Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The County Board this week agreed to move forward with their Child Care Initiative action plan.

Of course, it did not take an action plan to tell any of us with kids that it is expensive to take care of them in Arlington. Whether it’s full-time child care, part-time, pre-school or even babysitting the costs add up on top of already expensive mortgages or rent payments. And anecdotally, you probably know parents who have still been scrambling to find care for an infant just days before going back to work.

But what does that mean the county government should do about it?

First, there is the question of accessibility. According to the county’s action plan, more than 13,000 kids are under the age of 5 in Arlington while just less than 7,000 slots are available in child care facilities. However, the county document did not answer all of the relevant statistical questions about these children.

How many families have a stay-at-home parent or a grandparent living with them? How many families use a nanny or au pair? How many families prefer to make use of a child care facility closer to their place of employment, like in D.C. or Fairfax County? In other words, are we really talking about 6,000 plus children who need a child care option, or 3,000 or 1,000 or 100?

Regardless of the number, the county is right to look at whether they can modify zoning and fees to make it easier for more facilities to open. For example, do we really need parking for all of the people who work there, or could the facility instead offer a Metro or rideshare benefit? Can we lower certain application fees? Lowering governmentally imposed barriers to entry, those that do not directly impact the well-being of the child, is a good thing. And the Board is considering making changes like these by the end of the year.

Another big question raised in the plan is whether or not county taxpayers should directly subsidize care to supplement any state programs and federal tax credits.

Before moving forward with a subsidy program, the Board must first provide in great detail: the income levels they propose to subsidize, a well-documented projection of the number of families who would take advantage of such a program, the total cost to fund the subsidies and administer the program and how they would propose paying for it.

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