While most of the public’s attention during the 2022 midterms focused on elected officials, voters in several states encountered ballot measures that could significantly impact the lives of working families.
Ballot initiatives in education, healthcare and the economy won approval, in what family and education advocates are calling state-level public policy wins.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the most consequential:
South Dakota will expand Medicaid eligibility, after 56% of South Dakota voters approved a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution.
Each state has different eligibility requirements for Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income Americans that’s funded with state and federal money. Back in 2010, states were able to expand eligibility through the Affordable Care Act, but many Republican-led states pushed back against the ACA’s Medicaid expansion requirement. In the decade since, as Medicaid expansion grows in popularity nationally – most Americans view it favorably – more states, including those with conservative leaders, have chosen to expand Medicaid.
South Dakota’s decision could mean an additional 50,000 people will be eligible for health coverage through Medicaid.
“Sometimes you have to go directly to the people, and they know what they wanted,” Rick Weiland, committee chair and treasurer for Dakotans for Health, told the South Dakota Searchlight.
Now just 11 states have not expanded Medicaid, most of them in the South.
Voters in Nebraska and Nevada approved increases in their state’s minimum wage, with the potential to significantly impact low-income families.
Nearly 60% of Nebraska voters approved a ballot initiative that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour over the next four years. After that, increases would be tied to the consumer price index.
“As a lifelong Nebraskan, I know one thing is true about Nebraskans is that we respect and reward hard work,” Kate Wolfe, campaign manager for the group that collected the signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot, told Nebraska Public Media. “And these are hard-working people that need just a little bit of help.”
In Nevada, voters approved a minimum-wage increase to $12 an hour. While the state’s minimum wage was already scheduled to hit $12 in 2024, the ballot measure removed a provision that allowed employers to pay workers $1 per hour below minimum wage if they offer health insurance. It also clarified that the state legislature can raise the minimum wage higher.
The District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly in favor of a ballot initiative that would triple the minimum wage for tipped workers. The measure would increase minimum pay for servers, bartenders and other workers who receive tips from $5.35 to $16.10 per hour over the next five years. The measure initially passed as a referendum in 2018 but was repealed by the D.C. Council.
Colorado voters approved a ballot measure that would create a program to provide free lunches for all public school students in the state. The program will be funded through a tax increase on the state’s richest residents. Money will not only fund school meals, but also provide grants to help schools buy food from Colorado farmers and ranchers, to promote more nutritious meals, and fund wage increases for cafeteria workers.
Voters in New Mexico overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that will direct an estimated $140 million to early education and $90 million for public schools next year. In total, voters approved amendments and bonds that will allocate nearly $500 million for early childhood education, libraries and higher education projects in New Mexico, according to the Alberquerque Journal.
What’s on the horizon?
Congress is back this week for an end-of-year lame duck session, and Democrats are hoping to push through an ambitious legislative agenda before the new Congress is seated.
When it comes to family-friendly policies, Congress has so far been unable to deliver permanent increases in the child tax credit, paid parental leave, child care subsidies, or in universal pre-k.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit for 6 in 10 U.S. households with children last year. For workers without children, it temporarily increased the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit and broadened the age range for eligible workers.
Policy experts credit the expanded Child Tax Credit for fueling a steep drop in U.S. child poverty. But the tax credit expired last year.
If issues like permanent expansion of the child tax credit or improved child care funding are important to you, contact your legislators and tell them whether you support including those benefits in their year-end budget legislation.