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Virginia bill seeks extension for farmers to fence cattle from streams

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Despite a 2020 compromise, debate over the deadlines for farmers to install fences and craft plans to reduce nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay has been revived in this year’s General Assembly.

House Bill 1485 from Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier, seeks to extend the deadline for farmers to adopt such practices from 2026 to 2030 voluntarily. If pollution reduction goals aren’t met by the deadline and the state has fully funded its program to assist farmers with implementing those practices, then farmers will be required to implement them. A similar proposal has been put forward in the Senate by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta.

Supporters of the change say it would give farmers the time they need to meet the deadlines after delays and increased burdens associated with COVID-19, supply chain issues and inflation. But opponents point to the necessity of the work, saying other sectors have dealt with COVID-19 issues, and environmental groups have identified that 90% of Virginia’s remaining pollution reductions need to come from the agricultural sector.

Virginia has been encouraging farmers to install fences to keep livestock out of streams and plant row crops as buffers to absorb polluted runoff to meet the state’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments. While the federal government has set a 2025 deadline for states to meet their pollution reduction targets, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged it won’t be met.


The deadlines were set by 2020 legislation from Mason that allowed farmers a six-year runway to voluntarily take actions like fencing cattle out of streams before making those practices mandatory if the state found water quality goals hadn’t been met. Earlier versions of the legislation would have required farmers to have nutrient management plans and install stream fencing by July 2026; testimony from dozens of farmers led to amendments that provided more flexibility.

Webert’s bill this year not only would push back the deadline but would make its enforcement contingent on the state fully funding assistance programs. It would also allow pollution reductions from other point or nonpoint sectors, such as wastewater and stormwater, to count toward agricultural reductions.

Webert said the delayed deadline is necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it difficult for Virginia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts to get funding for farmers to implement necessary practices. He also said that a workgroup to review progress and provide recommendations was never met, and farmers faced supply chain issues and a lack of contractors.

“When COVID hit …everyone involved faced many of the same difficulties and issues that we all faced in trying to accomplish goals that got halted,” Webert said.


But several Democrats questioned the move. Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, asked why the extension was four years when the pandemic lasted two and a half years and why the groups hadn’t met electronically.

“I believe moving this to an arbitrary 2030, without having [the workgroup] done anything, I think, is a little bit premature,” said Del. Angelia Williams Graves, D-Norfolk. “What I personally would like to see them do is actually work in the next two years, and then come back to us with a reasonable time frame that they feel they would need to complete the work, and budgetary needs they need as well.”

Agricultural groups, including the Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, and the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, are backing the bill.

Kendall Tyree, executive director of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, noted that only 55% of state funding for agricultural best management practices had been dispersed in December. She added that a 2030 deadline is more realistic, as the staff who work with farmers require time to build trust and must undergo a roughly two-year certification process.


Martha Moore, vice president of government relations with the Virginia Farm Bureau, said budget amendments are being sought to help speed up the certification process, and funding aligns with a 2030 deadline.

“We believe this sets us up as being successful in achieving these nutrient load reductions,” Moore said.

But environmental groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, James River Association, Friends of the Rappahannock, Virginia Conservation Network, and League of Conservation Voters said they couldn’t support the bill, saying the new deadline is too far away.

“It’s not appropriate to just move the deadline forward and continue to do the same thing that you’ve done for many years and assume that you’re going to get a different result,” said Peggy Sanner, Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “There’s no doubt on our part that farmers are willing and ready to do the work that needs to be done.”


Chris Leyen, policy director for the League of Conservation Voters, also voiced opposition to counting pollution reductions linked to wastewater and stormwater management toward reductions by the agricultural sector, which Webert’s bill would allow.

“When they make progress, and we make progress, don’t we all benefit from that?” asked Webert.

Plum, who was chairman of the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee when the 2020 negotiations occurred, said he understands the desire to revise the schedule but argued issues need to be dealt with on an ongoing basis.

That doesn’t mean “backing out what we agreed to,” Plum said. “We’re behind on the Chesapeake Bay goals anyway.”


Webert’s bill passed the Republican-controlled House Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee last week.

Hanger’s bill hasn’t yet been taken up in the Senate. While it is similar to Webert’s and would also move back the deadline date, the senator told the Mercury he’s more focused on getting an accounting of what has been done so far, setting up a timetable to accomplish goals, and ensuring adequate funding is in place.

