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Ward 4 Dispatch: SNAP Increases Today, Progress with DGS, and Women’s History Month!

Dear Neighbors,

Happy March! This was a marathon week of non-stop oversight hearings, and I am eager to report back on my advocacy for our community. Here are my Council and Ward 4 updates:

DC’s SNAP Expansion Begins Today

It has been a long road, but DC residents are starting to receive their expanded SNAP benefits today! The increase is worth 10% of a household’s maximum federal benefit based on their family size — with a family of four receiving an extra $97 per month. All together, it adds up to $40 million in additional food assistance for DC families struggling with steep grocery bills, reduced food aid from Congress, and economic hardship. Last weekend, residents received the SNAP increase for January and February retroactively as a separate payment. Starting this month through September 2024, you will receive the SNAP increase as part of your regular monthly benefit that is loaded to your EBT card between the 1st and 10th of each month. Thank you to everyone who has been advocating for this relief to reach those who need it since we secured the funds for SNAP last October. The next important step we can take in our efforts to prevent hunger in DC is to make this SNAP increase permanent. More than 52,000 children in DC live in households that rely on SNAP to put enough on the table. In the face of economic uncertainty, our budgets must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. We cannot build healthy communities on empty stomachs. 

Council News: Vocational Education, Nurses, and School Budgets

This week I joined my colleague Councilmember Robert White to co-introduce The Vocational Education for a New Generation Act, a new bill to expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) in DC and make it accessible to every student who wants to pursue this path. Career and Technical Education prepares our students for dynamic careers with living wages and rewarding work. Every time I visit Roosevelt or Coolidge, I am amazed by the work being done to prepare our students for stable careers. We can build on these successful programs by deepening our investments in vocational education and trade pathways. Currently, DC is in the minority of states that do not supplement federal grants for CTE programs with local grants. This bill will change that, while also creating more CTE programs that equip students with certifications that allow them to secure immediate post-graduation employment.

Speaking of new legislation, I am also supporting legislation from Councilmember Zachary Parker that will address major gaps in nursing coverage and health services at both our DCPS and Public Charter Schools in the District. The Public School Health Services Act will create proactive measures that ensure all of our students have the health services they need at school. I am also excited that the Committee on Transportation and the Environment has scheduled a hearing for The Office of Natural Area Conservation Establishment Act, my bill to create a new office in DOEE to manage DC’s natural areas, develop a long-term plan for addressing invasive plants, and coordinate volunteer engagement in conservation efforts. The hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, and residents are encouraged to come testify!

At today’s hearing with DCPS, I pressed the Chancellor to justify why so many schools are facing budget cuts despite growing enrollment — like we are seeing at Lafayette Elementary. And even schools with small budget increases risk losing because schools’ purchasing power has declined significantly. Last year, the Council passed the Schools First in Budgeting Act to stop this from happening and hold our school budgets “harmless.” And just like last year, I will fight alongside our school communities, my colleagues, and Chairman Mendelson to reverse these cuts and restore funding for our schools. Cutting school budgets amidst rising costs and growing enrollment simply does not work for our students.

Last Friday, I also held our performance oversight hearing with the DC agencies that serve residents with disabilities. I questioned the Office of Disability Rights about why so many of our agencies are not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and how we can make our services and spaces fully accessible for all people. We also reviewed the ways the Mayor’s Office of Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing works to make government more accessible to residents. And I engaged the Department on Disability Services on critical issues like service coordinator caseloads, reforming the current complaint process, and the impact of the unwinding of the federal public health emergency on services and supports.

And there is still more you should know. I joined the Council’s performance hearing with Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Nina Albert to discuss the proposed Chevy Chase Civic Core development, The Parks at Walter Reed, social housing, and bringing a public library to Kennedy Street. The Deputy Mayor committed to speaking with Kennedy Street community members about the project, and she indicated that DMPED would work to address remaining questions and concerns related to the Chevy Chase Civic Core. I also continued to push back against Project Pipes with the Public Service Commission — emphasizing the severe cost, safety risks, and effectiveness of replacing the District’s entire gas pipe network at a time when DC should be moving towards electrification.

A Suitable Swing Space for Whittier

This week I wrote a letter urging DCPS again to secure a suitable nearby swing space for Whittier Elementary and to address overcrowding at Ida B Wells Middle School and Coolidge High School. And together with our school communities, I put forward several solutions that could achieve both purposes by either building a modular campus on nearby DC-owned land or acquiring a space that is close by. Whittier’s upcoming modernization is long overdue, but current plans to send students to the Sharpe campus more than two miles away would cause many families to relocate, put hard-earned academic gains at risk, and disproportionately burden low-income students and students of color at Whittier. At the same time and on the same block, Ida B Wells and Coolidge are two of the five most crowded schools in DC — with utilization rates of 113% and 126% respectively. Building a modular complex or leasing nearby property would both provide Whittier the local swing space it desperately needs and ease overcrowding at Wells and Coolidge later on. I made the same point during our performance oversight hearing with DCPS earlier today. I am eager to work with DCPS, DGS, my colleagues, and our school communities to advance this vision in the weeks ahead. Here is my full letter with our specific consensus proposals.

