(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) Within Northern Virginia, South Arlington has one of the highest concentrations of families who cannot afford basic needs and childcare.
In this half of the county, 52% of families cannot afford food, housing, medical expenses and childcare, compared to just 15% of families North Arlington, per a new report.
South Arlingtonians are not alone.
About a third of families across Northern Virginia are not earning enough money to subsist, dubbed “income inadequacy” in the report, prepared by Insight Region, the research arm of the nonprofit Community Foundation of Northern Virginia.
The report states that inflation pushed many more families into income inadequacy in the first half of 2023. However, several needs-based nonprofits in Arlington say inflation is not the only contributing factor, pointing also to the rollback of Covid-era benefits.
They tell ARLnow it is time for a systemic overhaul to mitigate increasing income inequality.
“Those basic needs numbers are really concerning to us,” says Brian Marroquín, a program officer at the nonprofit Arlington Community Foundation. “What happens when people lose those benefits is really important… It’s a Catch-22 for many people in our community to try and get ahead while kind of facing the system as it’s set up currently.”
Why families are struggling today
Before the outbreak of Covid, Charles Meng, the CEO of Arlington Food Assistance Center, said his organization typically served about 1,800 to 1,900 families a week. At the height of the pandemic, that number rose to about 2,500 families a week in 2020.
For a short while, the demand for food assistance decreased as case numbers dropped and individuals returned to work. But that changed in February 2022.
“If you’ll remember, inflation started hitting, fuel prices went up first, and then food prices started going up. And since that time, we have seen a steady increase in the number of families coming to us,” Meng told ARLnow. “We’re now serving 3,238 families [a week]… That’s basically a 30% increase from the prior year.”
“I’ve never seen a 30% increase in a year before,” he added.
Meng also attributes the sudden jump partly to inflation, which reduced the purchasing power of already struggling families. He noted the clawing back of other government benefits, such as SNAP, played a role as well.
“These families have effectively gotten a 14% to 15% reduction in their income… They’re paying more for food for a whole bunch of other things,” Meng said.
Data from ACF highlights that over 10,000 households — about 24,000 people — in Arlington make under 30% of the area median income. That translates to about $45,600 for a family of four. AFAC serves many households in that group.
“There’s a lot of families in Arlington County who are hurting,” Meng said.
“What that did was it put money in parents’ pockets. At the time, it was particularly important for childcare. Childcare was hard to find and got more expensive as well during the pandemic in 2021,” Marroquín said.
Some 7000 Series Trains Return — “Metro today completed final review of its plan to return eight 7000-series trains to passenger service. Customers can expect service to start [on Thursday]… The popular 7000-series trains will first appear on the Green and Yellow Lines.” [WMATA, DCist]
Shuttle Buses to Run During Major Metro Work — “Starting Saturday, Sept. 10, Metro will begin work to connect the future Potomac Yard Station with the mainline rail system and to rehabilitate the Yellow Line tunnel and bridge between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations. The projects will impact Blue and Yellow line service in two phases over eight months, and free shuttle bus service will be available for customers throughout the duration.” [WMATA]
Groundbreaking for Bus Facility — “Arlington’s ART transit system is now rolling toward a much-anticipated destination: a new centralized Operations and Maintenance Facility for its buses. County officials, joined by regional transportation administrators, advocates and community leaders, broke ground Wednesday, June 15, 2022, on the 3.5-acre site in the Green Valley neighborhood.” [Arlington County]
Shirlington Eatery Makes ‘Top Taco’ List — “Graham Bartlett [of Taco and Pina in Shirlington] calls it a deconstructed chile relleno, but his taco is more an abstract take on the Puebla dish, kind of like the final drawing in Picasso’s bull series, in which the beast has only a passing resemblance to the real thing… It’s a brilliantly conceived taco, which would mean nothing, of course, if it weren’t also delicious.” [Washington Post]
Foundation Awards Scholarships — “Arlington Community Foundation (ACF) awarded new college scholarships totaling nearly $600,000 to 92 students who will attend college next year. An additional 116 scholarships were given to renewal students. More than 60 scholarship funds support these student awards, each with their own eligibility criteria, with many of them designed to support students facing significant financial barriers to higher education.” [Arlington Community Foundation]