“If we just were to extend the deadline and do nothing else, then a couple of years from now, we’d have to extend it again,” Hanger said.

 

by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Feds identify ‘significant’ ongoing concerns with Virginia special education

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After failing to meet federal requirements to support students with disabilities in 2020, the Virginia Department of Education will remain under further review by the federal government after continuing to fall short in monitoring and responding to complaints against school districts, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Education.

“We have significant new or continued areas of concerns with the State’s implementation of general supervision, dispute resolution, and confidentiality requirements” of IDEA, stated the Feb. 17 letter from the Office of Special Education Programs.

The U.S. Department of Education first flagged its concerns in a June 2020 “Differentiated Monitoring and Support Report” on how Virginia was complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act following a 2019 visit by the Office of Special Education Programs.

IDEA, passed in 1975, requires all students with disabilities to receive a “free appropriate public education.”


The Virginia Department of Education disputed some of the federal government’s findings in a June 19, 2020 letter.

State officials says special education is a ‘core priority.’ Parents and advocates beg to differ.

Samantha Hollins, assistant superintendent of special education and student services, wrote that verbal complaints “are addressed via technical assistance phone calls to school divisions” and staff members “regularly work to resolve parent concerns” by providing “guidance documentation” and acting as intermediaries between school employees and parents.

However, some parents and advocates say systemic problems in how the state supports families of children with disabilities persist. At the same time, on June 15, 2022, a state report found one of Virginia’s most critical teacher shortage areas is in special education.

“Appropriate policies and procedures for both oversight and compliance, and their implementation, are crucial to ensuring that children with disabilities and their families are afforded their rights under IDEA and that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided,” said the Feb. 17 letter from the Office of Special Education Programs.


While the U.S. Department of Education wrote that it believes the Virginia Department of Education has resolved some of the problems identified in 2020, including resolving complaints filed by parents and creating a mediation plan, it said it has identified “new and continued areas of concern” and intends to continue monitoring Virginia’s provision of services for students with disabilities.

Among those are ongoing concerns over the state’s complaint and due process systems that “go beyond the originally identified concerns” originally found. The Office of Special Education Programs writes it has concluded Virginia “does not have procedures and practices that are reasonably designed to ensure a timely resolution process” for due process complaints.

The department also said it has concerns over the practices of at least five school districts that are inconsistent with IDEA’s regulations.

The decision comes after the U.S. Department of Education announced in November that Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school district, failed to provide thousands of students with disabilities with the educational services they were entitled to during remote learning at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Virginia is also facing a federal class-action lawsuit over claims that its Department of Education and Fairfax County Public Schools violated the rights of disabled students under IDEA.

Parents involved in the case said the Virginia Department of Education and Fairfax school board “have actively cultivated an unfair and biased” hearing system to oversee challenges to local decisions about disabled students, according to the suit.

Charles Pyle, a Virginia Department of Education spokesman, said in an email that “VDOE continues to work with our federal partners to ensure Virginia’s compliance with all federal requirements, as we have since the ‘Differentiated Monitoring and Support Report’ was issued in June 2020.”

The federal government said if Virginia could not demonstrate full compliance with IDEA requirements, it could impose conditions on grant funds the state receives to support early intervention and special education services for children with disabilities and their families.


Last year, Virginia received almost $13.5 billion in various grants linked to IDEA, according to a July 1, 2022, letter to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who resigned on March 9.

James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, blasted Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration after the findings were released.

“While the Youngkin administration has been busy waging culture wars in schools, his administration has failed to meet basic compliance requirements with the U.S. Department of Education for students with disabilities,” Fedderman said. “This failure threatens our federal funding for students with disabilities and is a disservice to Virginia families who need critical special needs support.”

 

by Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury



Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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No losses, no gains for Virginia farms and farmland in 2022

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The number of farms and farm acreage in Virginia remained flat in 2022 despite small overall decreases in both farms and farmland nationally, according to new U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

According to the USDA’s most recent Farms and Land in Farms report, Virginia’s total number of farms remained stable at 41,500 in 2022 — the same as in 2021. Farm acreage also didn’t change between 2021 and 2022, remaining at 7.7 million acres overall.

