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Candidate Q&A: McAuliffe, Youngkin Answer Questions Vital to Virginia Voters

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Virginia voters will choose a governor on Nov. 2, opting between a familiar face and a newcomer. 

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee, is new to politics after a finance career, including heading the Carlyle Group investment firm. Terry McAuliffe is former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018. 

AARP talked with both candidates about issues important to older voters. The interviews have been edited for clarity and space.

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare problems in long-term care. What changes, if any, would you like to see in infection control, safety and standards for staffing levels and quality of care in long-term care facilities? And how can the state, through its workforce development efforts, make working in nursing homes a more attractive career?

McAuliffe: It’s disgraceful that our home health care workers are paid $9.50 [an hour] and they have no benefits. That has to end. We need to raise the wages for caregivers. I’m for a $15 minimum wage by 2024. We need to do a better job on oversight and protection.

Youngkin: I would prioritize PPE [personal protective equipment], prioritize testing, prioritize the vaccine rollout so that those that are most at risk are at the front of the line. We have a massive shortage in staffing, and we need to reevaluate how we are recruiting and training people into this profession.

Twenty-three percent of Virginians don’t take their prescriptions as directed because of cost. What role would you like to see the state play, if any, in addressing the growth of prescription drug costs?

Youngkin: I look forward to undertaking a comprehensive review, taking on not just the drug companies, but all of the players in the supply chain to make sure that we have transparency and much more competition in order to bring prices down and see exactly what they’re paying, but also have choice. As governor, I’ll undertake that immediately.

McAuliffe: I will put a sunlight law in place so we can see what the drug prices are. I’ll put a prescription drug accountability commission together. I will also negotiate with the big pharmaceutical companies to make sure we, as a state entity, are pooling our resources. I will make sure if there are price hikes that are unsubstantiated and unjustified, they will pay penalties.

Student loan debt is the largest source of indebtedness except mortgages, and the level of debt on older Americans from their own higher education or that of family members can be an obstacle to retirement. How would you make higher education more affordable and its costs more transparent, and what’s the state’s role in overseeing the lending industry?

Youngkin: We have a major challenge with the runaway cost of higher education, particularly in Virginia. We have to slow our tuition increases to something that people can afford. We have to also very much open up alternative paths to education, such as community college and credentialing for skilled trades. Runaway higher education costs end up being a burden on so many Virginians, both the younger ones and those folks who are approaching retirement.

McAuliffe: I call for a $2 billion investment in education, raising teacher pay above the national average. Student debt is way too high. Seventy percent of the jobs of the future are going to require ... something beyond high school. We have to do a better job in our education system making sure we are teaching the skills, getting the credentials to match all the jobs that exist in the commonwealth. We have to look at our whole education system.

In 2017 alone, Virginia’s approximately 1 million family caregivers provided 870 million hours of care worth $11.2 billion. Do you have any ideas for supporting them?

McAuliffe: If you have to stay home to take care of your loved one, I’ll do Family Medical Leave. I’ll give you paid sick days. We need, at the state level, to provide the options to them so [they] can take care of their family members who need that care. I call for a holistic approach of how we take care of that Virginia family.

Youngkin: There needs to be a way to recognize this great responsibility that people are actually taking on and I do think that it’s really worth investigating and assessing the tax credit associated with being a caregiver. I do believe there’s some real value there.

COVID-19 hit older Virginians especially hard, with all but a few percent of the deaths coming in the 50-and-older age groups. What should Virginia do to mitigate future outbreaks and be better prepared for public health emergencies?

Youngkin: Virginia was not ready for the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia ranked 50th for vaccine rollout in January 2021, and we had the second-highest nursing home death toll. In an effort to help Virginia prepare for any future pandemics, my administration will implement a plan for improved response for a variety of states of emergency. We will establish a protocol of reviewing preparedness levels on a regular basis to maintain readiness. Unfortunately, nursing homes and [assisted living facilities] were not given the PPE and COVID tests they needed to keep residents healthy.

We must protect and prioritize our most vulnerable citizens during a pandemic. Our nursing homes and assisted living facilities need to be at the top of Virginia’s list for vaccine booster shots, PPE, tests and any additional needs. Whether through legislation or executive action, we must have universal testing in nursing homes.

McAuliffe: This unprecedented pandemic disrupted every aspect of our lives, and we must do everything in our power to make sure we are prepared for any future pandemics similar or worse to COVID-19.

I will continue to build on the work to keep our communities safe in the future, protect our employees, rebuild our thriving network of small businesses and invest in mental health services to help Virginians recover from this dark time. My COVID-19 plan calls for measures that will help us be prepared for any future pandemics: cutting down costs by bringing PPE and pharmaceutical manufacturing to Virginia, ensuring all Virginians have access to paid sick days, and rebuilding our network of small businesses and investing in the workforce of the future. 

I led Virginia’s preparedness and response to the Ebola outbreak. My administration created a statewide command group and a $2 million response fund before a single case even reached the commonwealth. By the end of my term, Virginia was one of the top three states in the nation in terms of preparedness for future health emergencies.

You and your opponent have very different backgrounds. How will your experience help improve the lives of Virginians as they age?

McAuliffe: Unlike my opponent, I have the experience as Virginia’s former governor and the vision to stand up and help improve the lives of Virginians as they age. As Virginia’s next governor, I will fight to protect older adults and all individuals requiring long-term institutional care. First, I believe we need to better support older adults wishing to age in place. That means expanding access to in-home care options, increasing wages for home health care workers, and exploring opportunities to leverage Medicaid to compensate caregivers that support their loved ones.

Glenn Youngkin and I could not be more different. While Glenn opposes Medicaid expansion in Virginia, I fought every year of my administration to expand Medicaid. And while Glenn opposes the American Rescue Plan, I have been a strong supporter of it because of all of the resources it gave our commonwealth to help us recover from COVID-19. [Editor’s note: Youngkin denies that he opposes the American Rescue Plan.] 

Youngkin: Virginians have a choice between a 40+-year career operative who has failed to deliver, or a successful businessman and political outsider who can deliver results and bring fresh perspective to the governor’s office. As governor, I will lead Virginia to becoming the best state to live, work and raise a family with the best jobs, the best schools and the safest communities. I will build a rip-roaring economy, lower the cost of living for families, create more jobs and opportunity, cut the expensive and unnecessary red tape that is hurting our small businesses, strengthen and support our law enforcement, and fight for a better education for our children by focusing on and improving academic excellence.

I will put my business experience to work for you, including my experience helping people build the skills needed for great careers. This includes the health care and assisted-living workforce. We need to get people back to work, I’ve done that with the Virginia Ready Initiative and want to use what I’ve learned to get more Virginians employed.

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