Contamination Pushes Up Trail Cost — “Unexpected levels of contaminated soil are pushing the cost of a trail-connection project ever higher. Arlington County Board members on June 18 are expected to approve an increase from $559,000 to $939,000 in the contract for the Potomac Yard-Four Mile Run Trail connection project… The funding was designed to provide a new 10-foot-wide concrete trail connector between the two existing trails.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Thursday — Rain and storms in the morning and also later in the evening. High of 86 and low of 70. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]
Shot Fired in Buckingham — “At approximately 3:04 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of shots heard in the 4200 block of 2nd Road N. Upon arrival, it was determined that the male victim exited an apartment, encountered the two suspects in the hallway and confronted them. A physical altercation ensued, and one suspect produced a firearm. During the struggle, a shot was fired, causing damage to the door of an apartment. The suspects then fled the scene. Responding officers recovered the firearm.” [ACPD]
Driver Strikes Child in Falls Church — “At approximately 4:15 p.m., Falls Church Police and Arlington County Fire and Medical units were dispatched for a report of vehicular crash with injuries involving a pedestrian, approximately 3 to 4 years old. The victim was taken to Fairfax Hospital and is currently listed in critical condition. The driver of the striking vehicle remained on scene. The preliminary investigation is still underway with no additional details at this time.” [City of Falls Church, Twitter]
Fairlington Fire Station’s Future in Flux — “The Arlington government three years ago closed Fire Station #7 over concerns about the structural integrity of its flooring. It has since been determined that it would be too costly to upgrade the facility to resume its original function, but competing planning priorities coupled with the COVID crisis have left the building’s future unclear. A community process to determine the future of Fairlington’s 1940s-era, one-bay fire station has been on hold during the COVID crisis, but may be tackled in early 2022.” [Sun Gazette]
Fire Departments Struggling With Staffing — From public safety watchdog Dave Statter “Alexandria isn’t alone. Area fire department staffing is impacting the number of fire & EMS units available at a time when Covid is surging. There’s also significant impact on EMS availability due to hospital staffing leaving ambulance crews stuck at EDs with patients.” [Twitter]
Local Scholarship Application Now Open — “Arlington Community Foundation (ACF) launched its 2022 scholarship application today, providing Arlington high school students with an opportunity to compete for more than 70 scholarships worth over $525,000 in student aid. A single, common application gives students an easy way to apply for an award from more than 55 individual scholarship funds.” [Press Release]
Marymount Now Requiring Booster Shot — “On Monday, Marymount University administrators shared with its community members an enhanced COVID-19 vaccination policy that will require a booster shot for all students, faculty and staff who will be physically present on campus during the upcoming semester, a precautionary measure designed to ensure the best possible protection against the virus.” [Press Release]
It’s Tuesday — Today will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 46. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 4:49 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 48 and wind gusts as high as 24 mph. [Weather.gov]
Biden Visits Arlington for Vets Day — “President Joe Biden saluted the nation’s military veterans as ‘the spine of America’ on Thursday as he marked his first Veterans Day as president in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.” [WTOP]
Wet Roads Leading to Crashes — From the Washington Weather Geeks: “Please be careful out there this morning! Multiple crashes have been reported in and around the region. Wet [leaves] on the roads will help cause more hazards this morning. Slow down!” [Twitter]
Jury Duty Reminder — “Juror questionnaires were mailed in the form of a postcard with a website link in early August to 35,000 randomly selected residents of Arlington County and Falls Church City. Not everyone was chosen to receive the questionnaire. If you did not receive a postcard, there is nothing you need to do. These Questionnaires are used to qualify residents for jury duty which begins January 1, 2022, and ends December 31, 2022.” [Arlington County]
‘Missing Middle’ Study Update — “The most recent update revealed community support for the housing affordability, diversity, and supply that missing middle housing would bring. Competing concerns from homeowners have arisen regarding flooding, tree loss, and strain on infrastructure; though ultimately, existing patterns of development mean these issues already exist under the status quo.” [GGWash]
