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Tag Archive: family economic security

  1. School Meals Provide a Guarantee That Children Will Get Fed

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    Young people can learn and thrive when they are fed and have access to healthy and nutritious foods. However, in Virginia, one in ten children are considered food insecure and may face hunger. Children are considered food insecure when their households experience limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food at some point during the year.

    While significant efforts to improve food security have been in place during the pandemic—such as the enhanced Child Tax Credit, expanded SNAP benefits, Pandemic EBT, and universal school meals—unfortunately, these programs were designed to be temporary. Many of the supports that helped feed young people and lift their families out of poverty have already come to an end or will end once the Federal Public Health Emergency expires.

    The pandemic demonstrated that when it comes to ensuring young people have access to nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food, there are programs that work. And one thing we are certain of is that school meals play a crucial role in providing the nutrition children need to support their academic success and overall well-being.

    This school year, Congress did not extend the federal waiver authority that allowed all young people access to free school meals over the last two years. As a result, schools have gone back to pre-pandemic operations, requiring families to submit an application to their child’s school to determine if their child is eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

    Voices is grateful to Virginia legislators who included $8.2 million in state funds over the next two years to cover the out-of-pocket costs of Virginia’s young people who qualified for reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches. The state funding will allow roughly 64,500 children from households whose incomes are between 130-149% of the poverty level to get their school meals for free rather than at reduced-price. But that still does not remove the barriers to food access created by the requirement to fill out paperwork for students to receive those meals at no cost to their families.

    A program that does remove barriers is the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Through CEP participation, school divisions are able to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge and without processing school meal applications.

     

    How Can Schools Participate and Why Should They?

    A school district, group of schools in a district, or individual school with 40% or more “identified students” can choose to participate in the CEP on a four-year cycle. Identified students are young people who are eligible for free school meals and are already identified by means other than a school meals application, such as:

    • students whose households participate in SNAP, TANF, and in some states (including Virginia), Medicaid benefits,
    • as well as students who are certified for free school meals because they are identified as homeless, migrant, runaway, enrolled in head start, or are in foster care.

    The Community Eligibility Provision promotes equity, reduces stigma, and saves schools significant time by reducing administrative burdens. Some of the benefits of CEP include:

    Helping economically disadvantaged students and their families

    • Parents are assured that students are getting two healthy meals a day at school
    • Families’ financial burden is eased when students eat school meals
    • Offering meals at no charge to all students eliminates stigma and “school lunch shaming”

    Increasing efficiency and school meal participation

    • Families don’t encounter language and literacy barriers to access through the application process
    • Schools do not need to track each meal served by fee category (free, reduced-price, and paid)
    • School nutrition staff do not need to collect fees or lunch numbers from students, allowing the lunch line to move faster and ensuring more students can be served
    • Eliminates unpaid school meal debt

     

    Virginia’s Utilization of CEP

    Virginia has made significant progress to encourage school divisions to reduce barriers to offering free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision. During the 2021-2022 school year, out of Virginia’s 145 school districts, 97 divisions (67%) were eligible to participate in CEP and 81 of those divisions participated division-wide. According to the Food Research & Action Center, Virginia had the largest growth in the number of school districts adopting CEP, increasing by 25 school districts.

    Despite these numbers, there are roughly 50 school divisions that have no CEP opportunities or CEP opportunities are only available at a limited number of schools.

    As inflation has hit a 40-year high, families across Virginia—especially those in areas with a high cost of living—are struggling to make ends meet. And as a result, families who do not qualify for free or reduced-price school meals are more likely to now experience food insecurity.

    Virginia can work to ensure that less children experience food insecurity by expanding SNAP benefits and working to reduce the SNAP participation gap amongst families, supporting school divisions in an effort to maximize opportunities for adopting CEP, and continuing to fund and maintain the elimination of the reduced-price meal category for school meals.

