Last Tuesday, the D.C. Council passed the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020. This emergency legislation, which passed unanimously, takes several key steps to protect District residents in the midst of the current Corona Virus Pandemic. Last week, my Legal Aid colleagues shared their analyses of the Act, highlighting key protections for residents participating in social safety net programs and tenants, while also discussing the work that District agencies and the Council still need to do to address residents’ needs. Take a look at what they have to say below:
- Public Benefits Law Unit Senior Staff Attorney Drake Hagner discusses the Act’s changes to Unemployment Insurance. These changes should make the program more accessible to workers who lose their jobs due to a variety of COVID-19-related events.
- Public Benefits Law Unit Senior Staff Attorney Chelsea Sharon highlights the Act’s broader changes to public benefits programs, including language that allows the Mayor to grant extensions for a range of safety net programs, including SNAP (food stamps), TANF, and the DC Health Care Alliance during the current public health emergency. Chelsea also expresses our hope that D.C.’s Department of Human Services will process new applications for the programs quickly and maintain enough capacity at its Call Center to serve residents who need the agency’s help.
- Housing Law Unit Supervising Attorney Beth Harrison discusses the Act’s protections for tenants, including language that stops landlords from carrying out evictions or charging late fees during the emergency. The Act also stops utility shut-offs, including electricity, water, and gas. Beth also emphasizes the importance of funding Emergency Rental Assistance in the District’s upcoming fiscal year 2021 budget so that households who suffer financial hardships during the pandemic do not ultimately lose their homes.
- Consumer Law Unit Supervising Attorney Jennifer Lavallee identifies an important gap in the Act: It’s failure to stop foreclosure auctions during the public health emergency. There are serious consequences that could flow from this failure and we hope that the Council will correct this in future emergency legislation.
Legal Aid is monitoring implementation of the Act and continues to be in touch with the D.C. Council about areas where further action is needed. We appreciate the work that both the Mayor and the Council have done so far to protect District residents in this difficult time and we look forward to working with policymakers to address the range of ways in which this pandemic is affecting members of our client community.