‘Spirit of Community’ Honorees — “As Arlington Community Foundation marks three decades of service this fall, this year’s Spirit of Community will honor three extraordinary people who embody Arlington’s Spirit of Community, Advocacy, and Volunteerism. In addition to recognizing these three extraordinary individuals, the program will feature Arlington youth and business leaders who have stepped up to meet the historic challenges of the last two years in inspiring and innovative ways.” [Arlington Community Foundation]
Lots of Ladybugs Around Area — “Multicolored Asian lady beetles are swarming in large numbers across the Mid-Atlantic because of late fall warmth. Also called ladybird beetles, this type of ladybug smells bad, can bite you and, if you squish it, produces a messy, yellow stain. This is another invasive insect that has found a home in our area.” [Capital Weather Gang]
WaPo’s Winter Forecast — “Overall, temperatures should work out close to average. Snow lovers are unlikely to be pleased as we’re projecting below-average amounts for the fifth time in the past six winters. We do, however, think we’ll top last winter’s snow totals… Alexandria, Arlington and Prince George’s counties and the District: 8 to 14 inches.” [Capital Weather Gang]
It’s Friday — Today there will be rain and storms until about 10 a.m., then gradually clearing through this evening. Sunrise at 6:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:56 p.m. Tomorrow there will be a chance of showers between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., otherwise it will be mostly sunny and breezy, with gusts up to 23 mph. Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 51.
(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Dozens of Arlington residents are now receiving a supplemental income through a new pilot program.
The nonprofit Arlington Community Foundation, which oversees the outreach, will unconditionally give $500 a month to 200 low-income households for two years. Fifty have been enrolled so far, chosen at random from current Arlington County housing grant recipients.
“This new initiative equips families with funds that can be used for whatever is needed most in real time — paying off debt, pursuing education or employment goals, college savings for kids, or allowing parents more time with their children and less time away from home in a second job,” the foundation said in a news release.
Housing grants from Arlington’s Department of Human Services, part of the criteria for eligibility for the pilot program, are restricted to two-person households earning $43,860 or less, three-person households earning $49,343 or less, and four-person households earning $54,825 or less.
The foundation says the pilot further restricts participants to those at or below 30% of the area median income, which is $38,700 for a family of four.
“One participant, a single mother who works full time, says this assistance will give her the much needed breathing room to finish her GED and attend nursing school,” the foundation says.
The county partnered with the foundation for the initiative, dubbed Arlington’s Guarantee. Participants will have access to one-on-one coaching, and a team of experts will be monitoring participants’ health, wellbeing and financial stability.
People can donate to the fund covering the pilot, which the foundation sees as a resource for future policy outreach and philanthropy.
“Arlington’s Guarantee is an opportunity for donors to support a pilot that holistically and unconditionally promotes power, dignity and belonging for families in Arlington,” the foundation said. All administrative costs have been covered by a grant from the Kresge Foundation, so 100% of what is contributed to this fund will go directly into the hands of people in our community who need it.”
More from the press release:
24,700 people, or about 10,000 households in Arlington, make under 30% of the area median income (AMI), or $38,700 for a family of four. These working low income families rely on a combination of earned income, public benefits, and community support to survive. With even a minor rise in earnings, these families can lose their eligibility for subsidies for health care, food, child care, transportation, and housing, meaning the worker has to refuse raises and promotions that could ultimately leave their family worse off. Arlington’s Guarantee has secured local and state agency commitments to ensure the monthly cash payments do not affect benefits and subsidies eligibility. In addition to $500/month and protection from benefits loss, Arlington Guarantee supports the participants with access to trained mobility teams and one-on-one coaching.
Similar tests of Universal Basic Income-like programs — though more targeted and on a smaller scale than UBI — have been rolling out elsewhere in the D.C. area and across the country. In nearby Alexandria, the city plans to use $3 million in American Rescue Plan money to provide $500 a month to 150 low-income households, starting on Nov. 1.
According to research conducted on a similar program in California, participants were more likely to land full-time jobs, pay down debt and report better emotional wellbeing.
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash