Mar 7, 2022 - News

D.C.'s excluded workers ask for $160M in mayor's budget

A man looks at a table where signs are being painted.

DC Excluded Worker Council member Solomon Gebre Tekle at t-shirt screen printing table with Amharic and English "Don't Exclude Me" slogans. Photo: Francisco Benavides, Beloved Community Incubator

A coalition of D.C.'s excluded workers is asking for $160 million in the mayor's upcoming budget.

Driving the news: Excluded workers were left out of federal pandemic aid programs and unemployment benefits. Last year, workers requested $200 million and received $41 million in the fiscal 2022 budget, equaling one-time $3,000 payments per worker, Washington City Paper reported.

What they're saying: Last Wednesday in Columbia Heights, street vendors and other excluded workers gathered in a park as part of a community food co-op but also to plan action.

One of those workers was Excluded Worker Council member Solomon Gebre Tekle, who came to D.C. from Ethiopia in 2002. He works in construction and does various odd jobs, but has struggled to get work throughout the pandemic.

  • For a recent job helping someone move, he got paid $80 for 4 hours of work. Meanwhile, Tekle is trying to pay $400 a month to live in a room on Georgia Ave. NW.
  • “We want just to live a normal life. Like everybody else. We are no criminals,” Tekle tells Axios.

The frustration and exhaustion of workers were palpable. Reina Moreno, another member of the Excluded Workers Coalition who represents the National Domestic Workers Alliance, implored District leaders to serve workers.

  • “We need the city to know and understand that because we came from different backgrounds, we came from different races, we speak different languages, and because we don't have documentation that doesn't mean they can abuse our rights,” Moreno said in Spanish through a translator.

Another community leader who declined to give her name was reeling from a difficult week and made a plea to the D.C. government to offer more financial support.

“We are hard-working people. We're here to work and to sustain our families,” she said in Spanish through a translator.

What's next: Various council members have added funding for excluded workers in their budget requests, including At-Large council member and mayoral candidate Robert White, and Ward 1 and Ward 2 council members Brooke Pinto and Brianne Nadeau, respectively.

The budget requests come on the heels of a council oversight hearing of the D.C. police where Genesis Lemus, a Ward 4 teen and youth street vendor, testified to being pushed to the ground by police in 2019 for selling atol de elote ( a sweet corn drink).

  • Nine council members have re-introduced legislation to decriminalize street vending, which the council's Police Reform Committee has recommended passing, noting that many vendors are people of color who face jail time and fines up to $500 if they fail to comply with vending regulations.
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