Ralph Northam

Governor Northam Announces Refinancing Plan to Save Virginia Colleges and Universities More Than $300 Million Over Next Two Years

FAIRFAX—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a higher education refinancing plan that will save Virginia’s public colleges and universities more than $300 million over the next two years. The Commonwealth of Virginia will take advantage of low interest rates by refinancing bonds issued by the Treasury Board of Virginia (TBV) and the Virginia College Building Authority (VCBA), which institutions of higher education use for capital projects. The Governor was joined by George Mason University President Dr. Gregory Washington and state legislators for the announcement at the university’s Fairfax campus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have tremendous impacts on higher education, including the fiscal health of our colleges and universities,” said Governor Northam. “Families all over the country are taking advantage of record low interest rates to refinance their home mortgages, and we want our public institutions to benefit as well. Refinancing will free up millions of dollars in savings allowing our colleges and universities to make critical investments, meet the needs of Virginia students, and continue offering a world-class education.”

Virginia has successfully avoided cuts to higher education during the pandemic. The Commonwealth has worked hard to maintain its valued AAA bond rating, which has allowed the state to be eligible for these favorable interest rates.

“Our public higher education institutions are critical to Virginia’s success, and we know they are hurting right now,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Janet Howell. “Allowing them to refinance some of their debt is an innovative way to save money when they need it most, and I look forward to supporting the legislative portion of this proposal next session.”

Many Virginia colleges and universities have seen a decline in revenue traditionally used for bond payments. These institutions are also navigating uncertainty regarding in-person learning, with many unsure when or how students will return to campus. Under the Governor’s plan, institutions will make no principal payments on their VCBA bonds through fiscal year 2023. The proposed restructuring would also extend institutions’ payment plans for two years beyond their current schedule, for both VCBA and TBV bonds.

“As stewards of the Commonwealth’s finances, we are always seeking creative solutions to financial issues,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Torian. “Helping public colleges and universities restructure their debt obligations allows them to focus their resources on the pressing needs they face right now as a result of the pandemic.”

As part of his plan, Governor Northam will work with the General Assembly to allow additional flexibility for higher education refinancing during the 2021 General Assembly session.

“Governor Northam is committed to supporting Virginia’s institutions of higher education,” said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. “These savings will make a tremendous difference for our colleges and universities as they navigate these challenging times.”

The following savings are expected:

  • Christopher Newport University: $14.4 million
  • George Mason University: $58.3 million
  • James Madison University: $43.7 million
  • Longwood University: $8.2 million
  • Norfolk State University: $8.2 million
  • Old Dominion University: $29.8 million
  • Radford University: $5.1 million
  • Richard Bland College of William & Mary: $320,000
  • University of Mary Washington: $9.3 million
  • University of Virginia: $344,000
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: $23.1 million
  • Virginia Community College System: $9.7 million
  • Virginia Military Institute: $2.8 million
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: $40.1 million
  • Virginia State University: $12.8 million
  • William & Mary: $33.7 million

Governor Northam Announces Expansion of $70 Million Rebuild VA Grant Fund for Small Businesses, Nonprofits Impacted by COVID-19

Eligibility criteria expanded to include businesses that received federal CARES Act funds, supply chain partners affected by closures

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Rebuild VA, the $70 million economic recovery fund launched in August, is expanding its eligibility criteria to allow more small businesses to apply. Businesses that received funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are now eligible to receive grants of up to $10,000. Businesses that have received federal funds must certify that they will only use the Rebuild VA grant for recurring expenses and that the grant will not be used to cover the same expenses as the other CARES Act funds.

Rebuild VA, which is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD), successfully launched on August 10. SBSD and its program partners, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, made the decision to expand eligibility criteria after analysis of eligible and ineligible applications received within the first 30 days of the launch.

“When we initially launched Rebuild VA, we focused on reaching the small businesses and nonprofit organizations most in need,” said Governor Northam. “I am deeply grateful for the work of our state agencies to swiftly adjust the parameters of this program so we can assist more Virginia businesses as they weather this health crisis and build back stronger.”

Eligible businesses and nonprofits must demonstrate that their normal operations were limited by Governor Northam’s Executive Orders Fifty-Three or Fifty-Five, or that they were directly impacted by the closure of such businesses. In March, Governor Northam took executive action to protect the health and safety of Virginians, which included limiting operations for food and beverage, non-essential brick and mortar retail, exercise and fitness, entertainment and public amusement, personal care and personal grooming, and private campground and overnight summer camps. Expanded business sectors now eligible to apply for Rebuild VA grants include small hotels and bed and breakfasts lodging facilities along with film companies supporting production in the Commonwealth. Businesses that provide goods or services for those identified in one or more of the eligible business categories previously mentioned are now eligible.

