Testimony of Rachel Metz, Data and Research Manager before the Committee on Human Services

March 31, 2022
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel Metz
Title: Research Manager, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Human Services
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing

Hello Councilmember Nadeau and members of the Committee on Human Services. Thank you for the opportunity to address the DC Council as it reviews the proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget for the Department of Human Services. I am Rachel Metz, the Data and Research Manager 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 DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

Councilmember Nadeau, we want to thank you and the Council as a whole for your long standing work to pass legislation and find funds to make recertification in the DC Healthcare Alliance an annual process. We know that the switch to six-month certification resulted in a drop of nearly one-third of the enrollees. That’s especially troubling given that roughly half of Alliance participants are Latinx and just under one-fifth are Black. A decade later, with community members as well as health care and legal providers testifying each year about the negative impact of frequent recertification, it is past time to change it. We are thrilled to see that the Mayor’s budget includes funding for this important policy change.

We know that a high percentage of those seeking support at Economic Security Administration service centers were re-enrolling in the Alliance, so this change should help lower the Department of Human Services’ administrative burden. We are hopeful that this reduced burden will allow for improved service for all District residents enrolling in important family support programs. We specifically recommend the following improvements to ensure that language barriers don’t prevent residents from receiving needed services:

  1. Consistently send participants notifications in their primary language.
  2. Make the online application and recertification tool available in multiple languages.
  3. Work to make linked documents available in Amharic and other languages commonly spoken by District residents (though we appreciate the work to make more of them available in Spanish).
  4. Provide applicants with information about the status of their application or recertification. Many residents seek out support from community-based organizations when they don’t hear back from DHS, only to discover that a document did not upload correctly or that there are other issues that would be fixable with clear communication.

For District residents with time-sensitive healthcare needs, including those who are pregnant, even a brief period without health insurance can have dire consequences. We encourage close monitoring of the rollout of the new Alliance recertification policy. That could include inviting families who participate in the program – and any who are de-enrolled during the recertification process – to share their experiences.