Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s. 

By Patrick Hope

Virginia continues to make strides to reform our behavioral health system. Too many Virginians, some of them children and adolescents, lack access to basic preventive care and emergency intervention services. Many end up in our criminal justice system rather than being provided the necessary treatment to avoid such occurrences.

To address the gap, we in the General Assembly are laying a solid foundation on two fronts aimed at prevention–STEP-VA and Behavioral Health Redesign–with Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed FY2021-22 budget making significant investments.

STEP-VA (System Transformation Excellence and Performance) was initiated to improve access, consistency, quality, and accountability of community-based behavioral health services.

  • Same-day Access: The goal is to provide same-day access to a behavioral health assessment for anyone in crisis and to reduce wait times for services. We measure success when an individual can receive a follow-up appointment within 10 days from the initial assessment.
  • Primary Care Screening: The goal in Phase 1 is to identify individuals who pose the greatest risk for physical health issues and connect them to primary care. Frequently, someone in crisis also has other health care issues: diabetes, heart disease, asthma, obesity. You have to treat the whole person and CSBs (Community Services Boards) have to connect the individual to primary care too. In Phase 2, we will expand primary care screenings to all consumers.

Since 2018, Virginia has appropriated over $60 million toward this effort, launching 2 of the 9 steps set for completion July 2021.

Behavioral Health Redesign seeks to integrate all behavioral health services to provide a continuum of care. The focus is on access to services that are: high quality regardless of the setting (e.g., home, school, and primary care); evidence-based (e.g., preventive care and care provided in a least restrictive environment); trauma-informed to yield better outcomes; and cost effective.

The goal with Redesign is to provide alternatives to involuntary hospitalization (Temporary Detention Orders or TDOs) and lower our reliance on inpatient psychiatric beds. Virginia still lacks alternatives to crisis services, such as outpatient treatment, leading to a significant increase in the number of court-ordered TDOs. My legislative efforts in the 2020 session will be to make reforms so that we can provide more appropriate care in a least restrictive environment.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly column. The views expressed are solely the authors’. 

By Tara Teaford and Dana Milburn

As mothers, our priorities center on our children’s health, well-being, happiness, and yes — definitely — their safety. As progressives, we support measures to promote those rights for everyone, everywhere.

Such is the case with preventing gun violence. We cannot fathom the pain suffered by parents who lose a child to gun violence — especially at school, which should be a safe place of learning and joy. We both took more active roles in preventing gun violence after witnessing the horror of continued mass shootings, especially at schools, and the staggering toll of daily gun violence that does not make the evening news. We cannot and should not consider this gun violence crisis acceptable.

Every day in America, 100 people are shot and killed, four of them children. We are fortunate to live in Arlington, a community with relatively little gun violence, but we are no more immune than Newtown, Las Vegas, Jersey City, Virginia Beach and many other American communities were when they were shattered by gun massacres. Arlington has experienced several shootings in the past year. And our neighbors in D.C. experience almost daily gun violence partly because Virginia’s lax gun laws help enable that violence via the “Iron Pipeline,” with guns trafficked up and down the I-95 corridor.

Now, finally having elected a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, Senate and governorship, Virginia has an historic opportunity to make all Virginians safer. We gratefully support the Arlington delegation’s plans to help make real change happen in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

We expect the bills introduced this January in Richmond to be very similar to those proposed for the July 9, 2019, Special Session on gun violence prevention, which the then-Republican majority ended without action. These and other potential legislation are designed to work together to address the gun violence crisis for Virginians:

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Progressive Voice is an biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cheryl Moore

Every year from Thanksgiving through year-end, my mail fills up with pleas from various nonprofit organizations — for financial donations, groceries or holiday gifts for low-income families in Arlington.

Nonprofits’ posts on Facebook and Twitter remind me that, despite Arlington’s wealth, many people still struggle with needs like food, housing, education and employment.

“We have over 28,000 people in Arlington living on $35,000 for a family of four,” says Anita Friedman, director of Arlington County’s Department of Human Services.

While our holiday donations help in the short-term, just throwing money at a problem isn’t necessarily a progressive solution. To reduce disparity, we need to fundamentally tackle the root causes that are keeping some in our community from achieving stability and success.

