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Statement from Councilmember McDuffie on Passage of Emergency Legislation in Response to Coronavirus

Washington, D.C. -- With the passage of the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie released the following statement.

"Today, the Council of the District of Columbia passed legislation to provide emergency relief to the residents and small businesses of the District of Columbia in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis. 

While it is true that we find ourselves in unchartered territory, I have found hope and optimism in seeing all branches of government, businesses, residents, and staff come together to find solutions during this time of crisis.

From the time we began working on this emergency legislation late last week until now, the District and indeed the country has found itself in both a literal and figurative state of emergency. My first commitment is ensuring that residents, neighbors, colleagues, and staff are safe and receive the essential support needed to maintain a sense of certainty and stability even while we face the unknown.

As Chairman of the Committee on Business and Economic Development, I have reached out to small business owners, labor unions, and industry associations to hear their concerns. My staff and I have been working around the clock to make sure the measure before us includes resources to mitigate the almost certain economic uncertainty that will be the result for many workers and businesses.

I have worked tirelessly to hear concerns from workers and the business community and to include provisions that would provide immediate relief.

First, the emergency legislation includes a provision that would establish a small business grant program that would allow grants to be disbursed to eligible businesses, including non-profits and independent contractors to help with operating expenses, cover wages, and to pay back loans.

I worked with the Council Chairman, the Mayor, and the District's Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to identify tax relief, including the postponement of property tax for the hotel industry, which the CFO highlighted as one of our major industries and employers, and one severely impacted by the crisis. This legislation contains a deferral of sales taxes for small businesses, which serves as an interest-free loan to small businesses.

The bill includes provisions that would prohibit evictions of residential as well as small business tenants and prohibit the disconnection of gas, water, and electric service for all. 

We expanded paid leave for certain individuals, loosened time restrictions on prescription refills so residents can access larger quantities of their medications and worked with Councilmember Silverman to expand unemployment insurance to include workers impacted by the public health emergency.

While many of these provisions will undoubtedly go a long way in supporting residents, employees, and employers, I know that, unfortunately, this emergency measure cannot meet the vast and varied needs of every worker or every member of the small business community.

Many retailers, especially restaurants, simply do not have the cash reserves or lines of credit that would allow them to temporarily close yet survive a prolonged shutdown. These are mom and pop shops, everyday people who have invested—in many cases—all that they have, into their businesses.

Our goal here is simply to help as many people as we can with the limited resources that exist.

This Council has the opportunity, right now, at this moment, to show the more 700,000 residents of our city that we have their backs. To show the workers who drive this economy, to show the entrepreneurs who dared to innovate, the people who have contributed to the culture and vibrancy of this city, that we support them, by providing relief as we continue to navigate this crisis.

We all know that the paramount concern is ensuring the health of our community while providing the long term fiscal health of our city. We must also recognize that for many of our most vulnerable residents and small businesses, this is a matter of survival.

Everyone employed by the District of Columbia Government has the security of receiving their paycheck every two weeks. Many small business owners, hourly workers, and independent contractors do not.

This means that not everyone is making trips to the store to stock up on groceries. Not everyone who may need to self-quarantine can do so. Not everyone has the option to telework because their employer had to make the unfortunate decision to close its doors for good.

My council colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to craft this emergency measure and to try to navigate the challenges that we now face. The reality is, despite our best efforts, this bill will not provide enough to help every person who is in need. Knowing that we must remain vigilant and continue monitoring the economic condition on the ground, in real-time. And where we are financially able to do so, provide more to District small businesses, workers, and families in need."

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