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Catania Bills Address D.C.'s High Unemployment

WI Web Staff Report | 11/1/2011, 3:29 p.m.

At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania has introduced two bills that will empower the chronically unemployed and draw on the power of the District government's procurement process to create employment opportunities for more District residents.

While the "Worker Assistance and Gainful Employment Support Act of 2011" (WAGES Act of 2011) increases the financial stability of low-income workers and incentivizes transferable skills training, the "District Workforce and Business Fairness Act of 2011"strengthens resident employment requirements for certified business enterprises.

"While the District, as a whole, has fared better than most, some of our communities are struggling with upwards of 30 percent joblessness and growing levels of poverty," said Councilmember Catania. "The two pieces of legislation I proposed today will get more money into disadvantaged workers' pockets, provide real financial incentives to hire and train District residents, and harness the tremendous economic power of our procurement dollars in a way that more fully benefits District residents and businesses."

First, the WAGES Act will expand eligibility for the District's earned income tax credit. Experts agree this credit is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs ever enacted. As it is currently configured, the credit remains unavailable to many residents who could benefit most. Young workers ages 18 to 24 - who are not claimed as a dependent on another's return or do not have children of their own - are ineligible for the credit. The WAGES Act will expand access to the District's Earned Income Tax Credit to all residents ages 18 and older who meet the income requirements for the Federal credit and are not eligible as a deductable child on another individual's tax filings.

Additionally, the WAGES Act expands eligibility of non-custodial parents of all ages who provide financial support for their children through a court order to claim those children as deductions toward the District's earned income tax credit. Under current law, only individuals below the age of 30 can qualify despite the average age of a non-custodial parent being 34 years old. The WAGES Act removes the age limit entirely for non-custodial parents who pay child support through a court ordered program, increasing the credit amount available to those taxpayers.

The "District Workforce and Business Fairness Act of 2011" would make it mandatory that at least 50 percent of the employees of a business enterprise be District residents in order for that business to be certified as a Local Business Enterprise.

Current law gives Certified Business Enterprises (CBEs) a massive 12-point benefit in the District government's procurement process. The Act will ensure that the preference given to CBEs is reserved for true District businesses that actually employ a significant percentage of District residents. Under existing law, a business may claim the benefits of being a certified LBE without employing a single District resident. As a result, the current certification requirements erode the value of being a true local business. The Act would also require a cost assurance program wherein the winning bid of a CBE may not be greater than 12 percent above the cost of the goods or services in the commercial market.

"The District government procures hundreds of millions of dollars of goods and services every year and thousands of individuals are employed by District contractors and subcontractors," said Catania. "With unemployment still a major problem in the District, it is time that our procurement process place a premium on ensuring that District residents are put to work."