The  COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (Bill 22-718 ) is our immediate response to the public health emergency that has been declared in the District of Columbia. The bill is a consensus document that contains suggestions from many Councilmembers as well as the Mayor. That is why it is co-introduced by all Councilmembers. Almost every suggestion has been included in the bill. Its fiscal impact has been worked out with the Chief Financial Officer. The bill includes 26 substantive sections addressing a broad array of challenges related to the public health emergency.  
Overall, the bill provides a small measure of financial relief to businesses and individuals, prohibits utility cut-offs and evictions during the emergency, extends numerous deadlines, delays until May our consideration of next year’s budget, and gives us flexibility where and how to hold necessary Council meetings during the emergency. More specifically the bill:

  • Extends unemployment compensation to include individuals who are temporarily unemployed due to the emergency or the pandemic;

  • Expands employment protections under the District’s Family and Medical Leave Act;

  • Delays by roughly 3 months real property tax payments by hotels, and sales tax payments from all other businesses that collect sales tax. This is not an abatement of taxes, but it is, in essence, a short-term interest-free loan to businesses totaling about $266 million. We looked at larger or longer tax deferment and did not go further because of the District government’s need for liquidity

  • Authorizes the Mayor to establish a small business grant program, including grants to non-profits and also to independent contractors who cannot qualify for unemployment insurance. The Mayor may delegate administration of the grant program to a third party;

  • Allows for carryout or delivery of beer and wine (in sealed containers), when together with food, from restaurants;

  • Expands certain authorities for the Mayor under the Public Emergency Act and extends the emergency to 45 days;

  • Gives DISB related flexibility for health insurance and other matters regulated by DISB;

  • Authorizes extension of public benefit programs such as the Healthcare Alliance, TANF, and SNAP. The intent is to give everyone flexibility as to deadlines for renewals and minimize in-person visits for renewals or initial applications;

  • Prohibits price gouging and stockpiling during this public health emergency;

  •  Prohibits disconnection of electric, gas, and water utilities, and prohibits evictions during the public health emergency for both residential and non-residential tenants.

  • Allows for prescription drug refills before the end of any waiting period;

  • Authorizes the Mayor to extend licenses and registrations that may be due for renewal during the public health emergency, including professional licenses and drivers licenses;

  • Amends the Homeless Services Reform Act, primarily to give flexibility to the Mayor with regard to the potential spread of the coronavirus;

  • Extends deadlines under TOPA and prohibits landlords from charging late fees;

  • Gives the Department of Corrections discretion to award additional good time credits for misdemeanants to reduce the jail population;

  • Provides DCPS flexibility with its summer school calendar, and extends a deadline related to the research practice partnership;

  • Allows ANC's to meet remotely, and reduces their annual meeting requirement this year; also, allows boards and commissions to suspend their meetings unless ordered by the Mayor;

  • Tolls the FOIA clock during the public health emergency; also, permits remote meetings under the Open Meetings Act;

  • Extends the date for the Mayor to submit the FY 2021 budget. It will be May 6th;

  • Allows for the Council to meet virtually; and

  • Affirmatively approves any grant budget modifications that have been submitted to the Council as of today. It also creates an expedited process for Council approval of grant budget modifications.

This bill is very broad in its reach. I am well aware that the potential economic damage facing individuals and businesses is far greater than the relief this bill provides.  
I do not expect that this bill is the final and last act; we will continue to look for relief. But I have to caution that when our revenues are expected to plummet, we have our own limitations in what we can do. Everybody agrees that it’s too early to say what the full economic impact will be but we are absolutely utilizing our financial strength and the reserves we have in order to help address the situation. I am very concerned that the national response to the pandemic has provoked a severe recession, in my view, and a great many businesses and individuals will be hurt.  
I know the Council will continue to work with the Mayor, and that we all want to minimize the economic harm as much as we can.