Businesses must also certify that they have not received grant or loan dollars from federal, state, or local CARES Act funded programs, or if they have received CARES Act funding, that they will use the Rebuild VA grant only for recurring expenses. These businesses must also certify that the Rebuild VA funds will not be used to cover the same expenses as other CARES Act funds.

Rebuild VA still requires that businesses and nonprofit organizations must be in good standing, have annual gross revenues of no more than $1.5 million, and have no more than 25 employees.

Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:

  • Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
  • Employee salaries;
  • Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
  • Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
  • Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.

For additional information about Rebuild VA, expanded eligibility criteria, covered expenses, and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.

Governor Northam Casts Vote in November General Election on First Day of Early Voting in Virginia

 

 

Reminds voters of options to vote absentee by mail or early in person, urges all Virginians to make a voting plan

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today voted early in person at the Richmond general registrar’s office on the first day of Virginia’s 45-day early voting period.

New laws allow all Virginians to vote absentee by mail, or in person at their local registrar’s office or satellite locations. The Governor signed legislation this year removing a previous provision that required absentee voters to provide a reason for voting early, so any Virginia voter may vote early without providing a specific reason.

“Virginians can be confident their vote is secure, and will be counted,” said Governor Northam. “While the pandemic has made this an unprecedented election year, Virginia voters have several safe and easy ways to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Voting is an essential part of our democracy, and I encourage every Virginia voter to know their options and make a plan for safely casting their ballot.”

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a higher number of Virginians are expected to vote by mail in the 2020 election. As of Thursday, the Department of Elections had received 824,000 requests for absentee ballots by mail. For comparison, 566,000 votes were cast absentee in the 2016 General Election—half by mail.

Virginians have several options for safely casting their ballots for the November General Election.

Absentee by Mail
Beginning today, September 18, Virginia general registrars will mail absentee ballots to voters who request them. Virginians can request a ballot online at elections.virginia.gov. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Friday, October 23 at 5:00 p.m.

All absentee ballots will include a return envelope with prepaid postage. Ballots with a postmark of November 3 or earlier will be accepted until noon on Friday, November 6.

As an additional layer of security, every absentee ballot envelope is required to have an intelligent mail barcode and an election mail insignia. The insignia tells the United States Postal Service that this piece of mail is a ballot and should be prioritized. The barcode lets voters track their ballot once it leaves the registrar’s office—so a voter will know when their ballot has been mailed to them, and when it is delivered back to the registrar. Voters can track their absentee ballot using the absentee ballot look-up tool available here.

Drop-off Locations
Absentee ballots may also be hand delivered to your local registrar’s office or returned to a secure drop-off location, which include any satellite voting location. A list of drop-off locations is available on your county or city’s official website. On Election Day, you can also drop off your completed absentee ballot at any polling place in the county or city in which you are registered to vote.

For voters who prefer to vote in person, there are two options.

Early In Person
Starting today, September 18, Virginia voters can vote absentee in person at their local registrar’s office as Governor Northam did. Voters can simply go to their local general registrar’s office or a satellite voting location identified by the registrar’s office and cast their vote. Voters may use this option through Saturday, October 31—one of the longest early voting periods of any state.

Election Day
The other option is the traditional one: voting in person on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, at your polling place. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Virginia has allocated federal CARES Act funding to ensure that all election officers have personal protective equipment, and Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.

Virginia considers election security to be a top priority and has made significant progress in recent years to ensure a secure election process that places election integrity and voter confidence at the forefront. Additional information about election security in Virginia can be found here.

To register to vote or learn more about absentee voting in Virginia, visit elections.virginia.gov/absentee. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

Follow the Department of Elections on Twitter at @vaElect, on Facebook at @VirginiaELECT, and on Instagram at @va_election.

See below for photos of Governor Northam casting his ballot at the Richmond general registrar’s office.

Governor Northam Announces $4 Million to Expand Legal Aid Services for Virginians Facing Eviction

Governor will match $2 million IKEA donation with $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced $4 million in funding for the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, which will support 20 Legal Aid attorneys in providing services to Virginia tenants facing eviction for the next two years. This critical investment comes as thousands of Virginians continue to be at risk of eviction and is supported in part by a $2 million donation from IKEA U.S. Community Foundation. The Governor will match the donation with $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was approved by the General Assembly in April.

