Three ways Virginia’s working families were let down this session

FILE - Dollar bills are shown in New York, Oct. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

By Michael O'Connor

April 25, 2024

The state budget is still being finalized, but in some areas it’s already clear where Gov. Glenn Youngkin and state lawmakers came up short for working families this legislative session.

With a new Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this year, many key policies for working Virginians finally saw serious movement in the legislative process. But thanks to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s veto pen, and in some cases a lack of support from legislators during the session, several important issues failed to become law or stalled out early in the process.

That means there’s still a lot to accomplish for working families in the commonwealth.

Nearly a million people in Virginia live in poverty. The end of pandemic-era assistance has led to greater demand at food banks in Virginia, and thousands of Virginians face evictions month after month.

Below is a look at three areas where Youngkin or state lawmakers came up short for working people in Virginia and how advocates plan to keep fighting for change.

Minimum wage

Perhaps the most noteworthy attack on working people in Virginia was Youngkin’s blocking of legislation that would have raised the state minimum wage from $12-per-hour to $13.50 on Jan. 1, 2025, and then to $15 on Jan. 1, 2026. This at a time when the rapid rise in prices is hurting the finances of working people and wages are not keeping up with inflation.

“Vetoing that bill will result in stagnating wages for the lowest paid Virginia workers and reduce opportunities for wealth building,” said Ashley Kenneth, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis. “We all know that working families in Virginia are struggling, and the least we can do as a state would be to stay on the path to a $15 minimum wage.”

The minimum wage bills passed out of the General Assembly on party line votes with Democrats advancing the measure as a top priority. Legislators will have to try again at a future General Assembly session to get a bill that raises the minimum wage signed into law.

Rent gouging

A housing shortage has pushed the cost of buying or renting a home to an all-time high in Virginia. That means tenants have few options available to them as landlords demand higher rents for their properties, even neglected ones.

One solution to Virginia’s problem of increasing housing costs in a market with limited affordable options is to cap how much landlords can raise rents. Two bills introduced in the General Assembly would have granted localities authority to stop landlords from exorbitant rent increases, but the bills stalled without enough support from Democrats or Republicans.

Looking ahead, New Virginia Majority is doing research on how localities in Virginia are using existing zoning laws to tackle the problem as advocates gear up to again support an anti-rent gouging bill in 2025.

“Our communities are suffering,” said Kashish Pillai, a housing justice policy analyst with New Virginia Majority. “They’re facing a great risk of housing displacement.”

Eviction notice window

An ongoing issue with the current housing crisis is the number of evictions Virginians face and the unfair way they are carried out.

One measure to help people manage the threat of an eviction would be to require landlords to give tenants who can’t pay their rent more time to come up with the money. A bill supported by the Virginia Poverty Law Center would have increased the window from five days to 14 days.

Despite gaining support from some landlords, the bill was vetoed by Youngkin, said Jay Speer, the CEO of the Virginia Poverty Law Center. Speer called the measure a common sense bill given that the extra time would have increased the chances people could find the money to pay their rent.

“It doesn’t do Virginia any good to have all sorts of people being evicted all the time,” Speer said.

  • Michael O'Connor

    Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering Virginia news since 2013 with reporting stints at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Business, and Richmond BizSense. A graduate of William & Mary and Northern Virginia Community College, he also covered financial news for S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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