Mayor Bowser and DC Council:

Please support streamlining the red tape that keeps local business owners from thriving in the District.

The District of Columbia is a wonderful place to live. From our museums and monuments that draw visitors from around the world—to our neighborhoods across all eight wards, each with its own unique character—to the hard-working people who call DC home. At the heart of all of these things are the local businesses that keep us fed, clothed, entertained, and so much more. But in DC, business owners face high fees, confusing regulations, long wait times for paperwork, and other roadblocks nearly every step of the way.

Starting a business in DC is expensive, confusing, and time-consuming; and many entrepreneurs find it difficult or impossible to turn their business dreams into a reality. The current regulatory process is so complex that it is difficult for both business owners and agency staff to navigate it. This results in lost revenue, frustration, and negative interactions between residents and government officials. It also creates an unfriendly environment for business that drives entrepreneurs to explore opening up shop in Virginia and Maryland instead.

Barriers to entry hurt people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder most, like returning citizens, residents of Wards 7 and 8, single parents, immigrants, and youth. When we set the barriers as high as we have them now, many will decide not to go into business at all, or to operate illegally. Neither of these options are good for DC. We should be making it easier for residents who want to contribute innovative ideas, tax dollars, and jobs to our communities.

That’s why business owners, community organizations, and residents are asking for change. District Works is a coalition of small business owners, nonprofits, and community members striving to make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a business in DC.

We’re working to bring together the right stakeholders to get the job done. By hosting roundtables with business owners, talking to community members, meeting with councilmembers and agency officials, and researching best practices for licensing around the country, we have created a list of reforms that would streamline the licensing process. Our ideas include:

• Streamlining the licensing process by removing or combining underused and redundant licenses.
• Lowering licensing and registration fees for new and small businesses.
• Improving communication and transparency between regulatory agencies and business owners by creating a true “one-stop shop” where business owners can access all the information they need to complete their paperwork and stay on top of ongoing compliance.
• Raise the threshold for Clean Hands, which requires license applicants to certify that they do not owe more than $100.00 to DC Government and creates an insurmountable barrier for lower-income residents who have debts to the government but no way to pay them back.
• Reviewing the current regulations for home-based businesses to make sure they allow more entrepreneurs to start small in their homes.

DC has the opportunity to become a model for innovation, good governance, and smart regulations. We already have so many of the right components—a talented and passionate workforce, creative entrepreneurs in every sector, and government officials and nonprofits who see the need for change.

Let’s make the District work for all, regardless of income or zip code. We look forward to working with Mayor Bowser, DC Council, and regulatory agencies to enact reforms that will help Washingtonians earn a living for themselves and their families by doing what they love.

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