Tag Archive: general assembly session

  1. 2022 General Assembly Budget Passes with Bipartisan Progress for Kids

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    Click here to register for our upcoming Zoom webinar on June 14 as we discuss General Assembly results and what they mean for children and families in Virginia.

    After several months of negotiations and discussions among key decision makers, the General Assembly has reached an agreement on the budget. This year’s budget had notable investments in early education, foster care, and children’s mental health through bipartisan support. Since budgets are a reflection of priorities, we believe there are improvements Virginia can make to demonstrate its commitment to young people in the commonwealth.

    Notable investments in the final budget compromise include:

    • Expanding affordable, accessible early childhood education for young children around the state. The budget builds on Governor Northam’s vision to expand early childhood programming and provides funding for regional initiatives in Southwest Virginia and early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.
    • State funding for school-based mental health integration projects linking mental health services into schools. The legislature approved $2.5 million for school-based mental health projects as well as the first regional recovery high school in Virginia.
    • New initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the child welfare system include replacing the outdated child welfare data tracking system and the iFoster web-based portal for youth, expanded regional collaboration for foster placements, and additional support for foster youth seeking associate’s degrees to participate in Great Expectations.
    • $1 million each year to boost the buying power of SNAP benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and community retailers.

    We are proud to stand by the youth and young adults who advocated with us for these investments. And we will continue to speak up for policy changes designed to meet their needs.

    As one of our youth advocates said,

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.”

    – (Aaliyana, 16 years old).

    While these initiatives will continue to create new opportunities for young children to grow and thrive, the foundation of their success is economic stability. The rate of children experiencing poverty has remained consistent for decades in Virginia with persistent racial disparities in the percentage of Black and Latino children living in poverty than their White peers. A solid foundation for child well-being rests on a solid financial foundation for their families.

    As a significant commitment to families, the General Assembly approved a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC):

    • Low-income working families who have a higher-than-average tax burden will see 15% of the value of their federal refund returned as a state tax credit.
    • In addition, this summer, taxpayers will receive one-time rebates of $250 for single families and $500 for married couples.

    The refundable EITC for families demonstrates that lawmakers can take necessary action to address long-standing challenges for families that were exacerbated by the pandemic. There will be more work to do to ensure that families receive economic support and stability that will address decades-long trends in child poverty and ever-increasing material hardship experienced by families across the state.

  2. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap


    (Pictured above: Cohort members and Voices’ staff take a “before” picture before embarking on their legislative meetings.)

    “Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let you silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old, from Hampton, VA


    Our 2022 Advocacy Cohort completed their Youth Advocacy Day on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Fifteen youth and young adults, ages 14 – 25, divided into four small but mighty groups to meet with fifteen policymakers (a combination of Delegates and Senators) throughout the afternoon. Advocates presented on key issues impacting themselves and their communities such as the state of youth mental health, improvements for the foster care system, needed supports and protections for LGBTIQIA+ youth, and equitable access to health coverage.

    “I talked about being trans and the discrimination that LGBTQ kids face in schools, and the fact that we endure so much… People are really hateful and spiteful and say horrible things… I’ve been asking for there to be some sort of set punishment and just understanding of why [these protections] are so important.” – Grace, 14 years old

    “Whether we’re fighting for health care or mental health services or more inclusive classrooms or more inclusive language or anything of that nature, my main thing was just making sure that we’re considering our young people every step of the way, because the choices that our policymakers and legislators make today, we’re gonna have to deal with tomorrow.” – Elijah, 14 years old

    Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer

    (Pictured above: Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer.)

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.” – Aaliyana, 16 years old

    “I talked about how bullying is equated to hate crimes at the moment and how that’s just unacceptable because they are two very different things. I asked a lot of the people we spoke with to start building [more protective] systems into schools.” – Chanel, 19 years old

    Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey

    (Pictured above: Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey.)

