December 2013 Advocacy Update
In November we discussed the expiration of the 2009 stimulus boost funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or “food stamps”) that supports more than 415,000 children in families in Virginia. The impact of that change means that families saw their per meal average supplement reduced by the equivalent of about 21 meals per month. Low-income families, seniors and other individuals with special needs already struggle with the high costs of food. Cornerstones is working with local nonprofits, faith organizations and community partners to increase private sector donations as suggested in a recent initiative by Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, and we will provide more details of this work in the near future.
While we pursue efforts to increase resources and improve coordination of human services locally, the magnitude of need cannot be addressed without resources such as SNAP and school nutrition programs that directly supplement a family’s food budget and choices. We remain concerned about the recent cuts to the SNAP program, as well as the further impact to needy families based on Congress’ action on the Farm Bill.
Federal legislators are racing the clock to pass a new Farm Bill by January 1st before the current law expires. The Farm Bill, which sets federal agricultural policy and spending on food aid, is currently in negotiations between the House and Senate. However, the two houses took radically different approaches to writing their individual versions of this bill, meaning that reconciliation will be a difficult process with compromises required on both sides.
Over the summer, the Senate approved a Farm Bill that stipulated cuts of about $4 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) which would primarily come from reduction in administrative expenses and greater emphasis on anti-fraud measures. The House bill, also approved over the summer, voted to cut nearly $40 billion through revisions to eligibility rules.
Should Congress fail to either pass a new Farm Bill or approve a stopgap measure by January 1, the current Farm Bill will expire, reverting the Country’s dairy policy back to a 1949 law. Policy experts indicate the results would be a price hike of milk, along with other household staples like rice, corn and wheat likely following suit. In Fairfax County, 1 in 4 children experience periodic or regular instances of hunger. Families have been hit hard by the economic recession and many are struggling. We hope that Congress will protect SNAP benefits for the nearly 48 million Americans who rely on food stamps. Studies show that the program improves the health and academic success of children, has low rates of fraud, and is estimated to generate $1.70 in economic activity for every $1 invested in the program.
Over the next several months, Congress will be making important spending decisions that address the tools that local governments and nonprofit organizations have to address the high cost and inadequate supply of affordable housing, food insecurity and hunger relief and other social service programs. The impact of sequestration, government shut-down and expiration of certain stimulus programs has negatively impacted critical assistance to our most vulnerable residents. You can read more about the recent budget deal here.
November 2013 Advocacy Update
Starting November 1st, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) will be cut by $5 billion over the next year due to the expiration of the 2009 stimulus boost to the program. More than 47 million Americans will see their SNAP benefits cut, including approximately 941,000 people in the state of Virginia, 415,000 of which are children. The end of the stimulus boost will decrease the per-meal average to $1.40, reducing the benefits package by about 21 meals per month. On average, food stamps provide less than 2 weeks worth of food already, and many food pantries have limited supplies of more expensive items such as canned/frozen meats, eggs or milk proteins. These cuts will be felt hard by our low-income clients.
However, SNAP benefits are threatened from several different angles. In addition to the expiration of funding from the stimulus package, and cuts that came as a result of sequestration, Congress is in the process of reconciling the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill which could result in additional cuts of up to $40 billion to the SNAP program. As advocates, we need to encourage our legislators to protect funding for SNAP benefits, as these provide crucial assistance to our community’s most vulnerable residents. Studies show that the program improves the health and success of children, has low rates of fraud, and is estimated to generate $1.70 in economic activity for every $1 invested in the program.
October 2013 Advocacy Update
The combined effects of sequestration, the government shutdown, and other decisions being made on the federal level are being felt immediately and hard by our low-income clients.
On Wednesday evening Congress agreed on a deal to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, thus averting what would have been the first debt default in our nation’s history. The deal will put 800,000 federal employees back to work and provide back pay to all furloughed workers. The bill, signed by President Obama early Thursday morning, will fund the government through January 15th, and will extend the debt ceiling through February 7th. In addition, the bill tightens income verification standards for those receiving subsidies for the insurance marketplace through the Affordable Care Act.
Reports indicate that the 16-day shutdown cost the greater Washington D.C. area an estimated $25 million in lost tourism, tax and local business revenue including delayed or lost federal contracts. According to calculations done by Standard and Poor’s rating agency, as a nation we saw a total loss of $24 billion in economic activity. Additionally, the Fitch rating agency has issued a warning on the U.S. credit rating for drawing so close to the debt ceiling.
