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ANC authorizes committee to explore distribution of COVID-19 relief grants

Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor
Epstein, the chair, said the ANC would need permission from city officials before doling out any money to locals.

Members of a local governing body hope to provide grants to organizations in the District to aid residents struggling to sustain their finances through the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a virtual meeting Wednesday, the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted to authorize a humanitarian grants special committee that could use as much as $15,000 of the ANC’s budget to aid residents grappling with financial issues like food insecurity and utility bill payments. The committee’s funding would use more than 65 percent of the ANC’s fiscal year budget of nearly $23,000 in hopes of sustaining the community for the remainder of the pandemic.

Here are some of the meeting’s highlights:

Donating COVID-19 relief grants
The ANC unanimously voted to create a special committee that would shuttle funds to nonprofit organizations in Foggy Bottom and across the city under the supervision of commissioners Trupti Patel, Yannik Omictin and Evelyn Hudson. But Commissioner Jeri Epstein said as a governing body in the District, the ANC isn’t currently permitted to roll out grants like a 501(c) or nonprofit organizations can.

Epstein, who is also the ANC’s chair, said the body would need permission from city officials before doling out any money to locals.

“We don’t really have the ability to hand out money for grants so we need to find out our way to go around that,” Epstein said. “So yes I like the idea. I like the spieling behind the idea, but we can’t say we’re going to form a committee and hand out money at this point. We can form the committee to find out how to do it. That’s a really good idea.”

The ANC unanimously voted on plans to formulate four special committees last month, and Epstein said Omictin and Patel would collaborate on a “neighborhood life” committee.

Omictin, a senior at GW, said commissioners would start looking for nominees for committee members next week through an application process.

Preserving Metrobus lines
Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to maintain service levels on two Metrobus lines as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority considers budget cuts due to a major revenue shortfall during the pandemic. The oncoming federal stimulus funds are expected to help Metro stave off any more cuts during the pandemic, but WMATA’s yet to cancel its proposal of sweeping service reductions set for January, including the elimination of nearly half of the agency’s bus routes.

Omictin said the 30N/30S bus line route, which runs from Friendship Heights and by campus along Pennsylvania Avenue and I Street before reaching Southeast D.C., will be cut in half near Downtown under WMATA’s proposal. The ANC voted to urge transit officials to supplement the service cut with full late-night service levels beyond midnight, shorter wait times between arrivals and transfers to other buses where the line would stop Downtown.

Omictin said the currently proposed service cuts endanger women and members of the LGBTQ community who might need to stand alone late at night in the city while waiting to switch bus lines instead of continuing without any stops.

The ANC also voted to oppose WMATA’s plan to eliminate the D6 bus line that offers transit access to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Housing the homeless community
The ANC unanimously voted to pressure the D.C. Department of Human Services to open housing for the local homeless community in hotels under the Pandemic Emergency Program for Medically Vulnerable Individuals, which can shelter individuals who are experiencing homelessness and dealing with serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Omictin, who introduced the resolution, said city officials should also lower the minimum age of housing eligibility from 55 to 45 years since homeless community members biologically age more quickly than other local residents due to their living conditions.

Omictin said President Joe Biden’s administration announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would fund any costs tied to operating the shelters through the end of September. The D.C. human services department has declined to open any more facilities even though more than 500 people are on a waitlist for the PEP-V program, which offers community members 600 shelter spots, Omictin said.

“We’re calling on DHS to pick up that money,” he said. “It’s just lying these on the table. Pick it up. Open additional PEP-V facilities until essentially the Sept. 30 deadline.”

Omictin said he asked Kevin Days, the University’s director of community relations, about housing individuals experiencing homelessness in residence halls, but “he hesitated a bit.” He added that opening more housing could help local hotels struggling with less revenue during the pandemic.

Calling for a new commissioner
The D.C. Council voted last week to permit ANCs across the District to fill any vacant seats after the District government previously prohibited the provision under the public health emergency that’s been active throughout the pandemic. The Foggy Bottom and West End ANC currently has one vacancy in the 2A08 district, where much of the University’s student population has lost representation since the ANC’s last term ended in January.

The district’s constituency is entirely made up of students, except for University President Thomas LeBlanc’s on-campus residence.

Omictin called on students to run for the seat and said students can qualify for election if they collect enough signatures with petitions offered by the D.C. Board of Elections. 2A08 includes District and Potomac houses, South, Guthridge, Lafayette and Strong halls and Greek life townhouses.

“It’s pretty much all students, so any students who are on this call who live in those boundaries, please consider submitting your petition to actually run for this seat,” Omictin said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser still needs to sign the bill into law before the BOE can accept petitions for candidates to fill vacancies.

Omictin recommended that candidates deliver their petitions to the BOE office in person to ensure officials physically receive and process them. He added that he and Commissioner Adam Friend will hold a community forum next Friday for students looking to learn more about the seat, the ANC or the District government in general.

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