September 14, 2023
New Census Data Shows Pandemic Protections Led to Fewer Virginians Without Health Coverage; Continued High Child Poverty Rates and Expiration of Federal Boosts Requires Robust State Policy Response
New data released from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) offer a picture of how Virginians fared in 2022, including health insurance coverage, household income, and poverty rates – separate from the assistance provided by tax credits, stimulus payments, or non-cash benefits.
Roughly 63,000 people residing in Virginia gained health coverage from 2021 to 2022, leading to a drop in the uninsured rate from 6.8% to 6.5% in that timeframe. Federal policy decisions that prioritized keeping people in affordable health coverage, such as Medicaid coverage protections and enhanced ACA subsidies, have allowed more families to apply for and keep their health coverage, according to The Commonwealth Institute, a policy research and advocacy organization. These actions, along with state-level policies such as expanding access to prenatal coverage to pregnant individuals regardless of immigration status, investing in the Commonwealth Reinsurance Program to lower premiums on the ACA marketplace, and expanding Medicaid in 2018, have all positioned more Virginia families to find a health coverage option that is right for them.
Unfortunately, the expiration of pandemic-related Medicaid coverage protections will likely increase the number of people without health insurance in Virginia for 2023. Since April of this year, nearly 145,000 Virginia residents have been disenrolled from Medicaid due to the end of the continuous coverage provision.
“Today’s health insurance data release is a snapshot of the value of people-centered policies in keeping families covered,” said Freddy Mejia, Deputy Director of Policy at The Commonwealth Institute. “To avoid going backward, state lawmakers must double down and invest in expanding health coverage options and removing barriers to coverage for everyone who lives in Virginia in the upcoming 2024 legislative session.”
Virginia children and Virginians as a whole saw stagnant official poverty rates in 2022 compared to 2021. However, the fuller story is different, because the official poverty rate leaves out the impact of many policy choices. With the exception of unemployment insurance, the direct benefit of pandemic-era federal relief for families such as improved tax credits and food assistance are not captured in ACS official poverty and income data released today because of the types of survey questions used. The Supplemental Poverty Measure data released Tuesday included that data and showed that, nationally, child poverty rates more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021 due to the expiration of many pandemic-era programs such as the enhanced child tax credit that lifted many families out of poverty. With 233,600 Virginia children living in families with incomes below the official poverty threshold in 2022, the expiration of most pandemic-era federal help for families means increased financial hardship and instability.
“Pandemic-era policies lifted children out of poverty with historic success,” notes the Institute’s tax and budget policy analyst, Megan Davis. “With most of that help having gone away, we see increasing hardship for children and families. Virginia policymakers can act to stabilize Virginia families and boost children’s chances in life through policy choices like creating a Commonwealth Kids Credit and further improving the state earned income tax credit.”
Additionally, real (inflation-adjusted) median household income dipped in Virginia in 2022. During the 2022 inflation shocks, average pay increases didn’t keep up with overall inflation nationally, and the state-level 2022 ACS data shows a 1.9% decrease in median household income in Virginia after adjusting for inflation.
“The good news is that, at least nationally, federal policy choices are strengthening the economy and reducing inflation, leading to real increases in pay in recent months,” says Laura Goren, the Institute’s Research Director. “Virginia has options to build on this progress, including through strengthening workers’ bargaining power through raising the minimum wage and improving collective bargaining rights, and making sure the new jobs created by federal investments are high-quality and are meaningfully available to women and people of color.”
Policy choices play a critical role in helping families to make ends meet and in shaping the economy more broadly. State policymakers can and should make choices in the upcoming legislative session to improve access to comprehensive health coverage and economic security for Virginia families.