DC NOW Questionnaire

To the DC NOW Community:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the DC NOW questionnaire.  DC NOW plays a crucial role in making sure the voices of women in our community are being heard. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we as a community must stand up for each other, speak out when we see injustice, organize in support of progressive causes and candidates, and run for office when we know our representatives are falling short. That’s why I’m running. I am not a politician, I’m a mom who’s running because our current leaders are leaving too many of our neighbors behind.

I understand that I’m up against a DC insider, but it’s a fight worth taking on because progressives have an obligation to fight for those in our community who can’t fight for themselves. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s why I’ve earned endorsements from progressive women-led organizations such as Run for Something, Vote Pro Choice, and The American Women’s Party.

Before moving to DC, I served in the Peace Corps as a literacy teacher in Guyana, and worked on the Obama campaign in 2008. I followed President Obama to DC after his election, hoping to make a difference and serve the public. Nearly a decade later, this city has given me everything: a career, great friends, a family, a dog, a home. In 2016, my husband and I became proud parents to our daughter JJ.

But even in a progressive community like ours, I see a troubling lack of empathy, accountability, transparency, and compassion in our DC Council. In Ward 6, I’ve heard stories from

  • Countless low-income neighbors terrified that they are weeks away from leaving their longtime community because housing has become so unaffordable;
  • Working families frustrated with the delays in implementing the Universal Paid Family Leave Act, zero funding for the “tampon tax”, and a severe lack of urgency when our city is facing a maternal health crisis and high infant mortality rates;
  • Young parents already making plans to leave DC after their kids complete elementary school because they lack confidence in our school system;
  • Restaurant workers who endure sexual harassment just to earn enough tips to pay bills;
  • Advocates working tirelessly to help homeless residents, immigrants, survivors of sexual violence, and other marginalized community, while watching the DC Council vote to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on corporate subsidies and tax cuts, while saying there isn’t enough room in the budget to support social services meant to support our neighbors.

These stories are too common. Simply put, the status quo is harming our neighbors, and leaving them behind. In a city that is majority female, women still make up only 30 percent of our DC Council. If elected, I commit to holding true to these values, engaging with DC NOW and advocates for vulnerable communities, and ensuring the progressive laws we pass are as strong as possible, sufficiently funded, implemented swiftly, and enforced.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit my response, and for your consideration.

With gratitude,

Lisa Hunter

_____

Candidate for DC Council, Ward 6

1. Education: On Nov. 21, 2017, the DC Council introduced the Student Fair Access to

School Act of 2017 (B22-05964) to minimize suspensions and expulsions in DC public

schools. If elected, would you support this bill and other efforts to eliminate the

school-to-prison pipeline?

[Yes. This legislation is common-sense; a system that lacks uniform definitions of basic punitive actions such as suspensions and expulsions and allows for automatic suspensions to be triggered is inherently unfair and has been shown to be discriminatory. Black students are seven times more likely than white students to be suspended in DC, a number that is twice as high as the national average. Moreover, when we seek to suspend or expel students for absences, truancy and uniform violations, we are inherently targeting our low-income students who most need our help, and when we remove them from a classroom setting we are causing them to fall further behind.

Students who already face severe disadvantages at home, and in the classroom, do not benefit from increased time away from the school setting where they will not receive opportunities for educational growth. Unfortunately, our city is home to some of the worst racial and economic disparities in the nation. Many of our students in DC face some of the same socioeconomic and behavioral challenges I observed in my students when I taught in the Peace Corps. In my community, Ward 6, we live among some of the wealthiest people in the city, as well as some of the poorest. Our low-income children face health disparities, food insecurity, undiagnosed medical conditions, unstable housing, and many other challenges that our high-performing students never need to think about. I have spent substantial time meeting with our low-income neighbors and learning about their lives; many of our low-income children live with no access to internet, books or school supplies at home, lack a space at home to concentrate on homework, and they are often insufficiently fed, making it even more difficult to concentrate or get a good night of sleep. Many students come to school having experienced trauma or prolonged periods of toxic stress.  We have learned from brain science that when students are in a heightened sense of stress response, it is incredibly difficult for them to learn. To inflict arbitrary punishment on these students in the form of suspensions and expulsions simply serves to widen the already staggering achievement gap we see in our city.

As this bill moves forward, we need to be conscious of what other cities have experienced with respect to unintended consequences around in-school suspensions. Since in-school suspensions are generally under-reported, some cities have seen a rise in instances of such disciplinary action as a response to a required decrease in out-of-school suspensions. If this occurs in DC, we are not solving the problem this legislation sets out to solve. The bill should be amended to place a greater emphasis on counseling and other behavioral services, and to explicitly require that any in-school suspensions be documented and reported to the city, and that appropriate educational services be provided in that setting.]

