LEGISLATIVE UPDATE--01-30-2017--YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE


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Special Alerts-State

Must read -The Session Adjourns! SALT Report --what happened!

Together we did it!
 
On behalf of SALT, I would like to convey our thanks to you our advocates and legislators in this year’s general assembly session for an increase in TANF and other Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
 
SALT’s proposed a TANF increase patroned by Delegate Paul Krizek passed:

  • There will be a 2.5 percent increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits effective July 1, 2017.  This will be the third TANF Benefit increase in three years following fifteen years with no increases.  Benefits have declined to just one-fifth of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

TANF Group Consolidation:  SALT proposed and supported legislation to reform TANF locality groupings for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was successful passed.

  • TANF Group I – is eliminated effective with 7/1/17 payments.  All Group I localities will become Group II.
  • Locality groupings that determine (TANF) payment levels are reformed to reflect increased costs of living. The DSS Board's current three locality groups shall be reorganized into two locality groups. Group I shall consist of all localities that fall within the Board's current Group I and Group II.

Workforce Development Initiatives:

  •  Passed $7.5 million from the federal (TANF) block grant for community employment and training programs offered by Employment Services Organizations.
  • This money will help struggling mothers and struggling communities get a second chance.


SALT Opposed HB 2213: Time limit on the receipt of TANF financial assistance (defeated):

  • This proposal by Delegate O’Bannon to reduce the total lifetime limit on TANF financial assistance to 24 months;
  • Defeated by House Appropriations Committee.


SALT Supported Comprehensive community colleges; tuition grants SB 1032 by Senator Favola:
 

  •  Provides that Virginia students who were in foster care or considered a special needs adoption and are enrolled in a noncredit workforce credential training program in a comprehensive community college may qualify for a grant for the payment of tuition and fees.
  • Passed - Senate: Enrolled Bill Communicated to Governor.   

SALT Supported Sen. Favola’s budget amendment to extend child care services and other services to welfare moms while they completed a 2-year educational program –, failed.

SALT Supported Identical House Scholarship Pilot bills for TANF youth; HB 2041 and by Delegate Kathleen Murphy and SB 838 by Senator Bill Stanley:

  • House HWI Committee passed Unanimously and Senate Bill passed the Senate unanimously
  • Both - Laid on the Table -- Defeated in House Appropriations.

SALT Supported Senator Favola’s bill SB 876 that creates a Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program;
Enables extended family members to receive payments, if they can provide a permanent home for a relative who is in the foster care system.Research shows that foster children who are able to grow up with family have a much higher chance of flourishing:

  • House: Subcommittee recommends laying on the table by voice vote - House: Left in Appropriations.

SALT supported Food Stamp program; categorical eligibility SB 810 by Senator Favola. Establishes broad-based categorical eligibility for the food stamp program, exempting families that already qualify for certain public assistance programs from an additional financial eligibility determination for food stamp benefits:

  • Senate: Reported from Rehabilitation and Social Services (14-Y 1-N);
  • Defeated in Senate Finance full committee.

SALT Supported Food Stamps eligibility to receive benefits if convicted of drug-related felonies SB 830. Introduced by: Barbara A. Favola Provides that a person who is otherwise eligible to receive food stamp benefits shall not be denied such assistance solely because he has been convicted of a first-time felony offense of possession with intent to distribute:

  • Senate: Passed by indefinitely (PBI); Rehabilitation and Social Services (8-Y 7-N).  

SB 923, increases the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $500 By Senators Petersen & Surovell:

  • Passed the full Senate  28-12. Killed in the House.

 The General Assembly reconvenes six weeks after session (April 5th) to vote on bills that the Governor vetoes or amends.
The General Assembly has a perfect record sustaining Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes. Voice your support!
 
For Another SALT Accomplishment:
See our SALT Letter to the Editor published in Washington Post 1/25/17 go to Op/Ed for SALT page---Transparency letter.

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HB 1651 provides that an inmate sentenced to a term that makes the inmate ineligible for release (i.e., virtually a life sentence) exempt from depositing 10 percent of any funds the inmate receives into an inmate personal trust account. These accounts are designated to support re-entry.  There is no re-entry for a virtual life sentence.  HB1651 passed unanimously and goes to the Senate.

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Driver's Licenses for Immigrants
    
HB 1682 (Del. Bloxom), to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver privilege cards to taxpaying residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the bill, it did not advance out of committee. We look forward, however, to supporting similar legislation, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), which would extend driving privileges to all immigrants who are legally present in the Commonwealth.

