In Session: Week Four of the General Assembly
Friday, February 13th, 2015
This week, we are highlighting how some of our budget priorities played out in the House and Senate budget bills, both of which were released on February 8.
We were deeply disappointed in the members of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees for their refusal to include the federal funding available to provide health insurance to over 400,000 low income Virginians.
The budgets adopted Sunday leave gaping holes in Virginia’s safety net. While committee members included some funding for health clinics and the seriously mentally ill, that is a piecemeal approach to an enormous problem. Hundreds of thousands of hardworking people across the Commonwealth will continue to suffer because they don’t have the healthcare they need.
Since January 1, 2014, Virginia has forfeited over $1.7 billion dollars in federal funding that Virginians have already paid in their taxes. That money needs to come back to Virginia to support the uninsured, hospitals, and to help Virginia’s economy. Yesterday’s actions mean Virginia will continue to forfeit over $4 million dollars, every single day. It is irresponsible for the money committees to reject billions of dollars in the face of enormous needs.
We were very pleased to see that the Senate budget included all of the funding necessary to allow foster care services and adoption assistance to be extended to youth until they reach age 21. Under current law, youth who reach age 18 while still in foster care “age out” of the system, with access to only limited services from DSS. The funding in the Senate budget (which was also in the Governor’s budget) will allow youth who opt into the program to receive foster care services, including housing, until they reach 21. It also provides a subsidy to parents who adopt older youth from foster care until the child reaches age 21, which we believe will encourage and enable more people to adopt teenagers out of foster care. The current program only provides this adoption subsidy until the child’s 18th birthday. Youth who are adopted, and those who continue to receive foster care services (including housing) until age 21, do better in vocational school and college, have higher rates of employment and higher pay, and are less likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Despite the many benefits this program will provide to Virginia’s most vulnerable youth, the House did not include any funding for the program in its budget. We are hopeful, however, that the budget conferees will look closely at this critical program and ultimately include this funding to help Virginia youth in the final budget.
The Senate budget includes funding to increase TANF benefits by 2.5 percent. It also includes funding to establish a back-to-school allowance program that would provide TANF families with school-age children an annual voucher to be used for purchasing school supplies and clothing. At most, a family of three participating in TANF receives only $389 per month; that’s merely 23.2 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. The last increase for TANF benefits occurred in 2000, and the one before that occurred in 1985. So an increase is well overdue.