This week’s newsletter discusses a recent JLARC report’s findings on childcare affordability in the Commonwealth, shares information about the upcoming Sales Tax Holiday Weekend, reflects on recent Commission meetings, and provides highlights from selected community events of this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
Childcare Affordability in Virginia
Earlier this week, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) presented its findings on the effectiveness of programs for helping low-income Virginians improve their employment and wages, and make progress toward self-sufficiency. So much of this individual and family progress depends acutely on the availability and affordability of child care. The full report makes evident that the availability of quality, affordable child care is an increasingly challenging issue for Virginia’s families, particularly for those who have limited financial means and are working at minimum wage or below-minimum wage jobs.
In all regions of the state and regardless of whether the family includes one or two working adults, childcare costs surpass 10 percent of the median household income, far exceeding what the federal government deems to be affordable child care at 7 percent of a family’s income. On average in Virginia, childcare costs range from $100 and $440 each week, for each child. In addition to these high costs, many families face challenges finding adequate and quality child care. The JLARC study indicates a shortage of at least 140,000 slots.
Virginia’s Democratic leadership has made efforts to address these critical concerns. Child care is not simply a concern for individual families. It is a critical economic and workforce issue. Working parents and especially women face competing challenges as they work towards financial stability and reliable care for their young children. Under former Governor Ralph Northam, families with 85% of the median income were able to apply for childcare assistance. More recently, in budget negotiation over the summer, Democrats made working families a priority by allocating $80 million toward addressing child care in Senate budget proposals; regrettably, these allocations were not included in the final agreement. Addressing the findings of the JLARC report will be key priorities in the next Session.
Sales Tax Holiday
The Commonwealth’s Sales Tax Holiday returns this weekend, beginning today (Friday) and lasting through Sunday, October 22. During this time, items such as school supplies, clothes, emergency preparedness materials, and more can be purchased tax-free. A list of qualifying items is available through the Virginia Department of Taxation.
Shadowing Senator Hashmi
This week, we welcomed the second participant in our shadowing program: Manuella, a Richmond-area constituent. Currently a student at Reynolds Community College, Manuella will be graduating in a few weeks with her Associates degree, and she plans to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University to finish her undergraduate degree in mass communications. Our day together included conversations with my staff, the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) and Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) meetings, and one-on-one discussions with me. Along the way, Manuella was able to speak with many of my Senate colleagues, including the legendary President Pro Tempore Senator Louise Lucas, and other city and state officials. Manuella shared her thoughts about about her experience:
I can honestly say that the experience was incredible, not only because I was able to learn first-hand about the legislative branch and the socio-political landscape of the state, but because I learned the value of my voice. As an international and Latina student, many times it feels inappropriate to voice opinions because I feel like I don't have the right, not being from here. But if I learned anything from Senator Hashmi, it's that if I have something valuable to say, I have the right to say it, no matter my origin or my social position. Learning about her career path, her commitment to the community, her values, and witnessing the genuine interest she has in people was deeply inspiring and had the same positive effect on me as the one she has had on the greater community.
Commission Meetings: JCHC and JCOTS
On Wednesday, both the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) met to receive presentations on a variety of issues. I serve on both these Commissions, and this work helps to guide the potential legislation that may be introduced in the next Session. The staff of JCHC presented findings on obesity and eating disorders, followed by a report on prescription drug affordability. Part of the discussion for JCHC also focused on potential study topics for the Commission next year. Included in that list was the issue of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and increased options for the living and assistance facilities caring for individuals with TBI.
Similarly, JCOTS members received presentations on several topics, including modernization and workforce development, new storm-ready wi-fi technology, consumer and education data protections for children, and an update on the Consumer Data Protection Act Study.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Last Friday morning, I traveled to Norfolk to attend the Foreign Language Association of Virginia’s (FLAVA) Fall Conference Awards Ceremony and Keynote Address. I was honored to receive the 2023 Friend of FLAVA Award. More importantly, several outstanding world language educators and emerging language educators were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the work of world language instruction in our public schools. Exposure to different languages, especially at a young age, promotes brain development and is linked to academic achievement as well as social skills development.
While I was in Norfolk, my staff joined the Virginia Community Health Workers Association and other partners for a Legislative Lunch. Members discussed the challenges they face as they serve communities. They shared the legislative and budgetary ideas they would like to see enacted to reduce health disparities within our vulnerable communities.
On Sunday morning, I attended the Hadassah Richmond conference on Women’s Reproductive Freedom from a Jewish Perspective: 50 Years post Roe v Wade, 1 year post Dobbs v Jackson. Held at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center, a key theme of the conference was that the Dobbs decision was an attack on religious freedom. Restricting abortion care because of the theology of one religion runs contrary to the theology of another. The National Council of Jewish Women provides an overview of these clear distinctions and the ways in which Dobbs is a denial of the exercise of religious freedom. The idea that “life begins at conception” is not a universally-held religious belief nor a scientifically-sustained one. We are beginning to see the high costs of the Dobbs decision in the resulting medical traumas of individuals seeking safe and legal care and now finding the literal doors of hospitals and clinics closed against them.
On Sunday evening, the Blue United PAC, organized to support the state and local candidates of Chesterfield County, hosted a fundraiser event with special guest, US Senator Mark Warner. We are fewer than three weeks away from the General Election, and momentum continues to build as voters are energized to support candidates working hard on their behalf.
On Tuesday evening, I welcomed phone bankers from across the Commonwealth as they made calls for Delegate Rodney Willett and for Delegate Schuyler VanValkenberg as he runs now for the State Senate seat in Henrico. Members of the Virginia Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus Fund, Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia, the SEIU’s Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, South Asians for America, and Freedom Virginia all called our voters to remind them about the importance of this Fall’s elections.
Wednesday was an exciting day, beginning with the grand opening of the Bermuda Estates Community Center in Chester. An innovative community, Bermuda Estates in its current form was made possible by a partnership between nonprofit organizations such as project:HOMES and local governmental agencies in Chesterfield County. This project emphasized collaboration with residents, improvements to make the community more welcoming and safe, and prioritizing stability of residents by focusing on affordability. The community center pictured above is also a welcomed addition to this thriving community.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, my Chief of Staff attended an 80th birthday celebration for Ms. Pauline Crowling, a science educator at Trinity Episcopal School. Ms. Crawling has taught at Trinity since 1977. Ms. Crawling was honored with a proclamation from Mayor Levar Stoney and a letter from my office for her dedication to her students. The entire Trinity campus was in attendance.
Wednesday concluded with the Virginia Nurses Association’s Legislative Advocacy Hour. During this meeting, I was able to hear directly from healthcare providers about their experiences in the field and the needs for legislative and budgetary solutions to key areas of concern. VNA members highlighted the need to address nursing workforce shortages, ensuring workplace safety, addressing environmental hazards such as surgical smoke, and securing full practice authority.
On Thursday evening, members of my campaign team attended the Richmond Crusade for Voters Scholarship Banquet. The Crusade has been an institution within the City of Richmond for decades, engaging community members in the political process and registering voters.
On Thursday evening, I traveled to Arlington for the VA-08’s 28th Annual Kennedy-King Dinner, honoring the lives and legacies of United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. We were honored to hear from Virginia’s own Congressman Don Beyer and Congresswoman Gwen Moore from Wisconsin’s 4th Congressional District (pictured), both of whom gave rousing speeches that highlighted the critical work in front of Congress, the ways in which Republicans’ inability to elect a Speaker continues to obstruct legislative action, and the challenges that must be addressed to ensure that all communities thrive – not just the wealthy few billionaires at the top.
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