The massive emergency relief package, passed by the House on Friday and signed by President Trump, allocates at least $1.25 billion in direct relief payments to each state. But because the District is lumped together with the five U.S. territories to share $3 billion by population, it is set to receive about $500 million, or less than half of what individual states will receive. According to a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Shumer (D-N.Y.), Democrats had proposed a bill that made the District a state for this funding, but the Trump administration and Republicans said it was a “dealbreaker” and refused to include it.
There is a simple and powerful reason that the District has long been treated as a state when it comes to most federal funding formulas (such as education, nutrition, housing and transportation): It pays the same federal taxes as states. Indeed, the District pays more in federal taxes than 22 states. It pays more per capita than any state. And it has a bigger population than two states.
So why, then, at this most critical time — when the health and well-being of the nation’s capital are key to the country’s response and recovery from the novel coronavirus — do Republicans shortchange the District and its 700,000 residents? “Because Washington, D.C., is not a state. One can debate whether or not it should be, but that’s a separate discussion” was the unsatisfactory response from a spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Some in the District and on the Hill have speculated that with the push for the District to become the 51st state gaining some momentum — a vote on the House floor is expected this year — Republicans wanted to make a preemptive statement. If so, it’s not only childish but shortsighted and dangerous, too. “This deadly virus is not limited to any particular geographical boundary,” 37 attorneys general from across the country, including 10 Republicans, wrote to congressional leaders in a letter that pointed out that jeopardizing the District’s ability to respond to the crisis “puts not only District residents but all Americans at an increased risk.” Let’s hope that as Congress continues the fight against this pandemic, the District is treated as a full partner and not shortchanged.