Tag Archive: health

  1. 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.

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  2. 2021 General Assembly Session: Health Care Priorities

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    While the entire world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, America and Virginia face dual pandemics, COVID-19 and racism as a public health crisis. Public health looks at how external factors influence health outcomes, such as how racism, poverty, food access, and environmental inequities collectively contribute to physical, social, and emotional health.  The solutions require a multi-faceted response that promotes a multi-sector continuum of care. The pandemic has shed light on the importance of how one’s awareness of their own health can impact the entire community, such as knowledge that one is carrying the COVID-19 virus. This gives us the opportunity to do better in ensuring that our residents have fair and just access to what they need to sustain a quality of life and positive health outcomes. 

    Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on the following themes that fall under the umbrella of expanding  insurance access to immigrant populations: 

    1. Extend Medicaid coverage for legally residing young adults from 18 to 21. 
    2. Extend eligibility for FAMIS Moms prenatal delivery coverage to all pregnant women. 
    3. Expand Medicaid coverage of “emergency” services for COVID-19. 

    Extend Medicaid Coverage to Immigrant Populations

    Every Virginian should have access to health insurance during a pandemic, regardless of immigration status. When parents have access to health insurance, children are more likely to have insurance. As a result, the overall health and well-being of Virginia’s population is improved due to increased access.  As of December 10th, according to the CDC, there have been over 285,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United Status. This number continues to rise, but we must note the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color. Minority communities are expected to navigate systems of biases and inequities and stay afloat while facing exacerbated health inequities as it relates to the social determinants of health. Young adults are just starting off in life and often work part time jobs that have limited access to paid time off, such as sick pay and health insurance. Virginia must ensure they have what they need to survive the pandemic and live a long and healthy life.

    Increase the age that legally residing immigrant children can qualify for Medicaid and FAMIS: Currently, legally residing immigrant children in Virginia qualify for coverage up to 19. Federal law allows optional coverage to continue up to age 21 allowing for continuity of care and reducing gaps in health coverage. 

    Extend Eligibility for FAMIS Moms Prenatal Delivery Coverage to All Pregnant Women, Regardless of Status

    Policymakers must prioritize child and family health. It’s time to invest in and prioritize access to healthcare for all Virginians. The postpartum period is important but an often neglected element of maternal and infant care. Mothers deal with a variety of medical conditions and complications from birth, regardless of their identity. Symptoms include pain, childbirth, postpartum depression and anxiety, and more. As we navigate the public health crisis, every policy and funding decision should move Virginia closer to becoming a place where everyone has the opportunity to survive and thrive. Access to prenatal coverage improves health outcomes for the mother and child.

    Extend Medicaid/FAMIS MOMS prenatal coverage to undocumented women who meet all other non-immigration eligibility criteria: The federal option for this is already in use in 17 other states and would require a CHIP plan amendment. However, the good news is extending prenatal coverage could result in 2.3 million in net savings for the state in FY22 due to drawing down a higher federal match rate compared to emergency services that might otherwise not be utilized due to a lack of access.

    Expand Medicaid Coverage for COVID-19 Emergency Services

    Communities of color are experiencing much higher COVID-19 hospitalization rates. For example, as of December 3rd, the Virginia Department of Health reported 15,116 hospitalizations. The Black community accounted for 29 percent, despite the fact that they represent just 19 percent of the commonwealth’s population. Similarly, the Latinx population represents 24 percent of Virginia’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, but only 9.8 percent of the population. Meanwhile, the white community accounts for 28 percent of the commonwealth’s coronavirus hospitalizations, but nearly 70 percent of the population. These numbers are disproportionate. 

    Virginia must expand Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 emergency services: Several other states have taken steps during the current crisis to help their residents regardless of immigration status. Federal law allows states to cover COVID-19 screening, testing, vaccines, and all related treatment for any immigrant who meets financial requirements for Medicaid, but does not meet the immigration status requirement. This policy will decrease the spread of the coronavirus. Virginians should have access to emergency services during a pandemic. It benefits everyone.

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  3. 2021 General Assembly Session: Mental Health Priorities

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    Children’s mental health is facing a critical system change moment right now. There has never been a moment when mental health needs were more prevalent or more normalized. There are few moments when all children and parents experience a collective trauma. There is more awareness and understanding of how racial and historical trauma is connected to mental health and wellness. We must take this opportunity to build a new approach to mental health services and supports for children. The first steps for this new approach start with the investments that the governor, state agencies and legislature will make in the early days of 2021.

    Pre-pandemic, one in four children in Virginia experienced a mental health issue ranging from ADD to depression/anxiety.  A look at the report from Mental Health America on their online screening tool found a 93 percent increase over the previous year of individuals seeking help through the online screening during the pandemicThere was a 9 percent increase among youth 11-17 taking the screening by September 2020 compared to 2019.

    We know from previous research that community disasters or traumas can produce high levels of mental health issues in children with as many as half of children in a community experiencing mental health issues after a disaster. In 2018-19 data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, nearly 61 percent of Black or Latino children in VA experienced trauma. In the future, our systems must respond to this disproportionate impact and the context of racial & historical trauma.

    Because we know that mental health concerns will increase for children in their prevalence and severity we must plan now to build systems to support mental health and meet kids where they are—in child care settings, virtual classrooms, online peer groups and more acute treatment methods.   

    To cast a wide net for mental health services and to help children and families recover from the trauma of the pandemic and years of economic hardship and unjust systems, policymakers must ask this question in every legislative meeting and in every discussion with agencies and advocates: “Where are we addressing mental health needs in this system?”  

    Some ideas about how policymakers can begin:

    • Support parents: One in five parents reports feeling stressed or depressed during the pandemic. Parents’ mental health and wellness directly impacts their children. Parents who are stressed financially or by grief, loss and anxiety cannot provide the optimal supportive environment for kids to grow and thrive. We need policies that support parents such as home visiting and paid leave expansion.
    • Start early: Begin in early education and elementary schools by training educators to support social-emotional wellness and to identify and address mental health issues appropriatelyA team of advocates and state agency leaders put together a report about how to build mental health supports in early education systems. State agencies must work towards implementing those plans and the legislature must support additional mental health services.
    • Medicaid is an opportunity: More than 700,000 or one in three children in Virginia is insured by Medicaid/FAMIS. These children are the most economically at-risk in the state and also experience a lack of access to resources in their communities. Knowing that we can reach a large group of our most vulnerable children through Medicaid, what tools for screening, care coordination, and innovative or incentive funds can be leveraged even before kids fully return to classrooms and child care is vital.
    • Build the continuum: Because this year has disrupted the way we deliver services and efforts, such as the Family First Prevention Services Act and Behavioral Health Enhancement reforming how services are delivered, another look at the continuum is warranted. We know right now that services and a trained workforce will need to be built at every level and in every geography for a fully articulated continuum.
    • Apply an equity lensThis is the most important step and what we must have in place to build our systems of support back. Workforce and training initiatives need to be better prepared to meet the needs of children of color and respond to racial and historical trauma. We need training in implicit bias and the intersection of racial and cultural trauma for all of our child-serving professionals and to recruit a diverse set of professionals more reflective of the kids they serve.

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