The D.C. Council unanimously passed a COVID-19 relief bill Tuesday that allows for deferred mortgage and rent payments but stops short of providing direct cash assistance.
The bill, passed during a virtual Zoom Council meeting, directs the Board of Elections to mail every registered voter in Ward 2 an absentee ballot application with return postage paid for the June primary and special election and allows those voters to vote in any open precinct. The move comes as the number of coronavirus cases in the District surpasses 1,200, according to data from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office.
The bill permits Bowser to extend the current public health emergency to mid-June if needed, prohibits rent hike increases during the emergency, disallows debt collectors from contacting debtors until 60 days after the public health emergency ends and allows tenants who have given notices to vacate to landlords to remain in their units until the emergency is over.
The law also directs local mortgage lenders to permit borrowers affected by COVID-19 to defer payments for 90 days and allows residential tenants and commercial tenants, like restaurants, the ability to defer rent payments if their landlords are able to defer their mortgage payments. The bill also includes $25 million in grants for hospitals to purchase equipment and hire staff to combat the virus through the bill.
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie said the bill also provides “vital support” for small businesses. The legislation mandates that the D.C. government uses small and local businesses for all contracts in excess of $250,000 during the public health emergency when possible and allows D.C. officials to make advance payments on contracts to businesses.
“Since the Council last met under our current public health emergency, the District has undergone a significant health, social and economic transformation as the COVID-19 public health emergency touches nearly every resident of our city and region,” Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie said in a statement.
The bill’s passage comes one day after Bowser signed an executive order instituting freezes on hiring, travel and training for District employees with limited exceptions to cut costs. The D.C. government is projecting a revenue shortfall of at least $600 million this fiscal year – which ends Sept. 30 – the order states.
“We certainly have put our city in the best position financially to respond to a global health pandemic that is having far reaching impacts on the District’s finances,” Bowser said at a press conference Monday. “It is incumbent upon all of us to continue to make great decisions to continue to look forward to how the District will recover from this.”