Public Comments for 01/06/2021 House Appropriations and Senate Finance Joint Public Hearings on the Governor’s Proposed Amendments to the 2020-2022 Biennial State Budget - Northern Virginia
I am Angela Wirt, Executive Director of Child Care Aware of Virginia – a statewide nonprofit serving all localities across the Commonwealth. CHILD CARE has been hit hard by the pandemic – families and child care programs continue to struggle. Many programs remain at risk of closing permanently due to lost revenue. We need to enable PORTABILITY of BACKGROUND CHECKS for substitute staff to assist with critical staffing shortages so that child care can continue to operate and families can get the care they need to continue working. We must pass legislation to allow portability of background checks and enlist the Rap Back program to maintain safe care settings for children. Public schools have substitute pools of screened staff who can step into classrooms when teachers are absent; child care does not. It’s time to change that. We need to ensure SAFE SLEEP PRACTICES for all infants in child care and ask for ALL registered providers to be required to comply with safe sleep recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Voluntarily registered providers are currently not required to follow these practices. We urge the GA to close this loophole and adopt safe sleep legislation for registered providers to prevent the unnecessary deaths of babies in regulated child care. Child Care Resource and Referral offers critical BUSINESS SUPPORT technical assistance and training to the child care workforce statewide. Supplemental funding to support the development and sustainability of child care businesses is needed to strengthen and rebuild the child care community and Virginia’s economy. Families cannot work without child care – businesses cannot operate without a workforce. There is no economic recovery without child care!
Please support paid sick for a broad range of service sector employees throughout the Commonwealth. In particular, the Northren Virginia Aging Network urges paid sick leave for direct care workers in nursing homes and assisted livng -- workers on the front line in the pandemic, and yet paid sick leave is needed on an ongoing basis beyond the COVID crisis. Providing paid sick leave is a major public health issue. Direct care workers in facilities have very low wages, and often go to work when sick, or work in more than one facility. They expose residents, famiies, staff and the public to grave illness. Paid sick leave is a cost effective and humane measure.
I am against corruption in the government the way they corrupt VIAB
I would like to urge you to please support transgender health services for Medicaid enrollees. While the state's six health insurance providers that administer Virginia’s Medicaid program already support these services, making the state’s policy on the issue clear and unambiguous is an important step forward. I would also like to echo others in urging you to decommission the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board and remove it from the state budget.
My name is Rosemarie Esber. I am a resident of Alexandria, and a member of VCHR. I protest the use of Virginia taxes to provide Israel with preferential access to business development opportunities in Virginia municipalities, as well as office space in a state government building, staff salaries, and expenses---all in the interest of Israeli businesses. Virginia taxes should be preferentially supporting Virginians' businesses. I request an amendment to defund and decommission the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board.
Some action has been taken by the General Assembly to begin to dismantle the harmful school-to-prison pipeline, which can trap young people in the criminal justice system by over-criminalizing their behavior. Girls and young women are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system for status offenses such as truancy, running away, or curfew violations - acts that are unlawful only when committed by youth. Most schools have School Resource Officers and School Security Officers. Data suggests that the presence of police (SROs) in schools leads to the overcriminalization of youthful behavior and to judicial dispositions such as placement at residential centers, foster homes, or correctional facilities. Thus, students whose behavior might be ameliorated by counseling instead enter the penal system. We urge that funds for SROs be allocated instead to mental health counselors, who will be more effective in helping students modify behavior. We support a budget amendment introduced to eliminate $4.7 million from the general fund each year appropriated to the Department of Criminal Justice Services for the provision of school resource officer / school security officer incentive grants to localities. Additionally, we support a corresponding amendment to the Direct Aid for Public Education item that would provide $4.7 million from the general fund each year in additional funding for school mental health counselors.
