting the transfer and recordation tax. And the main question we had is, is this going to help all of our small restaurants, all our neighborhood businesses we love? Is this going to get money in their hands and give them access to capital so that they can stay afloat and survive this public health emergency?

  • 12:35:22

    SHERWOODSo, Andy Shallal, you mentioned the owner of Bus Boys and Poets around the region, emphasized that this is not something that can be mulled over and discussed in public hearings. And he said, this is not a matter of in a few months or even a few weeks. He said, we're talking -- he said, businesses are paying today's bills with yesterday's revenues. No more revenues are coming in. The Council and the mayor need to act quickly. What do you think is the timeframe for acting quickly?

  • 12:35:53

    SILVERMANAs urgently as possible, Tom. You know, we heard these proposals yesterday. This is going to be a big part of the conversation. We need our small businesses who employ our residents to be able to stay stable and survive this. And I couldn't agree with Andy more that we need to act with urgency. But we need to make sure that we're being, like, strategic and skillful with our dollars, because we have also seen a decline in revenue.

  • 12:36:22

    SILVERMANI mean, our sales tax has evaporated, almost, because we have had to shut down our hospitality industry to protect public health. So, this is an urgent issue, but we need -- you know, this is where we also can't do it alone. We need federal assistance. You know, I know there's a lot of frustration of business people that the paycheck protection loan already ran out of money yesterday, and that it's been sort of a rocky implementation of some of the federal business relief programs. But we can't do it alone. This is why we need the federal government to stop up and help us, and help cities all around the country.

  • 12:37:07

    SHERWOODVery quickly, if I may, so the problem is both the lawyers and the employees, not one or the other. But you're looking for an equitable balance.

  • 12:37:17

    SILVERMANWell, I mean, (laugh) in order to run a good business, you need good employees, and you need employees that are safe and healthy and able to pay their bills, as well. So, I don't see it as an either/or, and that's why I always take issue, Tom, with you saying I'm anti-business. I couldn't be further from that. You know, I am pro-business.

  • 12:37:33

    SHERWOODWell, I don't say that you're anti-business. I don't say that you're anti-business.

  • 12:37:36

    SILVERMANWell, you always repeat it. (laugh)

  • 12:37:37

    SHERWOODI think many people do say it. I heard it twice this week.

  • 12:37:41

    SILVERMANI am pro a healthy economy. And part of the healthy economy is supporting our workers and making sure that they are productive and healthy to do a good job.

  • 12:37:51

    NNAMDIHere is Linda. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:55

    LINDAOh, hi. Let me get -- I've got you on speaker. I'm going to take you off speaker. Yeah, actually, I'm just calling, and it really is getting a little off (unintelligible) the unemployment category. But the other night I happened to hear on channel 9, a verify issue. And it had to do with an email that many of us are on who are getting unemployment or starting to get that or get approved for it. We were sent what was called an important message for the DOES. And it says request for identity documentation.

  • 12:38:36

    LINDASo, I was looking, and I said, oh my gosh, I did that. And what it requested is you take a picture of your license and your social security number and send it to this email. And the email came from a person who, when I researched it, looked like she is an employee at the unemployment office.

  • 12:38:55

    LINDABut, anyway, they ask you to do that and send it through a particular route, with a particular subject matter. And so it sounds like it actually is through the DC department, but...

  • 12:39:08

    NNAMDIOkay, but you've got to get to the point, please.

  • 12:39:10

    LINDAI mean, how secure is this now? Because, on that program, Verify Issue is that it may not be secure.

  • 12:39:20

    NNAMDIElissa Silverman, do you know?

  • 12:39:21

    SILVERMANYes, Linda. So we do ask you -- D.C. government is going to ask you to verify your identity. Here's what I would say to folks, is you want to make sure that the email is coming from a DC.gov address. And I know that DOES, in conjunction with our chief technology officer, is using a secure product. I believe it's called ZixMessage Center. And so here's the thing. You want to make sure that this is coming from D.C. government, not from someone else. And if you see ZixMessage Center, then that is, yes, legitimate. But we need for you to be able to prove your identity to us, so we ask for things like a copy of your social security card and a state-issued photo ID.

  • 12:40:15

    NNAMDIOne Twitter user tweeted: please have the council member slowly give that email address again for unemployment insurance.

  • 12:40:24

    SILVERMANI will do so. It is COVID19, C-O-V-I-D-1-9.UI@DC.gov. COVID19.ui@dc.gov. That is a troubleshooting address so here's who should be using this. If you filed your claim and you haven't heard anything and you keep filing your re-certifications and it's been four weeks and you haven't seen a dime, email COVID19.

  • 12:40:55

    NNAMDIHere's Andy in Eldersburg, Maryland. Andy, your turn.

  • 12:41:00

    ANDYYeah, hi there. I have a quick question. I was working full time. I've been laid off, permanently. I'm on severance pay. I have a few more weeks' worth of pay. When should I actually file for unemployment because of the backlog? Can I file now, or should I wait until my last check?

  • 12:41:19

    NNAMDIElissa Silverman?

  • 12:41:19

    SILVERMANSure. Well, so I am not a -- well, I'm training to be a claims processor, (laugh) but your severance does get -- if you are getting full pay, Andy, I would suggest, especially with the backlog, waiting to file, because you will have to report your severance to us. And it will impact the calculation of your wage replacement.

  • 12:41:47

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Andy. Elissa Silverman, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation last week that was originally supposed to include financial assistance for undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for traditional unemployment. It was axed from the bill. You were not happy with this. Is the Council now exploring other ways to help these workers?

