Councilmember McDuffie Introduces Clean Hands Equity Legislation to Reduce Barriers for Obtaining Licenses and Permits

Would help aspiring small business owners, low-income residents and returning citizens get the licensure they need to open or operate a small business in the District

For Release: Friday, May 14, 2021

Contact: Malcom Fox, 202-227-1701,

Washington, DC – Last week, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie introduced the Clean Hands Certification Equity Amendment Act of 2021. If passed, this bill would reduce the barriers imposed on small business owners, returning citizens and low-income residents to obtain licenses and permits. The current certification process is particularly burdensome for low-income individuals as well as the service and hospitality industries who have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 recession.

“This legislation puts equity and fairness at the heart of the District’s licensing and permitting processes,” said Councilmember McDuffie.Moreover, it will help aspiring small business owners, low-income residents and returning citizens get what they need to open and operate small businesses as well as improve their ability to pay off and avoid debts. We should be removing obstacles for residents from disadvantaged backgrounds to become entrepreneurs and that’s exactly what this bill does.”

Under current law, applicants for virtually all District-issued licenses must obtain a Clean Hands Certification to show that they do not owe certain outstanding debts, which is particularly burdensome for low-income residents and businesses struggling to stay afloat during this recession. The Clean Hands Certification Equity Amendment Act reduces barriers by increasing the minimum amount of debt that would prevent an applicant from obtaining Clean Hands certification to $5,000 and reducing the types of debt that would restrict access to the certification.

“The Greater Washington Black Chamber applauds Councilmember McDuffie’s efforts to remove the barriers for doing business in the District of Columbia,” said Corey Arnez Griffin, Chairman of the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce. “So many of our Black-owned businesses are suffering and struggling to stay alive in this pandemic and this bill will alleviate some of the difficulty to do so.”

“RAMW supports and applauds Councilmember McDuffie’s introduction of the ‘Clean Hands Certification Equity Amendment Act of 2021,’ said Kathy Hollinger, President and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. “Although the Clean Hands Act is an important tool in assuring businesses and residents pay their taxes as they seek government privileges, licenses and approvals, too often the requirement trips up small businesses for relatively small amounts allegedly owed. Raising the debt threshold which disqualifies businesses for licensure will assure no one is delayed or denied because of small debts to DC.”

The Clean Hands Certification Equity Act also exempts drivers’ licenses from Clean Hands requirements moving forward. This step will enable more residents to get government identification and commute to work without being impeded by minor fines that disproportionately affect low-income residents, particularly returning citizens.

“As it currently stands, DC’s Clean Hands law acts as a needless barrier to business, keeping residents from starting their dream mom-and-pop or getting the licenses and permits they need from District government,” said Alex Montgomery, Activism Researcher at the Institute for Justice. “This bill would ensure that all Washingtonians, regardless of income or ward, have the opportunity to get back up on their feet.”

This legislation builds upon a host of measures Councilmember McDuffie has advanced to support local businesses during this pandemic such as the legislation that inspired DC’s Bridge Fund Grants, the Small Business Microgrant Program, and the Equity Impact Fund that financially supports small business owners from socially disadvantaged backgrounds who have been impacted by the pandemic and typically struggle to access capital.