Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
To inform voters, Progressive Voice asked each candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary for the State House of Delegates to respond to this question: “If elected, on which progressive initiative will you lead that you believe would be beneficial to the constituents of the 49th District?”
During my first campaign, I made a pledge to my community that I would be a champion for our Northern Virginia values — leading the way on issues like protecting the environment, defending civil rights, supporting our schools, standing up for reproductive autonomy, and advocating for our immigrant neighbors.
In the General Assembly, I’ve taken that pledge to heart and have worked tirelessly over the last eight years to secure progressive victories that benefit our community, including:
- Increasing incentives for solar energy projects and jobs in renewable energy
- Raising the outdated felony threshold and combating the school-to-prison pipeline
- Expanding Medicaid access to include immigrant mothers and children and working with the Attorney General to grant in-state tuition to DACA-recipients
In recognition of these efforts, I have consistently ranked among the most progressive legislators in Richmond and am proud of my record working to find solutions to the many problems we face.
In particular, I’m proudest of the bill I passed in 2013 creating the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF), which has already invested $1.7 million on affordable housing projects benefiting the 49th District.
As our region grows, our housing crisis will continue to worsen — unless Virginia dedicates sustainable funding for affordable housing.
Many of my constituents are deeply concerned about ever-rising rents and property taxes and fear that they’re being priced out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for decades.
To address those fears, I’ve been fighting for a dedicated source of funding that would increase the VHTF’s budget and keep it on secure financial footing for years to come.
Every Virginian deserves the opportunity to live and work in the community they call home and, if re-elected, I will continue to lead on this issue until the General Assembly properly addresses this crisis once and for all.
May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but the somber statistics of how many kids do not receive adequate medical care deserve our focus year-round. The obstacles are numerous: untreated mental illness in parents may prevent infants from receiving the responsive care needed for development. Toddlers may miss timely screening for developmental disorders unless childcare providers are trained to make referrals. Even timely diagnosis doesn’t ensure treatment — Virginia ranks 40th in the nation for access to behavioral health care treatment.
Access aside, low-income families may not be able to afford treatment. On top of everything, stigma surrounding mental illness remains.
Yet by neglecting to tackle stigma and invest in screening, training, and treatment options, we are making a terrible choice. If we wait, treatment often is less effective. The criminal justice system may become involved — 90% of incarcerated youth require mental illness treatment. Delaying care disproportionately impacts communities of color, because black youth receive a court referral three times as often as white youth.
I support the General Assembly’s recent efforts to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for psychiatric services and leverage pediatricians for certain mental health treatments. These stop-gap measures help while we implement an adequate system of care. I support funding school counselor positions and peer counseling programs. I want to stop the “schools to prisons pipeline” — Virginia schools have twice the referrals than the national average — by training school personnel in trauma recognition to better address what underlies student misbehavior.
We should increase the availability of crisis-prevention services and encourage community-supervision as a diversionary alternative to costly incarceration. Finally, I will aim to fully fund early intervention services, because provider availability and reimbursement rates have not kept pace with rising enrollment. We must make better choices because children, at the very least, deserve good mental health.
Del. Alfonso Lopez has represented the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2012, where he serves in Democratic Leadership. During his time in the General Assembly, he has been a Progressive Champion for his community fighting for Affordable Housing, expanding Medicaid to cover over 400,000 Virginians, increasing Teacher and Educator pay by 5%, and fighting for criminal justice reform.
Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr. has always been focused on the well-being of others and has dedicated his entire adult life to public service. A lifetime member of the NAACP and a 26-year Marine Corps veteran, JD believes in uplifting the community and fighting injustice and inequality.
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