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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Statehood

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a largely local conversation to the forefront of public discourse: should D.C. become the country’s 51st state? And perhaps even on a granular level: why does it even matter?

Prior to the genesis of the novel coronavirus, D.C. had been advocating for statehood for decades, with its first attempt in Congress rejected in 1993. For many critics, statehood for the District is an unnecessary plight that would largely inconvenience the aesthetic of their beloved 50-starred flag. For others, particularly conservatives in Congress and several right-of-center politicos, D.C. statehood poses a threat to Republican agendas, as it would most likely result in new Democratic members of Congress who can vote on the House and Senate floors. Even the president, for better or worse, admitted that D.C. statehood would provide the District with proper representation in Congress, a move that would finally address years of “taxation without representation.”

Of course, there is another factor at play. The pushback on statehood, like the opposition of many other actions that attempt to stimulate economic and social justice, is rooted in racism. Despite the regressive effects of rapid gentrification, Black people still account for the majority of the population, a reality that has surely impacted its ability to move forward in this campaign.

With a population of more than 700,000 people, D.C. is larger than Wyoming and Vermont, yet it continues to bear the brunt of an archaic and unmoving rule. This inequity has only exacerbated during the pandemic, whereby the District was classified as a U.S. territory, receiving only $500 million in coronavirus relief funding compared to the minimum of $1.25 billion issued to states. WTOP reports that many Democratic senators agree that “an ‘intentional slight’ in the latest legislation passed by Congress caused D.C. to lose about $700 million because it was categorized as a territory rather than a state, as is common in budget matters.”

In a swift act of unity, nearly 100 House representatives signed a letter in April pushing for D.C. to receive the full funding allocated to states in the next round of stimulus packages.

However, it’s not enough that D.C. just receive the full funding. Residents pay more in federal income taxes than those living in 22 other states. More pressingly, the District tops the charts with the highest rate of positive coronavirus cases. As of May 23, over 8,000 residents have tested positive for the virus, with nearly 50 percent identifying as Black and 29 percent under 35 years old. D.C. residents are paying the cost of the government’s negligence and unwillingness to provide the District with autonomy and financial relief.

Perhaps to remediate decades of gross oversight, some level of indemnification is in order.

Enter stage left a new stimulus relief package recently passed by the House. The HEROES Act, deftly named as the most comprehensive coronavirus rescue package to date, would not only guarantee hazard pay to essential workers, but it would…

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