Health policy reform on Virginia special session agenda
Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam called the General Assembly to convene in a special session on August 2. This session has two purposes: filling judicial vacancies and allocating $4.3 billion relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
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Gov. Northam and legislative leaders say improving public health is one of the top five priorities for the funding. Other goals include supporting small businesses, relief for workers, modernizing public schools, and expanding broadband connection. Regarding public health specifically, the federal funds will:
“Upgrade long-underfunded state and local public health services, boost affordable housing, and help Virginians with the cost of utilities.”
The federal funds come at an opportune time for Virginia. State revenues are rising and the state unemployment rate decreased to 4.5 percent in May — 4.0 percentage points lower than this time last year. State leaders see the funds as an investment. A joint statement from Northam and legislative leaders states:
“This is a unique opportunity to invest in Virginia’s long-term future. We intend to be good stewards of these taxpayer dollars, in full compliance with fiduciary guidelines. We reject calls to refuse these federal dollars, and we support the law’s prohibition on cutting state taxes to substitute federal dollars. We embrace this rare opportunity, and we choose to invest.”
State legislators have vocalized their health policy priorities long before Gov. Northam’s announcement. At the 2021 Virginia State of Reform Health Policy Conference in May, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, member of the Education and Health Committee, spoke of developing a more all-encompassing system of care.
“When somebody comes to us and says they’re in need, we shouldn’t just qualify them for Medicaid. We should see, ‘Do they need help with education? Do they need help with housing? Are they in a safe place?’ There’s no reason they should have to apply to a different silo [for other types of assistance].”