By George Reed
In the Virginian Pilot’s Sunday February 28, 2016 Sunday “Other Views” section, Republican S. Chris Jones, Virginia 76th District (Chesapeake and Suffolk) praised the Conservative appropriations as a responsible spending blueprint that prioritized savings, reduced the State’s liabilities, cut back on borrowing, and made targeted investments. It is difficult to argue against these appropriations, but I have a problem with some of the targeted areas that were left on the table or was not included in the budget.
Increasing fund for K-12 education ($897 million), and higher education ($223 million), economic development ($110 million), saving of $605 million for the rainy day fund, $190 million paid back to the Virginia Retirement System, increased funding for mental health, and the juvenile justice system are all commendable. It is good to know that Virginia is doing well and has retained its triple a bond rating and is recognized as one of the best managed states in the nation.
However, what concerns me are the areas adequately addressed or not addressed at all in the appropriations. It seems that the most vulnerable group, the working poor and poor families have been abandoned.
Virginia has more than 1 million working poor and poor citizens living in poverty as well as more than 250 thousand children according to the Commonwealth of Virginia Poverty Reduction Task Force. There was no mention in the conservative blueprint of any appropriations to deal with these groups.
I visited the General Assembly in January along with other professionals who operate Community Actions Programs throughout the state. We were trying to get our legislators to appropriate at least $3 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to serve the working poor and poor citizens throughout the state.
These funds are desperately needed to help poor families stabilize their families, help with rent and mortgage assistance to prevent homeliness, assist with bus tickets or vouchers to get to work, pay utility bills, purchase food, and other basic needs.
One could say that the appropriation committee has failed to address the problems and concerns of all Virginians. Instead, the Committee, Chaired by S. Chris Jones, seems to be acting as a “Faction” as described in James Madison Federalist Paper #10. Their agenda seems to be protecting Republican Conservative interests, promoting their special interest throughout the Commonwealth rather than serving the interests of all Virginians.
The Conservative interests, as implemented by the Appropriations Committee, refuse to expand Medicaid which would provide health care for more than 366 million working poor and children. The Virginia Health Care Foundation had a 21 percent increase in uninsured patients, and the Commonwealth Health Center reported a 39 percent increase in patients without insurance. The Committee’s moral responsibility in this area is lacking. The majority of the people who are eligible and need these health services live in Southside and Southwest Virginia.
We, as citizens, must speak up when self-serving legislators increase their benefits, business benefits, and special groups of their choice rather than serve all Virginians.
Case in point where the legislators did not fail to help themselves. They increased their per diem for meetings that occur outside the regular session, extended insurance to additional legislature staff if the legislator did not utilize the insurance, and boosted staff for leadership of the Senate. These items fatten the legislator’s bottom line while virtually ignoring the need of the most vulnerable populations in our communities. I don’t think that this should be allowed.
As the legislature draws to an end this month, I encourage S. Chris Jones and other legislator to remember the most vulnerable populations in Virginia, the working poor families and children.
Please increase the TANF Appropriation to at least 6 million. It is morally right to do with some of the excess funds the state has received.
George Reed is a Chesapeake resident who is a retired educator and past Board Chair of the STOP agency.