  • 12:42:08

    SILVERMANWell, I'm going to continue to explore it, Kojo. And I just want to emphasize why I feel this is so important. These workers are our neighbors. They are cooks who have made our restaurant community Michelin-rated. They've built a lot of our buildings. They are parents of our D.C. Public School kids. And I think that we need to support all of our neighbors right now and keep them stable. These are residents and workers who've contributed to our economy in big ways.

  • 12:42:41

    SILVERMANI was disappointed what happened. The mayor had some good news this morning, that the Open Society Institute is putting a million dollars toward helping our undocumented workers. There is good news from Events D.C., the convention and sports authority.

  • 12:42:57

    SILVERMANI usually ask a lot, as do my colleagues, about their big reserves. And they're putting their big reserves to good use. Five million dollars is going to go toward undocumented workers. And I think two tranches of 5 million are going to hotel workers and restaurant workers in our city. Events DC is funded through restaurant and hotel taxes of course. So, this is great.

  • 12:43:21

    SILVERMANBut the need -- I can't emphasize enough. We have probably -- the estimate is between 25 and 30,000 people who fall into that undocumented category in our city, and probably 15,000 workers. So, even $5 million isn't going to go very far.

  • 12:43:41

    SILVERMANYou know, I understand that we are in a financial dilemma ourselves, but what we need to do is make investments in ourselves, so we can get through this altogether and come out healthy on the other side.

  • 12:43:54

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:43:56

    SHERWOODYet another issue is the city has several business improvement district bids, downtown, southwest, Adams Morgan. I've been exchanging messages with the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District, and it says that its member are being asked to pay their dues to the organization, even though the businesses that are involved don't have the money to do it. The Business Improvement District, for those who don't know, is a legally recognized organization that's entitled to essentially tax the businesses within a geographic area, so that the street cleaning and other issues can be taken care of within that district.

  • 12:44:39

    SHERWOODThe people who are members of the Adams Morgan district particularly are telling me the Adams Morgan bid is insisting that they pay their dues, even though they don't have the money to do so. Is there anything on your agenda about this?

  • 12:44:52

    SILVERMANCertainly, I have received those emails, too. We need to work something out, Tom. And I hope that, along with the chairman of our Economic Development Committee, Councilmember McDuffie, we can find a good solution. Because certainly we don't want to burden our small businesses, many of whom are members of the bid, at this time. Can we talk about voting for a second, Tom and Kojo?

  • 12:45:19

    NNAMDINo, actually. Yeah, go ahead. (laugh) Go ahead. Go ahead.

  • 12:45:24

    SILVERMANI do want to talk for a moment about voting, because I think there's been a lot of confusion about our election. Oh, there's the mayor. She's walking right by right now, and Dr. Morris Hughes.

  • 12:45:38

    NNAMDIIs she also volunteering to take calls?

  • 12:45:41

    SILVERMANI'll see if she wants to take calls.

  • 12:45:43

    NNAMDI(laugh) Okay. But go ahead, voting.

  • 12:45:43

    SILVERMANI'm not sure my phone -- oh, she's saying hi to everybody here. So, on voting, what I want to say to our residents is that you need to request a ballot to be able to vote. I think there's a lot of confusion that the Board of Elections -- so, we are trying to move as much as possible to socially distant voting. And voters need to request an absentee ballot in order to vote.

  • 12:46:13

    SILVERMANNow, we will have limited vote centers open, but I know a lot of people won't want to go in person, and they want to file the mayor's directive to stay home. So, you need to request a ballot from the Board of Elections. You can do that several ways. You can go to the Board of Elections website. There's a Vote 4 D.C. app, and it is V-o-t-e 4, number 4, DC. You can request your ballot that way.

  • 12:46:41

    SILVERMANI think the Board of Elections will also be mailing voter guides. And there's going to be the request for absentee ballots in those guides, too, with a postage paid for envelope, I believe. So, I just want to let all of our residents know, please request your ballot, your absentee ballot to vote.

  • 12:47:05

    NNAMDIWe only have about one...

  • 12:47:06

    SILVERMANAnd the election is June 2nd.

  • 12:47:08

    NNAMDIWe only have about one minute left. Quickly, Anne, in Mount Pleasant, go ahead, please. Be brief.

  • 12:47:13

    ANNEHi. Yes, I'm a small business owner. I own an architectural firm. It's my husband and me. We have no employees. It's just the two of us. I applied for unemployment a couple weeks ago, but we were denied, because technically I'm not an employee, nd I understand the system is opening up. My question is, do I need to submit a new claim or, because I'm already in their system, will they be able to circle back to me at some point?

  • 12:47:37

    NNAMDIElissa Silverman, 30 seconds.

  • 12:47:37

    SILVERMANSo, Anne, yes. You are going to have to file a new claim. So, as I said, we've opened up, to independent contractors like yourself, unemployment eligibility, but we're not ready to accept your application yet. Everyone in that category should send an email to PUA@dc.gov. The email will give you an alert when our system is ready. The target date right now is April 28th, Anne. But you'll need to refile when our system is ready to accept your claim.

  • 12:48:09

    NNAMDIElissa Silverman is an At-Large member of the D.C. Council. Thank you so much for joining us. Tom Sherwood, we lost, this past week, former Arlington County Board Member Erik Gutshall after a battle with brain cancer.

  • 12:48:21

    SHERWOODYes, a very sad thing. His widow said it's going to take eight weeks from getting a diagnosis until he died. He was a very active member in Arlington. He was worried about the missing mental housing that the county needs. He was worried about too few schools, and he was worried about...

  • 12:48:40

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Thank you all for listening. Stay safe, and you, too, Tom Sherwood. And have a good weekend, all. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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