“We’re holding steady,” said Tony Banks, a senior assistant director with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

However, Banks said he doesn’t believe the lack of change in 2022 reflects the reality on the ground of long-term losses in Virginia farmland. Since 2015, the Virginia Farm Bureau says Virginia farmland has dropped from 8.1 million to 7.7 million acres, with 3,200 farms lost.


“We certainly see farmland for sale every day riding around the state,” he said. “We face tremendous pressure from developers both for residential and commercial properties, highway construction, and solar facilities.”

“These level numbers aside, the statistical reporting may just be an anomaly for us because we’re still losing,” he added.

Herman Ellison, the Virginia statistician for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the farm and farmland estimates were based on survey data from Virginia farmers.

“The farmers in [Virginia] indicated no changes based on the farmers’ surveys,” he said in an email.


However, he noted, the Virginia Farm Bureau is “in tune with the [Virginia] farmers.”

Banks said much of the concern revolves around the loss of medium-sized farms in Virginia or those that have roughly $500,000 to $1 million in annual revenue. He said those “are disappearing more quickly than the large and small farms,” he said.

Virginia data is in line with what the USDA found for much of the Mid-Atlantic in 2022: Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania also saw no change in the number of farms. West Virginia gained about 200 farms.

Overall, USDA reported the number of farms across the U.S. dropped 0.46% in 2022, from 2,012,050 to 2,002,700. Farm acreage fell 0.21%, from 8,953,000 acres to 8,934,000 acres.


“Even if we didn’t lose any farms, any acreage, that pause or that slowdown in the rate of loss that’s being reported, that’s a welcome breather,” said Banks. “We’ll see what the numbers look like next year.”

 

By Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Public hearing on carbon market withdrawal spurs sharp criticism

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As Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration moves forward with plans to withdraw Virginia from a regional carbon market, dozens of state residents spoke during a Thursday public hearing to support Virginia’s continued participation.

Virginia began participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate carbon cap-and-invest program that requires electricity producers to purchase allowances for the carbon they emit, in 2021 following the passage of Democratic-backed legislation.

The proceeds from those purchases are returned to the states. In Virginia, over $500 million has been collected and earmarked for flood resiliency projects and energy efficiency upgrades for low-income homes.

“RGGI was passed through the democratic process,” said Nicole Keller, a resident of Virginia with a master’s degree in ecology. “I just don’t know how many ways the public will can be made clear.”


Carolyn Caywood, with the League of Women Voters of Virginia, speaks during a public hearing on Virginia’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

 

Laura Thomas, director of sustainability for the city of Richmond, pointed to the $1.2 million in funding for flood resiliency the city has received to argue for Virginia’s continued participation.

“We must continue to support every tool at our disposal so that we can support these individuals on the frontlines of climate change,” Thomas said.

Nobody spoke in support of the withdrawal.


Youngkin has been seeking to pull Virginia out of RGGI since he was elected, calling the fee utility customers to pay for Virginia’s participation a disguised tax. In Virginia, electric utilities are allowed to pass the costs of their carbon allowances onto their customers. RGGI data shows utilities are responsible for about three-quarters of Virginia’s carbon emissions that fall under the program, with unregulated merchant generators responsible for the remainder.

For Dominion, that meant an average monthly $2.39 fee added onto residential customers’ bills before the utility suspended the charge in anticipation of withdrawal from the program. Dominion, Virginia’s largest utility, has since sought to reinstate the fee in the amount of $4.64.

At a press conference organized by the League of Conservation Voters Thursday, William and Mary student Philip Ignatoff touted the benefits of the funding RGGI participation is generating and argued Virginia should lower energy bills through electricity rate reform.

“The benefits have started to materialize,” said Ignatoff. “This is the Virginia that I want to live in.”


Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, speaks during a press conference ahead of a public hearing on Virginia’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

 

Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, who carried the 2020 legislation allowing Virginia’s participation, said the state doesn’t “have those resources within the confines of our budget to realistically on a sustainable, recurring basis provide this level of funding for those issues. And in addition, it wouldn’t do anything to reduce our carbon emissions.”

Members of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action contended RGGI brings health benefits by reducing emissions.

“Put simply, taxpayers save $30 for every dollar that we put into RGGI and programs like it, and we’re healthier for it,” said Virginia Commonwealth University medical student Danny Walden, citing data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “If Virginia withdraws from RGGI, more Virginians will face the expensive burden of preventable disease.”


