I am writing to provide you with an update on the General Assembly’s task of passing a biennial budget for our Commonwealth. Passing a budget is of upmost importance; localities depend on whatever amount is allotted to them from the state to prepare their own budgets. In addition, state workers need the assurance that they will receive paychecks. Without a budget, Virginia’s bond rating could be threatened. At present, there is a budget impasse. The House has passed a budget without Medicaid expansion while the Senate passed a bi-partisan compromise. At the recent House Appropriations meeting, an anticipated $300 million shortfall in state revenue this year was announced, adding even more urgency to finalize the budget prior to the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, 2014.
Without Medicaid expansion, many hardworking Virginians are one health crisis away from being unable to provide for their families. I have heard from many constituents over the past few weeks regarding these issues; thank you for reaching out to me with your thoughts and opinions. As a delegate serving in the metropolitan Richmond area, I understand that many of our residents in the City and throughout the Commonwealth are in desperate need of adequate and affordable health services. I find it difficult to refuse the federal money which Virginia taxpayers have already contributed and watch it go to other states that do support Medicaid expansion.
Ensuring if and how more Virginians receive adequate and affordable health care was the major issue throughout session. In every district across our Commonwealth, there are uninsured Virginians, approximately 400,000. Within the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County, there are approximately 25,430 uninsured residents (about 7.6%). These citizens do not qualify for subsidies in the federal Health Insurance Marketplace; however, they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Of these individuals, nearly 70% are in working families and more than 30,000 are veterans.However, often their jobs do not offer health insurance or pay them enough to afford coverage. They may be only one medical crisis away from homelessness or being unable to afford to pay for food for their families. Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia have expressed their support for Medicaid expansion, stating that their health services will be jeopardized without it. If Virginia expands coverage, the federal government will pay for 100% of the costs in the first three years, and at least 90% after that.
On April 8, 2014, the Senate passed a budget that funds Virginia’s core priorities, gives state employees – including teachers – a 2% raise, helps fund benefits for families who lose a loved one in the line of duty, and uses Virginians’ federal tax dollars to close the coverage gap. The Senate’s budget reflects a bipartisan compromise, called Marketplace, which would use federal funds to provide private insurance to low-income residences.
The House, led by the Republican majority passed its budget, which did not include Medicaid expansion, on March 25. That budget cut money from areas such as education and public service in order to fund health related areas, including hospitals in rural areas, that would otherwise be able to benefit from money that was saved by accepting the federal money of Medicaid expansion for several years. The House budget has not been taken up by the Senate since the Senate passed its own budget which included the Governor’s amendments and the Marketplace option. Meanwhile,House leaders refuse to consider the budget passed by the Senate because they say that our state budget has traditionally originated in the House, the chamber of the people.
Aside from the issue of the budget, the General Assembly reconvened on April 23, 2014, for the “veto session” to consider the Governor’s vetoes and amendments to legislation passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. The majority of the Governor’s amendments were accepted by the General Assembly and his vetoes on four bills still stand.
The Governor amended 60 bills; most changes were technical in nature. However, some amendments on bills with a fiscal impacts included a clause that stated the measure would not take effect unless money for the related costs is appropriated in a budget bill passed by the General Assembly. The House rejected these amendments, which means that those bills go back to Governor McAuliffe. He has the choice to now sign or veto these bills.
During the April veto session, neither the budget nor Medicaid expansion were considered. The House will not reconvene again until Speaker Howell calls the delegates back into session. If a budget is not passed in both houses of the General Assembly Building, the state government could shut down on July 1, 2014. However, a government shutdown does not have to happen, and Governor McAuliffe has stated that he will not let that happen. This is not the first time in the history of our Commonwealth that we have not had a budget by this time on the calendar. It is my hope that we can come to a reasonable conclusion and ensure Medicaid expansion for the thousands of hardworking Virginians that need it.
I hope you have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, as we remember and honor those who have sacrificed their lives in service of our country.
Thank you. It is a privilege to serve you in the House of Delegates.
Betsy B. Carr
Member, House of Delegates