     

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is a member of the Virginia Food Access Coalition, a statewide coalition that develops policy solutions to increase economic access to healthy and nutritious foods by investing in retail infrastructures and programmatic initiatives to combat areas of food insecurity.

  2. Continuing Our Efforts for Tax Credits and Economic Stability for Families

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    Virginia reached an important policy milestone this year — the General Assembly approved a state refund for a portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) available to low-income working families. For the 2023 tax filings, families who qualify for the EITC will receive the refund on their federal taxes. At the state level, Virginia will give an additional refund equal to 15% of the federal refund.

    Tax refunds help families experiencing material hardship or poverty meet many of their basic needs and can be used as needed to pay off debts, pay rent or put food on the table. These refunds are especially impactful during times of inflation and when COVID response policies are starting to come to an end.

    Later this summer or early this fall families will also receive a one-time tax relief payment due to larger than expected revenue surpluses in the state budget. People with taxable income will receive a refund, but those who earn too little to owe taxes will not. And unlike the EITC, family size will not be factored into the payment—only marital status. These one-time refund plans fail to consider the additional expenses of feeding a larger family or child care needs for families with young children.

    What Could Be Next for Families?

    While this year marks an important step to provide more families with tax relief, it is helpful to take a step back and see where other states have built policies to support families. As most other states have wrapped up their legislative activity for the year, we can share how other states have designed tax refund policies that specifically support children and families.

    Recently ten states* have introduced legislation to create state-level child tax credits. Vermont is the most recent state to approve a child tax credit for families with children under five earning less than $125,000 per year. Vermont now joins the nine other states who have a child tax credit already in place for families (CaliforniaColorado, Idaho, Maine, MarylandMassachusettsNew Mexico, New York and Oklahoma).

    These states have provided a model that Virginia should consider. These are states who are governed by both Republicans and Democrats, but they have united behind state refunds to support families. Targeting refunds, in conjunction with the refundable EITC, impacts families’ economic security and lowers their level of hardship. Economic hardship is a main reason that children and parents experience trauma, depression, emotional distress. These negative outcomes mean economic hardship also puts children at risk of entering foster care. Additional state refunds can reduce these negative outcomes. Research on the federal child tax credit found that families used the additional funds to meet basic needs for food, utilities and clothing.

    By targeting tax credits to low-income families, these refunds can also reduce inequity. Black and Brown families make up the lowest income families in Virginia and experience disproportionate economic hardship. Choices to expand the EITC and to target Child Tax Credit can provide more financial resources to the families who have often been left behind.

    In the coming months, we anticipate waves of financial uncertainty for families dealing with higher gas prices, increasing rents, and universal free school meals coming to an end. If lawmakers provide additional savings and stability to communities facing uncertainty, our families would feel better about providing for their families and their children would feel more secure.

    We all want Virginia to be the best place to raise children and provide opportunities for them to grow up, but our tax policy is not in line with that belief. It’s time to join the other states in prioritizing children and families and offer targeted tax relief to families.

    *Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia

  3. Improving Family Economic Security Reduces Child Maltreatment

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    Guest Post by Jamia “Mia” Crockett, Chief Executive Officer of Families Forward Virginia

    Families Forward Virginia, in partnership with the Division of Family Services at Virginia Department of Social Services is observing National Child Abuse Prevention Month during April. This year, our advocacy is dedicated to “Growing a Better Tomorrow for All Children Together!”

    The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social supports and remaining connected to people. Unfortunately, as a system in Virginia, we have not been doing this work well for many years. State systems and community partners have often unintentionally worked in silos, leading to missed opportunities, broken safety nets and minimal collaboration across agencies.

    Strengthening family financial security is key to reduce child maltreatment and to enhance the relationships that help children thrive. When families face financial hardship, it sets the stage for more stress and less tuned-in interaction with children. Boosting family incomes through emergency direct payments, tax credits and paid family leave can relieve pressure and prevent childhood adversity from occurring. The General Assembly can give families with kids more support by making Virginia’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable. Virginia’s current EITC is non-refundable, capping the amount of the credit available to families. A refundable EITC would help budget incomes for working families across the state.

