This week’s newsletter focuses on the recent Supreme Court rulings. We also share resources and information related to our recent Medicaid Unwinding Town Hall; highlight a new program offered by Virginia529; and review recent community engagements and events. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
The US Supreme Court Rulings on Affirmative Action, Colorado v. Smith, and Student Debt Forgiveness
During the past couple of days, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has issued its rulings on three critical cases that impact all Americans, one or another. These rulings are harmful in their own ways and devastating when taken collectively.
On Thursday, a majority of Justices ruled that Affirmative Action is void as a factor of admissions processes at colleges and universities across the country. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion and concluded that candidates applying as hopeful students to higher education institutions need to be evaluated based on their experiences "as an individual — not on the basis of race." This conclusion is ironic at best and sadly obtuse. For innumerable individuals of minority backgrounds, life experiences are fundamentally shaped by racial identity. Racism (particularly anti-Black racism), implicit biases, discrimination in housing policies, inequitable educational opportunities, health care and economic disparities: all of these factors and much more comprise the life experiences of many minority communities. Therefore a fair evaluation of one’s personal “experiences” must necessarily – for many – encompass the factors of racial identity.
What has Affirmative Action accomplished? Those who wish to malign affirmative action paint a distorted picture by claiming that this policy threw wide open the gates of elite colleges and universities to Black and Brown students, displaced students who “earned” their spots on the basis of merit alone, and reduced academic quality. None of this is true, but this newsletter is not the proper place to distill the numerous data points or the research that demonstrates the ways in which affirmative action provided a slim opening for those students who–despite the many challenges life placed in front of them–earned a rightful place in institutions previously sealed shut. Suffice it to say that all minority groups in this country benefited immensely from Affirmative Action: Asians, international students, women, and immigrants.
The dissents offered by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and Justice Sonia Sotomayor are absolutely worth reading, and they point to the utter hypocrisy of their colleagues who comprised the majority’s ruling.
Two other rulings issued today are equally harmful. In Colorado v. Smith, the majority of Justices sided with a small business owner seeking legal permission to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. Achieving anti-discrimination and anti-bigotry laws have been hard-fought battles across the country, both at the state and federal level, and SCOTUS actions threaten to undo the work of decades. Friday’s ruling opens up a Pandora’s box: selective and permissive discrimination based on personal, religious ideology.
It is ironic that the same majority that ruled Affirmative Action to be discriminatory now affirms, in Colorado v. Smith, that discrimination is permissive.
The third ruling struck down the Biden Administration's program to forgive student loan debt for more than 43 million American borrowers. Loan forgiveness for students and families struggling with the high cost of education spurs local economies, helps young people invest in homes and start families, and helps a broader base of individuals begin to build generational wealth. Again, data and research support the economic benefits of loan forgiveness. This ruling is a political act, not a dispassionate legal judgment, and it harms millions of American families.
Medicaid Unwinding Town Hall
On Wednesday evening, my office hosted a town hall on “Medicaid Unwinding” in Virginia. Joining us were key directors and staff members from the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) and the Department of Social Services (DSS). During the Covid pandemic, the federal government required that continuous coverage be provided for all individuals enrolled in Medicaid, regardless of changes in an individual’s circumstances. Continuous coverage ended on March 31. Now, with the end of the federal Public Health Emergency, over 2.1 million Virginians’ Medicaid eligibility must be redetermined, leaving many at-risk of losing critical health care coverage. DMAS and DSS have deployed strategies to inform community members about Unwinding, including fact sheets, step-by-step guides to understanding the renewal process, the Renewal Status Dashboard to show Department-level progress, and more. Additional materials are available through Cover Virginia in multiple languages.
Thank you to all DMAS and DSS staffers who attended, including our three presenters: Yolanda Chandler, Acting Division Director of DMAS; Carl Ayers, Deputy Commissioner of Human Services with DSS; and Montserrat Serra, Civil Rights Coordinator with DMAS. A recording of the town hall can be found here.
One message remained clear throughout our discussion: assistance is needed to help spread the word about the renewal process to family, friends, neighbors and anyone else who might be enrolled in Medicaid.
My office will continue to host town halls and other engagement opportunities throughout the District, with our next town hall occurring in August. To stay informed on future events, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and please continue to share this newsletter.
Launch of RetirePath
This week Virginia529 launched RetirePath Virginia, a program designed to help close the retirement savings gap and improve the financial security of more Virginians. Currently, about 45% of the Commonwealth’s workforce–about 1.2 million employees–lack access to a retirement savings plan through their workplace. Virginia now joins six other states with automatic-enrollment, state-facilitated retirement savings programs.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Connecting With My Office