Building on Progress with DGS

This week I chaired our performance oversight hearings with the Department of General Services (DGS) and their critical work to build and maintain DC facilities. At Monday’s hearing, we heard from dozens of community members concerned about maintenance issues in DCPS, DPR, and other public properties — as well as many residents concerned about the current plans for building the District’s first standalone Archives building on the UDC Van Ness campus. And at Thursday’s hearing, we heard directly from Director Hunter and other agency leaders about the agency’s overall performance and several specific Ward 4 sites:

  • Lafayette Elementary: DGS, DPR, and DCPS announced a  community meeting on March 13 to update our community about their plans for the fields and reducing erosion.
  • Shepherd Elementary: There are now funds set aside to replace the damaged play surface on the outdoor playground.
  • Takoma Rec Center: The agency apologized for the delays in fixing the broken fence at the Takoma dog park and committed to fixing it promptly.
  • Roosevelt Pool: Custodial services are now restored and will be facilitated by DPR for the next fiscal year.
  • Petworth Rec Center: Director Hunter committed to work on improving safety and enhancing security cameras at the rec center.

I dedicated the bulk of Thursday’s hearing to reviewing the work of their Facilities Maintenance Division to keep our buildings well-maintained, clean, and secure. One of my priorities as Chair of the Facilities Committee has been to work with DGS to make major progress on the timeliness of repairs at our schools. Over the last year, DGS reduced the average time it takes to complete a work order from 126 days to 75 days — a 40% improvement. Still, the wait times remain far too long, especially for school repairs. I also zeroed in on key challenges that DGS faces, like ensuring the more than 250 elevators under its portfolio are regularly inspected and certified. Ahead of next school year, I also pressed DGS to identify schools’ priority maintenance needs before summer to ensure this work is completed before students return. And we also engaged on issues like sustainability, park cleanliness, and maintenance in other government buildings. You can catch up on the hearing at this link.

Community Resources

Tonight: Lottery Deadline for PK3 – Grade 8

I want to share a final reminder that 11:59pm on Friday, March 1 (tonight) is the deadline for families to apply for the MySchoolDC Lottery for PK3 – Grade 8 next school year. Please consider our amazing Ward 4 schools for your selections! Results will be shared on March 29.

Street Sweeping Restarts This Monday

DPW will restart residential street sweeping this Monday, March 4, so please avoid parking your car in sweeping zones during the marked sweeping periods. DPW will issue warnings through March 10 before starting to ticket cars. Street sweeping cleans our streets and helps prevent thousands of tons of trash and pollutants from spilling into our rivers. 

Updated Takoma Fitness Center Hours

Last week, I shared that the Takoma Fitness Center has finally reopened for our community. This week, DPR shared updated operating hours for the Fitness Center: 6:30am-8:30pm on Mondays-Fridays, 10:30am-4:30pm on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays. The gym is located at its original location in the Takoma Aquatic Center building (300 Van Buren St NW).

Don’t Miss These DC Deadlines

Here are some key dates coming up this month:

  • Complete the DPW Curbside Compost Pilot Survey by 11:59pm on March 1
  • Place your holiday tree or greenery out for DPW collection before March 2
  • Vote for the Riggs Park Traffic Control Box Art Survey by March 4
  • Weigh in on Metro’s proposed FY25 budget and service levels by March 5
  • Apply for DPR Recreation for All grants to expand recreation by March 5
  • Apply for the MMB Summer Youth Employment Program by March 6
  • Fill out the DPR Court Survey to help DPR plan future facilities by March 31

MPD Seeks Assistance Identifying Homicide Suspects

MPD released a video of the suspect involved in the February 12 killing of Jeremy Dewayne Johnson at Georgia & Shepherd NW. Please review the footage shared by MPD and call 202-727-9099 or anonymously text 50411 with any information that can bring the perpetrator to justice. MPD is also seeking information from neighbors about the January 20 killing of Andre Wilson and Arkansas & Emerson NW. In both cases, MPD is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.