“Our Commonwealth faced an eviction crisis before COVID-19 arrived in early March, and the ongoing global pandemic is making this problem even worse,” said Governor Northam. “We are deeply grateful to IKEA for this generous donation that, coupled with money from the COVID-19 Relief Fund and other federal resources, will help more Virginians stay in their homes as we fight this virus. In an unprecedented crisis and financial uncertainty, we must be able to get relief to vulnerable populations quickly and efficiently—this additional funding will make that possible.”

IKEA Retail U.S. has stores in Norfolk and Woodbridge and employs approximately 550 Virginians. As part of the company’s efforts to support COVID-19 recovery across the country, IKEA is providing partner states with a donation equal to the amount given to their employees in the form of unemployment benefits. Housing security continues to be a top priority for Virginia amid the ongoing public health crisis, and Governor Northam asked that the $2 million donation from IKEA to the Commonwealth be directed to support eviction relief.

IKEA has continued to follow Governor Northam’s orders to protect the health and safety of both employees and customers. After Governor Northam issued a statewide Stay at Home order, IKEA closed its two Virginia retail locations to keep their staff and customers safe. Now IKEA is giving back to ensure the Commonwealth has the funding to provide essential services and goods to those who need it most.  

“We are appreciative of the ongoing support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, including the unemployment funds paid to our co-workers who were furloughed in the early weeks of the pandemic,” said Javier Quiñones, IKEA Retail U.S. president. “People are the heart of our business, and these unemployment benefits helped IKEA U.S. co-workers during a difficult time. We now have a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, and we’ve decided to pay it forward to support the ongoing relief efforts in our local communities.” 

This funding will be matched by $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is supported by tax revenue from electronic skill machines. Governor Northam proposed this one-year alternative funding mechanism as a way of providing additional support to small businesses, Virginians who are out of work due to the pandemic, and individuals struggling to stay in their homes.

Although $1.5 million per year for Legal Aid was unallotted from Virginia’s biennial budget, this $4 million in funding will allow for additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal Aid attorneys play a critical role in eviction diversion in the Commonwealth—Virginia families facing eviction have successful outcomes 72 percent of the time when represented by Legal Aid lawyers, as opposed to just 34 percent without representation.

Governor Northam also established the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) with an initial $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and proposed an additional $88 million in funding for the Housing Trust Fund over the biennium to prevent evictions and expand affordable housing. Since launching at the end of June, the RMRP has served more than 3,100 households in Virginia, and over 60 percent of the households served have children in the home.

The Legal Services Corporation of Virginia funds and oversees the work of nine regional Legal Aid programs and a statewide support center, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, that provide services to low-income Virginians in every city and county in the Commonwealth.

Watch the video of today’s announcement here.

 

Governor Northam Announces Launch of New African American History Course

16 Virginia school divisions to participate during 2020-2021 academic year

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that students in 16 Virginia school divisions will be able to increase their understanding of African American history by participating in a new high school-level elective course this academic year.

“Black history is American history, but for too long, the story we have told was insufficient and inadequate,” said Governor Northam. “The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history, and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.”

On August 24, 2019, Governor Northam directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to collaborate with Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media, and committees of history teachers, historians, and history professors to develop a new African American history course for high school students. Now complete, the full-credit course surveys African American history from precolonial Africa through today. It introduces students to key concepts in African American history, from early beginnings in Africa through the transatlantic slave trade, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era and to the present. Students will learn about African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and America.

The 16 school divisions offering the course this year include:

  • Alleghany County
  • Amherst County
  • Arlington County
  • Carroll County
  • Charlottesville
  • Chesterfield County
  • Covington
  • Franklin County
  • Henrico County
  • Henry County
  • Loudoun County
  • Norfolk
  • Portsmouth
  • Prince William County
  • Suffolk
  • Winchester

The course will challenge students to explore primary and secondary sources documenting the African American experience. The content includes opportunities for students to develop the skills and attributes known as Virginia’s Five C’s (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and citizenship) as they connect what they have learned to local history and issues.

