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In Support of the Racial Equity Achieves Results Act

Thank you, Chairman Todd and members of the Committee on Government Operations for the opportunity to testify today. My name is George Jones. For the past 22 years, I’ve been privileged to be the CEO of Bread for the City, one of the District’s largest direct services organizations. We assist District residents with essentials like food, health care, and clothing. We seek justice through community organizing and public advocacy. We also work to uproot racism, a major cause of poverty.

Today, I am testifying in support of the Racial Equity Achieves Results Act, introduced by Councilman McDuffie. The job of achieving a racially equitable city is all of our responsibility. Achieving racial equity is a choice. So too, is not making racial equity a priority. This legislation is a good start, but still, more must be done, and my testimony today will include some proposed amendments to strengthen the bill.

Prioritizing racial equity requires political will, progressive policy solutions, and a reimagining of society to eliminate the purposely constructed barriers of discrimination, segregation, and racism to truly give every resident a fair shot.

We know the statistics well, but they are worth repeating. We know that displacement pushed roughly 135,000 Black residents out of the city from 2000-2013. We know that many of those who remained were met with systems that pushed further to the margins of, purposely excluded from the economic prosperity the city enjoyed. We know nearly 20 percent of D.C. residents — almost all of whom are Black and other people of color — live at or below the poverty line. The average income of the families we see at Bread for the City is around $10,000 annually.

We can choose better. The DC government has the resources to achieve racial equity. To ensure that Black and other people of color live in affordable, safe housing free of lead, mold, rodents. That our schools are fully and equitably funded and that every resident is treated with fairness, dignity, and respect when they access government services and servants. We can also ensure that we hold those same servants accountable when they don’t.

The REAR Act has a lot of good things in it. We support racial equity training for all government employees, the development of a racial equity tool to review agency policies and practices during the annual oversight process, and a tracking system that measures progress.

But in order to achieve its intended impact. The REAR Act must be strengthened. Racism, at its core, is about power and access to resources. The Council is responsible for creating the laws that govern the city, and also for allocating resources. I strongly urge the council to amend the Act to apply to all branches of government, including the D.C. Council and mayor’s office. We’d also like to see the accountability language strengthened. In the past, we’ve failed to make racial equity a mandate. Guidance without real accountability is just suggestions. We urge that efforts and outcomes in the area of racial equity be a component of employee performance evaluations, especially for managers and supervisors.

Finally, we urge independent oversight of the system with an annual report released by the Inspector General regarding agency and government progress to achieve racial equity.

We must choose to do better. The REAR Act is a start, but racial equity cannot just be some law that is passed. It must be the framework by which laws and policies are created and assessed. It must be evident in the ways we spend our money and the ways we ensure Black and other people of color in this city can thrive. It means fully funding what is needed to repair public housing, making housing a right in this city, enforcing wage theft laws and prioritizing workers and tenants over developers. It means 100% of the tenants at Brookland Manor being guaranteed a right to return and holding DHCD accountable when they underspend on housing for people living on the lowest incomes.

Yes, passing the REAR Act is a start, but it is imperative that as this body is currently in the process of allocating the District’s $15 billion budget, that you all remember that constituents and organizations will be holding you accountable to the values outlined in this important legislation. We look forward to working together to ensure that racial equity indeed achieves the result of eventually eradicating poverty. Thank you again, Chairman Todd and the Council Committee for allowing me to provide this testimony today.

 

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