While no one at the public hearing spoke in favor of the withdrawal, numerous comments have been filed in support of Youngkin’s move during a public comment period slated to close on March 31. To date, 500 comments both for and against the proposal have been filed.

David Stevenson, director of the Center for Energy & Environmental Policy with the Caesar Rodney Institute, a Delaware-based conservative think tank, pointed to data showing electricity generation in the state had decreased since 2020. He said that demonstrates Virginia is simply shifting emissions to out-of-state electricity producers.

“Virginia needs to leave RGGI behind,” wrote Stevenson.

Mike Town, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters, noted that most states that are served by PJM Interconnection, the regional grid Virginia is a member of, are already members of RGGI. PJM serves all or part of 13 states and Washington, D.C. Five of those states — Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — participate in RGGI.


“Even if we are importing some electricity, it is coming from a state that is following the same standards of Virginia,” Town said. “It’s really a red herring here.”

On Thursday, several environmental groups reiterated that Youngkin could not withdraw Virginia from RGGI through the regulatory process but must seek legislation.

Nate Benforado, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, declined to comment on any prospects of a legal challenge to the withdrawal, saying it depends on the final decision of the State Air Pollution Control Board, which will vote on the proposal.

“I still hold hope they listen to the people who have had their voices heard here today,” Benforado said.

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said despite no one speaking in favor of the withdrawal Thursday, it’s Senate Democrats who are refusing “to offer immediate relief to Virginians from the regressive tax, which does not do anything to incentivize the reduction of pollution.”

“Regardless, Virginians will see a lower energy bill in due time because we are withdrawing from RGGI through a regulatory process,” Porter said.

 

by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia expanded dental coverage under Medicaid — but not enough dentists accept it

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Lillian Hamilton, a Virginia Medicaid enrollee and 21-year-old tattoo shop manager from Hampton Roads, is still trying to get her wisdom teeth removed after years of living with a constantly swollen jaw, the pain from which has resulted in multiple visits to the emergency room.

Hamilton said every time she tries to schedule an appointment with a dentist who can give her a referral for an oral surgeon, she’s denied because providers either aren’t accepting new patients or don’t take Medicaid.

“I have probably called over a hundred dentists,” said Hamilton. “And every time I’ve called, multiple times, they’ve always been like, ‘No, we don’t accept this. No, we can’t take you.’”

A shortage of Virginia dentists who accept adults on Medicaid is the main factor why enrollees like Hamilton are struggling to find care, said Justin Gist, dental program manager for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, the agency tasked with overseeing the state’s Medicaid program.


Virginia Medicaid enrollees aged 21 and older have had access to comprehensive dental care benefits since July 2021 through a state budget amendment. The numerous services covered, including X-rays, cleanings, and fillings, focus on preventing problems and restoring damaged teeth. Before this, adults were eligible only for limited care, which mainly included extractions.

“My office, we get over 200 calls a week. That’s since it started – it has not ceased,” said Virginia Dental Association President Dr. Cynthia Southern, who has also been a practicing dentist for 23 years and primarily treats patients on Medicaid. “There is an absolute need out there.”

Despite this need, the shortage persists. Experts say that’s due to several factors, including a low state reimbursement rate that ends up costing dentists to treat enrollees and a lack of awareness among enrollees and providers of the new benefits and challenges that come with treating adults.

The need for dentists

Children enrolled in Medicaid, or Family Access to Medical Insurance (FAMIS), first gained comprehensive dental service benefits, a program rebranded as Smiles For Children, in 2005. Pregnant Medicaid members gained these benefits in 2015. Then, in 2021, all enrollees in Virginia were granted access to comprehensive dental services.


But a recent DMAS report to the Virginia General Assembly and Department of Planning and Budget on dental access found approximately 73% of Virginia’s dentistry workforce did not treat any Medicaid or FAMIS patients in 2022. That number was up 1.5% since 2018.

 

The same report also showed a statewide ratio of 1,014 Medicaid and FAMIS members to each dentist participating in Smiles for Children in 2021. Southwest Virginia had the highest ratio, with 1,812 members per dentist.

“A lot of areas in our sector are underserved with dentists,” Southern said. “The dentists are struggling with seeing the patients that want to be seen.”

A lack of dental services can have critical consequences. Gist pointed to the 2007 case of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, who died from complications initially stemming from an infected tooth in Maryland after circumstances left him unable to get care before it was too late.