Students will be expected to do the following by the end of the course:

  • Identify and understand the African origins and developments of the Black experience in North America;
  • Evaluate how African Americans have shaped, contributed, and have been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state, and local governments;
  • Evaluate and interpret the various paths of civic responsibility that led to quests for equality, justice, and freedom for individuals and communities facing barriers and oppression based on race, class, and gender; and
  • Analyze and understand how the institution of slavery in the United States shaped beliefs about race and the supremacy of one race over another and influenced America’s economy and politics.

The course also includes a capstone project requiring students to conduct independent research on a question or problem of their choosing and to demonstrate a deeper understanding of African American history.

“We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when they fully understand both the oppression experienced by African Americans and their significant contributions to STEM, the arts, education, law, and advocacy,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “As a history teacher, I know that this course is long overdue and is a first step toward telling a more inclusive story about the past and how it has shaped the present.”

VDOE curriculum specialists developed a curriculum map for the course and provided suggested content for extended exploration. WHRO then designed the online version of the course using content developers and reviewers selected by VDOE.

“WHRO is proud to have partnered with the Commonwealth to produce this historic and significant course,” said President and CEO of WHRO Public Media Bert Schmidt. “We have been supporting education since 1961 by delivering online, new, and on-air services. The African American history course is a welcome and important addition to our educational offerings.”

Members of Governor Northam’s Commission on African-American History Education in the Commonwealth provided comments and guidance during the development process. Commission members from Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth University assisted with in-depth reviews of proposed content.

In July, Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane notified school divisions of the opportunity to present the new elective during the 2020-2021 academic year. Some divisions will begin instruction this fall, while others following block schedules will present the course during the spring semester.

“I want to thank the division superintendents and teachers who stepped forward and volunteered to be part of this watershed moment in the history of public education in our state,” said Dr. Lane. “I also want to thank all of the educators around the Commonwealth who participated in the development of this course for their dedication to historical accuracy and equipping young Virginians with the comprehensive and accurate story of our past.”

The teachers presenting the course will receive professional development and support throughout the year. The training will focus on building content capacity, developing a deeper knowledge of African American history, strengthening culturally responsive instructional practices, and the use of anti-biased/anti-racist education practices. Educators will also collaborate in the development of resources and materials for future use as the course expands to additional school divisions.

 

Governor Northam Statement on the Passing of Former Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement today on the passing of former Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager.

“John Hager devoted his life to public service, and I admired his love for our country and for Virginia. 

“He served in the Army and worked as a businessman, but he will be remembered as a volunteer, an athlete, an author, and a patriot. 

“I first met John after running for public office, and he helped me learn the job of being Lieutenant Governor. Anyone who worked in Virginia politics quickly learned that John was everywhere, and no one outworked him. He earned victory and knew defeat, and he kept going. John held fast to his principles, and he knew when to reach across the aisle to compromise. Our country misses his example. 

“Most of all, John was a family man. Pam and I send our thoughts and prayers to Maggie, Jack, Henry, and the entire Hager family. 

“I have ordered Virginia state flags to be flown at half-staff for ten days in John’s honor.”

Governor’s Flag Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia

This is to order that the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia is to be flown at half-staff over the state Capitol and all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in respect and memory of former Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager.

I hereby order that the flag shall be lowered until sunset, September 2, 2020.

Ordered on this, the 23rd day of August, 2020.

STATEMENT OF U.S. SEN. MARK R. WARNER

~ On the passing of John Hager ~

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement on the passing of John Hager, former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia:

“I’ve known John Hager for more than 30 years and I can attest that John epitomized the very definition of a true public servant. We worked together on the Virginia Health Care Foundation to ensure all Virginians had access to health care. And during my time as Governor, I was proud of the work he did on my Cabinet, serving as the Director of Homeland Security. John was a great Virginian, who, despite the remarkable obstacles he faced in his personal life, was able to persevere and give back to his community. John was a great friend to me and the Commonwealth he served.

“I want to offer my sincerest condolences to Maggie, the boys, and the entire Hager family on their loss. I will miss him greatly.”

Virginia Receives Approval to Expand Access to Health Care through State-Based Exchange

Federal approval puts Commonwealth on path to full state exchange by 2023

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia has been approved to proceed with a state-based health insurance exchange. Approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services allows Virginia to take over some functions of its current federal exchange beginning with open enrollment this November, and puts the Commonwealth on a path to full control by 2023.

“This approval could not come at a more critical time as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “The Trump administration is doing everything possible to gut the Affordable Care Act and kick families off their health insurance, and a state-based exchange will give Virginia the autonomy we need to expand access to care and reduce premiums. As governor and as a physician, I will never stop fighting for affordable, high-quality health care.”

