Candidate Survey - 2013

THIS QUESTIONAIRE REQUESTS YOUR POSITIONS ON SALT’S TOP LEGISLATIVE ISSUES FOR 2013-14. Your responses will be shared with our members and others via mailings and our website ( ) as a helpful guide in their choice of candidates. Your answers will not be abbreviated or taken out of context. Please return your answers by August 10th by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you for your commitment to public service and for your willingness to share your opinions with SALT.

Candidate: Alfonso Lopez

District: 49th District

1.Inflation Indexing of TANF Benefits is a Fairness Issue: Currently, a family of three in Virginia receives a fifth of the federal poverty level and has seen only one TANF increase since 1985. At $269 a month average for a family Virginia ranks 35th in TANF payments. Indexing would prevent further erosion of recipients’ ability to meet basic needs of children in their own home or in relative care and can be funded from the federal TANF block grant. Shouldn’t Virginia take steps to alleviate poverty and to protect families. Strong families are as important to Virginia’s future as schools and roads. What steps would you support to ensure a meaningful level of time-limited assistance to Virginia’s needy families? Please explain.

ANSWER: TANF benefits are critical to helping Virginia families that have come across tough times and need to make ends meet until they can get back on their feet. As these benefits are used to help families in poverty pay for their most basic needs, I would strongly support increasing and indexing TANF benefits to ensure that we protect our most vulnerable citizens.

2. Tax & Budget: All Should Pay Their Fair Share. We know from local research across Virginia that the recent State budget cuts have cut into real, quality of life spending by local governments: libraries are closed, police have lost staff positions, teachers have lost their jobs, and class sizes increase for public school students. At the same time, too many (two-thirds) large corporations operating in our State get by with paying very little in corporate income tax due to tax breaks, subsidies, and clever work by their tax lawyers. How will you make sure that individuals and corporations at the upper end of our income scale pay their fair share so that we can avoid painful service cuts in the future?

ANSWER: As a legislature, we need to make sure that the budget reflects the priorities and values of Virginia’s citizens. That is why I have fought over the past two years to save funding for important programs like Virginia’s healthcare safety-net, Child Advocacy Centers, local libraries, and public broadcasting. While I am proud of the fact that we were successful in saving the funding for Virginia’s healthcare safety-net and Child Advocacy Centers, the General Assembly chose to spend millions trying to attract the movie industry to Virginia rather than supporting our own libraries and public broadcasting. If re-elected, I will continue to fight to restore the funding for these important programs and ensure that Virginia’s priorities become Richmond’s priorities.

We also need to look closely at additional efforts to create incentives and tax breaks in the Virginia tax code.  This is especially the case regarding the creation of tax credits to help industries that are already thriving. I strongly agree with efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the tax credits that we have currently and support creating a more progressive tax structure in Virginia.
3. Bring about effective change in the criminal justice system: Those who remain in contact with loved ones on the outside are less likely, studies show, to return to a life of crime after serving their time. So why does Virginia make it so hard for inmates to phone their families? SALT believes that charges should be “just and reasonable”. A small reform, perhaps, but lower rates might help prisoners go straight. What will you do to reform the justice system so communities are safer, victims are respected, and offenders are transformed?

ANSWER: We need to focus on policies and programs that help inmates rehabilitate and integrate back into society. I supported the legislation introduced by Delegate Patrick Hope last year to place a reasonable restriction on the phone rates that inmates are charged. Keeping contact with their loved ones is extraordinarily important in helping earn a second chance at life and reducing recidivism.

Virginia also needs to allow for the automatic restoration of civil rights for nonviolent felons. Having paid their debt to society, these citizens deserve a second chance at making a better life for themselves and their families. I was proud to sponsor this legislation during the 2013 General Assembly Session and will continue to do so until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth. While Governor McDonnell has been supportive of this effort, we should not leave this decision to the whim of the Governor.

4. Support of Operation Backpack for TANF Families-- This allowance would permit children living in poverty to acquire the needed school supplies and clothing essential for returning to school & equipping children to learn. Would you support to give children in deepest poverty an even start?

ANSWER: I am proud of the work I have done in my first two years to address and maintain the social safety-net in Virginia.  Along those lines, I will continue to support Operation Backpack for TANF Families.

