Candidate Survey - 2015


THIS QUESTIONAIRE REQUESTS YOUR POSITIONS ON SALT’S TOP LEGISLATIVE ISSUES FOR 2015-16.  Your responses will be shared with our members and others via mailings and our website (www.s-a-l-t.org) as a helpful guide in their choice of candidates.  Your answers will not be abbreviated or taken out of context.  Please return your answers by August 21st by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Thank you for your commitment to public service and for your willingness to share your opinions with SALT.
 
Candidate:   Alfonso Lopez 

District:       House District 49

1. Closing The Health Care Coverage Gap for Low Income Adults – Virginia has the opportunity to use available federal funding to offer Medicaid health insurance coverage to up to 400,000 very low-income adults.  Most are working in important job sectors such as retail, tourism, and construction, but unable to get affordable health insurance from their jobs or from the federal marketplace.  Federal funding (which pays for 100% of the costs through 2016 and gradually reduces to 90% in 2020) would support Virginia hospitals, create jobs, and save state dollars currently supporting many health programs.  Thirty states (including West Virginia and Kentucky) and D.C. already provide this coverage. Do you support closing the coverage gap?  Please explain.

YES – Over the past four years, I have been a strong advocate for closing the coverage gap. The Commonwealth is losing $5 million each day that we refuse to accept federal dollars. If we expand Medicaid, Virginia could save millions that could be used for other priorities such as mental health care, public education, public safety, and the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Expanding this program is also vital to providing quality health care to the 400,000 uninsured Virginians who are living on the margins and struggling to make ends meet. Every day that uninsured Virginians go without health care is another day that they have to worry about getting an injury or illness that plummets them into bankruptcy. Indeed, in many cases, these are members of the working poor who are one catastrophic family illness away from financial ruin. Unfortunately, House Republicans have adopted a "just say no" attitude to any plan that would reclaim Virginia tax dollars from the federal government to expand health care coverage. We cannot afford to wait any longer to cover these Virginians. This is an essential component to Virginia's next budget, which will not receive my support unless it closes the coverage gap.

2. Inflation Indexing of TANF Benefits is a Fairness Issue: Currently, a family of three in Virginia receives a fifth of the federal poverty level and has seen only one TANF increase since 1985.  At $269 a month average for a family Virginia ranks 35th in TANF payments. Indexing would prevent further erosion of recipients’ ability to meet basic needs of children in their own home or in relative care and can be funded from the federal TANF block grant.  Shouldn’t Virginia take steps to alleviate poverty and to protect families. Strong families are as important to Virginia’s future as schools and roads. What steps would you support to ensure a meaningful level of time-limited assistance to Virginia’s needy families?  Please explain.

TANF benefits are critical to helping Virginia families that have come across tough times and need to make ends meet until they can get back on their feet. As these benefits are used to help families in poverty pay for their most basic needs, I would strongly support increasing and indexing TANF benefits to ensure that we protect our most vulnerable citizens.  

3. Corporate Tax Breaks:  All Should Pay Their Fair Share.  We know from local research across Virginia that the recent State budget cuts have cut into real, quality of life spending by local governments:  libraries are closed, police have lost staff positions, teachers have lost their jobs, and class sizes increase for public school students.  At the same time, too many (two-thirds) large corporations operating in our State get by with paying very little in corporate income tax due to tax breaks, subsidies, and clever work by their tax lawyers. How will you make sure that individuals and corporations at the upper end of our income scale pay their fair share so that we can avoid painful service cuts in the future?

As a legislature, we need to make sure that the budget reflects the priorities and values of Virginia’s citizens. That is why I have fought over the past two years to save funding for important programs like Virginia’s healthcare safety-net, Child Advocacy Centers, local libraries, and public broadcasting. While I am proud of the fact that we were successful in saving the funding for Virginia’s healthcare safety-net and Child Advocacy Centers in 2012, the General Assembly continues to spend millions trying to attract the movie industry to Virginia rather than supporting our own libraries and public broadcasting. If re-elected, I will continue to fight to restore the funding for these important programs and ensure that Virginia’s priorities become Richmond’s priorities.

We also need to look closely at incentives and tax breaks in the Virginia tax code. Last year, I introduced budget amendments to repeal the yacht tax loophole and eliminate the net operating loss carry back deduction. These tax loopholes only serve to provide tax breaks for Virginia’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. Repealing these loopholes could bring in an additional $18 million in annual revenue that could be used to bolster our social safety-net. I strongly support creating a more progressive tax structure in Virginia and will continue to introduce bills and budget amendments to close egregious tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations.  