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Holding Wages Down

Three different bills offered by my Democratic colleagues that would have raised the minimum wage were defeated by an unrecorded subcommittee voice vote. And this week, the House Republicans passed a bill that prohibits our state agencies from requiring that laborers who work on state-funded projects be paid at the prevailing wage level. Virginians who work for the minimum wage won’t get the raise they need, and our skilled tradespeople could even see their wages fall.

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Death Penalty

On Monday, the Court of Justice committee killed Senator Favola’s bill which would have prevented those who have severe mental illness from being eligible for the death penalty. Those who don’t possess full understanding of their crimes should not be subject to the highest penalty.

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Virginia Transparency Caucus: Increasing Transparency in Virginia Government

The goal is to increase public awareness of the inner workings of Virginia Government and the legislative and political process, in order to make Government more easily accessible to all Virginia citizens throughout the Commonwealth.

A letter is being circulated among General Assembly members advocating for the inclusion of filming capability for committee and subcommittee hearings in the New General Assembly Building. More members are filming the proceedings on their bills as Del Mark Levine and co-founder Senator Amanda Chase do. And another group – Progress Virginia – has chipped in to film almost 75% of subcommittee proceedings.

The Caucus promoted transparency in bills before the General Assembly, such as a bill this year by Republican Delegate Ben Cline that would have required each committee and subcommittee to record its votes (but unfortunately was killed by the Republican Leadership). We want to see more of this type of bi-partisan legislation. Transparency is something that’s good for both sides of the aisle.


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End Gerrymandering - Four Delegates Against Reform – Contact Them!
 
During this legislative session, House Joint Resolution 749 was introduced by Democratic Delegate John Bell to establish an independent citizen-led Redistricting Commission, which would be charged with drawing districts using objective standards.
 
House Joint Resolution 763 was introduced by Republican Delegate Steve Landes to prohibit districts from being drawn in order to favor or disfavor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress, or other individual or entity.
 
Unfortunately, both of these common-sense measures were defeated in a Privileges and Elections subcommittee along mostly party-line votes.

Four Delegates voted against redistricting reform on Monday, January 30th.  It was four on a seven member subcommittee, so they effectively killed redistricting reform.  They decided their gerrymandering was more important. Contact them to tell them how disappointed you are in this vote.  Contact these Delegates Minchew, Miller, Hugo, and Cole right now!

Miller, Jackson    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Hugo, Tim           This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Cole, Delegate Mark L.     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Minchew, Del. Randall    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



State ISSUES –2016

 SALT Legislative Proposals/Patron’s Updates—March 10, 2016 --
 
 Celebrate!
 

SALT Advocates:

Reason to celebrate! We did it!  You did it!

Thanks to your persistent advocacy our six SALT Budget Items and one SALT bill passed.

Thank your Delegate & Senator and our outstanding patrons: Senator George Barker, Senator Barbara Favola; Delegate Mark Sickles, Delegate Kaye Kory, Delegate Paul Krizek and Delegate Alfonso Lopez. Special thanks to our NOVA Conferees: Senators Dick Saslaw, Janet Howell and the lone Democratic conferee from the House—Delegate Luke Torian—thank them!

This is the most substantial win yet!

Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant - 2016

The General Assemblyadded$17.4 million in SALT proposed &supported TANF program funding for Virginia families:

  • $4.8 million for a Child Support Supplement;
  • $4.7 million for a 2.5% cash benefit increase;
  • $4.0 million to expand workforce training for TANF Recipients to five additional community colleges;
  • $1.9 million to Expand Foster Care Services to 21; 
  • Provides for Apprenticeships for TANF   Welfare Families; and
  • $2.0 million for domestic violence grants; and
  • TANF Caseload Expenditure Reports to Document TANF Funds not Directed Specifically at TANF Families (Non Supplatation).

With thanks! john


Medicaid Expansion Legislation

The 2015 General Assembly session may be over, but one big problem remains: lawmakers still refuse to close the health care coverage gap. A favorite smokescreen is the claim that Medicaid needs to be reformed before it can be expanded. However, this claim neglects the fact that recent Medicaid reforms are not only in place in Virginia, but are exceeding expectations. --The Commonwealth Institute
 
The Virginia Senate Finance Committee and House of Delegates Appropriations Committee chose to exclude Medicaid expansion from the budget and instead, they want to increase state General Fund dollars to free clinics and community health centers. However, we believe Medicaid expansion would enhance the entire health care delivery system in Virginia and is a better solution.
 
