It’s been a busy year here at DC Appleseed. As we look ahead to the next year, we’re reflecting back on the work we’ve done across this year to make DC a better place to live and work. And we thank our partners in the community for collaborating in these efforts.
Holding CareFirst Accountable: As the fate of healthcare was debated on the Hill and town halls across the country, we continued our decade-long effort to hold CareFirst accountable to the public. CareFirst, the largest non-profit insurer in the District, has more than $1 billion in excess surplus — money that should be spent on the community health needs of the District. We participated in another year of negotiations between the DC Insurance Commissioner and CareFirst, fighting to ensure that the company spends a fair amount on its community health obligations. In September, CareFirst rejected this proposal, deciding to instead pursue its legal options. While it’s unfortunate the company has avoided returning any money to the public over the past year, we believe the Commissioner now has a clear path to ensuring that millions of dollars are finally reinvested into the community. We submitted possible next steps to the Commissioner earlier this year, and plan on appealing any decision that underestimates CareFirst’s obligation to DC.
Tracking the District’s Progress on Ending HIV/AIDS: On December 1 — World AIDS Day — we released our first progress report on the 90/90/90/50 Plan, the District’s new strategic plan to end the HIV epidemic in DC. The Plan is named for its four goals: by 2020, 90% of District residents will know their status; 90% of those diagnosed will be in treatment; 90% of those in treatment will reach viral load suppression, virtually eliminating the risk of spreading the virus; and an overall 50% reduction in new HIV infections. Our report tracked progress on these four goals, as well as the 42 tasked outlined to meet the goals. We found that while the District is making good progress on these four goals, the work ahead must focus on the socio-economic conditions that make it difficult for residents living with HIV to connect with doctors and stick to a treatment regimen. Here in the District, that includes ensuring access to safe, affordable housing and tackling stigma and discrimination. Read more of our recommendations in our progress report.
Cleaning the Anacostia River: While the environment may under siege by the Trump administration, we’ve stayed committed to restoring the Anacostia River and riverfront. The Anacostia River has long been plagued by toxic sediments — many of which are due to legacy pollutants that can be traced back to federal government activities. We continue to urge the District to hold all responsibility parties accountable for the contamination of the river. We also worked with our partners on the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative to submit more than 30 amendments on the District’s Comprehensive Plan, a document that outlines the District’s vision for development for the next two decades. Our amendments aimed to improve access to the Anacostia riverfront, along with strategies to ensure development near the river does not usher in displacement of current residents.
Improving Special Education: Sometimes getting a law passed is the easy part! In 2017, in addition to advocating for the implementation of recommendations in our 2016 report, DC Appleseed worked with several other local organizations to implement special education reform laws that were passed in 2014. We successfully advocated for the implementation of the Special Education Enhancement Fund, which, for the first time in 2017, distributed over $5 million to local schools to improve their special education capacity. We’re still waiting to see several other provisions become law — specifically, expanded eligibility for early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities, shorter deadlines for initial evaluations for students suspected of having a disability, and changes to the age at which students are required to have a secondary transition plan. We testified on these issues in 2017, and will continue to advocate until the reforms are implemented.
Building a Better Early Care and Education System in the District: This year, the DC Council introduced landmark legislation aimed at improving infant and toddler care and education in the District. We worked with councilmembers to ensure that efforts to boost quality also came with ensuring fair compensation for early educators through the Bolstering Early Growth Investment (BEGIn) Act and Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act. With our partners at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, we also led training sessions for teachers, administrators and parents about what was in the bills, and how to highlight their own experiences in testimony to the Council. We also continued our research into best practices for building an equitable ECE system; with the release of the results of our survey on early educators in the District, and a policy brief outlining how states can support the economic security of the ECE workforce.
Supporting Common-Sense Gun Safety Laws in DC: Over the summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the District’s limits on carrying concealed weapons in public violated the Second Amendment. After the Circuit denied a rehearing at the request of DC Attorney General Karl Racine in September, we are now working with District officials to revise the city’s public-carrying requirements to ensure that they protect public safety consistent with the Second Amendment. We are also monitoring gun legislation in Congress that would impact the District’s current gun safety laws, and are preparing possible lawsuits if any such laws undermine the District’s common-sense legislation.
Expanding Voting Rights in the District: Since the District has no voting representation in Congress, we are at the mercy of congressional action overturning our budgets, our gun safety regulations, our laws protecting women’s health, and other measures adopted by our locally elected representatives. To help counter these attacks on local democracy, we worked this year on two strategies to obtain voting rights in Congress. First, we worked with our pro bono partners to introduce a bill in DC Council that would give the District’s Delegate to Congress (currently, Eleanor Holmes Norton) the right to vote on all matters applying exclusively to the District. While this bill is not a substitute for full statehood or full congressional voting rights, it is a step forward for District democracy, as were our efforts to ensure budget autonomy and an elected Attorney General. Second, we are also working with our legal partners to develop a lawsuit, arguing that Congress’s continued refusal to give the District representation violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. This lawsuit builds on the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision, Obergefell v. Hodges; it also relies on Congress’s refusal to grant D.C. residents voting representation after it acknowledged in 2009 that it had the power to grant that right.
We look forward to working with the District and its residents in the next year as we continue our work to make the District a place where all its residents can thrive.