Voices’ Blog

2020 Special Session Budget Update: House and Senate Make Decisions to Support Kids & Families

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

On Friday, Sept. 25, the Virginia House and Senate announced their priorities to restore funding in the state budget for children and families experiencing economic hardship and emotional trauma. While a good start, we know these actions alone will not resolve the challenges that children and families are facing. As the House and Senate negotiate their differences in their budget approaches in the coming weeks, Voices encourages advocates to speak up to state elected officials to ensure a final budget which invests in children.

We are pleased to see the House and Senate choose spending priorities using additional COVID relief funds (CARES Act funds) from the federal government for child care stabilization grants, additional unemployment assistance, and to support a safe return to school. It is critical to take action on these funds which must be allocated by the end of December 2020.

Keep Children and Families Economically Secure and Food Secure

  • The House provided $210 mil for unemployment benefits.
  • The Senate included a 15% increase in cash assistance for two-parent families who could qualify for TANF.
  • The House included an additional $7 mil for food banks.
  • Both budgets included proposals to address eviction moratoriums and utility cut offs. We will share more information about these proposals soon.

Expand Access to Health Insurance

  • The Senate restored funding to expand health care access to legal permanent residents impacted by the 40-quarter rule and to extend Medicaid Coverage for low-income pregnant women for up to 12 months. The House proposed taking these actions later if the state meets revenue benchmarks.
  • The Senate supported a dental benefit for adults covered by Medicaid.

Keep Children and Families Emotionally Secure and Supported

  • The Senate restored over $6.3 mil to expand the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP) for children.
  • The Senate also restored over $11.5 mil to build a continuum of mental health crisis services for adults and children at our Community Services Boards (CSBs).

Support the Early Education and Care Industry

  • The House doubled the Governor’s proposal of $16.6 mil for school-age child care during virtual learning to $33.2 mil and added a $60 mil child care stabilization fund. The Senate included $20 mil for a child care stabilization fund.

Return to School Safely

  • The House and Senate both included $200 mil in additional funding to flexible needs for the return to school. Both restored most of the $95 million to state aid for education due to declining sales tax revenue.

Support Foster Families 

  • The budget proposals did not restore funding to child welfare or foster families. Read more about what was not included on our foster care blog.

 Contingency Funds

If revenue projections stabilize or improve, the House and Senate recommend taking these actions to restore funding in the current year and next fiscal year:

  • Provide $6.6 mil to expand access to school meals.
  • Partial implementation of STEP-VA mental health services (outpatient treatment, peer supports, veterans’ services) at Community Services Boards, increased Medicaid rates for behavioral health providers, increased rates for children’s psychiatric residential treatment facilities, and enhanced behavioral health services for children and families with Medicaid.
  • Increase funding for the at-risk add on for students in high poverty school divisions and expanding access to pre-K for 3 & 4 year-old students.
  • Allow funding to expand home visiting programs through Medicaid.
  • Provide funding to local department of social services for prevention services.

There are a few more steps in this process….

Step 1: The House and Senate will send their budgets to a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators to work out the differences. This will likely occur the week of Oct. 5 – Oct. 16.

Step 2: Advocates weigh in with their state legislators to support these priorities. Look for more action alerts and opportunities to weigh in!

Step 3: The House and Senate will vote on the final budget. Since it is relevant to the current fiscal year, new funds from the CARES Act, other federal funds, and general funds will be available ASAP after the budget is signed by the Governor.

Step 4: In November, the Governor and General Assembly will revisit the revenue projections for the next two years. If revenue projections hold steady or improve, funding can be unlocked from the contingency fund.

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