Photo shows the DHS service center, a brown building with windows, on a sunny day
D.C. DHS Service Center. Photo by Meredith Roaten

On April 2, the D.C. Department of Human Services announced that the District will be expanding the Pandemic Emergency Program for Medically Vulnerable Individuals (PEP-V), opening a fourth PEP-V site that will accommodate up to an additional 200 eligible residents. With this expansion, the PEP-V program will provide non-congregate housing to a total of 800 individuals experiencing homelessness who have underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk of COVID-19.

DHS further stated that once the fourth PEP-V site is full, DHS will cease to maintain a waitlist for PEP-V. As of March 26, there were 656 eligible people on the waiting list for PEP-V, equaling the total number of people served by the program. Of these 656 waitlisted, 35% are currently in shelter and 38% are unsheltered. Advocates from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless are calling for further expansion of PEP-V, as an additional site will only serve a third of those waiting. “Closing the waitlist only hides the need — it doesn’t meet it,” said Amber Harding, a staff attorney for the clinic. 

This announcement comes in the wake of President Biden’s executive order on Feb. 2 that expanded the Federal Emergency Management Administration funding to cover 100% of the costs of the program. Prior to this executive order, DHS was paying 25% of the costs to run PEP-V, and was being reimbursed by FEMA for the other 75%.

Initially, DHS stated that they had no plans to expand the program despite the increased funding, citing non-reimbursable costs, such as behavioral health services, case management services and general administrative costs, as a barrier to expansion. FEMA confirmed that these support services are not eligible for reimbursement, as they do not fall under “necessary work that lessens immediate threat to lives, public health or safety.” 

In a Freedom of Information Act request, Street Sense Media obtained data from DHS showing that less than 4% of the total cost for the past six months of non-congregate shelter placements was not reimbursable by FEMA. The non-reimbursable expense, $1.5 million, went toward behavioral health support and was paid for with contingency cash and money from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

On March 26, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and all but two other D.C. councilmembers sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser asking that her administration “take full advantage” of federal funds to “expand non-congregate shelter capacity in the PEP-V program.” Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White did not co-sign the letter. 

“The District’s residents cannot wait any longer for action. We know that FEMA will reimburse 100% of the eligible PEP-V costs,” the letter states.