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  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    • New initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the child welfare system include replacing the outdated child welfare data tracking system and the iFoster web-based portal for youth, expanded regional collaboration for foster placements, and additional support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. Why Virginia Must Do Better for Black Mothers and Black Babies

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    Dr. J. Marion Simms is known as the founder of modern surgical gynecology. However, in the 1840s, Simms spent years conducting experiments on enslaved women. Their names are only known as Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey. They were considered property and could not consent to the painful surgeries that were performed on them. In modern medicine today, numerous research studies name findings that shed light on explicitly bias beliefs that Black people have thicker skin and experience less pain. According to research by Sophie Trawalter, an associate professor of public policy and psychology at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Black and Hispanic people receive worse care on 40% of the department’s care quality measures.

    Research consistently describes experiencing childbirth as a significant event of great psychological importance in a woman’s life. Childbirth infinitely shapes a woman’s perception of themselves and may positively impact their relationships with other family members. However, literature only parallels the positive experience with a “well-supported, normal birth.” While healthy births are normalized, it is not taken for granted in Black communities. We have heard the horror stories of women who were not listened to by their doctors, which later resulted in death.

    My niece, Genesis, was born on January 27, 2022. When I heard my sister was pregnant, I first asked, “do you have a doula? Do you have a midwife?” Many credible sources have reported a now all too familiar data point. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Black women in America are three times more likely to endure death related to pregnancy and childbirth than White women, regardless of their education or financial means. For women over 30, the risk is five times higher. The Virginia Department of Health reported the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is more than double that of White mothers. A 2019 report by the Virginia Maternal Mortality Review Team noted 44 percent of pregnancy related deaths were due to a provider related factor, such as a failure to refer or seek consultation.

    The Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Team (FIMRT) Work Group Study reported Virginia’s rate of fetal death in 2019 was 7.6 fetal deaths per every 1,000 live births. While it was the lowest it has been since 2015, March of Dimes reported the infant mortality rate for Black infants was 9.5 per 1,000 live births in comparison to White infants at 4.8 per 1,000 live births in the state. (Diduk-Smith 8, 2021)

    In 2021, former Governor Ralph Northam released the Maternal Health Strategic Plan to eliminate racial disparities in maternal deaths by 2025. The plan appears to be no longer available on the server, yet stated, “Black women were more likely to report experiencing discrimination or harassment due to their race/ethnicity or insurance or Medicaid status.”

    People continue to name the conscious and unconscious biases that contribute to disproportionate outcomes for Black mothers and Black babies, some of which are so endemic it goes unnoticed. In 2021, an illustration of a Black fetus in a womb went viral.

    Illustration by Chidiebere Ibe, Forbes featured medical illustrator, medical student, and aspiring neurosurgeon

    Most fetuses are reported to be red in color or dark pink and gradually develop their skin tone; however, the medical demonstration was intended to represent patients who are not used to their skin tones in such images. The illustrator, Chidiebere Ibe, responded to the virality of his illustration in a statement on CNN, “the whole purpose was to keep talking about what I’m passionate about — equity in healthcare — and also to show the beauty of Black people…we don’t only need more representation like this — we need more people willing to create representation like this.”

    Black women are most impacted by maternal infant mortality disparities and it is also Black women leading the charge in dismantling them. In 2021, a Black woman, Delegate Lashrecse Aird led HJ 537, a resolution to recognize racism as a public health crisis in Virginia, making the state the first in the south to do so. The resolution included the recommendation to require training for elected officials, staff members, and state employees on how to recognize and combat implicit biases.

    This year, a Black woman, Dora Muhammad, Congregation Engagement Director and Health Equity Program Manager with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, led the initiative to require medical practitioners licensed by the Board of Medicine to complete two hours of continuing education in each biennium on topics related to implicit bias and cultural competency. While I was grateful to witness the birth of my niece Genesis, the following morning I witnessed SB 456, sponsored by a Black woman, Senator Locke, fail to report out of the Senate Education and Health’s Health Professions subcommittee with only two supporting votes from Senator Hashmi and the bill patron herself. The House version, HB 1105, also sponsored by a Black woman, Delegate McQuinn, met the same fate through a voice vote by the Health, Welfare, Institutions Subcommittee Three. These bills could have led to greater outcomes for other Black mothers and Black babies. Instead, they were put off until the 2023 General Assembly Session.

    The Hippocratic Oath, “Do No Harm,” is the first commitment to becoming a doctor. While the data continues to point to disparities in maternal and infant health, there continues to be a lack of willingness to explicitly name, call out racism, or even acknowledge the possibility that racism could very much be a factor in healthcare disparities. For Black mothers, the fear of giving birth is valid. In 2020, the New York Times created a guide as a resource, Protecting Your Birth: A Guide For Black Mothers.