    As a rule, parents want what’s best for their children. We also know that children don’t come with instruction manuals. Even in good times, parenting is one of the most challenging jobs. All parents need help learning how to raise and teach their children. It’s especially critical for parents who didn’t have good role models themselves, don’t have help from relatives, or can’t access programs such as home visiting where they learn skills and understand what behaviors and skills are appropriate for specific ages.

    Clearly, we’re not all experiencing this pandemic in the same way. Through our 50 affiliates across Virginia, we’re seeing children and families – who were already struggling – desperately seeking help, dealing with a lack of paid leave, stressing about rent, utilities, medicine, and food with underinsurance or no health insurance. This pandemic has also exposed weaknesses in the child welfare system, such as:

    • Youth aging out of the foster care system without a supportive family
    • Limited access to technology
    • Youth in foster care having insufficient time with parents
    • Lack of flexibility with federal funding
    • Limited access to basic needs, including food, housing, employment
    • Lack of modernization in the judicial system

    Families have the right to live in a world free from fear, violence, or discrimination. Children deserve to experience the whimsical nature of childhood and learn about unfettered opportunities available to them. Instead, some children, especially children of color, have to learn to always get a receipt after making a purchase, why they shouldn’t wear a hoodie, or why they should be wary of how they play in their own front yards.  As a Black mother of 13- and 11-year old sons, I am having to renegotiate what safety looks like. What safety looks like for my daughter, as little girls of color go missing daily with little or no attention.

    Every child is filled with tremendous promise, and we share an obligation to foster their potential. Children need a support system to face adversity and build resilience, but naming and accepting that fact is different from seeing that necessity in everyday life. Before interventions are needed, policymakers need to support families with training and resources that address children’s well-being. That’s why Families Forward Virginia has:

    • Expanded the number of Circle of Parents, a parent peer support program, locations from eight to 17, with multiple Circle groups at each.
    • Facilitated conversations with the Virginia Department of Corrections to develop, train and support Circle of Parents groups to engage with their children proactively and positively both during and after incarceration.
    • Renewed parent leadership engagement across the state because parents must be at the table, creating opportunities and resources for positive family development.
    • Expanded efforts to encourage and drive collaboration among our child abuse prevention affiliates.

    Systems aren’t set in stone. Policymakers created systems, and policymakers must change them to meet new needs and new research. Policies that strengthen family financial security are another key strategy to reduce childhood adversity and enhance the relationships that help children thrive. When families face financial hardship, it sets the stage for more stress and less tuned-in interaction with children.

    Boosting family incomes through emergency direct payments, tax credits and paid family leave can relieve pressure, helping to head off childhood adversity before it happens. We must stand together, continuing to gain allies and speak truth to those in power in the unending fight to foster the potential and promise of every single child in Virginia.

    Join us in taking action today and tell lawmakers to prioritize children and families as they continue state budget negotiations.

    Jamia Crockett is the Chief Executive Officer of Families Forward Virginia.

    Jamia became Families Forward Virginia’s CEO in February 2021, having earlier served on the Board of Directors as Treasurer. Most recently, Jamia worked at Mary Washington Healthcare. She previously worked in various health systems across both Virginia and North Carolina focused on Strategic Planning and Business Development with extensive experience in research and evaluation.

    Jamia has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from William and Mary and a Master’s in Health Administration from VCU. Jamia is also an adjunct professor in executive leadership skills at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  4. How Virginia Families Can Benefit from Proposed Tax Credits

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    Parents have faced numerous challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Child care closures made it more difficult to work. Employment uncertainty and illness made it more difficult to plan ahead. And inflation has impacted day-to-day expenses, where lower income families feel an even greater impact. These material hardships also put an emotional toll on families. Parents have repeatedly reported higher than typical levels of stress and anxiety during the pandemic. Being a parent on a normal day is not an easy job, let alone living through two years of the pandemic.