By establishing the Virginia Exchange, the Commonwealth can implement policies to better address costs. The state will be able to work directly with insurance companies to meet the health coverage needs of all Virginians purchasing coverage, including small employers. Virginia will also be able to provide more targeted outreach and enrollment services and extend the time Virginians have to enroll in coverage, if needed. These strategies will expand access to health care and help increase overall affordability.

Increasing access to health care has been a top priority of the Northam administration. More than 452,000 Virginians have enrolled in new health care coverage since 2018, when Governor Northam successfully fought to expand Medicaid in Virginia. The expansion of Medicaid has proven a critical lifeline for Virginians during this health pandemic, with more than 125,603 Virginians, including 41,272 children, enrolled in Medicaid since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in Virginia on March 12 of this year.

The letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is available here.

Governor Northam Proposes Voter Protection Measures Ahead of November General Election

Additional budget amendments address evictions, broadband, historical sites, and dam safety

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced proposals to expand access to voting for the November 3rd General Election amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The measures were unveiled by the Governor during a virtual Joint Meeting of the House Appropriations, House Finance, Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees, and will be considered by legislators during the special General Assembly session set to begin this afternoon.

“As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we must take additional steps to make it easier to vote, not harder,” said Governor Northam. “With these measures, we will protect public health and ensure Virginians can safely exercise their right to vote in the November election. Whether you put your ballot in the mail or vote in-person, voting will be safe and secure in our Commonwealth.

Governor Northam is putting forward three proposals aimed at addressing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring all Virginians have safe and fair access to access to the ballot box for the November 3rd General Election.

  • Prepaid postage: Governor Northam’s proposed budget sets aside $2 million for prepaid return postage on all absentee ballots sent out for the November 3rd General Election.
  • Drop off boxes and drop off locations: The Governor’s proposal includes language expressly permitting localities to use drop boxes or implement drop off locations for Virginians who choose to vote absentee, under security standards to be set by the Virginia Department of Elections.
  • Absentee cure process:  This measure will ensure Virginians’ voting rights are protected by allowing them to fix an error on their absentee ballot. Currently, Virginians who make an error are not able to fix that error and therefore their ballot may be discarded. Many Virginians will be voting absentee for the first time this November, and this language will help ensure Virginians’ votes are counted.

The Governor’s proposed budget also includes funding for measures to reform policing; teach a more accurate version of Virginia history; expand safe, affordable housing; increase access to high-speed broadband; provide resources for urgent dam safety; and support Virginia’s public Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Additional information and presentations on the Governor’s proposed amendments to the 2020-2022 Biennial Budget can be found here.

Governor Northam’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Good morning, Chairman Torian, Chairwoman Howell, Chairwoman Watts, Speaker Filler-Corn, Leader Saslaw, members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the privilege of speaking with you this morning.

We’d rather all be together in person today, but in these times, we are being safe, and relying on technology. I want to thank our IT team for making the technology work.

I would like to recognize Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, First Lady Pam Northam, and members of our Cabinet and staff. 

I am here today to update you on the Commonwealth’s revenues for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. 

This is a late-August tradition in Virginia, but this is no ordinary year. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, our economy, and our budget. So I am also here to discuss actions I am proposing for the special session that begins today.

First, I want to discuss the latest efforts to fight the virus in Virginia. Overall, our daily case numbers seem to be trending slightly downward, which is a good thing. We’re now averaging around 15,000 tests a day, and our percent positivity is around 7 percent. These are positive trends, and we continue the work to increase testing and reduce the spread of the virus. We also continue reaching out to communities in need. For example, we’ve distributed more than 542,000 masks and 460,000 bottles of sanitizer to 40 localities through the Health Equity team.

The fact that we are doing this event virtually today speaks to the precautions we all are taking, and must continue to take.

***

Let’s turn to our economy. Last December, I stood before you to outline an ambitious and progressive budget that took Virginia in a new direction that the people demanded. That budget was built on revenues that were good, steady, and growing. This was possible because Virginia boasted a strong economy before the pandemic. We had near-record low unemployment, a stable budget, and strong financial reserves. 

So during the regular session, we worked together to craft a forward-looking budget that made generational investments in areas that had been underfunded. It advanced equity like never before, and cared for people who need help. Our budget included investments in early childhood education, tuition-free community college, public schools, affordable housing, our environment, state employees, and the largest reserve balance in state history. 

