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Voices’ Blog

2021 General Assembly Session: Family Economic Security Priorities

Posted:  -  By: Chlo'e Edwards

With unemployment rates rising, community centers that families depend upon closing, housing inequities, and widened disparities in growing economic hardships, families across the state and the nation are in urgent need of solid interventions that promote economic prosperity in order to foster household stability. Economic trauma refers to a sustained stressful impact or emotional pain of one’s experience with lack of financial opportunities and poverty. When this trauma is layered with the trauma of the pandemic, food insecurity, housing instability, and racial and ethnic disparities it has compound and complex impacts on communities, in particular, community members that reside in rural and urban localities who may have already faced unique challenges.

We understand the economic challenges that exist for families, communities, and for Virginia, but without policy preventions that promote financial and economic security, families will be presented with even more barriers that will create difficulties for them to reach financial independence. Here are our priorities regarding family economic security in the upcoming session:

  1. Expand paid leave options to protect communities.
  2. Strengthen safety net resources that contribute to economic security.
  3. Increase access to affordable and healthy food options.

Expand Paid Leave Options to Protect Communities Through Time Off Standards

1.2 million Virginians have zero paid sick days or paid time off which amounts to 41 percent of the private-sector. Paid sick days or paid sick leave can be used for short periods of time to recover from a typical illness, such as strep throat, the flu, or now COVID-19. It can also be used for preventative care, such as annual physicals, dentist appointments, or vaccines. Paid sick days are fully paid and may be used to care for a child or other family member recovering from an illness or who needs to be taken to an appointment. Paid family and medical leave is used for longer periods of time for pregnancy/childbirth, adoption of a child, a serious personal illness or health condition, such as cancer, or to care for a family member with a serious personal illness or health condition. This time may be partially or fully paid.

This creates a crisis for low-wage workers, many of whom work the frontlines and serve as the backbone of our economy. When a worker takes 3.5 unpaid sick days, the average family loses a month’s worth of groceries. It puts families in a position where they must choose between working or putting food on the table, staying at home while sick or caring for a loved one who is during the pandemic. 

Expand paid leave options for parents to protect their families and communities: Fifteen states have sick days laws, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Virginia has the opportunity to be the sixteenth state by creating a paid time off standard.

Strengthen Safety Net Resources for Families 

Over 245,000 children were impoverished in 2019. Today, families face exacerbated conditions derived from unemployment, illness, the closing of a nearby community center that they relied on, and more. The impact of COVID-19 further widens disparities for Black and Latinx households. Children are already more likely to experience economic hardships. When an economic downturn occurs over a prolonged period of time, this creates toxic stress. Poverty reduces the ability for children and families to have access to transportation, housing, child care, food, and more. Virginia has taken incremental steps in order to combat economic trauma, but now is the time to be bold. 

Strengthen safety net resources for families, such as TANF cash assistance, child care subsidies, and SNAP nutrition benefits: The TANF program provides eligible families with a monthly cash payment to meet their basic needs. While there was a 15 percent increase in monthly cash assistances provided by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program has not kept up with the rate of inflation. Virginia should take advantage of this surplus in order to ensure families have access to their most basic needs during this time in order to foster financial independence and opportunity so that families survive the pandemic.

Increase Access to Affordable and Healthy Food Options

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research, in 2015, 12.8 percent of the United States population lived in low income and low food access areas. 1,186,877 of Virginia’s population lives in food deserts.  COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity rate from 9.9 percent to 13.1 percent according to Feeding America. A food desert neighborhood generally lacks a nearby supermarket or large grocery store because of the cost food retailers face when building or operating a store in those locations. Barriers include the price of land or higher rent in food desert neighborhoods. Some food deserts are too far from convenient delivery routes while others may have crime or security concerns. This requires those within these localities to make a trade-off between important needs, such as housing or medical bills or purchasing nutritionally adequate food due to the lack of affordable healthy foods locally.

Increase access to affordable and healthy food options in undeserved communities: Food insecurity is an issue that exists in Virginia’s inner cities, small towns, or rural communities. While 1.25 million was invested in the Virginia Food Access Investment Program and Fund last year, community centers that impoverished communities rely on have diminished because of the pandemic. Virginia must invest in funding that expands infrastructure and healthy food projects and businesses by providing funding to support the establishment, construction, rehabilitation, equipment upgrades, expansion of grocery stores, and other innovative retail projects in underserved communities.

Our Ask: Increase of $4.75M to expand the number of retailers and entrepreneurs who will provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables and SNAP incentives in underserved communities and bridge the gaps in our food supply system, especially in food deserts. Additional monies are critical to leveraging the remaining federally funded incentive dollars before they expire.

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