Introduction of A Bill to Designate the District of Columbia As An Empowerment Zone

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 16, 2021
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. NORTON. Madam Speaker, I rise to introduce a bill that would statutorily add the District of Columbia to the national empowerment zone program, which provides federal tax incentives for businesses to locate and invest in low-income areas. In 1993, Congress created the national empowerment zone program and left it to federal agencies to designate a certain number of low-income areas as empowerment zones. The District was not one of the areas selected. However, in 1997, working primarily with Republicans in Congress, I created federal tax incentives for investment in the District by businesses and individuals. The business incentives were similar to, but more generous than, those available under the national empowerment zone program. I got the D.C. incentives reauthorized regularly until 2011, when Congress refused to extend only the D.C. incentives. At the same time, the national empowerment zone program continued to be extended and was last extended through 2025. Under my bill, certain low-income neighborhoods, particularly in Wards 5, 7 and 8, would be treated as empowerment zones as long as the national empowerment zone program remains in effect.

The wisdom of the bipartisan, modest, targeted business tax incentives for D.C. has been amply and visibly demonstrated in the economic resurgence of parts of the nation's capital where they were utilized. Among the most visible examples are the formerly rundown area around Capital One Arena, which is now surrounded by offices, restaurants and vibrant nightlife, and the Penn Quarter neighborhood, which had limited residential, commercial and retail spaces, and is now a popular mixed- use neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the D.C. tax incentives were allowed to expire before the poorest D.C. neighborhoods were ready to make use of them, especially in Wards 5, 7 and 8. Withdrawing the D.C. tax incentives, particularly after they had proven to be effective, has left the nation's capital with essentially half of a revival, and was tragically timed just as the lower-income parts of the District, which need the incentives most, are ready for redevelopment. The effectiveness of these incentives for the District has been demonstrated and their costs have been de minimis compared to the measurable benefits they have generated in the District.

I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bill.