But even as we finalized the details of that plan, we could see that the pandemic was going to impact our revenues and our budget. What we didn’t know was how deep or long-lasting the impact might be.

We suspected it would be painful. And we were right. The United States continues to show recessionary trends. And it’s different from past economic downturns. This time, the cause is not an underlying problem in the economy, as we saw in 2008 when the housing market collapsed. No one could have foreseen that a pandemic would push the world into a recession. So there is no roadmap for how to get out of it. 

As a physician, I know the only way to solve our economic crisis is to solve our health crisis first. Our economy was booming before the pandemic, and it can fully rebuild only when this virus is behind us. This means that as we make budget decisions, this week and into the next session, we must keep in mind that we can’t know what is going to happen with the pandemic, when a vaccine will be available, or how much longer this will go on. 

So we need to follow the oath that doctors lead with: First, do no harm.

As we begin this special session, it’s important that we all make choices that preserve our financial options, especially for the period from now until the regular session in January. It’s also important to remember that every state is dealing with similar problems. No one has been immune to this crisis.

But states have handled it differently. Other states have slashed services, laid off workers, or furloughed employees to save money. Georgia cut nearly $1 billion from its education funding, while New Jersey is borrowing $10 billion to pay its bills. That’s half our general fund budget. Let me say that again—that’s half our budget.

We can all be very proud to say that in Virginia, we have been able to avoid cutting services or laying off large numbers of state workers. This is no accident. It is the result of taking thoughtful actions, and making prudent decisions. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we put a freeze on hiring. We limited travel, and froze discretionary spending for state agencies. These actions contributed to unspent balances of $500 million.

At the reconvened session in April, my team worked with you to “unallot” most of the two and a quarter billion dollars in new spending that we had planned in the budget. We agreed that we would return to these important investments, once time had given us a better understanding of how this pandemic would affect our revenues. We also agreed not to make the draconian cuts that some called for. This would have hurt Virginia’s ability to serve people, and it would have slowed down our recovery. These decisions gave us a head start on the budget work we must do now and throughout the fall, and into the next regular session. I’ll talk more about that in a moment. 

Before we turn to that, it’s important to acknowledge that we have multiple ways to fund Virginia’s COVID response—not just our general fund. We have the COVID-19 Relief Fund, funded by a new tax on the so-called “gray machines.” We created this fund last session, and we set it up to last one year. It has a clear mission: to help pay for Virginia’s COVID response.

Another source is the federal CARES Act funding—approximately $3.1 billion. We have deployed this money strategically and prudently. We are allocating nearly 45 percent of it to local governments—roughly $1.3 billion. We have allocated more CARES Act dollars to localities than many other states, and we have done so more quickly. We know they are our partners, and they need help.

We have used these dollars to deliver basic services, and help people make it through. This means helping food banks, helping people pay their rent or mortgages, helping small businesses stay in business, helping people get the PPE they need, and a whole lot more. These actions have helped people. And they have kept this problem from being much worse.

So as we turn to the numbers, we all need to understand that the fiscal situation is serious in the Commonwealth, just like in every state. Virginia ended the 2020 fiscal year on June 30th with a $234 million shortfall in general fund revenue collections. While this is significant, it was less than projected, and we still saw an overall revenue increase of 2 percent over fiscal year 2019.

You will recall that some were calling on us to cut $3 billion from the last three months of the last fiscal year. We should be proud that this was not necessary. Looking forward, we now project that we’ll have $2.7 billion less than we expected in general fund revenue for the coming biennium. We feared worse. But this still requires serious and thoughtful budgeting and planning.

The drop in revenue was enough to trigger a reforecast of our economic outlook. The Joint Advisory Board of Economists and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Revenue Estimates have reviewed these numbers, and they have agreed on a revenue forecast that is recessionary.

This new forecast forms the basis of the budget we are presenting to you in the special session. Secretary Layne and our finance team will present the details in a few minutes.

***

Before we go into that, it’s important to remember where we are in the calendar, the budget cycle, and the pandemic response. In just four months, I will be back before you to present amendments to this budget. In fact, as soon as this special session wraps up, we will immediately begin that process.

In the budget cycle, we are only about six weeks into the fiscal year. Decisions that we make today will affect everything that happens throughout the rest of the two-year budget cycle. And this matters because we don’t know how long the pandemic will go on. Scientists offer a realistic hope that an effective vaccine will be developed in the coming months. Once that happens, it will take time to deploy and help Virginians gain that protection from the COVID-19 virus. We don’t know how long that will take either.