    While Black women continue to champion change, Virginia too must commit to doing better for Black mothers and Black babies.

     

    Resources

    Diduk-Smith, PhD, MPH, Ryan Marie. Rep. Report to the General Assembly Workgroup Study: Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Team (FIMRT) HB1950 of 2021. Richmond, VA : Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Virginia Department of Health, 2021.

    Humenick, Sharron S. “The Life-Changing Significance of Normal Birth.” The Journal of Perinatal Education. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1804308/.

    “Infant Mortality Rates by Race/Ethnicity: Virginia, 2016-2018 Average.” Peristats | March of Dimes. Accessed February 10, 2022. https://www.marchofdimes.org/peristats/ViewSubtopic.aspx?reg=51&top=6&stop=92&lev=1&slev=4&obj=1.

    Hobron, Kathrin ‘Rosie. “Annual Report 2017 – Virginia Department of Health.” Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Annual Report 2017. Virginia Department of Health, 2017. https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/18/2019/04/Annual-Report-2017.pdf.

    Rouse, Melanie J. “Chronic Disease in Virginia Pregnancy Associated Deaths …” Chronic Disease in Virginia Pregnancy Associated Deaths, 1999-2012: Need for Coordination of Care, 2019. https://vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/18/2019/08/MMRT-Chronic-Disease-Report-FINAL-VERSION.pdf.

    United States Department of Human Services. “Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 6, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0905-racial-ethnic-disparities-pregnancy-deaths.html.

  3. Intersectional Solutions to Increasing Food Access & Nutrition Security in Virginia

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    According to Feeding America, in Virginia, 799,620 people are facing hunger and 9.4 percent of the people in Virginia face food insecurity.  Of those, 214,270 are children. In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children reported 11.5 percent children in Virginia were food insecure. 

    • 1 in 11 people experience hunger
    • 1 in 9 children experience hunger

    Food insecurity does not necessarily hold the same definition as hunger or starvation. Hunger is a condition that may result from food insecurity. It is the prolonged involuntary lack of food that goes beyond the usual “uneasy” sensation. It results in discomfort, illness, weakness, pain, or malnutrition.

    There are different forms of food security and food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced language to name the ranges in conditions:

    • High food security is described as no reported indications of food access problems or limitations;
    • Marginal food security is described as 1 or 2 reported indications, such as anxiety over insufficient food or a shortage of food in a household but little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake;
    • Low food security is described as reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability related to one’s diet but little to no reduced food intake;
    • Very low food security is described as multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns in combination with reduced food intake.

    In Feeding America’s Map, the Meal Gap study assessed that the average cost of a meal in Virginia is $3.17 cents. The annual budget shortfall that individuals who experience food insecurity reported needing, on average, was $433,605,000 to minimally meet their needs.

    Generating food security means ensuring all people have access to enough food to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Some states, including Virginia, have increased access to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. This involved increasing SNAP thresholds to 200 percent of the poverty level, including in Virginia, to ensure more people are eligible.

    Voices for Virginia’s Children co-leads the Virginia Food Access Coalition with the American Heart Association – Virginia. To move the state forward, Virginia must:

    Invest $1.7M to Reduce Diet-Related Chronic Illnesses through the Produce RX Program.

    COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity rate. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between food insecurity and poor health outcomes, such as higher level of chronic disease, hypertension, asthma, stroke, and cancer. The Produce Rx program will provide fresh, locally grown produce alongside healthcare and nutrition counseling to empower patients to overcome barriers to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The program will allow medical professionals in Virginia to prescribe fresh fruit and vegetables to patients experiencing diet-related chronic illnesses. Over 500,000 Virginians eligible for SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid that may have specific dietary needs could be eligible for the Produce RX Program.

    Support the Produce RX Program: House Bill 1106 (Del. McQuinn), Item 341 #6h (Del. McQuinn), and Item 340 #2s (Sen. McClellan).

    Invest $2M to Support Local Farms & Access to Healthy & Nutritious Foods through Virginia Fresh Match.

    Virginia Fresh Match is a statewide initiative that started at the community-level to directly support Virginia’s agriculture and further increase access to fresh and nutritious foods for consumers who are low-income.  Every dollar of SNAP and incentives goes from the customer’s hand into a farmer’s pocket. VFM doubles the purchasing power of residents who are food insecure to increase revenue for farmers through redemption of federal nutrition benefit at markets and community-based retailers. With state support, VFM can reach more customers and grow the number of participating outlets, including supporting incentives for the Virginia Food Access Investment fund grantees.

