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Posted at 1:17 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Hundreds jam appropriations meeting in search of funding

By Fredrick Kunkle

Hundreds of people jammed the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors auditorium Thursday for one of several regional public meetings of the General Assembly's Senate and House Appropriations committees. Many of the speakers pleaded their case for social services and education, despite knowing that the budgetary outlook remains grim after the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Jennifer Simbulau wept as she stood at the podium when memories flooded back of the brain injury her daughter suffered and the help her child has received since from publicly funded social services. Her daughter, Maya, a 9-year-old live wire in pigtails, was at her side.

"We're fortunate that she has a case manager, but there are other children in similar situations who do not," Simbulau said after the meeting. But Simbulau, a night nurse who lives in Burke, said she also understood that lawmakers will once again find themselves struggling with funding problems when the Virginia General Assembly convenes next week in Richmond.

"It's a hard position, and I'm glad I'm not the one sitting in front of the people speaking," Simbulau said.

Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, presided over Thursday's panel. Also attending were Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) and Dels. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), Joe T. May (R-Loudoun) and Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington). The meeting was expected to last until late in the day.

Some gave testimony from wheelchairs or with the assistance of aides.

Bruce Neilson spoke on behalf of Social Action Linking Together (SALT), a faith-based organization in the Arlington diocese, to urge the state to index welfare payments to inflation to stop the erosion of buying power for low-income families. Their benefits have not been increased since 1985, Neilson said. He also urged lawmakers to allow Virginia to opt out of a federal ban on providing welfare aid to former convicts convicted of drug crimes and to boost reimbursement rates for child care to low-income families.

Erica Wood of the Northern Virginia Aging Network urged the lawmakers to boost funding for "waivers" that allow eligible people with disabilities to receive services in their homes instead of institutions.

Teresa Champion, 52, a lawyer from Springfield who ceased practicing law to care for her autistic child, asked for support for a measure that would require insurers to cover an intense, specialized form of therapy that can improve an autistic child's ability to cope with the disability. She argued that such measures will save schools and businesses more in the long-term.

Afterward, she noted that Virginia has been ranked as among the top 10 wealthiest states. But it's 48th in social services spending. "It's appalling," she said.

By Fredrick Kunkle  | January 6, 2011; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  Budget, Fairfax County, Fredrick Kunkle, General Assembly, General Assembly 2011  
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