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Ward 4 Dispatch: Public Health, Legislative Highlights, and Truesdell Traffic Safety

Dear Neighbors,

Ahead of the holiday weekend, I’m sharing the latest news for our community. This week included major changes to DC’s public health measures, an important traffic safety update for Truesdell Elementary, and quite a few legislative updates from our oversight hearings. I also have updates on city services, neighborhood events, and community resources. Before I get into it all, I want to thank residents from North Portal and Colonial Village for joining our community listening session this week, and remind Petworth and Brightwood Park neighbors to tune in next Thursday for the final Listen As We Climb session!


Ward 4 News and Legislative Updates

Vaccine Entry Requirement Rescinded and Mask Mandate to End on March 1

On Monday this week, the Mayor announced that DC would be dropping its vaccine entry requirement for indoor dining, concert venues, and other businesses by the very next day. Tuesday, February 15, was supposed to be first day these businesses would require two vaccine doses from customers instead of just one. The Mayor also announced that DC’s indoor mask mandate would be lifted on March 1 except for education settings, health care facilities, most government buildings, and businesses that opt to keep their mask mandate.

Much like lifting the mask mandate in November, I believe rescinding DC’s vaccine entry requirement at this point is a mistake. It undermines the public health benefits of the policy before it’s fully rolled out, and it puts vulnerable residents like seniors, immunocompromised neighbors, families with unvaccinated young children, and workers in the hospitality and entertainment industry at greater risk. And the decision to rescind the requirement with less than 24 hours notice has caused whiplash for businesses and their employees, who invested valuable time and resources to implement the policy. While cases are no longer at their peak levels during the Omicron wave, community transmission remains high. DC reported 128 new COVID cases yesterday (along with 35 self reported cases) and shared that two more DC residents had died from COVID at the age of 53 and 62. Meanwhile, experts warn of a new subvariant of Omicron that is spreading quickly. Only a week ago, a leading DC Health epidemiologist testified in a court hearing that “the mask and vaccine mandates are of crucial essence to continue with the trends we are seeing right now.” While these policies have real tradeoffs and cannot last forever, DC residents deserve a responsible transition that safeguards our most vulnerable neighbors, helps keep our children in school, and is guided first and foremost by science and public health.

The Council was set to take up emergency legislation today to temporarily reinstate the vaccine entry requirement, but the bill was withdrawn because it did not have the necessary support from other Councilmembers (as emergency legislation, it needed 9 votes to pass). I understand and share the frustration and anxiety that so many of you feel. I have also heard from and understand residents who have concerns about the vaccine entry requirement, even though I believe it’s the right policy for this moment. Here’s the bottomline: being vaccinated and boosted makes you far less likely to contract COVID, far less like to be hospitalized if you contract COVID, and far less likely to die from the virus. Whether there’s a mandate in place or not, being vaccinated and boosted is the safest decision to make for yourself, your family, and our community. I’m grateful that Ward 4 leads the city in vaccination rates, and for all of the ways Ward 4 residents have protected each other’s health these past two years. I’m also heartened by the growing list of businesses choosing to maintain a vaccine requirement to help keep their workers and patrons safe. Let’s keep doing what it takes to keep our community safe. I will keep fighting for sensible public health policies that get us through this pandemic.

Traffic Safety Improvements for Truesdell and Surrounding Neighborhood

Earlier this week our community woke up to the devastating news that another young child was struck by a driver in our community. The child is being treated and will recover, but this could have been much worse. The crash took place across from the child’s school, Truesdell Elementary. The Truesdell community has been requesting long overdue traffic calming measures around their school, which currently has few protections in place.

Following the crash, DDOT approved a series of traffic safety upgrades to the surrounding neighborhood, including: four-way stops to 7th & Jefferson, 8th & Jefferson, and potentially 9th & Jefferson; speed bumps on the 5200 block of 8th Street, the 800 block of Ingraham Street, and the 800 block of Hamilton Street; curb extensions at Hamilton & Illinois and Ingraham & 9th & Illinois; and a proposed closure of the 5200 block of 9th Street. DDOT is also conducting a speed study on the 5300 block of Illinois Avenue that could yield more improvements. We’re also supporting the school and 4D04 Commissioner Zach Israel in its request to make the 800 block of Ingraham Street a one-way street to address issues with student pick-up and drop-off.

While these are important improvements, we need to be proactive about improving traffic at every District school to prevent this from happening again. I introduced the Safe Routes to School Act to standardize and strengthen traffic safety at every DC school by requiring robust traffic safety upgrades for our school communities as a full sweep of preventative measures – starting with the schools that have the least measures in place. The Safe Routes to School Act will have its hearing before the Council on Monday, March 14 starting at noon. I encourage you to can sign up to testify at the hearing by emailing your contact information to abenjamin@dccouncil.us. You can also send in written comments about the legislation at the same address that will become part of the record.

Legislative Highlights from the DC Council This Week

As always, I wanted to share key insights from another intense week at the DC Council.

