The following policy areas were decided by the Center’s Board of Directors. Focusing on a few important concerns lets the Center be more effective in advocacy efforts. Our grassroots engagement will be on these issues, but the Center will work to remain flexible in response to legislative opportunities as they arise.
Work of the Virginia Interfaith Center continues to focus on ensuring all Virginians have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. We will continue to press for expanding Medicaid to reach the greatest number of people who fall into the healthcare coverage gap in Virginia. Most of the people that are left in the coverage gap are working and simply earn too much to benefit from the current Medicaid program in Virginia (helps persons earning less than 33% of the federal poverty line).
By all accounts, Virginia would greatly benefit if we expand the Medicaid program to close the gap in health care coverage. Our current system is straining to care for uninsured individuals and families. The Virginia Hospital & Health Care Association, the Medical Society of Virginia, and most every other interested group including labor organizations and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce all agree that we need to expand Medicaid.
We will also be working to identify program and practice changes that will improve network adequacy, the ability of a health plan to provide enrollees with timely access to a sufficient number of in-network providers, including primary care and specialty physicians, as well as other health care services included in the benefit contract.
The Center also supported modest improvements in access for mental health and drug addiction services during the 2017 General Assembly, which won approval.
VICPP has developed a Healthcare Expansion Toolkit for educational use.
During 2016 we asked Virginia clergy and other religious leaders to sign on to our appeal to close the coverage gap. You can still sign on to the letter here. And you can see the hundreds of names of people who have signed here.
For many, a missing paycheck or late pay can result in missed car, rent, or child support payments, each of which has serious long term impact and ultimately threatens the entire Commonwealth’s economy. That’s why increased transparency, penalties, and resources are needed to hold employers accountable and give employees the knowledge they need to ensure fairness.
Over the past 30 years, the rich have been getting richer while the poor have been getting poorer. Since the start of the Great Recession, this trend has further accelerated across the nation and in Virginia. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years would help close the wage gap and give a boost to struggling families, lifting them out of poverty. In Virginia, six in ten minimum wage workers are women and many are raising families.
In our relatively new effort against wage theft, VICPP is: pushing to have the state’s Misclassification Taskforce actually function and implement new ways to crack down on worker misclassification; holding wage theft forums around the state to lift up the issue; drafting a revised Payment of Wages bill and find sponsors for introducing in the 2018 General Assembly; developing a Living Wage Certification program that will honor ethical employers in Richmond (and explore possibilities in other cities); piloting a program around training volunteers to help with both identifying and responding to wage theft and finding ethical businesses; developing a Worker Center in Richmond, a non-profit, community-based mediating organization that organizes and supports low wage workers who are not already a part of a collective bargaining organization like a trade union. Our executive director, Kim Bob, literally wrote the book on wage theft, so we are pleased and excited to have such an expert leading this fight.
If you have a personal story about wage theft, please tell us about it here.
There has been an increase an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric at the national level. This has trickled down around Virginia and both immigrants and Muslims report feeling targeted and fearful. This should not be in Virginia. VICPP believes Virginia must remain a welcoming state – welcoming immigrants and welcoming various faith grounds. What state has a prouder history of freedom of religious than Virginia?
We also support efforts to strengthen reporting of hate crimes and vigilance against hate crimes. We believe that federal legislation to broadly reform immigration policy must include a clear and timely path to citizenship for those that would qualify, boosting the economy of Virginia and the U.S. We cannot persist in a segregated society where some have rights but too many do not. As a practical matter in Virginia, we need to make sure that persons that are authorized or lawfully present in the United States are treated fairly.
The Center also is working to develop a rapid response system that can respond quickly to threats against immigrants, Muslims and others, and we want to support our partner faith communities that choose to become Sanctuary congregations.
Criminal Justice Reform
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy believes in mercy and compassion. Our faith traditions recognize that we all sin and transgress from both God’s laws and human laws, and yet we believe in the fundamental power of forgiveness, redemption and restoration. VICPP recognizes that the U.S. has a crisis of mass incarceration. Instead of educating our youth, attacking poverty and eliminating racial barriers to jobs, the U.S. (and Virginia) has imprisoned and destroyed too many young people of color. As a nation, we have practiced a “new Jim Crow” (see book by Michelle Alexander).