    “There’s just a lack of help… because of language access. I also talked about health insurance and… the human right to just being able to access [medical and mental health treatment].” – Naomi, 17 years old

    Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney

    (Pictured above: Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney.)

    Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath

    (Pictured above: Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath.)

    Originally scheduled to be a series of in-person events and legislative meetings, the cohort quickly pivoted in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and worked together to support and encourage one another throughout the virtual advocacy day. Cohort participants worked with Policy Team members to practice storytelling and connecting their experiences to policy and upcoming legislation.

    This group of changemakers left legislators and the Voices’ team completely inspired, moved, and awe-struck. We know their courageous storytelling is making incredible impact and we were honored and humbled to support them on their advocacy journeys.

  3. Increasing Language Access & Equity in Virginia

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    Virginia is home to speakers of many languages. However, the access to language services are inconsistent across the state varying from agency to agency. Without these consistencies, there are no statewide guidelines to ensuring limited English proficient (LEP) individuals can get access to the adequate services they need. According to Voices for Virginia’s Children:

    • 1 in 4 children are immigrants or living in an immigrant family;
    • 1 in 5 children in Virginia speak a language other than English;
    • 44,000 children may require language access services;

    Languages most often spoken by speakers with limited English proficiency in Virginia include Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166 requires recipients of federal financial assistance to take reasonable steps to make their programs, services, and activities accessible to individuals who are eligible with limited English proficiency.

    In April 2021, the Virginia Department of Health published instructions for English-speaking readers stating the COVID-19 vaccine “will not be required for Virginians.” However, the Spanish-language translation conducted through a Google Translation widget stated, the COVID-19 vaccine, “no sera necesario,” or will not be necessary. Notably, Virginia may have further exacerbated disparities minority communities were already facing. While the public was encouraged to seek credible information, the state failed to ensure it was comprehensive to all.

    During the 2021 special legislative session, $500,000 was included in the budget for a language access translation planning consulting services report, which highlighted 3 in 4 state agencies could not meet LEP speaker needs most of the time. These kinds of barriers have been exacerbated by the urgent needs of the pandemic, which makes an already lengthy process, such as getting access to unemployment in Virginia even lengthier for speakers who are LEP.

    Three bills have been introduced during the Virginia General Assembly Session to increase language access and ensure every family is able to gain access to the information and services they need, including their health care options. Each bill focuses on supporting language access for the following areas:

    • (SB 270 & HB 1049) – all state agencies (services provision and administration);
    • (HB 987) – a Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) bill that will specifically impact Medicaid in the state code and will address that part of the code;
    • (SB 245) – DMAS, and medical debt.

    In addition to language access, the medical debt bill includes critical provisions to ensure linguistically marginalized communities in Virginia (LMCs) understand their medical bills, know their rights to medical debt assistance, and receive essential information in-language.

     SB 270 & HB 1049 notably establishes basic principles so that all Virginians are able to access state agency services feasibly; the legislation

    1. Requires each state agency to adopt a language access policy (implementing the Commonwealth’s policy) by November 1, 2023. 
    2. Requires each agency to designate a language access coordinator who will be responsible for developing and implementing the agency’s language access policy and preparing the agency’s annual language access report. 
    3. Establishes an Interagency Working Group on Language Access that will develop a model language access policy for adoption by state agencies and will make recommendations for policy and funding changes to ensure language access needs, particularly for populations who do not speak one of the 10 major foreign languages.
    4. Requires Secretary of Administration to establish criteria for the procurement of language interpretation and translation services by state agencies and determine qualifications of and compensation for state employees who are multilingual and are required as part of their job to provide interpretation, translation, or other bilingual skills at least once a month.
    5. Codifies Virginia agencies’ Title VI obligations.

    Since 2006, at least 43 states have enacted law(s) addressing language access in healthcare settings. Virginia has the opportunity to join others and further lead. 

    Take Action.

    Click here to send a message to your public official.

  4. 2021 General Assembly Session: Family Economic Security Priorities


    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.