  • On Tuesday the Council had an additional legislative meeting, where we passed an emergency request for the Mayor to send a supplemental budget to the Council that: (1) funds more rental and utility assistance to keep DC residents housed this year, (2) enhances school COVID-safety, (3) increases personal pandemic leave for DC government employees, (4) expands recreational and employment opportunities for young people, and (5) invests more on violence prevention and public safety. The District has a massive budget surplus that it should devote to addressing the triple crises we’re facing with gun violence, displacement, and the ongoing COVID pandemic.
  • This week we had our oversight hearing with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), where I asked about how they’re coordinating with OSSE to fix the academic credit transfer process for committed youth in their care. I also asked DYRS about how it tracks recidivism among committed youth when they become adults. As a former prosecutor with OAG working on juvenile justice issues, I know how important it is to do everything in our power to help rehabilitate our youth.
  • Later in the week we had our oversight hearing with the Department of Employment Services (DOES). DOES has accomplished a lot in the past year, including growing its youth job training programs – and smoothly operating and expanding DC’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which added a new prenatal benefit today (more on that in the next section).
  • However, significant issues persist with DOES’ handling of unemployment insurance benefits. I pressed the agency on improving customer service, addressing claims appeal delays caught between DOES and OAH, and ensuring we return to a 21-day turnaround for processing claims. 
  • I also pushed for DOES on the incredibly frustrating issue of unemployment insurance fraud that so many residents have faced. I highlighted the experiences of Ward 4 residents and asked for the agency to be more responsive to their claims. If you have been a victim of UI fraud, please learn more about how to protect yourself at this link.
  • Yesterday we also had the Council’s performance oversight hearing with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). We heard powerful community testimony about the need to confront gun violence, address alleged discrimination within the department, and limit MPD’s role in situations like mental health crises and street vending. Councilmembers discussed MPD’s hiring efforts, improving coordination with other agencies, and the need for transparent accountability processes within MPD.
  • I left the MPD performance hearing to respond in person to the shooting that took place on the platform of Petworth Metro Station. I want to update our community that the 15-year-old male who was shot yesterday is in stable condition, and that Metro Transit Police arrested and charged the alleged shooter, who turned himself in to authorities after being identified. The incident reinforced the urgent need for additional community safety resources in this area, including the new Cure the Streets violence interruption site launching in Petworth and Brightwood Park this spring.
  • My final oversight hearing this week was with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). I raised a whole host of issues, including: the need to make major safety improvements to Georgia Avenue; the sensitivity of stop-sign cameras that issue steep tickets but often fail to improve compliance; traffic safety requests that do not yield adequate upgrades; and the need for DDOT to address major gaps in its crash data that shapes agency decisions.

On a separate note, Tuesday’s legislative session was the Council’s first in-person (hybrid) legislative session since March 2020. Since I joined the Council in January 2021, this was my first legislative session in the Wilson Building. The building is open to the public with a vaccine card, ID, and mask required for entry. I’m proud to rep Ward 4 on the dais!


Community Resources

Updates on City Services

  • Ward 4 COVID Center: We have a Ward 4 COVID Center at Peoples Congressional UCC (4704 13th St NW) where residents can get their vaccine, booster, PCR test, rapid tests, or free KN95 masks all in one place. Find a full listing of all DC COVID Centers and their operating hours on DC Health’s website.
  • DPR Adaptive Programming: DPR is partnering with several groups to bring DC residents new Adaptive Programing. Adaptive Programs are built for DC residents of all ages who have unique needs and wish to participate in group sports and specialized classes. They’re created for a range of diverse abilities and interests. Check it out!
  • Deadline for DC School Lottery PK3-Grade 8: The My School DC Lottery application deadline for parents of children in PK3 through Grade 8 is March 1, 2022. If that includes you, be sure to submit your application for next school year!
  • Leaf Collection: This coming week DPW will continue responding to 311 service requests for missed leaf collection. So if your block still needs leaf collection, please submit a 311 request so DPW can complete it next week. Feel free to follow up with me or my team if that doesn’t work so we can flag it for the agency.
  • Adjusted WMATA Service for Presidents Day: WMATA will have reduced service this Monday, February 21 for Presidents Day. MetroRail will operate on a Saturday schedule and MetroBus will run Saturday supplemental service. MetroAccess customers who wish to travel on the holiday may make a reservation; however, subscription trips will be canceled. Read WMATA’s full announcement.
  • WMATA Improves Red Line Frequency. Today WMATA also announced that Red Line trains will now arrive every 10 minutes (compared to 12 minutes previously) to provide residents more frequent service. That’s good news for Ward 4 residents near Takoma and Fort Totten, with hopefully more improvements on the way.
  • Update Your WMATA Card: WMATA is installing new faregates at rail stations and will upgrade fareboxes on Metrobuses in the fall. If your SmartTrip card was issued before 2012 it will need to be replaced by March 1, 2022. Learn more on WMATA’s website.
  • DC Small Business Grant: DC launched a $40 million bridge fund to support brick-and-mortar small businesses in the restaurant, entertainment, and retail industries that have struggled during the pandemic. The deadline to apply is February 25 at 5pm.
  • Summer Youth Employment Program: The 2022 Summer Youth Employment Program is accepting applications from DC residents ages 14-24. It will run from June 27 through August 5, and there are both virtual and in-person options within the program. Applications will be accepted until Monday, February 28.