“There are so many connections the oral health or the oral cavity has to the rest of the body,” Gist said. “Please don’t delay.”

Paying to treat patients

Numerous studies have shown low reimbursement rates for services through Medicaid are the primary reason why dentists don’t participate in the program, according to the 2022 DMAS report.

Virginia and other states reimburse healthcare providers who treat Medicaid patients for a portion of their treatment costs. The General Assembly passed a budget amendment last July that increased the dental reimbursement rate from the initial 5% established in 2005 to 30%. Since the increase, Gist said 23 new dentists are participating in Smiles for Children each month on average, up from 15 new signups a month prior to the increase.

“We are increasing the number of dentists that we’re adding to the network,” Gist said. “I think it’s a direct result of the fee increase.”


However, while Southern said she’s hopeful the increase will incentivize more dentists to accept Medicaid, she still loses money the majority of times she treats a member. The higher rate for Medicaid is “not what commercial insurance companies are [offering], but it’s much more competitive” than what it was prior to the increase, she said.

Not only do commercial insurance companies reimburse dentists for a procedure at a higher rate than Medicaid, but they also require patients to pay a portion themselves, Southern said.

For example, she said, if a filling costs $100, commercial insurance might pay $60 and the patient a $20 copay. The remaining $20 would be written off by the insurance company.

Medicaid, she said, would pay maybe $50, and the patient nothing.


“You can’t run your whole practice just doing Medicaid,” Southern said. “You just have to use other things to help make ends meet.”

Some providers who volunteer in free clinics or offices that primarily accept Medicaid said as long as more than a quarter of their patients aren’t on Medicaid, they can make it work, Southern said.

Not all dentists are opposed to accepting Medicaid, she said, but a lot don’t even know the state expanded dental coverage two years ago.

Awareness shortfalls

The adult comprehensive dental service benefits added in 2021 “just rolled out, and people didn’t really know what it meant,” said Southern.

Providers were unsure if they were able to accept adult Medicaid or thought they might have to go through credentialing again, which she said doesn’t have to happen.

Some enrollees also aren’t aware comprehensive dental services are now covered. Hamilton found out about the expansion during an interview with the Mercury this week and said no one from the state ever contacted her to inform her.

“I think there was just not a lot of good communication to start with,” Southern said. “We’re really working hard at getting the word out now.”

DMAS is currently working with other organizations like the Virginia Dental Association to increase awareness, Gist said. Efforts include calling members and providers and sending outreach coordinators into communities across the state to educate them about the benefit.

Members can also sign up with Virginia Medicaid to get email and text updates, including information about their benefits and how to use them.

Outreach coordinators are “calling credentialed providers and non-credentialed providers both and letting them know, ‘Hey, you can see adults now, right?’” Gist said. “Not to mention, we have a 30% increase, and now they can have preventative work done. They can have restorative work done.”

Study: Dental care rose among low-income pregnant women after 2015 Medicaid change

A Virginia Dental Association slogan urges providers to “see at least three in 2023” and to “strive for five,” Southern said.

Another source of confusion is the Smiles for Children name attached to the comprehensive dental benefit, even though adults can use it, Gist said. DMAS is planning to rebrand the benefit to Cardinal Care Smiles within the coming months.

Southern did caution that programs don’t usually see huge increases in usage right after being introduced. That was the case when comprehensive dental care for pregnant members was added in 2015: A study from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Dentistry and Business found pregnant members who self-reported having dental insurance rose approximately 27% three years after the benefit was introduced. However, the report showed those using the benefit increased by only 14% over the same period.

Challenges to treating adults

Even providers who are aware of the benefit may have additional hesitancy in accepting it because of challenges associated with treating adults, said Gist.

Children on Medicaid don’t have the same level of difficulty finding dental care as adults do, said Southern, which mostly has to do with the newness of the adult program.

Some providers can be hesitant to treat adults because of stigmas surrounding the types of people using Medicaid — associations that Gist said have been a topic of conversation among providers and are mentioned in the DMAS report.

Outreach efforts also aim to change this thought process “of who our Medicaid members are, what they look like and what they embody,” Gist said. “You know, these are your cashiers at Wegmans, at Target, who work 32 to 36 hours, and you know that they don’t have those benefits afforded to them by their employer.”

