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Coronavirus Challenges

Last month we asked whether DC will be able to meet the financial challenges the Coronavirus scourge will cost the District, specifically major loss of tax revenues. We wrote of “the prospect of possible fiscal undermining of the District’s finances due to an anticipated looming reality of substantial revenue losses (already sales tax revenue is falling) along with emergency expenditures as a result of trying to cope with the Coronavirus onslaught” and asked, ” Where will the funds be when the emergency spending needs to kick into high gear?” Concluding our comments about this, we noted, “the question that looms large at this moment is if the DC government will be in any way able to put up the dollars needed. . . .”

That was four weeks ago, and just now have DC officials announced that hard (non-medical) times upon us. First, the Mayor announced a freeze on hiring, salary increases, and travel. But, that’s nothing compared to what will need to be done, presumably in May when the Council will be called upon to revise the remaining five months of his year’s budget so as to make up for the projected revenue loss of somewhere in the range of $607 million. Beyond September, the fiscal 2021 budget, according to the numbers crunchers, will need to shave of an additional $500 million.

There is no question that this will mean the shelving of many important needed projects and program expenditures. The challenge will be that when the cutting gets underway that it be done with a scalpel and not an axe. The politicians will be under huge pressure from special interests and charitable groups to spare their clients/constituents. There is no question that much of those are vital to the wellbeing of large swaths of our citizens, but emotions must be kept in check.

For example, expenditures that are helpful to the small businesses and the agencies that provide collective support must not be cut out in favor of what might be considered as “more worthy” needs. Given that the DC’s fiscal health — and the physical and mental health of all the actual people now unemployed and with no certainty that their employers will ever be able to re-open, nothing should be done that could contribute to those small business employers (especially restaurants and bars) disappearing forever along with the thousands of jobs they and their suppliers and contactors have made possible and which have been a major contributor to DC’s vitality and economic stability.

While it appears that DC officialdom is clearly on top of the economic impact aspects and seems to be approaching dealing with it in an organized manner, unfortunately this does not seem to be so when it comes to how it is communicating with residents on matters of immediate concern to them. Too often there is mixed and confusing messaging and even lack of revealing what should be obviously important information.

For example, there has been no information about any initiative to establish community testing sites in neighborhoods across the city, something that we know many residents are anxious be made available. Even we have not been able to receive a response about this from the Mayor’s press office. The very recent announcement of a drive-through  DC’s only public hospital, United Medical Center in Southeast was good news. But what took so long and why only that single, DC-organized location? There should by now have been set up sites in cooperation with churches and other nonprofits around the city.

Fortunately, just recently, during this month’s first week, George Washington University Medical Enterprise, in concert with the GW Hospital, opened up a walk-up tent at its Medical Faculty Associates building, 22nd and I Streets, NW; drive-through testing is done at the corner of 20th and H Streets, NW. (How to proceed in obtaining doctor approval for testing and hours when open, click here. And, although not providing testing, Whitman-Walker Health at 1525 14th Street, NW and at its Max Robinson Center at 2301 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., SE.

With so many DC agencies and special offices, along with large numbers of health-related and other nonprofits working on solutions, providing services and trying their best to disseminate useful and accurate information — and in a generally far better fashion than the federal government which has truly failed (and put the U.S. to shame in the eyes of the world) — we can only urge that everyone do their part.

Unfortunately, we see too many (seemingly mostly Millennials, sad to say) still congregating on street corners and too often not wearing face masks thereby putting at risk not only their friends but others who need to be out for truly essential reasons and have to get safely past those past those who refuse to wear masks without fear of contagion.