Making systemic change supports employment, education and health care–some of the tools needed as a springboard to self-sufficiency. Here are just a few examples.

  • Building a better future for Arlington residents living on the edge is the goal of the Bridges Out of Poverty Leaders in Arlington’s nonprofit sector, Arlington County staff, and the Arlington Community Foundation are collaborating on lifting families out of poverty by coordinating resources in health, mental health, employment, child care, education, housing and social capital. This goes beyond just day-to-day stabilization.
  • La Cocina VA is a culinary training program for un-employed and under-employed immigrants. Students graduate with the practical skills and English-language proficiency that help them secure higher-paying jobs in the food service industry.
  • Just Neighbors provides legal services that enable low-income immigrants and refugees to gain the legal status they need to work, so that they can support themselves and become self-sustaining members of their communities.
  • R.E.A.D. (Read Early and Daily) offers families in need a free book a month for each child between birth and five years old. They also promote family literacy by sponsoring family reading playgroups.
  • APAH (Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing) is partnering with Edu-Futuro to prepare high school students for college and careers through skill-building in writing and public speaking.
  • Arlington Free Clinic‘s “Filling the Gap Campaign” aims to triple the number of low-income clients who receive dental care. Because many diseases that start in the mouth can cause life-threatening illness and chronic conditions, proper dental care has an enormous effect on health and well-being.

“Change is happening, but it takes time,” said Arlington County’s Friedman. “Coalitions of nonprofits such as Bridges out of Poverty have been bringing the voice of the poor to the forefront so that our approaches to helping people are informed by their day-to-day realities.”

Each of us can also help promote systemic change. Consider first steps such as:

  • If your employer has an ongoing relationship with a local nonprofit, ask what can be done in addition to hands-on, practical assistance. Your company may be able to offer help with strategic planning or other ways to address root causes of a problem.
  • Urge your elected officials to make job training and education that support low-income individuals a priority in the County budget and hold them accountable.
  • Support legislative efforts that enable jurisdictions like Arlington to set a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 per hour mandated by the federal government. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the annual income it takes to raise three children in a household with two working adults in Arlington is over $92,000. You can also support Sen. Barbara Favola’s (D-31) bill to provide paid sick leave for the 1.2 million Virginians — mostly low-income–who do not receive it.

It’s still important to support Arlington’s vulnerable residents by contributing to safety-net programs. As Charlie Meng, director of the Arlington County Food Assistance Center said “During the month of December, we must raise over 25% of our annual goal.”

Yet we also need to focus much harder on affecting long-term transformation. Creating a more hospitable and equitable environment for everyone who lives here requires getting behind strategies that offer a springboard to a better future.

Cheryl Moore is an active community member and volunteer who has lived in Arlington since 1983.

Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns, including this one, will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

 By Colleen Pickford

If you are an Arlington parent, you likely have heard that Arlington Public Schools staff presented two proposals in November for moving various elementary neighborhood and option programs in advance of a new elementary school opening at the Reed site in 2021.

These proposals are big, bold, and complex, and last week the process was narrowed down to Proposal 1.

The elementary school population in Arlington continues to grow faster than we can fund buildings — our land and funding are limited. In order to manage elementary school enrollment over the next 10 years, we must take a hard look at all our school buildings and how we are using them and consider program moves and boundary changes as part of a plan for making full use of existing space.

Community response to these proposals has been swift. Letters are being circulated, coalitions are being built, t-shirts are being printed and parents are insisting the process is flawed and must be halted for a year until more data or other solutions are provided to allay all concerns. Shouting from audience members and interrupting staff comments have recently disrupted public engagement meetings on the proposals, drawing media coverage from a local television station. For those who are concerned, I implore you to partner in this process rather than immediately work against it.

I understand the anxiety that comes with these changes. My children’s school, Oakridge Elementary, was part of the boundary process last year that resulted in nearly 200 of our students moving to Hoffman-Boston this year. The boundary change was the culmination of a five-year process where our community sought relief from overcrowding — but more time to discuss boundary changes didn’t make the conversation with our neighbors any easier. Even with triple-booked PE classes and so many classes our specialist teachers could barely rotate through the school, no one wanted to move.