5. Rescind the Federal Lifetime TANF Ban for Ex-Drug Offenders: Lifting the ban eliminates for ex-offenders (whose offense was solely drug possession) the disqualification from receipt of TANF federal transitional assistance needed to care for family members, increases the chances of gainful employment of ex-offenders. To us lifting the ban is a matter of fairness, as it serves to provide basic Re-entry program services that reduce recidivism and save states money. This ban penalizes children of drug felons. Do we want to be a society that requires children to pay for the misdeed(s) of their parents? Do you support extending the eligibility of ex-offenders for food stamps to TANF benefits as well? Please explain

ANSWER: Yes – I support extending the eligibility of ex-offenders for food stamps to TANF benefits as well.  In addition to punishing children for their parents’ mistakes, this policy merely serves to keep convicted felons from earning a second chance and becoming productive members of society.

6. Refundable Virginia State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The EITC higher income is pro-work, pro-business because it results in greater productivity and job satisfaction and less worker turnover. It is pro-family as well. SALT supports a Virginia Refundable EITC to enable hard working families to escape poverty. Approximately 570,000 Virginians live below the poverty level. No one working 40 hours a week should be poor. Do you support a refundable State earned income tax credit (EITC) based on 20% of the federal EITC for Virginia low income workers and their families? Yes/No. Please explain

ANSWER: Yes. I support a refundable Virginia earned income tax credit. Making the EITC refundable encourages Virginians in poverty to stay in the workforce and helps them pay for their most basic needs. This policy would significantly alleviate the pressure on low-income workers and families in Virginia.

7. Transportation: The problem SALT sees with the taxes being put in place for funding our transportation needs is that they are regressive, causing low-income Virginians to pay a greater share of their income towards funding transportation. We find it bizarre to burden those with minimum resources for the purpose of making investments in Virginia’s roads. To mitigate the harm, there needs to be steps taken to assuage the pain. SALT recommends a refundable earned income credit or a targeted rebate program. Do you agree with and would you support that approach?

ANSWER: I agree that we should keep working to find ways to make our tax system in Virginia less regressive. In addition to supporting a refundable earned income credit, I would support reducing the 2.5% grocery tax, which would ease the tax burden on Virginia families that are struggling the most.

8. Housing Trust Fund: Virginia has been identified as the 9th least affordable state in the nation according to the "2013 Out of Reach" report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This standing is based on actual wages and rents in the Commonwealth. Last year, the General Assembly codified a state housing trust fund, joining 45 other states with similar funds, providing one time funding of $8M from the National Mortgage Settlement funds. Given the housing cost burdens faced by a substantial number of households throughout the state, would you support an ongoing source of revenue for the state housing trust fund? This fund would be used to address the significant shortage of safe, decent affordable rental and homeownership opportunities for thousands of low and moderate income families throughout the Commonwealth."

ANSWER: As the sponsor of the legislation that was passed this year to codify the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, I strongly believe the next step is to find a permanent and stable source of revenue for the Housing Trust Fund. This legislation has been one of my proudest achievements in the General Assembly.  I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly in the coming years to address this issue.

9. Medicaid Expansion Health Insurance: Expansion for 400,000 low income, uninsured Virginians with federal funding to pay for 100% of the cost for the first 3 years. Expanding Medicaid for a healthy Virginia is the right choice. Do you agree? Explain.

ANSWER: I agree and will continue to support the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia. In addition to covering over 400,000 uninsured Virginians who are in desperate need of health care coverage, expanding Medicaid would create 30,000 new jobs in Virginia and be a significant boost to our economy.

YOUR ISSUES: What are some issues you feel strongly about that you would like to share with your SALT constituents?

1) I am proud of the work I have done in my first term as a Member of the House of Delegates. I have fought to codify the Housing Trust Fund in Virginia, to defend the funding for Virginia’s critical healthcare safety-net programs such as free health clinics, and to save the funding for Child Advocacy Centers (that address the needs of child abuse victims) across the Commonwealth.

2)  With the help of Chambers of Commerce, universities, religious groups, and immigrant rights groups, I’m proud to say that last session we got the Virginia DREAM Act farther than ever before in the House of Delegates. I promise to continue making the DREAM Act the first piece of legislation that I introduce every year until it becomes the law of the Commonwealth.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!