DC Mayor Blasts Congress Over Coronavirus Relief Package

Michael O'Connell

This article originally appeared on the Washington DC Patch

WASHINGTON, DC — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser blasted the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill Congress passed Wednesday night for shortchanging the District by treating it as a territory and not a state.

"D.C. is not a territory," Bowser said, at a Tuesday morning press conference. "This means, according to their treatment, the District will only receive $500 million, while every other state will receive a direct payment of at least $1.25 billion. That's a difference of $725 million."

The bill will distribute money to states and local municipalities around the country, provide aid to people who have lost their jobs and bail out businesses that have been hurt by a declining economy as the nation's biggest cities lock down to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Although the final bill wasn't passed until late last night, the D.C. City Council had already combed the language in the bill yesterday afternoon and identified the discrepancy between territories and states. Bowser and the City Council sent a letter to the U.S. Senate asking them to address this issue.

"I have to say that the very idea of being treated like a territory is shocking," Bowser said. "It's infuriating. It's wrong. It's outrageous. We're not a territory. We pay more taxes, unlike the territories, than 22 states."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) took up the District's cause Wednesday night when he spoke about the bill on the Senate floor. He pointed out that while D.C. is combatting the coronavirus just like the states are, and the District is included in federal formulas for programs like Title I and highway funding, they were not included in the same formula as states when figuring out how to distribute relief funding.

"They have a population that is higher than two of the 50 states," he said. "There are more residents of the District of Columbia, the nation's capital, than the state of Wyoming and the state of Vermont. But they were left out of that category that they are usually put in, and instead they were put into a formula with Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and some other territories."

Van Hollen accused Republican negotiators of deliberately shortchanging the District.

"The net effect of putting people in the nation's capital in that formula versus the formula with the states with cost the District of Columbia about $700 million," Van Hollen said. "That's because the other formula is based entirely on population, and Puerto Rich has about 3 million people in it, and so when you put the District of Columbia into that funding kettle, into that funding pot, they get shortchanged $700 million."

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In the interest of passing the stimulus package to benefit the country as a whole, Van Hollen supported the bill despite its "many flaws, and many, many problems."

Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) released a statement Thursday criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Republicans for refusing to treat the District like a state.

"By categorizing the District as a territory, Senate Republicans are shortchanging residents by hundreds of millions of dollars in critical funding to fight the pandemic," he said. "This hurts not only the residents of the District, but our entire region as we battle this growing public health crisis. This is the latest example of why we must grant DC statehood."

Council Chair Phil Mendelson did not necessarily see the problem with the stimulus package as a statehood issue. "It's about public health and the economy," he said.

According to Mendelson, the District is moving lock-step with Virginia and Maryland on its region-wide response to the coronavirus, yet it was not being treated equally when in comes to relief funding.

"As a denser jurisdiction, denser than states with a larger area, we are seeing a greater impact of this virus," he said.

In addition, the District's economy relies on businesses like tourism and the hospitality industry for much of its revenue. Both industries have taken a sizable hit due to the coronavirus.

"It disproportionately affects us more than other states that are not dependent on hospitality or tourism, which is why this economic relief from the Congress needs to be at least equal to what the states are receiving," Mendelson said, adding that he is hopeful Congress will rectify the shortfall.

According to Bowser, the District will continue to do what it needs to do locally.

"We're going to keep calling on the White House to step up on the procurement of lifesaving supplies and now we will be working to fix whatever disadvantages this relief package brings to the residents of Washington, D.C.," she said.

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