Testimony of Matthew Hanson, Chief of Staff before the Committee of the Whole 06-25-21

June 25, 2021
Person Testifying: Matthew Hanson
Title: Chief of Staff, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Council of the District of Columbia
Type of Hearing: Committee of the Whole Budget Hearing - Fiscal Year 2022

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Matthew Hanson, I am the Chief of Staff at DC Action. DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. We are also the home of the DC Out-of-School Time coalition, the Under 3 DC coalition and DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

At DC Action, we believe in data-informed, people-powered solutions to the challenges that confront us, which is why we support a Just Recovery. While the District has made great strides this past year in dealing with the repercussions of COVID-19, not all residents have easily bounced back. Black and brown families have been hit the hardest. It’s important that we focus our recovery efforts on supporting residents who have suffered the most as a result of this public health crisis.

As vaccination rates climb, and we begin to reopen, we cannot and should not try to “return to normal,” but must commit to building back better. While the infusion of resources from the Biden-Harris administration is helping put us on firm ground, we must recognize it as the foundation–not the ceiling–of our efforts. We need new, long-term, sustainable resources focused on addressing past and growing inequities to ensure we have a Just Recovery.

DC Fiscal Policy Institute and DC Action commissioned a poll June 16-18 that surveyed 2,382 District voters. With a margin of error of just two points, the poll found that 80% support asking our highest income earners, those making above $250,000 a year, to pay their fair share in taxes “to sustain a strong and just long-term economic recovery.” Support remained at 79 percent when respondents were asked the same question within the context of DC receiving temporary American Rescue Plan funds. These results are nearly identical to a similar poll we conducted last year and speak to durable and overwhelming support from residents across all eight wards for raising new, local revenue to meet the needs of families and address racial inequities.

These numbers were high across every ward. Four out of five people polled expressed support for funding “health and economic programs to address DC’s widening racial inequality.” The same number of people showed support for focused investments in child care and housing support. There was equal support -78 percent–for child care when people were asked about raising taxes on high income earners to boost wages for educators, and bring down the cost of care for families. This suggests that no matter how you ask it, there is a deep appreciation for child care as skilled labor and a public good, one that has been driven home during the pandemic.

The overwhelming majority of early childhood educators are Black and brown women who earn an average wage of just $18.16 per hour, or only $37,760 a year. That’s hardly a livable wage in DC, where one market analysis estimates the median rent for a two bedroom apartment is now $3,005 per month, or $36,060 a year. Low wages in a place as expensive to live as DC means that we are asking the people who care for and help educate our young ones to try to make ends meet on an income that doesn’t even come close to covering the basics. The situation is even more dire for residents who do not speak English and who have faced mounting challenges compounded during the pandemic due to language access issues.

This system was not working for families before the pandemic, and the situation has not improved since its start. Educators have left the field, and families continue to struggle looking for care, especially for those who want to return to work. That’s why we’re asking you to stand with the 80% of the District that wants to see our highest income earners pay their fair share in taxes. It advances equity, and is good for business, families and workers.

In addition to being wildly popular, the types of proposals we surveyed are smart and effective policy. Early childhood educators perform incredibly difficult and skilled work but struggle to make ends meet and working families struggle to find quality affordable care. By asking our highest income earners to pay their fair share, we can take steps to  address the racial income and wealth gap in the District by promoting tax justice and raising pay for educators who are primarily Black and brown. By asking residents who earn a quarter million dollars a year to pay just $100 more in taxes and those earning $300,000 or more to pay an additional $500 per year, we can raise an estimated $100 million a year in new revenue to serve these goals. We recommend dedicating at least $60 million of new revenue to early childhood education.

Ninety percent of the new revenue we are asking for would come from those earning at least $1 million a year. High-income earners will not pick up and leave DC over less than the cost of a single bus fare a day, but we will be able to help meet the very real needs of the working families who are at risk of displacement because they can no longer afford to live here. With some having actually done better during the pandemic, and others having suffered so much, now is the time to ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share so we can invest in a long-term and sustainable Just Recovery.