Dear members of the committee and chair of the committee. My name is Yely Montano, and I am CASA’s Virginia Advocacy Specialist. We are a community based organization fighting for justice & equity. I speak on behalf of our 10,000 members. I am here today to support the G3 program. Like many, I am optimistic about our pandemic recovery this year. However, I know that when this is over, we will need to rebuild our workforce to help us in our recovery. This is why this program must be restored. This is why we need to invest in Virginians. The G3 program will assist our working-class Virginians to obtain career training skills at our community colleges. It will offer additional financial assistance to develop a trained workforce needed in high-demand occupations such as healthcare, public safety, early childhood education, technology, and more The pandemic taught us that essential workers are what keeps our Commonwealth running and we should proudly support initiatives that support the training of our people to become essential in our economy. I am also here to ask you to support additional funding to the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. While vaccine deployment is on its way, it’s not an immediate solution. Families need our support to stay in their homes, which requires fully funding additional efforts to prevent evictions rather than delay them. As cases rise, the safest place our families can be, and the best way they can help reduce the spread is by staying in their homes. Finally, I ask you to support any amendments that would expand healthcare coverage to ALL Virginians to help us address widening health inequities experienced by primarily black and brown community members. Such as extending FAMIS prenatal coverage to all women, regardless of immigration status, extending FAMIS coverage by increasing the age eligibility from 19 to 21 years, and clarifying that Medicaid, "emergency services," covers all COVID-19 related. All of these efforts will help us create a more equitable Virginia. Thank you for the opportunity and your time.
Every week I volunteer with a group of students at a Learning Pod to ensure they do not fall behind. The lack of resources limits the students ability to thrive while continuing to adapt to online learning. Families deserve support during these trying times. State aid for public education is still down from 2009 levels. This means local divisions are struggling to make up this loss, paying $4.2 billion above what is required by localities in the state’s primary funding formula. High poverty divisions and divisions with the most students of color struggle to make up these funds, resulting in vast inequities in educational opportunity across the state. Schools are struggling to provide adequate staffing, resulting in insufficient counselors, social workers, instructional aides, and administrative and custodial staff. The pandemic has only widened these gaps, and students need full and fair school funding more than ever before. In late 2019 and again in the fall of 2020, the Virginia Board of Education issued a set of Standards of Quality (SOQs) which, if funded, would go far to increase educational opportunity for Virginia’s children. The estimated annual cost of funding these SOQs is about $1 billion more annually than what the state currently spends, but this is just the minimum cost the state Board says is necessary to meet the state’s constitutional duty to ensure a high quality education for Virginia’s students. It is now up to the General Assembly to adopt these SOQs by passing the School Equity and Staffing Act, and fully fund it. The School Equity and Staffing Act would: • Add new funds for high-poverty schools through the Equity Fund. • Increase funding for school counselors to ensure there is one counselor for every 250 students. • Remove the “support cap” and increase funding for school support staff, including social workers, nurses, administrative and custodial staff. • Increase funding for English Learner students based on proficiency. According to a report by EdBuild in 2019, high-poverty nonwhite school districts in Virginia have $10,796 per student, whereas low poverty white school districts have $11,001 per student—$205 less. Experts note it can cost as much as 40% more to educate a student in poverty than a student not in poverty. • For students to receive the full benefits of a comprehensive school counseling program, school counselors’ caseloads should not exceed 250 students. The average student caseload for school counselors in Virginia has grown from 300 to 360 students over the past decade, with caseloads in some schools reaching more than 1,000 students per counselor. • Instructional and support staff play vital roles in the safety and success of students. Yet since the 2008- 2009 school year, there has been a profound drop-off in state investment for support staff positions. In 2009, during the Great Recession, lawmakers added language to the budget creating a “cap” on support staff funding, cutting hundreds of millions in state funding for support staff. Between 2009 and 2019, support staff in Virginia schools declined by 2,800 positions while student enrollment increased by more than 57,000 students. Students have the right to a high-quality education. At current levels of school funding, our Commonwealth simply doesn’t give them an opportunity to achieve their full potential. Our underinvestment of our students today will have damaging implications for their future.