New Guidance for DC Child Care Centers from DC Health  

Yesterday DC Health issued updated guidance for child care facilities (early learning programs for children under 5 NOT occurring in DCPS or DC Charter School settings) that allows 2, 3, and 4-year-olds to return to care facilities (if they contract asymptomatic, mild, or moderate COVID or have a close contact who tests positive) after 7 days if they report a negative test result to their program on Day 7. The 10-day quarantine requirement remains for children younger than 2 because there are no COVID tests approved for usage with children under age 2. Your child care program will have more details about what the updated guidance means for your kid’s specific program and precautionary COVID-response plans, so please review the guidance and speak directly with your child care facility. I’ve heard from a lot of parents about the burden that strict health guidance has caused for families that rely on child care. I have been raising this issue with the Executive, and I will continue to push for sensible protocols that safeguard public health but also leverage the tools we have to keep young children in learning settings (like test-to-stay options). At the very least, there needs to be symmetry between community-based pre-K and DCPS/DCPCS programs.

Employees in DC Are Now Eligible for Two Weeks of Paid Prenatal Leave

Starting today, non-governmental employees in DC are eligible for two weeks of paid prenatal leave to care for their pregnancy through DC’s Paid Family Leave Program. Workers in DC are also now guaranteed 8 weeks of paid parental leave, 6 weeks to care for a sick family member, and 6 weeks to recover from a serious health condition. You can apply and learn more about these benefits on the Office of Paid Family Leave’s website. I also encourage residents to reach out to First Shift Justice, a great organization that can assist with questions and legal support.


Neighborhood Events

Black History Month: Book Discussion on The 1619 Project with Nikole Hannah-Jones

On Saturday, February 19 from 12pm-1pm Ward 4 will be hosting the great Nikole Hannah-Jones at Culture Coffee Too (300 Riggs Rd NE) for a discussion on The 1619 Project. The event is sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of African American Affairs as part of their programming for Black History Month. Be sure to stop by for this great event!

Chevy Chase Small Area Plan Open House

On Wednesday, February 23 from 3pm-7pm the DC Office of Planning will host a Community Open House on the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan at the Chevy Chase Library (upstairs meeting room). It will take place in a gallery format where community members can view presentation boards about the Small Area Planning process, a summary of what we’ve heard so far, illustrative graphics of potential growth along the Connecticut Avenue corridor, and draft design principles and guidelines. Learn more about the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan and review information from past meetings and events at this link.

Listen As We Climb: Petworth & Brightwood Park

On Thursday, February 24 at 6:30pm we will host our seventh and final Listen As We Climb virtual community listening session, this time focused on Petworth and Brightwood Park! RSVP here to chat with me and your neighbors about the changes we want to see in our community. What we discuss will help shape my legislative work, oversight of DC agencies, DC budget advocacy, constituent services, and efforts in our community. If you haven’t yet, take a moment to go to my website and sign up for your neighborhood’s event.

Ward 4 ANC/SMD Redistricting Public Meetings

The Ward 4 Redistricting Task Force is meeting regularly as they work to redistrict Ward 4’s SMD and ANC boundaries. All meetings are open to the public and offer ASL and Spanish interpretation. Additionally, you can share your input with the Redistricting Task Force at any point by emailing Ward4Redistricting@dccouncil.us or leaving a voicemail at 202-642-5714. Find more information about the Task Force and the redistricting process on the Ward 4 Redistricting webpage. Here’s a list of the Task Force’s meetings:

  • Sunday, February 20, 2022, 2pm-4pm via Zoom: Task force subcommittees report back on their research.
  • Sunday, February 27, 2022, 2pm-4pm via Zoom: Proposed discussion maps made public.
  • Tuesday, March 8, 2022, 7pm-9pm via Zoom: PUBLIC MEETING where community members can weigh in with public testimony (up to 3 minutes) on forthcoming proposed discussion maps from the Task Force.
  • Sunday, March 13, 2022, 2pm-4pm via Zoom: Finalize proposed map boundaries and begin report drafting.
  • Sunday, March 20, 2022, 2pm-4pm via Zoom: Draft report discussion.
  • Tuesday, March 29, 2022, 7pm-9pm via Zoom: Final vote on proposed map and report to submit to the Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting.


I was proud to cheer on Ward 4’s Coolidge HS Boys Basketball team this week in the DCIAA Championship game. While they came up just short, I’m really proud of these young men. They are talented and have bright futures. Special thank you to their amazing coaches, who are also fantastic mentors. Also, shoutout to the Colts Cheerleaders, who were also phenomenal and did not let up at all. And of course, I have so much gratitude for Principal Bright and all she does for our students. I also want to give a shoutout to Roosevelt HS for their great season, and congratulate Wilson HS (especially all of our Wilson Tigers from Ward 4) on their championship win.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported our Ward 4 flower shops last weekend, including the brand new plant and lifestyle store Black Box Botanical that just opened in Takoma.

Enjoy Presidents Day Weekend, Ward 4!

Yours in Community,
—Janeese

Photo by Samuel L. Johnson.