The compromise bill will fund the federal government and raise the debt ceiling until early next year, but a more comprehensive budget deal will need to be made in the upcoming months. As these discussions progress, we need to be wary of any compromises that come at the expense of funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and Section 8 Housing Vouchers, or that stipulate any delay in the Affordable Care Act. The combined effects of sequestration, the government shutdown, and other decisions being made on the federal level are being felt immediately and hard by our low-income clients. Please continue to reach out to your elected officials, and urge them to look for budget solutions that protect these vital programs which are crucial to the success of our clients.
In the meantime, Cornerstones will focus efforts on encouraging the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia. The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) met on Monday October 21st to review progress of reforms to the state Medicaid system, and to hear alternative methods of increasing health insurance coverage, as used by other states.
Expansion of Medicaid is a crucial piece in the puzzle of making health insurance affordable for our low-income clients. The Affordable Care Act provides individuals and families at 100-400% of the federal poverty level with subsidies to purchase insurance on healthcare exchanges. However, the law excluded those earning less than the federal poverty level under the assumption that states would expand Medicaid coverage to 138% of the federal poverty level. This leaves states like Virginia that have not yet decided to expand their Medicaid programs with a sizeable coverage gap. Please continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion as this would provide much needed benefits to thousands of vulnerable Virginia residents across the state. Cornerstones advocates will also track progress of any dialogues concerning alternative methods of expanding coverage (that do not involve extension of Medicaid), and will provide regular updates on this website portal.
Government Shutdown has Far-reaching Consequences
The federal government shutdown not only affects millions of federal workers who will see their paychecks delayed but it impacts everyone who uses services administered or funded by the federal government. Consider –
- Many federal workers had already seen their household incomes significantly reduced this past year due to furloughs (days without pay) mandated by sequestration.
- The shutdown also impacts businesses that depend on revenue from federal workers on a daily basis—to include retail, hospitality, service and travel industries where part-time, seasonal or self-employed workers’ income is often determined by sales volume.
With a prolonged shutdown, we’ll begin to see disruptions to vital services such as health and housing programs, on top of the cuts that have already been made.
Your commitment to Cornerstones helps us continue our mission to support and advocate for those in need of food, shelter, affordable housing, quality childcare, and other human services. Your donation will make a difference in the lives of children, families, men and women, not only during this difficult time, but every day of the year.
September 2013 Advocacy Update
Advocate for Medicaid Expansion
Cornerstones is teaming with Nonprofit VA and other nonprofit human services providers around the state to advocate for Medicaid Expansion. Please join us by encouraging your state legislators to support the expansion of Medicaid either through direct contact with your representative, or by submitting your supportive comments on the MIRC website portal, which can be found here.
The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) met for the second time on August 19th to discuss the progress of reforms to the Virginia Medicaid system. The MIRC has been appointed by the Virginia General Assembly to “review, recommend and approve innovation and reform proposals affecting the Virginia Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) programs”. Senator Emmett Hanger, Chairman of the Commission, said that the required reforms are “a little more than halfway there”.Should the commission determine that sufficient reforms have been implemented, Medicaid will expand to cover the uninsured up to 138% of the federal poverty line, providing insured healthcare to an additional 400,000 Virginians, nearly 30,000 of which are located in Fairfax County.
July/August 2013 Advocacy Update
The Unseen Effects of Sequestration
On July 24th, Cornerstones attended the National Conference on Ending Homelessness “Capitol Hill Day”, to advocate for restored funding to federal programs that have been impacted by sequestration. Cornerstones was joined by nonprofit organizations located in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Charlottesville, and Tidewater, who work with families and singles either experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless. Advocates had a chance to sit down with Members of Congress and their staff to explain the direct and widespread impacts these cuts have had on their programs and clients.
While these organizations spoke positively in regard to new availability of HUD-VASH vouchers and the opportunity to house homeless veterans, they also expressed their concerns for the compounded effects of sequestration on their programs. The freeze in issuance of Section 8 vouchers on April 1st resulted in 54 rescinded vouchers, no new vouchers, and severely reduced turnover of existing vouchers in Fairfax County. Currently, funding is available to sustain the existing vouchers, however, there is uncertainty as to what funding will be available for Section 8 in the near future. Funding shortages would require organizations to work with clients for much longer periods of time, making it difficult for them to take on new clients who are in need of permanent supportive housing. In addition to the direct impacts on programs, sequestration has affected individual and corporate donors, who are unable to donate at the levels of previous years.