Virginians are already paying for Medicaid expansion through our federal tax dollars. Since our state lawmakers have refused to expand Medicaid, we are losing that money. We are disappointed that our lawmakers are ignoring the basic needs of 400,000 people, most of whom are employed taxpayers in the Commonwealth.
 
Keep advocating for a real solution for those 400,000 Virginians because the people of the Commonwealth deserve better.

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Breaking News! VIRGINIA GOVERNOR McAuliffe BANS THE BOX WITH EXECUTIVE ORDER

Governor McAuliffe signed Executive Order 41, which reforms state hiring practices by removing questions regarding criminal history from employment applications. The Order makes clear that criminal history shall not be a determining factor in employment decisions, unless an individual’s criminal history bears specific relation to the job for which they are being considered. “In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed,” Governor McAuliffe said about the Order.

As you know, “Ban the Box” legislation was a top SALT priority during the 2015 General Assembly session.  SALT & VA-CURE partner made a compelling case for “Ban the Box”: "Formerly incarcerated individuals shouldn’t face a life sentence of no job prospects and no opportunities to better themselves just because they have served time in prison. These new (“Ban the Box”) laws will help them get back on their feet, contribute to their communities and keep one offense from becoming a life-long barrier.”

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Visit the SALT website at http://www.S-A-L-T.org

KINSHIP CARE  --  FACT SHEET

1) Because the TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Block Grant Funding amount has remained the same over the years ($158,258,000) while the TANF caseload has diminished  —- from 70,797 families in June 1995 to 24,680 families in June 2015  -- Virginia has, as a result, the financial resources required to assuage the poverty afflicting many children in the state. In addition, it should be noted that the TANF “carry-forward” from prior fiscal years 2014, 2015, 2016 has been $36, 533,157, $47,528,489, $39,226,072.

2) Unfortunately, although the financial resources have been available to Virginia for many years, the resolve to lighten the burden for impoverished children has been deficient.

3) In addition, there has been a significant gap, actually a grave injustice, in the level of care provided to impoverished children in the Foster Care program and those in the TANF Kinship Care (aka Relative Care) program. For example, two siblings age five and thirteen being cared for in a Foster Care home will receive $1,227 per month--$14,724 per year--plus an annual clothing allowance of $386 and $464; the same children, if being cared for by a relative, receives a mere $254 per month—$3,048 per year--under the TANF program. The only difference between these children in this example is their domicile; one lives with a foster parent and the other with a relative.

4) The example cited above demonstrates how dramatically the cost to the state would escalate if children in TANF households were transferred to the foster care program.

5) Considering the TANF surplus that is available and noted in #1 above, the time for correcting this inequity is long overdue, especially in light of the fact that assistance available to impoverished children living with a relative has increased only twice since 1985; that is twice in 30 years.  

6) In contrast, Foster care support payments increased by 15 percent in FY 2009; these payments are again set to increase in 2016. Even with a 15 percent TANF increase for next year and the following two years, TANF benefits would still lag far behind foster care payments, exacerbating the policy inequity that currently prevails. A comparable increase in TANF benefits is long past due; this injustice calls for a prompt correction.  

7) TANF benefits are currently supporting roughly 34,680 children in Virginia. Most of these children live with at least one parent, but about a half of them, roughly 17,043 children, live with a relative other than a parent. These relatives, especially grandparents, make tremendous sacrifices to care for these children, i.e., their kin, and they receive little support in doing so--nothing in comparison to what is received by Foster families.

8) Virginia is presented with an opportunity to invest the considerable savings noted above in helping the hard-to-serve families who remain on TANF. As a matter of basic fairness and in light of the moral imperative to set things aright, i.e., do justice, the Governor and General Assembly owe it to Virginia’s neediest children to restore at least a portion of the buying power lost to inflation and, thereby, use TANF funds for their most fundamental purpose, to provide a temporary safety net for families working toward financial independence.  

9) Funding for TANF should be increased no later than FY 2017 by 15 percent, costing $7.5 million, to account for what was lost due to over 25 percent inflation during the past fifteen years. In addition, benefits should be indexed to increase whenever Foster Care rates are increased. Doing so would address the issue of future inflation and allow recipients to continue meeting basic needs and reduce the increasing/unfair disparity between Foster Care payments and TANF benefits for children.

