Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many small businesses to shut down operations permanently, leaving thousands of Washington, D.C., residents without jobs. Just this week, U Street Music Hall announced it is closing its doors due to financial losses from the pandemic. The loss of U Street Music Hall, along with hundreds of other local businesses, is a huge blow to the vibrant culture that sets the city apart as an artistic, culinary and multicultural capital of the U.S.
But despite all of these financial losses caused by the pandemic, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson have spent none of the money from their special charitable funds. These funds — made up of private donations and extra campaign money — are designed to help residents through financial hardship.
Bowser has $219,000 in her constituent services fund. Mendelson has close to $136,000. Six other council members have collected a total of $39,000 and have spent only $7,000 since the virus hit the city in March. This money must be used to help struggling residents, small businesses and nonprofits offset the financial costs they have incurred from the pandemic.
There has never been a shortage of financial need among marginalized groups in D.C. The city has one of the highest homelessness rates in the nation; as of January 2019, there were approximately 6,521 homeless individuals on the streets of D.C. on any given day. Bowser and Mendelson’s charitable funds have been a necessity since long before the pandemic. So why hasn’t a single penny been spent to help residents with their necessities?
As the weather starts to get colder, homeless shelters are preparing for a large influx of people asking for help, and as they turn to indoor spaces to shelter from the weather, homeless shelters and individuals are faced with an increased risk of contracting the virus. Bowser’s funds could help alleviate some of these shelters’ financial burdens, ensuring that homeless individuals are able to stay safe during the winter months.
This money could help ensure that homeless people can survive through the winter, small businesses can stay open and jobless individuals can provide for themselves and their families through the ongoing recession.
No one has any clue how long this pandemic is going to last. And until it passes, it is the responsibility of politicians to make sure their constituents are taken care of. D.C. politicians have the funds at their disposal to aid a city in deep distress — they need to use them.
Laura Phillips-Alvarez is a junior anthropology and government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.