Edmund Burke, an 18th century British Member of Parliament who supported the American Revolution, is famous for his observation that “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” It is sadly ironic that this observation – from the “patron saint” of modern conservatives – so accurately characterizes the failure of the House of Delegates to enact a budget during the still incomplete 2014 legislative session.
One of my constituents described a particularly painful example in a recent letter to my office. Her concern was the Commonwealth’s failure to address the lack of mental health care and other important support services for school aged youth. She described her futile attempts to obtain help for a high-school aged neighbor who had recently become homeless and was having persistent suicidal thoughts. Quoting her particularly well written letter, “Trying to get him mental health services and welfare in the area was impossible at best, and I have no doubt that if someone had intervened with him at a younger age, he might not have turned out in such a desperate situation.”
The writer went on to point out that in 2010 there were 41 suicides of children aged 10-19 in Virginia. In the past three months two Fairfax County high school students have been found dead, apparently also suicides. She also cited statistics from the 2012-2013 Fairfax County Youth Survey that for some ethnicities, 40% of students said they felt sad or hopeless in the past year. My constituent referred to additional information from the Survey regarding the nature and prevalence of bullying behaviors, substance use and access to firearms among students across Fairfax County. She expressed particular concern for her inside-the-beltway neighborhood. She concluded by describing the serious mental health-related risks that high school youth and the citizens of Fairfax County face every day.
At the beginning of the 2014 legislative session there was a bi-partisan consensus that improvements are absolutely required in the Commonwealth’s mental health service delivery system. Proposed budget amendments by the McDonnell administration and the House of Delegates included substantial additional mental health funding. Unfortunately, the budget proposed consisted of an elaborate “shell game.” The budget provided additional money for a state-funded service that has received significant attention since the tragic wounding of Senator Creigh Deeds at the hands of his mentally ill son, who then took his own life. However, these funding increases were financed by reductions in other critical areas, such as K-12 education.
What we are facing in Virginia at the present time is among the most glaring examples of government negligence at the state level that I can recall. The failure to accept the federal government payments to support expansion of Medicaid services of an estimated five million dollars per day, nearly $200 million per year, limits access to health care for 250,000 Virginians and the unconscionable side effect of limiting our ability to fund other priorities that the vast majority of Virginians support.
The House leadership gives a variety of reasons for their rigid opposition to accepting federal dollars that come directly from the federal taxes paid by Virginians. “We think the federal government might change their minds about funding in the future.” Even so, we always have the ability to cut the program back to previous levels, if necessary. “We think there’s fraud and misuse in Medicaid.” But, the sources for this assertion refer to the nationwide program, not Virginia’s, which is recognized for its quality, if not its generosity. This is an invented reason that enables expansion opponents to change the subject.
The Republicans in the House of Delegates are good men and women. This I know. Nevertheless, their failure to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion is a political choice based on unilateral opposition to Obamacare. Sadly, it is not Republican delegates (who all have access to “gold-plated” health care) who must live with the consequences. It is Virginians who rely on the Commonwealth’ s funding for education, health care and mental health services who will suffer the fallout from this short-sighted and callous failure to act.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]