D.C. Mayor On Coronavirus Relief Package
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We want to go back now to that massive stimulus package that President Trump signed a few days ago. Everybody's been digging into it to see how their household or business or state will be affected. In doing that, the leaders of the nation's capital have found an unpleasant surprise. Most states will receive at least $1.25 billion, but the District of Columbia, along with the five U.S. territories, will have to split $3 billion of relief money six ways.
There are currently more than 300 cases of COVID-19 here in the district. That's more cases than in roughly a third of the U.S. states right now. So we called on the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, for her thoughts about this.
Mayor Bowser, welcome. Thank you for joining us. I'm sorry about why but thank you for joining us.
MURIEL BOWSER: Yeah, thank you, Michel. And thanks for bringing this information to everybody and reminding them to stay at home so we can flatten the curve.
MARTIN: Absolutely. So we should be clear, though, that for people who don't know, Washington, D.C., is not a territory. And one key difference is that residents pay all federal income taxes. But in this bill, it was lumped in with the U.S.'s five territories. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even talked about this in a news conference on Thursday, saying it really makes no sense unless you have some other motivation. So have you been able to suss this out? Do you have any sense now of why this happened?
BOWSER: I don't, exactly, and I'm sure that that will come out when all of the analysis is done on this. I think what's important now is that we get it fixed. You're right. We're not a territory. We are entirely unique in the American system. D.C. residents pay every federal tax, just like every American. Except we don't have representation, and we don't have a vote in the House, and we don't have two senators.
And that's what we know happened. Without two senators at the table arguing for us, we didn't get what we deserved because just about every federal funding formula treats D.C. as a state.
BOWSER: And I do want to point out that you had to have gotten this news at the very time that you were finding out that one of your close advisers had passed away from COVID-19, and so I do want to express our sympathy...
BOWSER: Thank you.
MARTIN: ...For that. It had to have made it even more upsetting. But break it down - what this will mean for D.C. residents. Do you - have you figured out how much relief money will the city be receiving per capita compared to the states?
BOWSER: Well, we'll be shorted, we know, by at least $700,000,000. And what we've heard from leadership in the Congress, including the speaker herself and the White House, is that the district will be made whole. We know that there is another bill coming, and we expect for the districts - for the distribution to the district to be fixed in that way.
What we know also, Michel, is that we are the nation's capital, and we are our nation's representation to the world. And we do have growing incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 in Washington, D.C. We don't think that we'll be different from what other cities are experiencing. Our planning teams are working to get ready for the spread of the infection so that our hospitals can have what they need and our government has what it needs to operate.
But this relief bill is more than an economic stimulus. It's actually funding medical response. And the district is at the center of a capital region that employs federal government workers and is the center of government for our entire nation. So we know that our nation's leaders want to make sure that their staffs and that the function of government operates as our nation responds to COVID-19.
MARTIN: I know you've said in other interviews that this is another argument for why D.C. needs statehood. I'm seeing on some neighborhood discussion boards some suggesting that maybe people should escrow their federal taxes until this is fixed. Do you recommend that? Is that something that can be done?
BOWSER: Well, D.C. residents never have minded paying their fair share. What they mind is not being represented with the taxes that they pay. And this highlights when you don't have two senators at the table arguing for you, as great is our representatives are in sometimes standing up for us, right now, all of those senators are arguing for their own states, and there is nobody there to argue for us. So the issue of taxation without representation can be fixed by statehood or be fixed by us not paying taxes.
MARTIN: And do you recommend that? Twenty seconds - do you recommend that?
BOWSER: No. I want full American citizenship. That's my birthright.
MARTIN: All right.
BOWSER: And we need two senators.
MARTIN: All right. That is the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser.
Madam Mayor, thank you so much for talking with us about this.
BOWSER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF RJD2'S "I'M GREEN (INSTRUMENTAL VERSION)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.