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The Newsletter of The Commonwealth Institute: Spring 2022

We have seen unspeakable tragedies in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, TX, and elsewhere in our country. I’ve been taking time to reflect on the lives that have been cut far too short and the action that’s needed now to support our children, neighbors, and communities of color within and outside of the commonwealth. It will take all of us to demand change and use our collective power to build more inclusive systems of justice and opportunity. One impending opportunity to institute change that will create healthier communities is the state budget.

The House and Senate Budget Conferees have been negotiating the final conference budget proposal and we anticipate that it will be shared with the public soon. This prolonged negotiation process reflects Virginia’s newly divided government and the important decisions that are at stake. As I consider the work ahead, it’s clear to me that The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) is more important now than ever before. Together, we have protected progress and advanced policy like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a key tool for supporting families with low incomes. We must continue to make plain what and who is at risk if we do not center equity in policymaking, and work with partners and community to lay the foundation for transformational change. 

Thank you for partnering with us on this journey.

Critical Progress Through Session — More to Come?

The first legislative session after a shift in political control always requires some adjustment as both decision-makers and advocates acclimate to a new political landscape. For TCI, that meant learning how to make progress in a divided government on key issues that have major impacts on the day-to-day lives of people of color and families with low incomes in Virginia. Together with partners, we were resolute in our goal of protecting the progress that has been made over the past several years which resulted in some big defensive wins:

  • TCI and fellow partners helped defeat attempts to halt hard-won increases to the minimum wage.
  • Retroactive tax breaks for businesses that would have reduced state revenues by $110 million were removed from the annual tax conformity bill in the House. A newly proposed, poorly-targeted business tax credit that would have reduced revenues by $75 million did not advance from either chamber. 
  • Proposals that would allow for inadequate health coverage that shifts costs to consumers (short-term, limited-duration health plans) were left in committee and did not advance.

In addition to these wins, TCI joined with partners to take critical action on the budget proposals. We produced side-by-side comparisons and analyzed some of the key policy choices.

In their proposals, the House and Senate took vastly different approaches on many issues, with real-world implications for families, communities, and Virginia’s capacity to make necessary investments in the future. The House, for instance, proposed to double the standard deduction on income tax. This choice would reduce our shared resources by more than $2 billion just in the next two years and leave behind many families in Virginia with low incomes. The Senate, however, took a more targeted approach to economic relief by including a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit in their proposed budget, which would provide larger tax refunds to those who need it most.

We’re still waiting for the conference budget proposal and are hopeful that the priorities lifted up by many impacted families will be included. When it’s available, TCI will work to make sure legislators, advocates, and community members have the analysis they need to advocate for their communities. In the meantime, let your legislator know that you support a budget that prioritizes parents.

Calling on Policymakers to Prioritize Parents

With no budget at the end of the regular legislative session, parents from across the commonwealth, along with TCI, Families Forward Virginia, and fellow members of the Tax Fairness for Virginia Coalition, called on Governor Youngkin and legislators to prioritize parents in budget negotiations. This powerful press conference kicked off the “Prioritize Parents” campaign, which urges lawmakers to include a 3-point plan in the final budget that prioritizes parents who are struggling to make ends meet and invests in the next generation: 

  • Make the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) fully refundable to help families who are living paycheck to paycheck. Doing so would put up to $500 back in the pockets of working families to help cover their basic needs. 
  • Improve the one-time tax rebate proposal to account for children and other dependents. Under the current plan, a single mother with two children making $75,000 a year would collect the same amount as an individual making $175,000 a year with no children.
  • Increase investments in K-12 education to make sure our students are learning in a safe and healthy environment and where they are supported academically, socially, and emotionally.

Watch the video testimonies below of Tyran Green of Portsmouth, Annie Henderson, and Cheryl Jones of Chesapeake as they call on lawmakers and Gov. Youngkin to prioritize parents in the budget. TCI will continue to drive this important campaign because, as Cheryl declares, “I know that we can do better for the families and for these children.”

Family-Friendly Tax Policy At A Critical Moment

Getting rid of the overly tight limits on Virginia’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) remains the single most important action lawmakers can take for low-income working families right now. By making the credit refundable, qualifying families would see an additional $500 each year on average.

You can share the graphics below to help folks understand what this key policy could mean for their day-to-day lives.

Check out additional resources on the EITC: 

TCI to Lead Critical Work Centering Impacted Communities

In countless ways, Virginia’s history —  a profound contradiction of significant contributions to the foundations of democracy yet also the beginnings of slavery at Point Comfort, Virginia — continues to reveal itself in our present. In the critical conversations about Virginia’s future, the exclusion of communities of color and those who are directly impacted by policy decisions remains the norm. This dynamic has prevented what TCI, at the most fundamental level, aims to achieve: liberation and self-determination for all people in Virginia.

All too often, in the critical conversations about Virginia’s future — what needs should be prioritized, what real solutions look like, and who should have the power to decide such questions —the exclusion of communities of color and those who are directly impacted remains the norm. The mission of this new endeavor is simple: disrupt that old status quo and build in its place new, inclusive systems of justice and opportunity in Virginia. Thanks to support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, we will bring this vision to life at a moment in which our basic values — like equity and inclusion — are being tested in Virginia.

Ashley Kenneth, President & CEO, The Commonwealth Institute

While we have made strides in connecting more deeply with impacted communities, as seen in the work of the Prioritize Parents campaign, TCI believes the timing is right to intentionally grow our capacity to engage with impacted communities and individuals. After all, centering impacted communities is critical to designing and pushing policy solutions to advance justice.  To support these efforts, TCI is leading work as part of a million-dollar investment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation to support mission-aligned organizations working at the intersections of policy, advocacy, and civic engagement. 

We are excited to welcome Amy Wentz as our new Director of Outreach and Engagement, focused on leading TCI into this new work. Starting in June, Amy will bring her incredible skills from almost two decades of work in community organizing to strengthen our efforts to center the voices of impacted communities.

We are thrilled by the challenge to deepen our work and look forward to sharing more about this effort in the future.

ICYMI: Key Issues in the News

When the conference budget proposal is released in the coming days, we’ll be crunching the numbers and sharing our analysis with the media, advocates, and community members. With this budget, lawmakers have an unparalleled opportunity to make much-needed investments in our communities and create a more equitable future in Virginia. TCI will be there each step of the way.


Ashley C. Kenneth President & CEO

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