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County Board puts federal funds, local surplus toward pandemic-era priorities

Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti speaks during the Board’s Tuesday meeting on how to allocate federal funding (via Arlington County)

Pandemic recovery, childcare and criminal justice reform will be receiving millions in federal and county funds.

This week, the Arlington County Board voted to put federal COVID-19 relief funding and unspent county budget dollars toward these areas and other equity initiatives. Members also signaled the county’s commitment to these priorities by adopting them in their state legislative priority package.

On Tuesday, the Board allocated $29.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for pandemic response and local assistance programs.

It also put more than $6 million in surplus from the 2020-21 budget, or “closeout” funds, toward retention bonuses and compensation of county employees, support for restorative justice initiatives, review of body worn footage cameras and a new position in the Sheriff’s Office.

“Our American Rescue Plan and closeout funding allocations focus on our continued responsibility to keep our community healthy and safe, providing funding for testing, vaccine support and COVID response,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “We also are investing in mental health care through the Crisis Intervention Center and childcare, a critical issue that the pandemic has revealed as more pressing than ever, as well as transportation and our employees.”

Since the plans were introduced in October, the county added some line items to the ARPA and “closeout” spending plans. Two of particular note include money to establish a childcare capital fund and to hire a quality assurance employee for the Arlington County jail.

The Board left $2.4 million ARPA funds unallocated to meet any unforeseen needs determined in 2022, as well as $14.1 million in unallocated close-out funds to address financial pressures in upcoming 2022-2023 budget.

Direct pandemic response — such as testing site and vaccine clinic support — received $9 million while local programs, ranging from housing assistance to the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Center for behavioral health services, received $20.5 million.

New to the ARPA spending plan is $5 million to develop affordable childcare options, spearheaded by childcare champion and Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.

“ARPA federal guidelines highlight some of the uses for it: they include investment in new or expanded learning services, support for pandemic-impacted small businesses and support to disproportionately impacted populations and communities. One thing at the center of those three circles of the Venn diagram is childcare,” she said during the Board meeting on Tuesday. “This has emerged as one of the top needs during the pandemic.”

Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol speaks about childcare during the Tuesday meeting (via Arlington County)

Arlington has increased the number of available childcare slots, but they are not affordable to those making 50% or less of the Area Median Income, she said.

The county would put the $5 million toward a new childcare capital fund to be accessed by providers and developers who agree to set aside some affordable spots on an ongoing basis in exchange for a one-time infusion of dollars.

The result would be permanently discounted childcare spots created at the time a provider signs a long-term lease or a developer receives approval to build a childcare center, she said.

Before Tuesday night, the Board had previously allocated $2 million in ARPA funds for small business support and $3.8 million for restoring libraries, community centers and other important community facing programs.

As for the close-out funds, one new addition to the spending plan would give the Sheriff’s Office the money to hire an additional quality assurance employee to work at the Arlington County jail.

This new hire will “ensure that all policies, practices, and procedures are being followed as it pertains to the medical and food contracts in the county jail,” according to a staff report. “This staff person would analyze all appointments, health records, and medication rounds to ensure compliance with all policies and procedure requirements including records management.”

Such a hire appears to respond to the string of deaths inside the county jail over the last six years. Most recently, 58-year-old Clyde Spencer died in October, the latest in a grim pattern of one reported jail death each year. A few weeks ago, the county ditched the jail’s existing healthcare provider and, prior to that, charged an apparent employee of that company in the in-custody death of Darryl Becton last year.

Ahead of the start of the General Assembly session in January, the Board adopted the county’s 2022 legislative priorities for the session.

These “range from sustainability efforts and transportation funding to human services, criminal justice reform, and continuation of virtual participation in public meetings,” a county press release said. “[They] are a result of consultation with Arlington’s commissions and advisory groups as well as staff and community leadership.”

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