Coronavirus update: Racine blasts crisis scammers, Bowser expands small business recovery funding

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine lambasted those looking to make a buck by taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.

During a news conference Wednesday with Mayor Muriel Bowser, Racine said his office has received complaints about landlords, management companies, price gouging, robocalls and scam attempts — even parking spaces and day care services.

“With regard to tenant protections, as Mayor Bowser outlined, and really reinforces every single day, landlords are not permitted to evict tenants during the period of this emergency,” Racine said.

“I’m here to tell you that, unfortunately, we’ve seen nearly two dozen instances where landlords have either sought to evict individuals or increase rents, if you can believe that.”


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There have also been complaints about price gouging, primarily from smaller stores, according to Racine.

“The corner stores, beauty supply shops, liquor stores — there are online sellers engaged in gouging and others who are really trying to make a profit on very essential matters and goods like disinfectants, hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, etc.,” he said.

Racine also said his office is looking into complaints of day care services that — despite not being able to operate — are still charging people.

“I do want to inform the public that we have received your complaints around child care services that may not be going on, yet folks are still billing you and even threatening some D.C. residents that if they seek a stop pay, that they’ll not have their slots for their child protected in the coming months,” Racine said.

He also cautioned about scams.

“The long and short of it is no matter what the scenario is, a crisis or not, people are going to try to take your money,” Racine said. “It’s more important now than ever to not do any business with people who you don’t know, or who haven’t been recommended to you by a family member or someone you trust.”

On Monday, Racine announced that Washington Sports Club will stop charging membership fees while gyms are closed due to the pandemic. The move follows threats of a lawsuit earlier in April if the company didn’t stop charging membership fees during the shutdown of all nonessential businesses.

Small Business Recovery Microgrants Program expanded

Bowser announced Wednesday more than $8 million in additional support for the DC Small Business Recovery Microgrants Program.

“We began with $25 million, and have since been able to identify an additional $8 million for the program — $4 million from Events DC and over $1 million from DHCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) and $3 million in federal funds,” Bowser said.

Award notifications start Wednesday and will continue through May 8.

“We look forward to getting this money out the door and into the hands of small business owners,” Bowser said.

ReOpen DC

Bowser said she wants residents to get involved and let her ReOpen DC Advisory Committee know their thoughts.

“We also invite residents, workers and employers to take the ReOpen DC survey, and participate
and share your thoughts about the committee’s work,” Bowser said.

She also defended her choice to have Michael Chertoff head the committee, despite Chertoff coming under fire for his handling of the Hurricane Katrina response in 2005, saying she trusts his leadership.

Ambassador Susan Rice was also selected to chair the committee. Co-chairs will be Former D.C. mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt, former Assistant Secretary Nicole Lurie for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Bowser’s senior adviser Beverly Perry.

There will be 12 subcommittees overseen by the ReOpen DC Advisory Committee:

  • Real Estate and Construction
  • Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Health Innovation and Workforce
  • Open Spaces and recreation
  • Education and childcare
  • Restaurants and food
  • Faith, art, culture, hotels, sports and entertainment
  • Small business and retail
  • Human services, social services and health
  • Social interactions
  • Government operations, public safety and criminal justice
  • Equity and vulnerable populations

A ReOpen DC virtual town hall was held Wednesday at 5 p.m. More information is online at coronavirus.dc.gov/reopendc.

Uptick in DC cases

As of Wednesday, the total number of known positive coronavirus cases in D.C. stands at 4,106 — an increase of 112. There were also 15 new deaths, bringing the total to 205.

In terms of deaths, 15 ties the highest 24-hour death toll reported in D.C. The overall number of deaths approaches what officials said would be the minimum number of deaths, according to projections. Under D.C.’s models, 225 deaths is listed as the low-end in terms of possible deaths.

“We still have work to do,” Bowser said.

She asked again that people stay at home and get tested if they’re exhibiting symptoms.

D.C. provides free coronavirus testing at United Medical Center and at the University of the District of Columbia Community College Bertie Backus Campus.

More free testing sites can be found online.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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