Some providers are apprehensive to treat adults in general regardless of insurance status because they can be difficult, said Gist. Doing a filling on an adult, he said, is a lot different than doing one on a 9- or 10-year-old.

Adults “have an opinion, as opposed to a 6- or 7-year-old that comes in for a feeling,” said Gist. “They don’t have much of an opinion, they just don’t want to hurt.”

Broken appointments are also a major concern among providers because they create gaps in dental practice schedules that result in lost revenue. A higher rate of “no-shows” among Medicaid members than private insurance patients disincentivizes dentists from participating in Medicaid dental programs, DMAS has noted. And some procedures don’t have to get pre-approved for children but do for adults.

Challenges also stem from a lack of communication between providers who accept Medicaid but aren’t taking new patients and DentaQuest, the state’s dental benefits administrator, which can add to the frustration of adult members trying to get care.

When members call DentaQuest, “100% of the time they will receive a list of providers who have indicated they are accepting new patients and can schedule an appointment for treatment,” said DMAS communications director Rebecca Dooley in an email.

Despite getting this information from DentaQuest, Hamilton said she was still unable to find a dentist accepting new patients.

This could happen as a result of dental offices changing their new patient status more frequently, sometimes daily, due to ongoing labor shortages, high turnover, and other issues impacting providers, Dooley said. DentaQuest cannot update their system, Dooley said, if providers don’t communicate these changes.

Future of dental benefits

Despite these challenges, Gist and Southern are optimistic that even more members will be able to access dental services in the years to come.

DMAS is already planning a range of actions to address these concerns and make dental services even more accessible. They include developing a statewide provider recruitment campaign, analyzing dental fees every three years to determine if reimbursement rates need to be increased, and conducting a thorough review of the state’s dental network every two years.

The gap between the number of members and the number of providers could narrow as enrollees who are no longer eligible for Medicaid lose coverage over the next year due to the end of the federal public health emergency, Gist said. Provisions from the PHE allowed for continuous coverage, meaning enrollees during the past three years could stay on Medicaid regardless of whether they were still eligible or not.

“The members that will fall off will help our network capacity and our network adequacy as well,” Gist said.

Being a Medicaid provider for her entire 23-year-long career has shown Southern just how impactful and important the program can be.

The wife of a patient Southern had treated since he was a child once told her, “he has all of his teeth because of you.”

Special moments like these, she said, reinforce her passion for providing care for those in need.

“I might not have made a whole lot off of Medicaid,” she said, “but that kind of reward to me is worth more than any financial reward I could get.”

 

by Meghan McIntyre, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Year-to-Date revenues running ahead of February projections

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Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that the general fund revenue collections for February 2023 were 1.2 percent higher in the first eight months of FY 2023 than the previous year’s period. Relative to the official forecast updated in December, unadjusted general fund revenues are ahead of the forecast by $111.3 million year-to-date.

“February’s revenue numbers confirm that our December forecast continues to accurately represent that we will have a multi-billion-dollar surplus,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “Virginians remain overtaxed, and the Commonwealth has abundant resources available to lower costs and cut taxes for families and local businesses. At the same time, we can make critical investments to transform our behavioral health system, invest in education and law enforcement, and strengthen communities across Virginia. With the continuing uncertainties in the global economy and recent turbulence at U.S. banks, Virginia remains in a position of strength to deliver services and reduce taxes for Virginians.”

“February revenue collections came in ahead of plan,” said Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings. “Results have exceeded expectations based upon a stronger-than-expected economy since we issued our forecast. Per that forecast, we expect an economic downturn to occur, albeit later than originally anticipated. Overall, results year-to-date support our outlook, and we continue to have confidence in our December forecast.”

Traditionally, February is one of the smallest revenue collection months and marks the beginning of the tax filing season when refunds for the 2022 tax year begin to be issued. Slowdowns in revenue sources, such as withholding collections, were largely anticipated and included in the December forecast. Higher interest income is offset by unanticipated weakness in corporate income and deed recordation tax collections. March collections will provide additional insight into individual refunds for the filing season.


The full February 2023 revenue report is available here.

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States to receive $2.5B from feds for electric vehicle charging infrastructure

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The federal government will send $2.5 billion over the next five years to states, local governments, and tribes to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure, Biden administration officials said Tuesday.