4. Bring about effective change in the criminal justice system: Those who remain in contact with loved ones on the outside are less likely, studies show, to return to a life of crime after serving their time. So why does Virginia make it so hard for inmates to phone their families? SALT believes that telephone charges should be “just and reasonable”. A small reform, perhaps, but lower rates might help prisoners go straight. Do you support lower phone rate to reestablish contact between offenders and their families and ultimately to reduce recidivism among ex-offenders?

We need to focus on policies and programs that help inmates rehabilitate and integrate back into society. I supported the legislation introduced by Delegate Patrick Hope last year to place a reasonable restriction on the phone rates that inmates are charged. Keeping contact with their loved ones is extraordinarily important in helping earn a second chance at life and reducing recidivism.

Virginia also needs to allow for the automatic restoration of civil rights for nonviolent felons. Having paid their debt to society, these citizens deserve a second chance at making a better life for themselves and their families. I was proud to sponsor this legislation during the 2013, 2014, and 2015 General Assembly Session and will continue to do so until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth. While Governor McAuliffe has done extraordinary work restoring the rights of felons, we should not leave this decision to the whim of the Governor.

5. Support of Operation Backpack for TANF Families-- Support of Operation Backpack for TANF Families-- This allowance would permit children living in poverty to acquire the needed school supplies and clothing essential for returning to school & equipping children to learn. Help Give School Supplies and Hope—a simple backpack can change lives. Would you support to give children in deepest poverty an even start?

I am proud of the work I have done over the past four years to address and maintain the social safety-net in Virginia.  Along those lines, I will continue to support Operation Backpack for TANF Families.

6. Rescind the Federal Lifetime TANF Ban for Ex-Drug Offenders: Lifting the ban eliminates for ex-offenders (whose offense was solely drug possession) the disqualification from receipt of TANF federal transitional assistance needed to care for family members, increases the chances of gainful employment of ex-offenders. To us lifting the ban is a matter of fairness, as it serves to provide basic Re-entry program services that reduce recidivism and save states money. This ban penalizes children of drug felons. Do we want to be a society that requires children to pay for the misdeed(s) of their parents? Do you support extending the eligibility of ex-drug offenders for food stamps TANF benefits as well? Do you support extending TANF eligibility for ex-drug offenders who return to their families and take responsibilities for their families? Please explain.

Yes – I support extending the eligibility of ex-offenders for SNAP benefits to TANF benefits as well.  In addition to punishing children for their parents’ mistakes, this policy merely serves to keep convicted felons from earning a second chance and becoming productive members of society.

YOUR ISSUES:  What are some issues you feel strongly about that you would like to share with your SALT constituents?

Despite a lack of progress on important issues such as Medicaid expansion, closing tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations, and properly funding Virginia’s social safety-net, I am proud of what I was able to accomplish to move our issues forward in the General Assembly. This year I passed legislation to strengthen Virginia’s retaliatory eviction law, expand nonresidential solar net-metering in Virginia, ban the possession and use of powdered alcohol in Virginia, and close a reporting loophole to strengthen consumer protection for in-home nursing care. In addition, we reached a compromise that I will present next year to allow victims of stalking to break a lease so that they can feel safe in their own homes.

I’m also proud of the work I did to increase funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund and key environmental programs such as the Storm Water Local Assistance Fund and Agricultural Best Management Practices Program.

Unfortunately, my legislation to ban child labor in Virginia tobacco farms, create a dedicated source of funding for the Housing Trust Fund, and implement commonsense gun violence prevention measures were all unsuccessful. However, I will continue to advocate for these key priorities until they become the law of the Commonwealth.

Another one of my major initiatives this session was creating the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus. This bipartisan caucus provided an opportunity for legislators to meet with Administration officials, industry experts, and environmental advocates, to discuss how to work together to preserve the environment for future generations while strengthening our economy through sustainable, clean energy investments.

I’d like to thank SALT for the opportunity to share my views on these important issues and for the work you do in Richmond to advocate for Virginians who are most in need. I look forward to continue working with you in the General Assembly to implement progressive, socially responsible policies in Virginia that move the Commonwealth forward.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!