I can tell you from living through this process that there are no perfect data and no perfect solutions. But the challenges before our school system grow with each newly enrolled student. Delaying those decisions now doesn’t make that any easier and it doesn’t change the fact that some students are going to have to move.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Carmen Romero

As a 20+ year resident of Arlington and an affordable housing developer, I am often asked by neighbors, “What does affordable housing mean?” often followed by, “How can we help?”

In stark terms, here’s an example of the “affordable”* housing situation. The average apartment rent in Arlington in 2018 was $1,918 per month.* Yet a minimum-wage working family would need to work 154 hours a week to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington.

Many people in the private and public sectors are putting in the hard work to combat this situation. Unfortunately, we are falling short on own stated community goals of seeing 17% of our housing stock be affordable* by 2040. As of Fiscal Year 2018, we were closer to only 8.8% (or 10,200 units) of our 115,400 housing units being affordable.

So, to the question: how can “we” help? Arlington has the benefit of excellent planning, transportation, a supportive community, and economic prosperity that comes with being one of the nation’s top technology economies. If we harness innovation and hold ourselves accountable, we can pull the pieces together to make it happen.

What do bold steps and innovation look like?

  • Approving a one-time bond issue. Bold financial commitments from the local and state level could help capitalize new solutions. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the Amazon HQ2 economic engine to create new tools to promote large-scale preservation and new construction. Arlington could choose to fully capitalize our affordable housing plan through a one-time bond issuance supported by some of the economic growth anticipated from the arrival of HQ2. Local government could also reduce the development and operating costs for building affordable homes, including expediting zoning and permitting approvals, reducing real estate property taxes, and streamlining of site plan conditions.
  • Rethinking Arlington’s zoning and land use rules. This could help ensure we have the flexibility to create more housing at all levels, but especially for those for whom the rent burden is most acute. Because Arlington is land-scarce, this has often meant more density and height, especially near transit. Given our land scarcity, it is critical to promote non-profit partnerships, such as the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) partnership with the American Legion Post 139 in Virginia Square to develop affordable housing with a preference for veterans.
  • Connecting more low-income and diverse people to our region’s technology and entrepreneurship economy pipeline. This summer, APAH began brainstorming with several local universities and a large technology partner around a vision to create a “resident impact incubator” with onsite technology classes and instructors/mentorships for young children through senior learners. This envisioned the use of technology as a bridge for low-income residents, instead of a divide. APAH recently opened Gilliam Place, an affordable housing development with 173 homes collocated with a ground-floor home for Arlington Presbyterian Church and a café and business incubator with La Cocina, the Zero-Barriers training and entrepreneurship center.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Karen Darner

Leadership in public service makes a difference. I want to share a true story of the School Board appointments made by the Arlington County Board in 1976. (This was before we returned, in 1994, to electing School Board members.) And then I want to reflect on some challenges facing our leaders today.

In 1976, there were two School Board vacancies to be filled. I was the new president of the educators in the Arlington Education Association, and sent each candidate a questionnaire so a candidate endorsement might be possible.

There were many candidates in this race. I had heard many good things about one candidate, Mary Margaret Whipple. Another candidate was Tom DeScisciolo, father of a Washington-Lee senior. Mr. DeScisciolo worked for the National Labor Relations Board in DC. As Mr. DeScisciolo and I talked one day, I was impressed by his interest in many questions and how we, as educators, developed our own positions on issues. I was a novice on the workings of our collective bargaining agreement with the School Board, but knew it was the cornerstone to discussion and compromise among our members, and eventually with the School Board for our contract.

AEA’s political arm reviewed all candidates’ answers and reached an endorsement decision for the County Board to appoint Mrs. Whipple and Mr. DeScisciolo. When I arrived at the County Board meeting for the decision, I slipped into a seat next to Mr. DeScisciolo and his daughter. He then explained to me how he came to apply to become a School Board member.

