“I’m Feeling Like Economic Disparity Is A Disease, And I Caught It:” Parents Seek Priority In Virginia’s Budget

Screen shot: On April 1, the Tax Fairness for Virginia Coalition hosted a press conference where organizations and parents asked the Virginia General Assembly to prioritize parents in the state budget.

By Amie Knowles

April 12, 2022

The Tax Fairness for Virginia Coalition listed a three-point budget plan that could prioritize commonwealth parents. 

RICHMOND—Parents. Spoke. Up.

At a virtual press conference held by the Tax Fairness for Virginia Coalition, parents and organizations advocated for lawmakers to prioritize parents in state budget negotiations.

The coalition unveiled a three-point Prioritize Parents Plan consisting of the following:

  • A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help families who are on the tightest budgets
  • A one-time tax rebate targeted to parents so that families could make ends meet
  • Fully funding Virginia’s K-12 schools

Let’s look at each point individually, using research from the Commonwealth Institute and insight given by Ashley Kenneth, president of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, at the meeting:

First, the refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit. About 600,000 working families in Virginia receive the federal EITC. On average, the Virginia EITC would amount to around $500 per family. 

Second, a one-time tax rebate targeted to parents could help Virginia families make ends meet. The current one-time rebate proposal does not account for children. 

Third, fully funding Virginia’s K-12 schools would include things like better teacher pay and additional funding for the At-Risk Add-On program; both areas proposed by the Democrat-led Senate’s provisions.

“While we hope that a budget agreement can be reached in the near future, it’s even more important that lawmakers get the details right and craft a budget that is responsive to the needs of parents and offers them solutions that work,” Kenneth said. 

Emily Griffey, chief policy officer for Voices for Virginia’s Children, also attended the virtual conference. There, she spoke about the importance of prioritizing parents in the budget. 

“If Virginia lawmakers can prioritize parents, they will send a message that Virginia is for families and deliver real economic stability from our state surplus,” Griffey said. 

Making Ends Meet

The press conference highlighted Virginia moms from across the commonwealth who came online to tell their stories.

When her child was born five years ago, Waynesboro mom Emily Smarte worked two jobs in the restaurant industry. While it was hard for the single mom to keep up with necessary living expenses, she made ends meet. 

Lately, Smarte said it seems it isn’t long before the cost of living catches up. Even working her way up toward raises and higher paying positions, the basic essentials currently outpace the amount of money she earns. 

The current childcare system also threw in a curveball for the single mom, who works more than the standard full-time hours. The daycare her child attends only covers a rate at 45 hours a week, which is the same amount of time she works. Because her commute is 30 minutes long, she pays the daycare an additional $200 per month to watch her son. With the added hours, childcare costs nearly equal her rent. 

In 2021, there seemed to be a silver lining. That came with the expanded Child Tax Credit, which gave parents an advance monthly payment of up to $300 per child per month from July to December.

“The Child Tax Credit was really helping me keep up with that, but now it’s gone and I’m back to trying to fill these gaps in my budget,” Smarte said. 

Looking for ways to cut costs, she considered moving. When she looked at the market, she realized a cheaper rent option didn’t exist. 

Now, she’s asking the General Assembly to vote on a budget that helps Virginia families.

“The way I prioritize my household in my budget is I take care of my family’s basic needs first: housing, food, access to healthcare, childcare, things like that,” Smarte said. “I take care of the basic needs first. And I would hope that our state representatives would kind of treat the budget the same way.”

Economic Disparity

“I was raised that if we had just enough for one, that we would divide the one and share so that everyone could eat,” said Tyran Green, a caregiver, parent, legal guardian, and grandmother.

That’s the philosophy she took into the pandemic, but when COVID-19 struck the Portsmouth woman, both Green and her family felt the impact. 

“Everything that I thought mattered didn’t matter anymore,” Green said. “I realized I had to just focus on becoming well. As a result, if I was struggling before the pandemic, now I’m drowning. The bills piled up. I couldn’t even concern myself with it.”

Then she received a federal tax credit—and Green said it felt like Christmas in July. Now, she’s advocating on behalf of other Virginia parents like herself to become a priority in the state budget.

“I’m feeling like economic disparity is a disease, and I caught it,” Green said. “Presently at the state level, we don’t have a Child Tax Credit. Families in the state of Virginia would surely benefit from that.”

Speaking Up

Virginia parents Jessica Sismilich of Virginia Beach and Brandy Ferguson of Franklin County also expressed how additional funds could help their families at the press conference. 

Ferguson recently left her full-time job of 10 years in order to care for her mother who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She also cares for seven children.

The Franklin County woman said she benefited from the expanded Child Tax Credit, which gave her family extra income to cover costs like food, bills, clothing, housing, and gas to take her mother to doctor’s appointments. 

“Since I currently took a pay decrease without benefits with my new job to care for my mom, the Child Tax Credit has helped me stay ahead and not fall behind,” Ferguson said. 

For Sismilich, the money came at a time when she needed the extra dollars. The mother of four became a single parent following the physical abuse of her two adopted boys. The trauma they endured has since resulted in two long-term residential treatments, psychiatric services, outpatient therapy, and in-home services like therapy after school. 

With all of the people in and out of her home, as well as phone calls concerning the needs of her children, Sismilich can’t work a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.

“That is one of the reasons I wanted to share with you today how the need for additional funding to include a [fully refundable Earned Income Tax Credit] would be beneficial and much appreciated,” Sismilich said.

At the time of publication, the Virginia General Assembly had not yet finalized the state budget.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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