So I encourage all of us to follow a few guideposts for this session:

Number one: “cash is king.” That’s true for our family budgets, especially right now, and it’s true for government budgeting too. We need to preserve the liquidity that will enable us to operate the government, deliver services, and pay our bills. 

Number two: Don’t use one-time money to fund expenses that re-occur every year. If you receive an inheritance, and you spend it all today, you’ll have nothing tomorrow. This is common sense, and it’s also something the rating agencies reiterate with us every time they reaffirm our AAA Bond Rating.

Number three: When you DO have one-time money available, the right course is to invest in the future.

And finally, number four, we need to preserve financial options.

***

So let’s turn to specifics. You know that education has always been my top priority. For me, this meant a major expansion of early childhood education, and it meant tuition assistance and creating free community college for people going into high-need fields. I appreciate you endorsing these goals in the final budget you passed.

You will recall that we chose to “un-allot” these new investments earlier this year, once the pandemic hit. In the budget I present to you, I am choosing not to reinstate spending on my own top priorities. To be clear, I am doing this for one reason alone: To preserve our financial options so that we can make it through this pandemic. I need to be equally clear about the priorities we share: 

  • Teachers and state workers still need and deserve a raise. 
  • We need to invest more in behavioral health. 
  • The cost of tuition is still a major impediment.
  • And it remains important to invest in our transportation system, and in access to affordable health care.

We all share these priorities, and we will return to them in January, when the time is right. Just as our revenues now look better than we predicted when the pandemic began, we expect the December reforecast to show additional improvement about 16 weeks from now.

But for that to happen and allow us to return to these shared priorities, our economy must show improvement. For that, we need our businesses, large and small, to survive. I talk to CEOs and business leaders regularly, and many of them are facing real challenges. For example, airline travel has dropped 90 percent—that affects all the downstream businesses that supply that industry, many of which are based here in Virginia. Every time a business closes, people lose jobs, and communities lose part of their economic fabric. The pandemic is making businesses at every level rethink how they operate, which could create new opportunities for states looking to bring new business in.

Last year, we were all proud that CNBC named Virginia the best state in which to do business. We are still the best state for business, and as we move forward, we need to remember that keeping employers and jobs here will form the foundation of our economic recovery.

I fully intend to implement and carry out the progressive budget that you and I wrote together this past winter. It’s the right thing to do, and it reflects commitments we made to the people of Virginia.

But we have a crisis before us, so I am sending you a budget and legislation to address this crisis and the issues it has shined a spotlight on. This package will help people stay in their homes, with $88 million to combat evictions and expand affordable housing. This includes funding the eviction diversion pilot program, and making an historic $85 million investment into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. Keeping people in their homes during this pandemic is a public health priority. That’s why we also created the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, and it’s why we’ve previously allocated money to help people experiencing homelessness. 

This package will help bring more people online—to go to school, go to work, and get connected. It means $85 million for the infrastructure to expand access to broadband and high-speed internet. People in cities, small towns, and rural areas need this. Here’s why: 200,000 K-12 students, and 60,000 college students in Virginia lack access to broadband at home. This is long overdue, and as many schools prepare to start the school year virtually, their students need Internet access to participate.

This package will reform policing. It continues the reforms we began earlier this year, when we increased the felony larceny threshold, decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, began expanding eligibility for parole, and ended driver’s license suspensions that kept people from driving long after they finished their sentences. Now, it’s time to address the use of excessive force. Start training law enforcement officers better and more consistently, with more input from the community. It means civilian review panels, with real skills and standards. It means increasing diversity in the Virginia State Police, so troopers better reflect the communities they serve. And it means that when an officer goes rogue, they’re out of the profession, de-certified.

The package I’m presenting you reaffirms that we need to continue to make it easier to vote, not harder. Voting is fundamental to democracy. Thanks to legislation we passed in the regular session, photo ID is not required at the polls, and Election Day will be a state holiday. And any Virginia voter can vote early with “no excuse” absentee ballots—meaning you can vote early without having to give a reason.

Now, we need to help people vote safely. That means secure boxes to drop off your ballot, in addition to the standard postal service delivery. If you put your ballot in the mail, the state will pay the postage. All you have to do is turn on the TV to see why this is so important, but please know this: the Department of Elections is already working to prepare to start mailing ballots in just four weeks. For these reforms to matter in November, we must make them now. I ask you to move quickly to pass this budget, because the stakes are high for our country. To be clear, voting will be safe and secure in Virginia. Your mailed-in ballots will be counted. Virginia will take every action necessary to protect the vote.

