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Elsie Daniels, ’20, and Brad Cunningham, ’20, Help Spearhead Passage of D.C. Wage Garnishment Reform

Wednesday, February 13, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: UDC Law Staff
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From left: Brad Cunningham, ’20, Tzedek DC client Cecile, Tzedek DC Director and UDC Law Adjunct Professor Ariel Levinson-Waldman, Elsie Daniels, ’20, and Rabbi Batya Glazer, who also testified in support of the reforms.

On Feb. 6, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) signed the Wage Garnishment Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 into law. UDC Law students Elsie Daniels, ’20, and Brad Cunningham, ’20, campaigned for the legislation this past summer as full-time interns for Tzedek DC, a public interest law center headquartered at the law school that provides free legal help, systems-reform advocacy, and community education programs for low-income D.C. residents facing debt-related problems.

Brad and Elsie played a key role in the coalitional effort to secure passage of the bill, which ushers in critical protections for the city’s lowest earners. The two UDC Law students drafted Tzedek DC’s testimony for a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee hearing in July and helped prepare a Tzedek DC client to testify at the hearing. Following an intense floor debate over proposed amendments, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass the measure in December of last year. Now that Mayor Bowser has signed the legislation, the bill will undergo a mandatory congressional review period.

"It was a humbling experience to help Tzedek DC effect real change for the District’s most vulnerable populations,” said Brad Cunningham. “This legislation gives a voice to people that traditionally have been underrepresented in the legislative process." For her part, Elsie Daniels praised Tzedek DC for the opportunity to advance legislation that “will positively affect the lives of so many District residents.” "I have always heard of wage garnishment,” she said, “but I never understood the affect that it on the average person. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with Tzedek DC on such an important legislation.”

Under current law, D.C. workers earning $11,500 of income per year could see up to 25 percent of their “disposable income” garnished without notice. Only $218 of weekly wages are exempted outright under current law because of statutory language tying the exemption to the federal minimum wage. The D.C. Wage Garnishment Fairness Act will, for the first time, require notice before a person’s wages can be garnished. It also exempts $530 in weekly wages from garnishment, equivalent to a 40-hour work week at the District’s $13.25 minimum wage. By tying the standard to the District’s minimum wage rather than the lower, federal wage level, the reform promotes D.C. home rule.

The amount of weekly wages exempt under the amended law will rise with the increase to D.C.’s minimum wage to $14 scheduled for July 1, 2019 and to $15 the following year. The law will also establish a motion procedure in D.C. Superior Court for impacted residents to apply for a financial hardship exemption to protect wages above the $530 baseline.

Launched in 2017 as a full-time public interest center at the law school, Tzedek DC works to safeguard the rights of low-income District residents through direct representation, community legal education, and advocacy combatting illegal debt collection practices and consumer protections problems such as identity theft and predatory lending. While mentoring and supervising over 25 UDC Law students, in the two-plus years since its launch, Tzedek DC has provided free legal help to over 500 client families, with the average full representation case yielding over $1,000 in client savings, equal to more than two weeks wages at the current minimum wage.

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