RICHMOND, VA—Virginia House Democrats look forward to the implementation of their legislation providing additional assistance for the Commonwealth’s most financially vulnerable residents in the areas of food insecurity and housing protections. Much of this legislation goes into effect on July 1, 2020.
“Although food insecurity and affordable housing were important issues for House Democrats to address during the 2020 session, the impact of COVID-19 highlighted the urgency of these issues with the American public,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “In the 2019 election, 2.9 million voters from across the Commonwealth and different walks of life united in the desire for change, voting in a majority who would make Virginia a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Our Commonwealth is only as strong and prosperous as our most vulnerable residents, and these bills help alleviate hardships of poverty which too many Virginia families face.”
A 2016 report by the RVA Eviction Lab at VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis named Richmond as having “the second highest eviction rate in the country,” and five Commonwealth cities placed in the top 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the United States. The study also highlighted how eviction rates hit African-American neighborhoods the hardest.
Such statistics prompted House Democrats to act in past years even while in the minority. The Democratic Majority successfully passed measures to help Virginia families in 2020, including creating eviction safety periods for furloughed government workers and those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding the availability of housing choice voucher tax credits, and requiring landlords to notify the state and tenants of plans to demolish a housing project.
Hunger is a major problem facing people throughout the Commonwealth. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 10 percent of Virginians faced “difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources” in 2019. Feeding America also points out that “1 in 8 children [in Virginia] struggle with hunger.” House Democrats’ 2020 enacted legislation covers expanding food stamp eligibility, providing school lunches for children who cannot afford them, and establishing the Virginia Food Access Investment Program and Fund.
“House Democrats introduced and passed historic legislation to improve the lives of all Virginians, including those whose struggles often go unnoticed by society,” said House Democratic Chairman Rip Sullivan. “No hard-working Virginian should fear losing the roof over their heads or wonder how they will provide food for their family. I am proud of the work of the Caucus to make sure fewer children in Virginia experience hunger or eviction.”
While House Democrats were in the minority in past sessions, they introduced housing and food access-related legislation but many of these bills never made it out of committee. House Democrats used the majority in the historic 2020 legislative session to improve housing stability and food access for more people in the Commonwealth, as well as passing comprehensive gun safety reform, completing the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment, expanding voting rights, creating stronger legal protections against discrimination, raising the minimum wage, and removing unnecessary restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.
Here is the summary of new laws going into effect on July 1 — unless stated otherwise — which aim to remedy problems of housing affordability and stability, and food access, faced by lower-income Virginians:
- HB 340 provides temporary relief from eviction or foreclosure for Virginians who lost their jobs or were furloughed due to a federal government shutdown or the Governor declaring a State of Emergency. Delegate Cia Price introduced this bill.
- HB 590 expands eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit to include the Arlington-Alexandria area. The tax credit gives an incentive to landlords in areas where less than 10 percent of the population lives below the poverty level to offer affordable housing rentals. This bill was carried by Delegate Elizabeth Guzman.
- HB 921 requires housing authorities to notify the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and tenants of plans to demolish a housing project 12 months prior. In those 12 months, landlords are barred from changing the rental agreement, increasing rent above the ceiling on federal assistance program standards, or evicting tenants except for lease violations or a violation of law that threatens the health and safety of residents. Delegate Jay Jones served as the patron of the bill, which goes into effect on January 1, 2021.
- HB 1101 gives localities the option to create or amend ordinances pertaining to affordable housing, set guidelines related to prices and eligible incomes, and offer incentives for those providing affordable housing options. Delegate Betsy Carr patroned this bill.
- HB 566 expands eligibility for food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to Virginians convicted of drug-related felony offenses. Candidates must have completed or be in the process of completing their sentence, participate in or have completed a treatment program, and meet the other eligibility requirements for food stamps. Delegate Elizabeth Guzman carried this bill.
- HB 697 requires school boards to prohibit school employees from forcing students to throw out already-served food due to unpaid school lunch debts. Delegate Danica Roem served as the patron for HB 697.
- HB 698 allows school boards to distribute excess food to students. The bill also gives school boards the option to create policies on how to save, donate, or give out the extra meals. Delegate Roem carried this bill as well.
- HB 703 gives school boards in the Commonwealth the authority to seek out and use donations to pay off student meal debts. This bill was also introduced by Delegate Roem.
- HB 1410 ensures that homeless, elderly, and disabled participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use food stamps at restaurants under the Restaurant Meals Program. Delegate Roem carried this bill, which requires the Virginia Department of Social Services to implement participation no later than January 1, 2021.
- HB 1509 establishes the Virginia Food Access Investment Program and Fund, to fund grocery stores and small food retailers to better serve underserved areas. Delegate Delores McQuinn served the patron for this bill.