I support NAMI's budget requests....I also would like the state to extend the successful Zoom tele-visiting program at Western State Hospital to ALL psychiatric facilities in the state. After in-person visiting stopped due to the Covid-19, my wife and I worked with NAMI and the hospital to begin the tele-visiting service. The hospital director, Dr. Mary Mehak Smith, and staff have been very supportive. Dr. Smith said the program requires minimal additional cost though it does require some shifting of staff time. It is possible that the availability of tele-visiting may reduce staff time needed for in-person visits - resulting in a small cost savings in the long run. Below is the beginning of an article NAMI Dec and Jan publications: A Virginia State Hospital Initiates Breakthrough Tele-visiting Capacity Connecting Isolated Patients and Families by Karl Polzer Over the past several months, Virginia’s Western State Hospital (WSH) has quietly accomplished something extraordinary. It is the first Virginia state psychiatric hospital to use tele-visiting to connect its residents with their families. By the end of November, at least 10 families -- many of whom hadn’t seen loved ones since the coming of COVID-19 -- had connected through the system. Staff are now training the last of the hospital’s nine units on operating Kindles and software that patients use in the privacy of visiting rooms. WSH houses more than 240 patients each day. In a world going Zoom, tele-visiting is of obvious value to help ease social isolation for hospital residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital leadership and parent volunteers working with them see tele-visiting as adding long-term value in many ways. Even during normal times, physical visiting is hard for many families. Some live far away and face financial barriers. Courts in Arlington and Fairfax Counties, for example, send forensic patients to WSH, a more than two-hour drive away in Staunton. The cost of transportation or taking time away from work are barriers for many families including those living nearby. Hospital staff say that the tele-visiting program also will help patients transitioning back into the community get accustomed to telemedicine. “I’m hoping the program will be a great resource during the holidays and we are eager to get the information out to the community and families,” said a board member of NAMI Central Shenandoah Valley, which serves the region surrounding the hospital. Western State began developing the program in early July at the request of a patient’s family after an episode during which the patient was unable to speak clearly on the phone for several days after an adverse medication reaction. Not all patients will choose to use the new service due to personal preference. For those patients, the hospital will continue to offer free use of shared telephones in each unit. A hospital staff member leading implementation said some family members find the new system a bit difficult to access but “once people do it once or twice, they get used to it.” During pilot testing, at the hospital’s request, the parent volunteers organized state and local NAMI groups to help create how-to guides for families who need assistance with tele-visiting technology. This article is part of that effort.
Dear Members of the Committee, Thank you for the opportunity to share my comments today. My name is Wendy and I live in the Shenandoah Valley. I am a certified peer recovery specialist, a former first responder, and an individual living with PTSD. I am here today to ask for your support in strengthening Virginia’s mental health system. I have experienced financial struggles and availability of quality services in my area regarding treatment options for myself. I ended up finding a counselor who was new to the field and offered to see me for free while she was gaining her hours for training. I found that the type of mental health services I wanted as part of my treatment plan were not covered by insurance and after I lost insurance from leaving a full-time job, trying to budget for minimum counseling appointments was still a struggle for me. I am pleased to see the recent interest and investment in mental health services, and I thank you for the progress made on that so far. In the Governor’s proposed budget, I support additional funding for the Marcus Alert, restoring administrative costs for STEP VA, funding to train the workforce to support a better behavioral health care system and increased DAP funding for those transitioning from state operated mental health facilities to community options. Additionally, something that is missing from the budget that I feel needs to be included is expanding the availability of outpatient mental health services (including telehealth options), permanent supportive housing, and peer recovery specialists within our state. I am hopeful that the General Assembly will expand these services and funding for them to meet the rising mental health needs in Virginia. We need to protect our citizen’s mental health by providing appropriate services that meet their needs and preserve their hope in recovery. Will you support mental health today and not put it off until another tragedy or pandemic like COVID, strikes again? Again, thank you for the opportunity to share my comments on this topic.