Earlier, he had been helping his daughter research the process for becoming a School Board member for a report of one of her classes. He himself became interested in serving, and felt he had the motivation to become a valued member. And now it came to be: The County Board appointed him and Mrs. Whipple to the Arlington School Board.

I am aware of the extraordinary value of Mary Margaret Whipple’s tenure on the School Board, County Board, and eventually the Virginia State Senate on behalf of Arlington and Virginia residents. Her knowledge and integrity are incomparable, and we are very fortunate.

Tom DeScisciolo’s leadership is less well known, but he stood up for what was right. In January 1977, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the collective bargaining process practiced in Arlington by the County Board and by the School Board was unconstitutional, and was to end. Arlington’s superintendent at the time saw this as an opportunity to break the contract with the educators, and said so publicly.

This is where Tom DeScisciolo’s presence became most valuable. He reminded the Board and Superintendent about collective bargaining, and that all parties had negotiated our contract “in good faith.” I will never forget his passionate message–“‘good faith’ means it is your word.” The School Board voted to reaffirm its contract with its employees.

Sometime afterward, Tom DeScisiolo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had completed about 18 months of a 4-year term, yet his Board presence was a gift of “the right person at the right time.”

Today we still need leaders who can make wise decisions–benefitting the whole county–while negotiating the thicket of competing demands. (As a former state legislator, believe me I do understand how hard this is.) We need leaders who can look long-term and not get stuck on what works for just today, or on who yells or lobbies the loudest. I say all this not as a reflection on any particular elected official, but more to guide us all going forward. Leadership in public service makes a difference. And the right kind of leaders especially matters.

Karen Darner served her community as a speech therapist in the Arlington Public Schools for over 35 years and represented part of Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly for 14 years. She loves it here.

Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Katie Cristol

You don’t have to be a parent of young children to appreciate the value of accessible, affordable and quality childcare.

A healthy childcare market supports families and also supports economic development — for large employers and for the small entrepreneurs behind childcare businesses — and can improve outcomes for young learners. Unfortunately, as community leader Anne O’Brien effectively described in ARLnow a year and a half ago, Arlington County’s supply of childcare, while high-quality, has been scarce and too often inaccessible.

Over the past two years, a coalition of providers, nonprofits, County staff and parents have spent hundreds of hours on the priorities in our Child Care Initiative Action Plan. Our theory is that these steps, such as eliminating zoning ordinance and regulatory barriers to opening and expanding childcare, as well as supporting providers in improving their staffing and training, can increase the supply of quality, affordable and accessible childcare in Arlington.

Making systemic changes to help all people succeed is a core progressive value. Just as important is taking a hard-nosed look at whether those changes are having the desired effect. So how are we doing?

The Childcare Initiative has been anchored in data. We began with a Demographic Risk and Reach study, which found that affordability is a huge concern for middle-class as well as low income families in Arlington. For two children in center-based care, child care expenses are 38% of our median income for a family of four — more than seven times the threshold that the federal government describes as “affordable.”

Supply shortages were worse than we thought: Known capacity is sufficient to serve only 54% of Arlington’s children under five, despite data indicating that most Arlington children live in families where all parents work. These gaps between supply and need were greatest in the 22204 zip code. This is particularly concerning, given that neighborhoods in 22204 are home to Arlington’s most vulnerable children and families.

These data — paired with extensive qualitative data from providers and parents about their greatest needs — were the basis for the policy changes that my County Board colleagues and I adopted this spring and summer.

We have some early indicators that our efforts are starting to work. Arlington saw a net increase of 247 spots in the initial year of the Childcare Initiative, most in South Arlington where they are most needed. Now with the code changes having taken effect July 1, we expect those numbers will increase significantly. Within just a couple of months of the changes, 30 family day care homes had submitted requests to expand. In support of our quality goals, 327 Arlington childcare spots were newly quality- rated in 2018, a 33% increase over the prior year.

As the Childcare Initiative “grows up,” the real measure will be if there are more high-quality spots available to families all over the County.

So, we’re debuting a dashboard to monitor what counts. That includes big-picture measures of availability (total capacity, capacity by ZIP code, and the percent of children in the County that can be served). It also includes progress on accessibility: How many students with special needs are being served? How many low-income families with subsidies are accessing quality care? Is back-up childcare, or childcare during nontraditional hours, increasing?