Adequate funding for Section 8 vouchers leads to successful rapid re-housing of homelessness victims, and allows communities and the federal government to save money on expensive systems of emergency care. Both the House and Senate are currently deliberating appropriations bills for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Cornerstones will encourage Virginia Members of Congress to fight for restored funding for Section 8 vouchers in these appropriations bills.
June 2013 Advocacy Update
Though Virginia’s approved fiscal year budget has opened the door for Medicaid expansion in Virginia, there is much work to be done to see this expansion realized.
Virginia’s Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC), which met for the first time on Monday, June 17th, is tasked with deciding over the next year whether reform standards required by Governor McDonnell have been met, and therefore, the fate of Medicaid expansion in Virginia.
The commission will review three phases of reform in Virginia: the advancement of reforms currently in progress; implementation of innovations in service delivery, administration, and beneficiary engagement; and movement towards coordination of long-term services and supports. Should they find that these goals are met, the commission could authorize expansion of Medicaid as early as the middle of 2014.
At the first meeting of the commission, Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazel and his staff presented facts about the program and those who are not receiving medical care. Virginia currently has some of the most restrictive eligibility limits – covering only children and their mothers and a small number of seniors or those with special needs or in need of nursing home care. If expanded, it has been estimated that some 33,000 individuals in the Reston-Herndon area would be able to access health care services at the doctor’s office instead of at emergency rooms.
Nonprofit Virginia, The Commonwealth Institute and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy are working with members of MIRC to provide information on reforms and to ask them to extend Medicaid for 400,000 Virginians. Cornerstones will be reporting back on the commission’s progress and the action you can take to support expansion.
May 2013 Advocacy Update
Wrapping up Richmond: The 2013 General Assembly Session in Virginia marked highs and lows – as we laid the groundwork for providing healthcare for nearly 400,000 uninsured Virginians. Transportation investments are critical but at a cost to other programs.
Commonwealth Coordinated Care, a Medicaid “pilot program” experiment to better coordinate the long-term care of individuals enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, was approved on May 21st and is scheduled to launch in early 2014. The program is part of an effort to reform Medicaid in Virginia, one of the conditions of Governor McDonnell’s provision of Medicaid extension funding in the budget earlier this year. The program is estimated to serve 78,000 Virginians, as well as produce savings to the state of a projected $11.3 million in the second half of FY 2014. Cornerstones supports the efforts to facilitate Medicaid extension in Virginia, as this will provide essential health care to many of our clients in need.
Provisions of the final transportation funding package (HB2313), passed by the General Assembly in February, are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2013, meaning vehicle registration costs, state sales and use tax, and license fees for electric vehicles will all increase to help fund transportation infrastructure in Virginia. Additionally, the state’s 17.5 cent per gallon gasoline tax will be replaced with a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline (6 percent on diesel fuel) at the wholesale level. In full, the funding package feeds approximately $6 billion into transportation infrastructure. However, much of this funding depends on passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act, a measure that will require online and remote sellers to collect and remit sales tax. If the marketplace Fairness Act doesn’t pass the House, the state’s wholesale tax on gasoline will increase from 3.5 to 5.1, but even this increase will result in about $438 million fewer dollars going to transportation funding.
While Cornerstones hopes that Virginia will not see the gas tax increase to 5.1 percent, we are actively seeking partnerships with organizations to coordinate ridesharing programs in order to offer our clients access to affordable and efficient transportation to their jobs, and other amenities in Fairfax.
April 2013 Advocacy Update
Consequences of the federal sequester continue to hit Northern Virginia. Our area’s economy depends heavily on jobs and contracts from the federal government. However, Fairfax County’s most vulnerable residents will also bear the effects of these cuts in loss of opportunities for housing vouchers. As of April 1st, Fairfax County has frozen the distribution of new housing vouchers in preparation for possible $2.5 million in federal cuts to the housing choice voucher program. This means that in 2013, up to 150 families in our area will not receive housing assistance vouchers.
Cornerstones will continue to work with partners and government officials to identify funding and opportunities for our clients in need of housing. As the state budget is now being finalized, we want to thank all those involved in the input process – both our supporters and our legislators. We look forward to working with the Governor, General Assembly and Task Force to ensure reforms are initiated and that Medicaid is made available to newly eligible recipients as soon as possible.
March 2013 Advocacy Update
Cornerstones’ CEO, Kerrie Wilson, calls a technical on the impact of sequestration on homeless and low-income working families in her opinion piece published in the Connection newspapers last week. Read the article.