By Carol Vaughn —
Gov. Ralph Northam announced at a press conference last Wednesday he had signed the revised biennial state budget sent him by the General Assembly — calling the budget “very progressive.”
The budget includes provisions to protect Virginians from evictions and utility shutoffs, Northam said.
“This budget gives us the tools we need to contend with the challenges brought on by the ongoing pandemic,” Northam said in a press release, adding, “I am grateful to our partners in the General Assembly (for) their work in crafting a revised spending plan that protects the most vulnerable Virginians, stays true to our shared values, and puts the Commonwealth in a strong position to weather this public health crisis.”
The signed budget finalizes previously announced funding allocations that Virginia received under the federal CARES Act, including:
Vaccination Program: $22 million for the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccination preparation and planning through the end of 2020
K-12 Schools: $220 million for COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts in K-12 public schools, with all 132 school districts receiving at least $100,000
Higher Education: $116 million to support ongoing COVID-19 response at public colleges, universities, and medical schools and $22 million for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to provide payments to private institutions of higher education
Child Care: $65.8 million to increase access to child care and continue child care incentive grant program established in April
Small Business Assistance: $70 million to establish the Rebuild VA economic recovery fund providing grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic and $30 million in additional funds to continue the program
Broadband Accessibility: $30 million to fast-track broadband projects in underserved localities
Home Health Workers: $73 million to provide hazard pay to home health personal attendants who served high-risk populations during the early months of the pandemic
Workforce Training for Unemployed Virginians: $30 million to established the Re-Employing Virginians initiative providing scholarships to individuals who enroll in programs in high-demand fields
Rent and Mortgage Relief: $12 million to expand the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program launched in June
Food Banks: $7 million to help Virginia food banks meet increased demand for food assistance
Medicaid Day Support Providers: $25 million to fund monthly retainer payments for day support programs that provide services for Virginians with developmental disabilities
Free Clinics: $3 million to reimburse members of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics for COVID-19 expenses.
It also includes $100 million in coronavirus relief funds to support utility shutoff protection for customers facing financial hardship, as well as prohibiting evictions for rent nonpayment through Dec. 31, 2020.
After Jan. 1, 2021, the budget requires landlords and tenants to work together to access rent assistance, including through the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, before proceeding with an eviction.
Northam said commonwealth officials continue to take actions “to support our frontline workers and protect taxpayer dollars.”
He has asked the federal government to extend Title 32 status for the National Guard through next year — which would mean the federal government would continue to pay for the Guard’s assistance.
Federal authority over National Guard members falls under Title 32 of the U.S. Code. This is considered federal active duty for specific state missions and full-time Guard positions.
“Throughout this pandemic, our Virginia National Guard has been a critical partner, helping move supplies and especially helping provide manpower and logistics for testing events,” Northam said.
Northam said Virginia’s small businesses continue to face difficulties.
“I’ve said many times, we have both a health crisis and an economic crisis — and we are focused on both of them,” he said.
Northam said the commonwealth is working to give support to businesses through the Rebuild Virginia Plan.
A few weeks ago, eligibility was expanded for the grant program and additional money was put into it.
Northam said nearly 15,000 applications for grants have been received. To date, more than $55 million in grants have been approved, with almost 39% of the amount going to businesses in low-income communities.
“But I know that everyone from laid-off workers to businesses continues to struggle,” he said, adding, “We are encouraging Congress to pass another stimulus package.”
“Now that the election is behind us…Congress needs to come together to get this done — and they need to get it done now,” Northam said.