    Support the Virginia Fresh Match Program: Item 96 #2h (Del. McQuinn), Item 96 #1s (Sen. McClellan), and Item 96 #1h, (Del. Filler-Corn).

    Invest $2M to Scale Up Virginia’s Food Supply Chain and Infrastructure through the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund.

    COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity. It has further highlighted the urgent need to invest funds in Virginia’s food supply chain. Under resourced farmers and food distributors are facing high demands from Virginia’s Food banks. The Virginia Food Access Investment Fund invests in healthy food projects and businesses by providing funding to support construction, rehabilitation, equipment, upgrades, grocery store expansion, amongst other food and nutrition providers.

    Support the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund: Item 98 #9h (Del. McQuinn) and Item 98 #2s (Sen. McClellan).

    Take Action:

    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Virginia Fresh Match Program.  
    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Produce RX Program.  
    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund.  

    Advocacy Opportunities:

    • Register for weekly GA Virginia Food Access Coalition meetings.  
    • Register for the Virginia Food Access & Nutrition Advocacy Day.  
    • Register for our upcoming Legislative Advocacy & Storytelling training.

    Organizational Sign-On: Support Food Access & Nutrition

    Do you have permission to sign-on in representation of your organization?(Required)
  4. Tax Credits Provide Essential Financial Relief to Working Families: Tell Lawmakers to Act

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    The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis joins Voices for Virginia’s Children as a guest-contributor for this analysis of Virginia’s tax policy; edited for the Voices’ blog.

    While most parents dread filing taxes each year this chore can connect working families to federal relief in the form of a tax refund or rebate. That refund check often brings smiles and financial relief to homes. When sifting through tax-filing sites or accounting services, working families may notice they qualify for a tax credit for disclosing expenses for child care, health care, or education. In many cases, the credit reduces the overall tax burden and can be returned as a refundable credit or rebate: a check from the US Treasury or State Treasury or a direct deposit to your account.

    The Virginia and federal tax systems have different rules about qualifying credits and deductions. This year, the federal tax program for families will include the second half (six months’ worth) of the Child Tax Credit payments. You may have received a letter stating what benefits you already received and will be eligible to receive when filing your taxes for 2021. While prolonged debate on the Build Back Better Act has halted the flow of monthly payments, families will receive the remainder of the Child Tax Credit payments when they file taxes this spring.

    But for now, the monthly, expanded child tax credit payments have ended. We hope Congress will unite to revive Child Tax Credit payments in the coming months.

    In the meantime, there are two issues the Virginia legislature is considering:

    Conformity to Federal Tax Laws for 2021 Would Benefit Young Adults

    In Virginia, emergency legislation from Senator Janet Howell (SB94) and Delegate Kathy Byron (HB1003) would align the state’s rules to federal rules.  Adopting the new federal rules for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), among other improvements,  would entitle Virginia families and young adults with up to 20% of the federal credit.

    For young adults without children, the Federal maximum benefit for “childless tax filers” has increased to $1502. At a state level, young adults would be entitled to up to $300 credit on their state income tax. However, for 2021, the state credit is not refundable, so conforming to the federal EITC would reduce state tax burdens but would not provide a state rebate. Meaning, that young adults and former foster youth could owe fewer taxes this year.

    Adopting the Earned Income Tax Credit would offer state tax credits to the following young adults:

    • 19 and older: if working enough to earn taxable income;
    • 24 and older: if  pursuing education for at least five months of the year;
    • 18 and older: if they were in foster care any time after they turned 14 or were homeless in any taxable year

    Refundable State Tax Credits in 2022 and Beyond

    Another issue the legislature will consider this year is whether to make our state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) partially refundable so that it can be returned to families with their state tax rebate. Approximately 72% of all tax filers who benefit from the EITC have children, so creating a refundable portion would impact over one in three children in Virginia.

    In his outgoing budget proposal, Governor Northam proposed to make the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) partially refundable for working families with low and moderate incomes. Voices is a member of the Virginians for Tax Fairness Coalition led by The Commonwealth Institute and New Virginia majority. As a member of that coalition, we support two bills under consideration in the Virginia House and Senate for a refundable EITC: Senator Barker’s SB343, Senator McPike’s SB515; Delegate Price’s HB1312.

    A partially refundable credit would better center the needs of low-income families and families of color in our state budget. And if Congress makes any federal changes and advances the Build Back Better Act, young adults could look forward to refundable credits among other support.

    Read more about how state lawmakers’ tax policy choice could impact families and state revenues from The Commonwealth Institute.

  5. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap

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    (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.

  6. 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.

    Sign your organization on in support of increasing language access and equity in Virginia.

    Do you have permission to sign-on in representation of your organization?(Required)