VIDEO VISITATION IN PRISONS FACT SHEET

1) This bill, H.R.6441: Video Visitation in Prisons Act of 2016, sponsored by U.S. Representative (now Senator) Tammy Duckworth requires the Federal Communications Commission to promulgate regulations for video visitation services that allow inmates to make video calls to individuals outside a correctional facility, but would require the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that correctional facilities that have video visitation services do not ban in-person visits.

2) This legislation would Amend FCC regulations on inmate calling services as necessary, to ensure that all charges and practices are just and reasonable. The regulations must include: caps on rates charged by service providers, a prohibition against charging flat rates, a prohibition against a provider requiring a correctional facility to restrict in-person visitation as a condition to providing a calling or video visitation service, a prohibition against the provider offering bundled services that include non-communications services, and video quality standards.

3) The federal criminal code is amended to require the Bureau of Prisons to ensure that: video visitation does not supplant in-person visitation; privacy is maximized in the video areas and equipment; no persons other than corrections officers have authority over the terms of a prisoner's imprisonment, including visitation schedules or the ability to move within a correctional facility; and service providers provide a list of each video visitation and each fee charged to visitors and prisoners, offer free visits based on good behavior if authorized by the correctional facility, and submit quarterly compliance reports.

4) Although video visitation is an important option for people with physical illnesses, disabilities, and limited time and finances, in-person prison visits help incarcerated people to maintain vital relationships with their family members and loved ones on the outside.
Studies show that inmates who get personal visits with family are less likely to return to prison after release.

5) A coalition comprised of the ACLU, Prison Law Office, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice said in a letter to the California Board of State and Community Corrections that in-person visits result in fewer disciplinary problems among prisoners and lower recidivism rates.

6) Nationwide, an estimated 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent, but 5 million children will experience parental incarceration at some point during their childhood.

Dear John,
 
I haven't written to you in a very long time due to so many medical problems and many other issues but after learning about this story, I had to write. So here goes.

Now that the Governor has fixed one issue to help us get back into being productive citizens, I wish he would help with the one issue I have written every Governor, Senator, and so many more that I can't even begin to name them all, to help us get on our feet after being released from prison.

The fact that we can't get on our feet because we can't get a good start financially after release is a big problem. We are denied Food Stamps, when VIOLENT CRIMINALS, for example, Murderers, Rapists, Child Molesters, etc. can get out of prison and be receiving Food stamps the next day.

All I did was have a surgery, which led to an addiction which then led to finding a way to feed my addiction. So I was convicted of selling a pill. I am not saying that it is not bad, but I didn't sell the pill to a child and the person I sold it to did not die or get sick or overdose. But 20 years later, I am still being punished by being denied help with Food Stamps, and 20 years later, I have not gotten on my feet, but I am now severely disabled and live every day wondering how I am going to pay bills and buy Food.

I am not going through the entire story of my release, but you probably know how hard it is to get a decent job after being convicted of a felony charge. Even though I went to College, I still couldn't find a "decent"  job after release. No one wants to hire a felon, especially one that was an addict. So, here I am all these years later, still poor as poor can get, severely disabled and unable to get Food Stamps to help just a little bit. I am no longer able to work and I sit and I cry most days because I can't work. Anyway.............

I have been through lots of programs that other states require to get Food Stamps after release.  Probably many, many more than required by ANY State requirements.

I still go to NA meetings, when I am not too sick from my many medical problems.

If only the Governor understood all the things we have to go through after being released, and if he knew all the resistance, hatred, prejudice and so much more, that we have to endure, maybe he would change a few more laws to help those being released today. Also, to help those who have suffered for years, due to not having help being reintroduced back into society, like myself. I am not even able to sit or stand for long periods of time, so it took me many sittings today, to write this email.

I figured if I could get out 1 email, it would be best to send it to you, John. Thanks for what you do. So very much appreciated!!!  

Thanks,

Tammy M.
 
We celebrate and keep organizing
 
SALT Advocates:

As a society we value second chances. When people have served their time in prison, they are released from incarceration and we should want to see them restored to a productive life. We want them to be able to get a job, support their families, and be involved in their communities in a positive way. These individuals want to find a way to contribute to society and work for a better future.