    In this time of unprecedented tax revenue surplus in Virginia, more than $13 billion over three years, it is time to deliver relief and put money back in the pockets of parents. With multiple tax credit and tax deduction options under consideration, state lawmakers should prioritize ones that benefit low-income families.

    On February 24, 2022, Voices held a press conference, along with Families Forward Virginia and The Commonwealth Institute, to demonstrate how parents could benefit from these tax policy choices and why they need relief. Crystal, a mom living in Franklin, VA asked legislators to act on these tax choices, “I’ve climbed out of the depths of hell to get where I am today…families like mine who are having to decide whether to pay bills or put food on the table.”

    View more of the stories as well as testimony from Delegate Marcia “Cia” Price and Delegate Candi Mundon King here.

    Current Tax Policy Options Considered by the Virginia General Assembly

    1. Partially Refundable EITC

    The partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would benefit approximately 600,000 tax filers in Virginia. This credit is targeted to the lowest income tax filers, most with incomes below $75,000 a year, and the majority are working families with children.

    This option would send a refund check to families in 2023 for the portion of their tax refund that is less than what they owe in state taxes. Currently, tax filers only receive a refund for the federal portion of their taxes. Families could receive an additional $500 refund in the future depending on their income and family size. Learn if your family might be eligible using this EITC calculator from The Commonwealth Institute.

    This option would cost approximately $200 million per year to provide annual tax refunds to lower income working families. The Senate has accepted this proposal, but the House budget includes a different proposal that doubles the standard deduction and reduces available revenues by approximately $600 million per year.

    1. One Time Taxpayer Relief Payment -> “Parent Tax Relief”

    Another option would come from the one-time surplus of revenue in Virginia—a taxpayer relief payment to all tax filers that would arrive sometime between July and November 2021. The General Assembly has created one-time relief payments with one-time surpluses in the past, most recently in 2019. This proposal was included in Governor Northam’s outgoing budget as a relief payment of $250 for single filers and $500 for joint filers. With higher projected tax revenues, Governor Youngkin has proposed increasing the payments to $300/$600. Both the House and the Senate are planning to provide the one-time relief payments, but the Senate budget does not include a specific dollar amount or plan at this time.

    We think it’s time to revisit this proposal to provide more tax relief to families. The current proposal treats tax filers of all income levels the same and does not assume that families with children have higher expenses. Lawmakers have noted that higher income taxpayers do not need the tax relief as much as lower income families, but have not revamped with proposal. With a total estimated cost of $1.2 billion in one-time revenues, we think there is room to make adjustments in this proposal by including an income cap and adjusting payments based on the number of dependents on a family’s state tax return.

    Adjustments to the one-time relief payment could provide a family $1,200 in relief funding compared to $600 as a married filer or $300 as a single filer. One in four taxpayers in Virginia has children in their household. Adjustments to incorporate family size could cost approximately $600 million out of the $1.2 billion. Including an income cap could ensure that taxpayers without children also receive the one-time payment.

    Including children in this calculation recognizes that families have higher costs to put food on the table and cover housing. It also recognizes that economic stability has a positive effect on children, including the very youngest children, especially on their healthy growth and development. Lawmakers should factor in families when considering the one-time relief options.

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  5. Building Back Better for Kids and Families- Update 11.5.21

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    As Congress is poised to act on the social infrastructure agenda known as Build Back Better, we wanted to give a better sense of the transformational impact this legislation will have on kids and families. The goal of Build Back Better is to address the inequities that existed before the pandemic and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The policies are intentionally designed to target economically disadvantaged children, children of color, and women to provide the resources that have previously been unavailable or unaffordable. These policies will also deliver immediate relief to families by continuing the monthly Child Tax Credit payment for the lowest income families and improves conditions in the long-term by providing more equitable access to child care and prenatal care.