We won’t transform our childcare landscape overnight. But our childcare reforms are grounded in data, and it is data that will let us know whether these reforms are making a difference that counts.

A final note, since the policy is personal for Arlington families: If you’re looking for childcare in Arlington, you should know that we also re-launched our online directory, allowing filtering by languages spoken, type of care and subsidy acceptance.

Katie Cristol is a member of the Arlington County Board.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Del. Rip Sullivan

If you were to stop the first 100 people you encountered at any Metro station in Arlington and ask their thoughts on the next election, many of them would give a response related to Donald Trump or the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. When our news is saturated with national issues and political rancor, crucial state and local elections can get lost in the mix, even in politically engaged Arlington. But Arlingtonians have two urgent reasons to care about the actual next election — November 5, 2019 — before turning their focus to November 2020.

First, there are contested races in Arlington this year. Democratic voters cannot assume that their preferred state and local candidates will win office even if they voted for the same candidate in a primary or caucus earlier this year. A School Board race came down to just a handful of votes in a general election in Arlington County as recently as 2012. Complacency is not an option in “off off” year elections like 2019.

A progressive voter in Ashlawn precinct, for example, will still need to cast votes for two contested County Board positions and a State Senate seat, or risk losing those critical spots to independent or Republican candidates on the ballot.

The GOP has struggled in recent years to recruit candidates in Arlington, and I sometimes wonder whether, this cycle, the Republicans had hoped to lull Arlington Democrats to sleep by fielding so few candidates. No such luck. When Democratic candidates are on the ballot — with or without opponents — our ability to translate our closely held values into tangible solutions for Arlington County is on the ballot too.

Arlington Democrats are energized, and we simply must finish this year’s races strong and send a clear signal about our priorities before we turn to next year’s challenges and opportunities.

Second, Arlington is dramatically and negatively affected by the GOP’s narrow majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. On November 5, voters across Virginia will determine who controls the House of Delegates for the next two years, and the Senate for the next four. Democrats must win majorities in both (51 seats in the House, 21 in the Senate) if progressive Arlingtonians want to protect and advance their short- and long-term values.

I am glad to report that Democrats have a historic 92 candidates running for the House this year, and the potential to take the majority is tantalizing. Unfortunately, we have no statewide or national election on the ballot that would lead to boosts in turnout. If, for example, the Democratic voters of Stafford and Prince William Counties stay home, Republican candidates who want — on the record — to repeal Medicaid expansion, ban abortion, make it harder to vote, and continue to block the ERA will win and remain in the majority. If swing voters sit this November out, Arlington will continue to be a step behind where we could be if the General Assembly were controlled by Democrats.

No, there has been no lulling Arlington Democrats to sleep this year. Arlingtonians have been exporting themselves–their time, their money — to other parts of the Commonwealth to ensure our impending victory. I urge you to join me in this crucial battle for Virginia.

Vote on November 5 — or before that if you meet the criteria required to vote early–and volunteer if you can. Contact friends and family across the Commonwealth and let them know how high the stakes are. We must do all we can to ensure a strong turnout and send a strong message in every corner of the Commonwealth–for all of us.

Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean. He practices law in Arlington with Bean Kinney & Korman, P.C.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Matt de Ferranti

Last year, Arlington voters gave me the opportunity to serve. I am deeply grateful and am working my heart out. Here’s how:

On January 2, I laid out two issues for my first six months: Amazon and the FY 2020 Budget. I also spoke about my five priorities: growing our economy to benefit all of us, building the schools we need, housing affordability, 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and ending child hunger here by 2022.

Amazon

I voted for the targeted, performance-based incentive agreement for Amazon. I believed then and now that it will help grow our economy, bring down our office vacancy rate, and help us afford the investments we need. I admit, however, that the housing affordability issues that impact our community will require more commitment and creativity. My thoughts on Amazon: HQ2.

The FY 2020 Budget

I am also proud, on balance, to have voted for the FY 2020 budget. Helping Arlington Public Schools open five new schools this year and investing in the services our community needs via a 2-cent increase in tax rates was the right balance, all priorities and constraints considered.