2. Housing: Intimate partner violence and housing insecurity are closely linked; the 2017

DC Women’s Needs Assessment Report revealed that almost one third of women in the

study cited violence as the cause of their homelessness or housing instability. Do you

believe that victims of domestic violence should be required to prove their residency in

the District in order to be eligible for shelter?

[No. I was horrified when I learned that my opponent, Charles Allen, recently supported legislation that would place strict eligibility requirements on those who seek access to our DC shelter system. The promise we as a society make to provide safe shelter to our homeless neighbors, victims of domestic violence, and all of the most vulnerable among us, is not contingent on their ability to navigate our bureaucracy. It’s about morals, values, safety and basic human dignity. I will always commit to fighting for vulnerable residents, particularly women. I believe this is reflected in my record of service, which is why I’m proud to have received endorsements from progressive, women-led organizations such as Run for Something, Vote Pro Choice, and The American Women’s Party.

When our elected officials place barriers between our neighbors and their access to shelters, they are making a conscious choice to proactively harm women. The law reflects an embarrassing lack of understanding of how violence impacts women, particularly as it relates to self-reporting. To think that victims should be expected to have paperwork, or even identify themselves as a survivor to a stranger in order to gain access to a roof over their head, is inhumane. A survey conducted last year revealed that DC shelters turned away approximately two thirds of families seeking emergency shelter. The complete lack of empathy and compassion for women and families reflected in our current DC shelter policies are shameful, inhumane, and heart-wrenching.

Recent coverage of a report by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness revealed that three out of four women in the District who are homeless and living without children are survivors of violence. Based on a survey of 882 homeless women living alone in the District, at least one third said that violence is the cause of their homelessness or housing instability, with 29 percent reporting they had engaged in “survival sex” to obtain money, food, alcohol, drugs, a place to stay or other goods. These are horrifying statistics.

I have worked in women’s shelters, staffed a sexual assault and rape crisis hotline, and accompanied survivors of domestic violence seeking restraining orders against their abusers to court. I have seen the wretched cycle of violence firsthand. We must elect leaders who will advocate on behalf of these vulnerable populations, understand the role that violence and trauma plays in housing instability, and focus on the social services that protect survivors of violence. If elected, I would champion these issues with a comprehensive view that includes fighting for additional funding to create more beds in the District for women and children fleeing violence, investing in mental and behavioral health services, eliminating barriers to access, and supporting organizations providing legal services to our most vulnerable populations.

Ward 6 residents are tired of hearing our councilmember pay lip service to the importance of these issues while we have neighbors living in fear of displacement every day, families living in their cars, and tented communities sprouting up across the city. Our current leadership cites a lack of funding when they seek to create barriers to our shelter system, yet those same leaders just passed a corporate tax cut and an estate tax cut that benefitted a few hundred of DC’s wealthiest residents. We just had an opportunity to use a budget surplus that could have improved our current homeless shelter, added educational, health and training programs, continued the process of closing DC General by expediting construction on other facilities, eliminated strict rules on admission standards and maximum stay requirements imposed on our shelters, subsidized construction of additional affordable housing, expanded programs that subsidize living expenses for low-income residents living in subsidized housing, or any number of other things. Any one of those policies could have helped vulnerable women, but our DC Council decided to put that money into tax cuts for the wealthy. Homelessness and access to affordable housing are complex problems that cannot be solved overnight, but a good start would be immediately moving to repeal those tax cuts and use the money to help people who desperately need it. We have the money, our DC Council is just choosing to spend it elsewhere.]

3. Economic Opportunity: The One Fair Wage ballot initiative seeks to fully eliminate the

sub-minimum wage by raising the hourly tipped minimum wage (currently $3.33 in the

District) incrementally until it matches the full minimum wage by 2026. When voters

support the ballot initiative at the polls this year, will you commit to all of the following: 1.

Respect the will of voters by defending One Fair Wage when it goes before council; 2.

Commit to reducing sexual harassment in District restaurants by enforcing One Fair

Wage; 3. Fight for tipped workers to remain the rightful owners and stewards of their tips

regardless of their base wage.

[Yes, I fully support eliminating the tipped minimum wage and if the upcoming ballot initiative fails to pass, I commit to immediately introducing legislation that would do so. My opponent, Charles Allen, opposes eliminating the tipped minimum wage, and in 2016 he cast the deciding vote to kill the bill. One of the many abhorrent statements that he has made since he was elected was in 2016, just after casting the deciding vote against eliminating the tipped minimum wage, when he told DCist that “[d]oubling the tipped credit has a very significant impact on the bottom line.” His first thought was to protect the financial interests of his wealthy restaurant donors instead of protecting low-wage workers.

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington lobbied hard against the increase and Mr. Allen, who has received substantial campaign contributions from restaurant owners throughout the city, voted against the proposed increase. Mr. Allen’s vote, and his position, is immoral, and his position on this issue reflects the interests of his wealthy business donors, not the values of our community. It was an inexcusable vote for many reasons, but is particularly unconscionable given the readily available data on how an increase in the tipped minimum wage increases the economic security and workplace safety of women in our city.

Seventy percent of tipped workers are women, and over 90 percent of those women have reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.  This is unacceptable and horrifying. Studies have shown that there is an inverse correlation between wages and workplace harassment in restaurants. According to the Food Labor Research Center, women who earn just a few dollars an hour from their employers are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior, comments, groping and assault, in order to secure the tips they need to pay their bills and support their families. A woman who is paid a higher wage is less likely to be harassed, because she is less likely to be dependent entirely on tips from her harassers.

Seven progressive states have addressed this issue, and raised or eliminated the tipped minimum wage. In those states, the rate of reported sexual harassment in restaurants is half that of the 43 states that have not increased the tipped minimum wage. Experts believe this is because an increase in the tipped minimum wage allows servers to pay their bills, and as a result empowers them to stand up to predatory customers.

I know our community values the safety of women in the workplace over the interests of wealthy restaurant owners and their predatory clientele. It’s disappointing our current councilmember feels the opposite and votes accordingly. We deserve better.

I am also disappointed by the complete lack of proactive effort on the part of the DC Council to protect tips from falling into the hands of employers, particularly in light of the recent federal efforts by the Trump administration to strip away employee rights and allow tips to be pooled. I have held several listening sessions with DC restaurant workers who tell me that the problem of tip theft is very much alive and well in DC, and there is little if any recourse. This theft primarily impacts women and minority populations, but this is an issue that my opponent will never take up, due to his deep and longstanding financial ties to wealthy restaurant owners in DC. It’s shameful, and I look forward to being a fighter on the DC Council for these workers, because they deserve our support.]

4. Public Safety: The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act passed the DC

Council unanimously in 2016 and was fully-funded in 2017. Despite full funding and

tremendous support from the DC community, most of the provisions in the NEAR Act

have not been implemented and there has been a lack of transparency from the DC

Council, the Mayor’s Office, and the Metropolitan Police Department regarding

implementation. Do you support the full implementation of the NEAR Act and all

provisions? If so, how will you help ensure it is implemented successfully and with better

transparency?

[Yes. As someone who has worked in Congress and in a federal agency subject to strict oversight, I know firsthand that the best thing we can do to ensure that critical laws like the NEAR Act are implemented in full by an administration is to leverage the legislative power of rigorous oversight. Mr. Allen, the current Ward 6 councilmember, chairs the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. He has had an opportunity to put public pressure on the Mayor to fully implement the law by using this committee to continuously highlight the ongoing issues in our communities that could be directly addressed by provisions of the NEAR Act should they be prioritized and implemented. Mr. Allen has stated that he supports the NEAR Act, but he has declined to use his committee to conduct any oversight activity or encourage quicker implementation, so it would seem as though the most impactful step we could take in furtherance of more aggressive oversight and implementation of the NEAR Act would be to replace Mr. Allen as chair of the committee.

I am encouraged that the NEAR Act has been fully funded, and the release of the first dataset required under the law is a positive step. The release shows that we have a lot of progress to make on things as simple as following a criminal offense from arrest through prosecution and sentencing. It should also be a signal to DC leadership that implementation needs to happen quickly, which has not been the case since the law passed in 2016.

Addressing the root cause of crime and focusing on preventive and other health services rather than incarceration makes our communities safer. Investing in new offices that will provide access to treatment for residents with mental illness and substance use disorder will save lives. Our MPD officers are to be commended for the work they do in our communities, and they will benefit greatly from the opportunity to gain additional resources for training and data collection. Improving police interaction with residents for whom English is not their primary language, or for those with mental illness or substance use disorders will improve the safety of officers and our citizens. 

The specific concerns around the creation of an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement do not seem to be borne out by data, as the program it was modeled after seems to have been proven effective in Richmond, CA, both in reducing the number of firearms on the streets and reducing the number of reported shootings. It is a relatively new and innovative policy, which means it is inherently controversial, but the fear of unintended consequences appears to be unfounded. Initial results have been promising, and the homicide rates have dropped consistent with predictions. Of course, the program should be subject to rigorous ongoing oversight to ensure that we are making the progress the Council sought when passing the law in 2016.

We also need to do more to protect our limited- and non-English (LEP/NEP) speaking population. There are very real and dangerous consequences when we fail to provide comprehensive language assistance across all of our city services, and these consequences invariably impact the most vulnerable populations in our city. Non-English speakers are less likely to report instances of domestic violence in their homes because of the language barrier between themselves and MPD officers responding to calls for help. I have spoken to advocates and legal assistance providers who have shared stories about MPD mistakenly arresting the victim of a crime, rather than the perpetrator, due to confusion created by a language barrier the arresting officers were unable to overcome.]