Arlington County to focus on equity during pandemic recovery

With Arlington County, Virginia, in Phase Two of the reopening plan, officials continue to look at the next steps for pandemic recovery.

And County Board Chair Libby Garvey said it was time to move forward and focus on equity during her State of the County address Tuesday.

With the coronavirus pandemic becoming a major health and economic crisis, Arlington County has had to shift its focus to covering basic needs, such as food, shelter and health care.

“Over the past months, we’ve all seen how our most vulnerable are the least able to quarantine, the least able to work from home, or to survive an economy in free fall,” Garvey said.

Though Northern Virginia has had to enter the commonwealth’s reopening stages behind the majority of Virginia, Arlington County is seeing a downward trend in key health metrics, with Garvey saying, “considering everything, we’re doing pretty well.”

Her focus now is on equity, resilience and innovation to ensure progress for all.

Any decisions, she said, must take into consideration the county’s equity resolution plan to encourage economic growth by asking who benefits, who is burdened, who is missing and how officials identify them.

The importance of addressing racial equity is a starting point to move forward, Garvey said.

“What has been so clear to black people throughout this nation’s history became clear to the entire world — it was not pretty,” said Garvey.

Recent events across the U.S., including widespread protests following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, have made for renewed conversations around race, access to health care, small businesses and new ways to engage.

Garvey said innovation within the Police Department and the county government should never stop, adding, “not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the economically smart thing to do.”

Another mission for Arlington County would be to secure more funds to help small businesses, she said.

Currently, those hit hard by the pandemic can receive help through the small business emergency grant program. More than 1,100 businesses have applied, Garvey said, and at least 63% of them are owned by women or minorities.

“With an additional $1.6 million, we can provide grants to a total of 400 businesses, more than 50% of those that … were eligible,” Garvey said.

Going forward, Arlington County will look at housing, land use and policy areas to guide future development, she added.

Residents are invited to continue the conversation at Tuesday night’s county board meeting.

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