VICPP believes that those who have committed crimes should have the opportunity to redeem themselves, find work that can support them and their families and restore their access to the benefits of society. VICPP seeks a prison system that is more focused on rehabilitation than punishment. A clear and tragic example of this are suspension of drivers’ licenses for nonpayment of court fees instead of using constructive measures which allow the individual to hold a valid license. VICPP believes that Virginia should restore drivers’ licenses for low-income people who have had them suspended primarily because they are unable to pay the court fines and fees.
We also are in favor of raising the Commonwealth’s threshold for felony theft from $200, where it’s been since 1980. Virginia’s felony threshold is the lowest in the nation. Thirty states have set their felony larceny threshold at $1,000 or more, including Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and North Carolina and 46 states have set their threshold at $500 or more. Having such a low felony threshold results in severe punishments for young people who steal sneakers, jackets or other tempting items. Although stealing needs to have consequences, we shouldn’t destroy people’s lives in the process. Felony convictions can result in jail sentences as long as 12 years. With a recidivism rate of 82 percent, most of those entering the prison “system” stay for their whole lives.
Studies show that raising the felony threshold does not increase theft. At least 12 states that have raised their threshold to $1,000 or more saw a decline in thefts. Raising the threshold would save Virginia taxpayers millions annually in terms of the cost of incarceration. Larceny convictions accounted for one out of every four individuals incarcerated in 2012, at a cost of approximately $25,000 a year per individual. In 2008 the Virginia Department of Corrections estimated that adjusting the threshold to $500 would save taxpayers more than $3.5 million in saved prison bed costs in 2013 alone.
Finally, we are working to explore ways congregations can assist courts in developing community service programs as alternatives to jail time.
Ongoing Policy Priorities:
Beyond our top tier issues, we are working with our organizational and coalition partners to add a moral voice and advance our commitment to help people in need through public policy. While these will not carry the same priority as our top issues previously listed, we will follow them closely, keep you informed, and help you take timely action as needed.
Every 10 years, Virginia works through the process of redistricting for both state and federal districts. Historically the majority party works through a closed door process to draw district lines that give them a powerful advantage in future elections. It is all the more important that we adopt an impartial and nonpartisan process to draw the lines in the future. We will work through the legislature to call for a fair and open process to pave the way to redistricting. We will also track related concerns such as the implementation of Virginia’s voter I.D. law to make sure that people are not systematically disenfranchised from voting.
We must do more to address gun violence, as it has taken the lives of too many innocents. The Center supports legislation to require background checks for all firearm sales and prohibit straw sales, making it illegal to purchase a firearm on behalf of anyone not lawfully allowed to purchase it themselves. Finally, we support legislation to further limit access to firearms for individuals previously convicted of violent crime.
The Center has a strong history of support for consumer finance protection in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have consistently supported a 36% annual percentage rate (APR) cap on interest rates for both payday and car title lenders. We also support other legislation designed to either cap fees or limit the number of loans offered by predatory lenders.
At the federal level, we are strongly in support of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and their work to ensure that payday and predatory lenders are properly regulated, but fear those protections unveiled in the summer of 2016 will be rolled back by the current administration in Washington.
The Center also stepped up during the most recent General Assembly session to fight legislation that would have meant a reduction in TANF benefits. As the VICPP Board Chair was quoted in the Richmond newspaper, “This was a mean-spirited bill.” The TANF bill would have reduced the length of time people could receive TANF benefits (commonly known as welfare) from 24 to 12 months and reduce the lifetime cap from 60 months to 24 months. VICPP was a lead organization in fighting this bill.
Each day, more than 300,000 children across the Commonwealth of Virginia are anxious about the amount and quality of food available for them to eat. Each day, many of our children – our future leaders – arrive at school hungry and ill-prepared to learn and grow. We supported Governor McAuliffe’s effort to put $2 million into the state budget to to support the “Breakfast-After-the-Bell” initiative. The legislature added clarifying language to the program so that only elementary schools with more than 45 percent of their students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch meals may apply for the funds. This initiative is vital to the continuing success of our students across the Commonwealth, and VICPP is glad to see the funding included.
Caring for God’s Creation
“Environmental Justice” means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted for the placement of facilities that have negative environmental impacts, such as landfills and industrial plants that pollute. VICPP will monitor proposed and current public policies that abuse the environment. These include supporting efforts to reverse the effects of climate change, promoting clean water, opposing expansion of fracking on Virginia lands, prohibiting uranium mining in Virginia; and minimizing the environmental impact of the proposed natural gas pipeline.
The Center has created a general Advocacy Toolkit with elements about Virginia Politics and how to communicate with your legislators.