As lawmakers prepare to go back to Richmond and put together a revised budget, they’ll be confronting a number of difficult decisions.
Last year, Governor Ralph Northam announced a goal to eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality by the year 2025. To accomplish that goal, lawmakers added two new items to the budget this year: increased health coverage for women who receive Medicaid and expanded reimbursements for home visits. But then the pandemic hit, and now those funding priorities have been put on hold.
Ashley Kenneth at the Commonwealth Institute says lawmakers will need to restore those line items to accomplish the governor’s goal.
“Women of color have been waiting a long time," she explains. "And this disparity is significant and black women should have the resources and opportunities to safely survive pregnancy and childbirth.”
Black women are 2.4 times more likely to die in childbirth. Delegate Cia Price is a Democrat of Newport News who says that’s unacceptable.
“Racism is not something in the past. It is actually impacting the life and death of Virginians right now, and we cannot lose sight of that just because the money is different," Price says. "But the way we go about it may have to be different because of the way the budget has been impacted. Those are part of the conversations that we will be having in the special session.”
The pandemic cut a giant hole in the budget, and now lawmakers will need to figure out a way to keep their priorities while also balancing the books.