Responding to the Peabody Street Fire

On Tuesday, DC Fire and EMS responded to a major fire at a residential building on the 1300 block of Peabody Street NW. Firefighters worked diligently to knock down and eventually extinguish the fire. All residents and pets were rescued from the building, with some even needing to use ladders to safely escape from their units. One resident suffered a critical injury and was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment, and at least one firefighter sustained minor injuries. As a result of the fire, 26 families were displaced from the building. These families are receiving hotel accommodations and support from the Red Cross, DHS, HSEMA, DOB, MOCRs, local school PTAs, our Council Office, as well as ANC 4A Commissioners Candace Tiana Nelson and Zack Bolton. Thank you to all our agencies for their strong response to this incident, and please look out for ways to support our impacted neighbors in the coming days. Upon investigation, it was determined that the fire started after an electric scooter’s lithium ion battery exploded while the scooter was being charged inside one of the units. Incredibly, another lithium-ion battery in a student’s cell phone also exploded this week at Roosevelt High School, causing the student to sustain minor injuries. To prevent such incidents in the future, DC Fire and EMS has been sharing several safety tips, including: (1) making sure you use the charger that was designed for your specific device, (2) not leaving devices charging unattended for long periods of time or significantly overcharging devices, and (3) never charging devices in locations that block your exit from your home.

Neighborhood Events

Greater Petworth Gardeners Seed Swap

On Saturday, March 2 from 11am-2pm there will be a free Seed Swap at Petworth Library! Come network with other gardeners, swap tips and tricks, and trade seeds. You don’t need to bring seeds to receive seeds — they will have extras thanks to Petworth Ace Hardware. You’re also welcome to bring your gardening books or seed catalogs to share. RSVP on Facebook.

Ethiopian ADWA Victory Day Celebration

On Saturday, March 2 starting at 1pm the Ethiopian Heritage Society will host a free ADWA Victory Day Celebration at Brightwood Elementary to honor the 128th anniversary of the Victory of Adwa! Join for Ethiopian snacks, music, poetry, and remarks from special guests.

Ward 4 Out Loud Youth Poetry Slam

On Saturday, March 2 from 5pm-7pm Day Eight will host its next Ward 4 Out Loud Youth Poetry Slam at the Takoma Busboys and Poets. Come out for another great youth poetry slam competition and open mic emceed by Regie Cabico with cash prizes!

Uptown Kickin’ It on 14th Street This Sunday

On Sunday, March 3 from 12pm-3pm Treehouse and Uptown Main Street are hosting an Uptown Kickin’ It event at 4722 14th St NW with band music, live painting, dance, chalking, bubbles, and community fun. Due to the weather forecast, this event is moved to Sunday!

Meeting on Lafayette-Pointer Erosion and Field Project

On Wednesday, March 13 from 6pm-7:30pm DPR, DGS, and DCPS will host an in-person community meeting at Lafayette Elementary (5701 Broad Branch Rd NW) to review and discuss the designs for the Lafayette-Pointer Erosion and Field Project.

For more local events, check out DPR, DC Public Library, NPS, and Rock Creek Conservancy

Ward 4 in the News

WAMU: DCist Archive Will Be Available for 1 Year, Seeks Long-Term Home

Channel 7: DC Councilmember Introduces Bills to Prevent Youth Violence

Washingtonian: DC Cherry Blossom Peak Bloom Is Predicted for March 23-26

Washington Informer: DC Unveils Ambitious Plan to Divert 80% of Solid Waste

Petworth News: Kennedy Street Community Is Hopeful for Proposed Library

Chevy Chase News & Notes: March 2024 Edition

PopVille: New Fare Gates at Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro Station Are In

Channel 4: Faith Leaders Hold Vigil for Man Shot, Killed in Petworth

Washington Post: He Builds Lifelike Replicas of DC Landmarks — Brick by Lego Brick

DCIAA: Coolidge Cheer Squad Clinches Grand Championship!

Zenith Gallery: Last Chance to See “AWARENESS: Through an African American Lens”

CBENA: Apply to Be Part of a PorchFest in Sixteenth Street Heights in May or June

DC Police: MPD Seeks a Suspect in a Burglary of a Business in Sixteenth Street Heights

DPR and DGS: Update on Wilson Aquatic Center (via Ward 3 Councilmember Frumin)

The Parks at Walter Reed: Concept Design for 37 New Townhomes on Parcel Z by DCI

Ward 4 Dispatch: Traffic Safety News, Takoma Gym Reopens, and Key DC Deadlines

Every March, we proudly celebrate Women’s History Month and the generations of courageous women who have shaped history. As always, DC Public Library has an excellent collection of events, books, resources, and exhibitions on the great women of our world and of our city — including a small feature on three women who have left an indelible mark on our history: Lillian J. Huff, Dorothy I. Height, and Juanita E. Thornton.

I am proud to have a woman-led Council office with women who are incredibly dedicated to public service and supporting our Ward 4 community every single day.

Wishing you all a great start to March!

Yours in Community,