Some Thoughts on Where We Are Today

February 25, 2024

I thought it might be useful to frame the conversation for the last two weeks of the Session; this is not the “message to the conference committee on the budget,”  that will come early next week when we have the official list of the conferees and a bit more clarity.  This is, instead, an attempt to put everything into perspective with what we know or strongly believe/suspect today:

 

  • The Governor made the “elimination of the waiting list” a signature effort and both chambers decided to agree, but with the same mitigation strategy (rolling the slots out quarterly instead of all on July 1 of each year) which we believe The Arc has agreed to.  
  • Given the almost universal recognition that the service system lacks the capacity to accommodate the individuals whose slots have already been assigned into needed/chosen services, both chambers have agree to at least modest rate increases for a wide range of services.  The calculations were built on the savings from the proposed budget based upon the mitigation strategy described above.  [The House had other funds to add to the mix and came out with both a slightly higher number, and also a commitment for 3% in each year of the biennium.]
  • We believe that the Senate will work toward the 3% increase and will use the same list of services as the House.
  • The pressure on wages will, of course, increase in January 2025 when the minimum wage increases from $12 to $13.50 if the Governor signs the SB1/HB1.  As the Senate has already taken the Governor’s signature projects (the arena at Potomac Yard) and tax cuts off the table, the Governor has no real incentive to “play nice.”  And the Democrats do not have the votes to overturn a veto.     
  • While we have supported the steady rise in minimum wages, it may be to our distinct benefit of it does not increase this coming fiscal year.

 

  • On the behavioral health side, we finally have a workforce development project that does not eliminate the QMHP position (and the 20,000 people who occupy those jobs), may, in fact, make some long overdue changes to those regulations, and create a more workable system. 
  • We do, however, have two new positions (Behavioral Health Technician and Assistant/Trainee) that will require less education, and experience and will, therefore, have a very limited scope of practice which may or may not align with an existing or coming billable service.  DMAS seems to believe that “Collaborative Mental Health Services” can be part of the redesigned service array.

 

This is hardly comprehensive, there was a lot of successful work on kinship care, at least one barrier crimes bill is still alive, there was work on enrolling Virginia in interstate compacts, several bills important to crisis services passed, there is a lot of money still in play for more supportive housing, additional crisis services, etc.   But we will have to work very hard to make good use of some of the “signature” accomplishments that sadly do not necessarily have the content to match the headlines.