Having finally secured new state funding for transportation in the last legislative session, Fairfax County leaders are now urging legislators to focus on issues like poverty, education and mental health.
“Fairfax County is often described as a wealthy county … but we also have about 65,000 people who are living in poverty and, of those, about 20,000 are children,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova said to the county’s legislative delegation at a gathering on Monday.
That figure reflects just those living under the federally defined poverty line, which is about $22,000 per year for a family of four, and is not adjusted for the high cost of living in Fairfax County, noted Deputy County Executive Patricia Harrison.
“I am particularly concerned about the growing numbers of children in poverty,” Harrison said. Fairfax County Public Schools is seeing higher rates of poverty among kindergarteners than they have seen in the past, she said.
The county would like to ensure that families have access to quality childcare, affordable health care, mental and behavioral health services and community-based alternatives to long-term institutional care, Harrison said.
The county is requesting increased state funding for subsidized child care programs as well as the option to maintain flexibility in its own program.
Fairfax leaders are also urging the state to accept the federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This would expand Medicaid coverage to more than 25,000 people in Fairfax County.
The county also wants state leaders to pay attention to a particular part of the Medicaid program, the so-called Medicaid “waivers” that are used to provide services to individuals with disabilities.
There has been a push in the state to expand the availability of Medicaid waiver funding to support more individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, as there is currently a waiting list for waivers. This will be even more pressing as the state moves forward with plans to close the Northern Virginia Training Center, a residential institution for people with disabilities, Harrison said.
Under a settlement with the Department of Justice, the state agreed to phase out most of its training centers and move residents to community-based care. Harrison said that state legislators need to ensure that there is adequate waiver funding to care for these individuals in the community.
In addition to the number of waivers available, Harrison said, “Waiver rates are currently well below the cost of actually providing services. … Individuals have more limited options for getting the support they need for remaining in our community and in their homes.”
Securing additional state support for emergency mental health services, allowing additional local treatment options, is also a Fairfax County priority for the upcoming session.
Several legislators attending the meeting indicated that mental health issues would be a focus for them in the 2014 session.
There were been several high-profile incidents in the state in the past month, including a murder-suicide in Fairfax County involving a federal agent and the attempted murder and suicide involving a state senator and his son.
Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Dist. 31) said she hopes to introduce a bill or budget language that will allow localities to apply for grants to provide mental health counselors in schools.
While he didn’t mention specific legislation, Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Dist. 37) said he wants to look at the issue of the number of mental health beds throughout the state. A deficit of inpatient beds has been cited as a concern in Northern Virginia, as well as some other parts of the state.
“It’s going to require some real thought of how we even this thing out across the state,” Marsden said.
The Virginia General Assembly session begins Jan. 8.