My Five Priorities from Last Year

I believe we are moving in the right direction on the priorities I promised to work on. The office vacancy rate is down to 16.6% from over 18% last year and, though there are costs, the net additional revenue due to economic growth will make our budgets steadily easier, though by no means a cakewalk.

On 100% renewable electricity by 2035, we voted on September 21, 2019, to put this goal into policy in the Community Energy Plan. I am very proud to have pushed for the strongest plan possible.

On housing affordability, the Housing Grant and Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) investments this past year were a start, but I am eager to follow up and follow through in a thoughtful, equitable way on the ideas that Housing Arlington has and will bring forward. That means finding additional funding to help the 9,000 households in Arlington who live on less than $36,000 a year and addressing missing middle housing types to provide more options for middle-income households.

On building the schools we need to educate every child well, the annual budget plays a role, but next year’s Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) will be critical. I am working on this through the Joint Facilities Advisory Council.

On ending child hunger in Arlington by 2022, I have made the least progress on this important goal. I am hopeful that the Equity Resolution that the Board passed on September 21, 2019, will serve as a catalyst for the work I and we must do to help the more than 4,000 children who face food insecurity.

What’s Next? Stormwater and Housing Affordability

The July 8, 2019 flood brought to light stormwater issues that we must address. Walking through the homes damaged by the worst flood we have seen since 2007 brought tears to my eyes. The flooding was caused by many contributing factors, including the most rainfall ever recorded in Arlington in an hour period; policies from the 1930s through ’80s that undergrounded streams; and, to a lesser extent, recent growth, among other reasons. Two truths drive my thinking: we cannot and will not fix this overnight, and we must work diligently and with urgency to build a better stormwater system.

On housing affordability, we had big challenges before I took office, but the changes to the housing market that Amazon has accentuated cannot be ignored. We must bring forward new, Arlington-specific solutions to help make homeownership affordable and better serve renters in need. Those solutions will require that we evolve and apply our values to this new challenge. But, to be clear, we must and will invest in housing affordability in a smart, fiscally sound way.

As a whole, I am proud of and love the work we are doing together.

Matt de Ferranti was elected to the Arlington County Board in November 2018. He currently works as Senior Legislative Counsel for the National Indian Education Association. Before de Ferranti joined the Board, he served on Arlington’s Housing Commission, as Chair of the APS Budget Advisory Council, and on the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC).

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Cheryl Moore

After the elections in November 2018, my friend Judy asked me if Virginia employers are required to give their employees time off to vote. A friend of hers had been dismayed that her employer wouldn’t let her leave early so she could get to the polls. An hourly wage earner, she had tried to vote when the polls first opened, but the long lines would have made her late for work.

Arlington has an enviable voter turnout record–82% in the 2016 presidential election and 71% in 2018–but that conversation made me wonder if our elected officials and governments could be doing more to ensure that every eligible voter can exercise her Constitutional right to vote.

Mandate paid time off to vote?Although some states require that employees receive time off to vote, Virginia is not one of them. This puts some potential voters–often hourly workers who do not have much control over their schedule–at a disadvantage.

During Virginia’s 2019 legislative session, Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Dale City) introduced HB 2130, to require that employers give their employees two hours of paid time off to vote. Unfortunately, the bill died in the House Commerce & Labor Sub-Committee with a vote along party lines.

Of course, voters may vote absentee by mail if one of several reasons apply, and in Arlington, in-person absentee voting is available before elections. But this doesn’t help someone like Judy’s friend who had fully intended to vote on Election Day and had her plans stymied.

Simplify absentee rules and add voting sites?

The number of Arlingtonians voting absentee in recent elections has risen dramatically. In the November 2018 elections, absentee turnout was the highest ever for a non-presidential election with 20,753 ballots cast (8,198 by mail and 12,555 in-person). With legislation passed in 2019 by the General Assembly, Virginians in 2020 will be able for the first time to vote early–from October 24 through October 31–without needing to provide a reason.