The new Charging and Fueling Infrastructure grant program, which was authorized by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, will spend $2.5 billion over five years to build electric vehicle charging stations and refueling infrastructure for hydrogen, propane, or natural gas vehicles.

Administration officials told reporters in a press call Monday the program would help President Joe Biden meet his goal of 500,000 public charging stations by the end of the decade. Officials briefed reporters on the condition they would not be named.

Biden has also set a goal of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030. Gas-powered vehicles account for about one-quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The grant funding will be evenly split between designated alternative-fuel corridors and public facilities like parking lots, schools, and parks.

What Virginia wants to do with $100 million in electric vehicle charging money

“With today’s announcement, we are taking another big step forward in creating an EV future that is convenient, affordable, reliable, and accessible to all Americans,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a written statement.

Applications for the first two years of funding, which will include $700 million in grants, opened Tuesday and are due by May 30.

The grant program adds to another recent federal spending on electric vehicle charging stations.

Each state will also receive a share of a separate $1.5 billion fund the federal government made available for charging stations last year. Each state developed a plan for building an electric vehicle charging network. The Federal Highway Administration, the Transportation Department agency that administers federal highway funding to states, approved each state plan last year.

States will not have to apply for grants to receive funding under that program, instead receiving funding based on a predetermined formula that factors in things like population and miles of road.

Last month, the administration finalized standards for charging stations, including a requirement that components will eventually have to be sourced in the United States. Most material needed for electric vehicle charging stations is not yet available domestically.

 

by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:

@AHIER

Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Independent Business Alliance

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Fussell Florist

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

Habitat for Humanity

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Vetbuilder.com

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

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Upcoming Events

Mar
21
Tue
10:00 am Career & Internship Fair @ Laurel Ridge Community College
Career & Internship Fair @ Laurel Ridge Community College
Mar 21 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Career & Internship Fair @ Laurel Ridge Community College
Join us as we bring to campus more than 80 employers with job openings and internship opportunities for a Career & Internship Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21. Sectors represented[...]
Mar
22
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Mar 22 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Mar
23
Thu
8:00 am Dare to Dream Breakfast @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Dare to Dream Breakfast @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Mar 23 @ 8:00 am – 9:30 am
Dare to Dream Breakfast @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
RSVP by Friday, March 17, 2023
Mar
25
Sat
9:00 am FRUMC Book Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
FRUMC Book Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Mar 25 @ 9:00 am – 2:00 pm
FRUMC Book Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
The Annual Front Royal United Women in Faith Book Sale will be held Saturday, March 25, from 9am to 2pm, in the Fellowship Hall of the Front Royal United Methodist Church. Books for everyone available:[...]
10:00 am Words of the Wild @ Sky Meadows State Park
Words of the Wild @ Sky Meadows State Park
Mar 25 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Words of the Wild @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sensory Explorers’ Trail. Take into your heart the peace of wild things. Absorb the transformative words of writers who loved the natural world, read aloud by two Shenandoah Chapter Master Naturalists. Walk in silence at[...]
1:00 pm Commemorate National Vietnam Vet... @ Veterans Park
Commemorate National Vietnam Vet... @ Veterans Park
Mar 25 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Commemorate National Vietnam Veterans Day @ Veterans Park
This event is being held to honor veterans of the Vietnam era for their service to the country during that time period.  There will be a formal color guard ceremony, wreath presentation and a firing[...]
Mar
29
Wed
11:00 am National Vietnam Veterans Day @ National Cemetery
National Vietnam Veterans Day @ National Cemetery
Mar 29 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
National Vietnam Veterans Day @ National Cemetery
This event will be held 11:00, National Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia.  It is to honor Vietnam Era Veterans for their service to the country.  It is being conducted by the American Red Cross and the Colonel[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Mar 29 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Mar
31
Fri
5:00 pm No Foolin’ Warren County Rocks @ First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall
No Foolin’ Warren County Rocks @ First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall
Mar 31 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
No Foolin' Warren County Rocks @ First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall
Warren Coalition’s No Foolin’ Warren County Rocks includes a team Scavenger Hunt for prizes! Top teams in each category will receive $25 gift cards for each team member, and the overall championship team will receive[...]
Apr
1
Sat
9:00 am Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Apr 1 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Living Water Christian Church will once again be hosting our Pancake Breakfast with the Easter Bunny on April 1, 2023, from 9am – 12pm. Come on out and enjoy a great breakfast, pictures with the[...]