    UPDATE 11.5.21- House of Representatives Vote

    Today the House of Representatives will vote on the Bipartisan Infrastructure package and the Build Back Better Act. The Senate has already approved the Infrastructure bill so it will head to the President. The Senate has been given a deadline to approve Build Back Better before Thanksgiving and the contents could change to reach an agreement between the House and Senate. Particularly at risk in the Senate are the paid family leave provisions.    

    Our hope for Build Back Better was that it would provide the three things we heard from families throughout the pandemic that they needed most—child care assistance, flexible cash assistance through the Child Tax Credit, and paid family medical leave. House negotiations and incredible advocates have made it possible to put four weeks of paid family leave back into the bill. It will be critical to continue to speak up to ensure it stays in the Senate version.

    There are many provisions of the Build Back Better plan. Here are some key highlights for children and families:

    Extension of the enhanced Child Tax Credit for one year:

    The new framework keeps the higher payment amounts and fully refundable payments in place for another year. This will allow for the families who previously earned too little to qualify for the benefit to receive assistance and for “little DREAMers” to qualify.  This expansion will impact Black and Latinx children significantly as more than half of the children who were previously excluded for earning too little were children of color. The flexible cash assistance provided through the Child Tax Credit will continue to help families cover basic necessities like food and child care.

    Transformational investments to make child care and preschool more affordable and accessible:

    Congress’s $400 billion investment in child care and preschool will dramatically impact a system that is struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic and help get mothers back into the workforce. The comprehensive proposal addresses the child care supply and affordability angle from all sides—it reduces parent costs to no more than 7% of income, provides resources to increase early educators compensation, and builds on a mixed-delivery system of public, private, and Head Start programs. With funding specifically for 3’s & 4’s in preschool, this significant investment provides an opportunity to improve the child care assistance policies around the needs of infants and toddlers.

    Child and maternal health improvements to address racial disparities:

    While Virginia lawmakers have already approved the extension of Medicaid eligibility for 12 months postpartum, Build Back Better makes this extension a requirement for states. It also includes all of the provision of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus package, which would support training and diversification of the perinatal workforce, maternal health quality improvements, better data systems to track and identify causes of maternal mortality, investments in historically Black colleges and universities to conduct research into maternal health disparities, and grants to support implicit bias training for frontline health care professionals.

    For children, the legislation would require Virginia to provide 12 months of continuous eligibility for Medicaid and FAMIS. Currently about 5% of children enrolled in Medicaid/FAMIS lose their coverage during the year. It also makes the federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (known as FAMIS in VA) permanent.

    Improvements to nutrition access will keep children from going hungry:

    Build Back better would provide better nutrition access to students by expanding the Summer EBT program allowing eligible families to receive additional assistance to purchase meals during the summer months or while schools are closed. The proposal also strengthens the Community Eligibility Provision that allows schools to opt in to provide free meals to the entire school enrollment.

    House version provides four weeks of paid family medical leave:

    Parents need paid family medical leave after the birth of their children, when kids are sick, to care for other families and to provide for their own health. The U.S. is alone among wealthy nations for not providing a paid family leave program. The House proposal would create a program to offer every worker access to a national paid family medical leave program. Creating a universal program will impact more parents of color working in jobs who currently do not offer paid leave. And importantly, it will give more new parents time off to care for their newborns and for mothers to recover from giving birth.

    More to come…

    While more details are forthcoming, the bill also includes investments in trauma-informed care peer support specialists. here are also provisions on immigration reform and affordable higher education that we are monitoring. It’s now up to Congress to act on or improve on this bill. Watch this space for more detailed information on the proposals. Stay tuned on our blog and sign up for emails to get the latest updates.

  6. Child Tax Credit Awareness

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    The stagnation and lack of change in the childhood poverty rate calls for policy makers to do something dramatic and innovative about it. We are excited that the American Rescue Plan included enhancement to the Child Tax Credit to specifically to address childhood poverty with the goal in mind that the increase in cash assistance to families may be able to cut childhood poverty in half.