My name is William Walls and I am a registered voter in Arlington, Virginia. I am also a member of the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights. VCHR is a coalition of 18 organizations with a combined membership of 12,000+ Virginians. Throughout my life and now as a retired United States Government Foreign Service Officer, I know the importance of respect for all people and the Golden Rule, the principle of treating others as you want to be treated. It has come to my attention that the state of Virginia funds the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board (VIAB). VIAB advocates for Israeli businesses in the state of Virginia, some of which operate illegally on the Occupied Palestinian Territory. As a Virginia taxpayer and as an advocate for human rights around the world, I request that the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board be decommissioned and removed from the state budget, and that their office space in the Pocahontas Building be allocated equitably amongst all interested parties. The Virginia-Israel Advisory Board was created in 1996. Since then, at least seven bills have been introduced to create advisory boards for members of other ethnic groups. Three of these bills were tabled because they required a budget amendment to cover operating expenses comparable to the operating expenses of the Israel Advisory Board. In 2020 the latest of these bills was introduced to fund a Virginia-Korea Advisory Board. Not surprisingly, the bill was tabled. But what was surprising was that members of the Asian-Pacific Islander community opposed this bill. In an Op/Ed published in Blue Virginia, Laura Pho, Chair of Asian Americans Impacting Virginia wrote, “Creating an independent advisory board for only one specific country, in this case South Korea, is problematic.” The Op/Ed went on to list five reasons for opposing the bill. I will apply Ms. Pho’s reasoning to make the case that funding the Israel Advisory Board is unfair and unsustainable. 1. It is duplicative. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) was set up to solicit foreign investment in the Commonwealth. All other foreign businesses (including South Korean) come through the VEDP. Why do Israeli businesses warrant a separate agency? 2. It is inequitable. Why should the Israel Advisory Board receive greater support from the Commonwealth than the Asian Advisory Board, the Latino Advisory Board, the African American Advisory Board, and the Council on Women? None of these advisory boards has a budget of $219,000 and office space in the Pocahontas Building. 3. It sets a bad precedent. As long as the Israel Advisory Board exists, other foreign businesses will continue to approach legislators in the General Assembly to request bills to create and fund their own advisory boards. 4. It is preferential. Why is Israel singled out for special treatment by the Commonwealth? In 2018, the last year for which data was available, Virginia’s trade deficit with Israel was about $437 million. 5. It is divisive. The existence of the Israel Advisory Board pits the interests of one ethnic group against the interests of others. Sanctioning a state agency to represent, exclusively, the interests of Israeli businesses is duplicative, inequitable, a bad precedent, preferential and divisive. I, along with many others, request that the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board be decommissioned and removed from the state budget.
My name is Zeina Hutchison. I am a member of the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights. VCHR is a coalition of 18 organizations with a combined membership of over 10,000 Virginians. I appear before you today to request that the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board be decommissioned and removed from the state budget. . When I first learned about the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board early last year I was absolutely stunned at the unprecedented, blatant and unfair preferential treatment it gets; ranging from political access, State resources, and for the purposes of this hearing, Virginia government funding! During every single legislative session and budget hearing, representatives from all over the commonwealth write and rewrite, lobby, debate and parse words over the smallest investment in healthcare, the environment, small business empowerment, and racial justice...etc for all Virginians. Yet, a state agency that represents the business interests of a foreign country is provided a budget of $219,000 and office space without a question be raised. While other advisory boards do exist, like the Asian Advisory Board, the Latino Advisory Board, the African American Advisory Board, and the Council on Women, not one of them gets the preferential treatment, funding and resources given to the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board. What is more, these advisory boards represent the interests of Virginia constituencies, not foreign businesses. I am a Virginia resident who is extremely concerned about the way my tax dollars are spent and about the precedent the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board sets. I do not want taxpayer funded lobby groups being given an advantage that local businesses do not have. Israeli businesses can set up their own lobby group outside state government without relying on taxpayer money. I am again kindly requesting the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board be decommissioned and removed from the state budget.
My name is Stephanie Scriven, from Warrenton, Virginia, and I write to you as a private citizen to urge you to allocate additional funding to expand the availability of outpatient mental health services, permanent supportive housing, Peer Recovery Specialists, and Family Support Partners in our state. As a mental health provider and a consumer, I have witnessed the power of these services and watched Virginians grow and recovery from everyday mental health challenges. I am hopeful that the General Assembly will expand these services to meet mental health needs in Virginia.