Spring blossoms came with major adjustments for our county, particularly for the underprivileged. On the upside, we have the region’s lowest unemployment rate (2.1 percent), and I spot quite a few “we’re hiring” signs along Langston Blvd.
But with the declared pandemic officially ending on May 11, certain population sectors have been dealing with the federal cutoff in Covid benefits for months. Virginia’s planned yearlong “unwinding” of Medicaid benefits began on May Day, and the enhanced federal SNAP (food stamps) benefits averaging an extra $90 monthly ended in February. Add in a drop in rent relief and you get the “benefits cliff” that hits Black, Latino and Asian Arlingtonians the hardest.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center in early March provided groceries to “a historic number of families in a single week,” I’m told by its CEO Charlie Meng. During the week ending March 12, it served 3,055 families, “the first time in 35 years that the number of families served surpassed 3,000 in a seven-day period. As inflation continues and families grapple with the end of the pandemic-era boost in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, the need for local food assistance is greater than ever,” added Meng, who recently expanded operations into Alexandria. “Our families cannot get a break. First it was the pandemic, then inflation, and now the loss of SNAP benefits means they are worse off than they were before March of 2020.”
Arlington’s programs to address the unhoused, through a partnership with the nonprofit PathForward, served 1,070 persons, according to the county’s just-released annual report on Homelessness Continuum of Care. That rate would have been higher without $20 million in state, federal and local money that aided more than 3,400 households during Covid, it calculated.
“The total number of individuals served in fiscal 2022 was almost identical to pre-pandemic levels,” said Human Services Department Director Anita Friedman. “Without strong eviction prevention efforts, we would have seen many more households upended and in crisis. Nonetheless, for those households, it is traumatic, and we remain committed to working alongside them as they return to housing stability. We will also continue to address critical gaps, including in areas of racial equity, immigrant and refugee households, and the aging population.”
Since 2018, there has been an 84 percent increase in providing emergency shelter for survivors of intimate partner violence and their children.
Nonprofits “are seeing really dire things,” said Anne Vor der Bruegge, director of grants initiatives at the Arlington Community Foundation. “Even though the pandemic emergency phase is ending and people are moving on, those benefits are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Those temporary programs, she said, gave “a lot of flexibility to folks, for example, relaxing work requirements for people with housing grants because people were not able to get to work or lacked child care. Combine it with inflation, and the gap between actual and living wages is now even larger.”
Her team also sees new pressure from evictions as state and federal rent relief is scaled back. “To Arlington’s credit, the county has put as much as it can find into rent relief, but it’s still a serious situation.” With the fiscal 2024 budget providing $4.6 million for eviction prevention, Vor der Bruegge said “Arlington is the only local jurisdiction that stepped up significantly to help renters still in arrears.”
Get ready for a dust-up between Glencarlyn neighborhood preservationists and Virginia Hospital Center.
The hospital in January signed a letter of intent to purchase 5.8 acres of county land at 601 S. Carlin Springs Rd., where it will construct a behavioral health and rehab facility. But a working group from the civic association is concerned there’s no spelled-out plan to preserve the marked spring owned by 18th century landowner Moses Ball, on adjoining land retained by the county.
A movement is afoot to seek historical designation so that archaeologists might explore the stream. VHC did not respond to calls. The county Historic Preservation program says it awaits further information.
The News-Press apologizes for misnaming YIMBYs of NoVa in last week’s print edition.