    The enhancements to Child Tax Credit include:

    • Increasing the credit amount to $3,600 for kids under 6 and $3,000 for kids over 6;
    • Making the credit refundable and paid directly to families;
    • Offering the credit as an advance payment to families July-December, or a monthly allowance, that will be deposited directly into families’ linked bank accounts;

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 86% of children, 1.6 million, will benefit from the enhanced child tax credit in Virginia. And 249,000 kids will be lifted above or closer to the poverty line by the expansion.

    For more info and to access the online tools to update status or file to receive the credit if your family did not have a tax liability, visit ChildTaxCredit.gov.

    Access and download the PDFs below for more information (courtesy of the White House and Annie E. Casey Foundation) by clicking on the thumbnails.

    How policymakers can act to help families experiencing financial hardship and maximize the Child Tax Credit.

    1. During the August Special Session, state lawmakers can dedicate American Rescue Plan resources to improve tax filing outreach and preparation services to ensure non-filers and families with infants receive the credit.
    2. Virginia lawmakers can also provide state level enhancements to the federal tax credits including a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a state-level child tax credit.
    3. Congress can act to make the Child Tax Credit permanent adopting the proposal included in President Biden’s American Families Plan.

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  7. “Never Be Unprepared Again”: The Case for Paid Leave

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    This blog post references a webinar held on May 14, 2021. The recording can be viewed online by clicking here.

    Voices partnered with the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy Virginia and Main Street Alliance to highlight the advocacy opportunities for paid family leave in Virginia. View the recording of the webinar from May 14. Throughout the pandemic we’ve heard from families that access to paid leave makes a significant difference when choosing between keeping their families safe and a paycheck. We’ve also heard from small businesses, like child care programs, that paid leave was a benefit they couldn’t afford to give staff. Right now we have the perfect opportunity to advocate for paid leave to be adopted by Congress and the Virginia legislature so that we will never be unprepared again.

    The Case for Paid Leave for All Families in Virginia

    Most workers in Virginia do not have access to paid family leave, particularly the workforce at the frontlines, those employees who are predominately women and women of color. To ensure strong family connections and the health and safety of young children, we know families can benefit from paid leave. The Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy Virginia is leading the charge to ensure Virginia’s state lawmakers and Congressional representatives champion paid family leave.

    Learn more about the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy Virginia and review the stories of Virginians who needed paid leave, or even share your own story here.

    Paid Leave and Small Businesses

    A state or federal paid leave program could also be a boost for small business owners in helping to reduce costs associated with employee turnover and providing resources so that the financial burden doesn’t fall primarily on the employer. During the webinar, our partners at Main Street Alliance shared evidence of how paid leave can benefit small business and what small business leaders can do to advocate for paid leave to ensure that no small business, like a child care provider, is left out from offering paid family leave to employees.

    Small businesses that wish to learn more about paid leave or advocate for paid family leave in Virginia can connect with Main Street Alliance.

    Tax Credit Resources for Small Business

    Small business leaders should also make note of these tax credit resources that include refundable and retroactive tax credits to small businesses for employees who had to take leave due to COVID-19. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) includes resources for small business to receive refundable tax credits to cover their employees’ leave due to coronavirus related needs.

    Highlights of this tax credit include:

    • For businesses under 500 employees & self-employed who offer paid sick or family leave
    • For COVID-related medical, child care and family leave
    • May be eligible for fully reimbursable credit
    • Available retroactively for 2020 & until Sept. 30, 2021

    Read more from the US Treasury Department’s guide to accessing paid leave credit.

    Contact your Congressional offices to support paid leave now!

  8. 2021 General Assembly Session: Family Economic Security Priorities

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    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.

    Sign up to receive more information regarding the upcoming General Assembly session here.