Early and by-mail absentee voting will help reduce lines and crowded parking, which sometimes discourage people from voting on Election Day. Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s new registrar, told me that her office is already working to improve the absentee in-person voting experience in 2020 by moving the voting machines into a bigger space in the County Government building and adding two additional early-voting sites elsewhere.

Tailor outreach to a changing Arlington population?

The population of potential voters in neighborhoods like Crystal City and Pentagon City is booming, with more high-rise apartments coming on the market and Amazon arriving. Reinemeyer pointed out that many young professionals moving into Arlington are harder to reach via traditional communication methods. “We need to change our messaging to younger voters and make sure they know the options in simple language–in-person, by mail or online–choose your own adventure!” she said.

Make it easier to register and vote?

Los Angeles is making dramatic changes that will take effect in March 2020. Los Angeles County is transitioning from polling places to vote centers, which will allow voters to cast a ballot at any vote center in the county over an 11-day period. Same-day registration will be available.

Allowing same-day registration or shifting from precincts to vote centers would require legislation from the Virginia General Assembly. The same is true for “automatic” registration done when citizens get a driver’s license, so that they must opt out if they do not wish to register. Automatic registration leads to cleaner voter registration rolls because it updates existing registrations with current addresses.
The optionof signing up through DMV is available now in Virginia, but it has been a paper-heavy process that has left room for errors.

Virginia did make some changes in years past, including online registration, with a DMV-issued ID, and pre-registration, which allows individuals younger than 18 to register so they are eligible to vote when they turn 18.

Despite what states and localities can change to improve ease of registration and voting, some people still shrug and say their vote doesn’t make a difference, especially in non-presidential elections. But democracy depends on the willingness of every citizen to express an opinion by voting. If you care about climate change or gun control, local development decisions or school achievement gaps, the time to make voting a habit is now. Let’s keep working to make every step of the process even better.

Cheryl Moore, a Westover resident, has been a faithful voter since she turned 18. She has lived in Arlington for 35 years.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Anne Vor der Bruegge

Given Arlington’s top national rankings in housing market competitiveness and child care costs, some say our region is destined to become another San Francisco, where affordability challenges have forced lower income people out and led to 2-hour commutes. Yet, we will always need child care workers, office cleaners and other workers whose role you may not have thought about. Virginia Hospital Center, for instance, needs personnel 24/7 to sterilize, process and distribute surgical equipment. But turnover costs are high if those employees are commuting from far suburbs and being tempted to take a position in other hospitals they pass on the way to Arlington.

No one wins if such workers have to commute long hours because living in or near Arlington is unaffordable. Ensuring that people of all economic backgrounds can thrive here is part of assuring Arlington’s vitality. Arlington is at a critical–some would say even risky–juncture as it tries to balance inclusivity with economic growth.

Could you live in Arlington with a family of four if you made less than $35,000 per year? About 9,000 households do, and they are facing increasing challenges to stay here. It will take both the government and private sector to make structural course-corrections to ensure residents of lesser means can continue to contribute to and share in our community’s prosperity.

Increasingly, businesses acknowledge the importance of local economic inclusivity. This means going beyond traditional corporate giving and volunteerism to make systemic community-level changes. Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., points out that Business Roundtable members recognize the priority of “investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term.”

Last spring, the Shared Prosperity Partnership–the Urban Institute, Kresge Foundation, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and Living Cities–selected the Arlington Community Foundation (ACF) to convene local large businesses, along with our government and nonprofit partners, to address the displacement of Arlington’s low-income residents. We are examining new practices for workforce development and housing affordability and seeking innovative private investments to help households making under $35,000 stay in Arlington.

What specifically can businesses do to make structural impact? Here are a few examples.

1. Voluntarily offer a living wage. The MIT living wage calculator for Arlington indicates that an individual needs to make $17.44 per hour to cover the most basic expenses, yet the Virginia minimum wage remains $7.25. Companies can voluntarily set living wages for their employees, cleaning contractors and other vendors. For example, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles airports, set annually adjusted wages of nearly $15 per hour for airport vendors and just over $12 per hour for 4,500 support services employees such as baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants. This improves retention in jobs that keep our airports secure and fully functioning.

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