***

When people vote, change happens. Virginians voted last fall, they demanded change, and we started delivering. But change doesn’t come only at the ballot box, especially when people are hurting. We’ve seen that this summer, across America and here in Virginia, as people took to the streets with a message that’s both simple and profound: Change faster.

So I’m sending you a package that lifts up Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, funds important cultural sites, and says to the world: This is American history. This package means more students visiting important sites. It means more historic sites and highway markers to tell a broader story. It’s time for Virginia to tell the whole story of American history, and I ask you to approve this package. 

And finally, my budget proposes investing $15 million for dam rehabilitation projects that can’t wait, along with other actions to preserve Virginia’s environment. We saw just this weekend across Virginia how important those infrastructure investments are. We had so much rain that 150 homes below a dam in Chesterfield had to be evacuated, and another dam near Pocahontas State Park would have failed had it not recently been upgraded.

Flooding in other communities, like Staunton and Hampton Roads recently, also speak to the fact that water management needs cannot wait. We must be responsible stewards of both the state’s money, and its infrastructure. Luckily, we are not starting from scratch. We have a base budget in place, and it would still allow us to operate the government, even if we made no changes in the coming months.

 We also have several options to fund COVID needs: federal CARES Act dollars, the gray machine funding, and our general fund budget. Additional needs for testing, PPE, and food security will require a large portion of the CARES Act dollars that remain. And as tax revenue from the gray machines starts to come in, I look forward to working with you to decide how we can best spend these dollars.

***

My friends, my fellow Virginians, these past few months have been an incredibly difficult time for literally everyone around the world. People have lost jobs. They’ve lost their businesses. Too many have lost their lives. Everyone is worried about what the future holds, and too many leaders are fanning the flames of anxiety. We need to change that too, and we will.

Here in Virginia, we need to plan for the long term, take actions that invest now, and preserve options for what we all hope is a brighter future. We have been making wise decisions throughout this pandemic, and I have faith that Virginia will again propel forward when this pandemic ends. I am proposing a budget and legislative package to make that happen, and I look forward to working with you all to pass these proposals. Thank you.

Virginia Takes Historic Steps to Secure a Clean Energy Future

Governor Northam ceremonially signs landmark Virginia Clean Economy Act, legislation to drive new investment in solar, energy storage

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today celebrated Virginia’s once-in-a-generation progress on clean energy by ceremonially signing historic legislation that accelerates the Commonwealth’s transition to a carbon-free future. The Governor signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which establishes bold energy efficiency standards and provides a pathway for new investments in solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, and energy storage. Additional legislation signed by the Governor advances shared solar and energy storage programs, and dramatically transforms the rooftop solar market.

“We are at a pivotal moment to secure an affordable, clean energy future in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “Together, these pieces of legislation put the Commonwealth in position to meet the urgency of the climate crisis, and lead the transition to renewable energy in a way that captures the economic, environmental, and health benefits for all Virginians. And these bills also send a strong, clear message about the broader impacts of pollution that must be considered when choosing our energy resources.”

For the first time in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Clean Economy Act establishes a mandatory renewable portfolio standard to achieve 30 percent renewable energy by 2030, a mandatory energy efficiency resource standard, and the path to a carbon-free electric grid by 2045. The bill also declares that 16,100 megawatts of solar and onshore wind, 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind, and 2,700 megawatts of energy storage are in the public interest. This provides a pathway for clean energy resources to be constructed, while ensuring that the investments are made in a cost-effective way. The Virginia Clean Economy Act protects customers with a program that helps reduce electricity bills and brings energy efficiency savings to low-income households.

The Governor also ceremonially signed legislation directing the State Corporation Commission to determine when electric utilities should retire coal-fired or natural gas-fired electric generation facilities, and how utility customers should pay for this transition.

Governor Northam signed additional legislation to support new investments in solar energy, including the Solar Freedom bill, which will help grow the rooftop solar market in the Commonwealth. Another bill he signed establishes a shared solar program, allowing communities to receive credit for the solar energy they generate through a subscriber system. With a minimum requirement of 30 percent low-income customers, this program will enable Virginians to reap the benefits of generating solar energy on their homes. The Governor also signed a legislation that will build an energy storage market in Virginia.

Learn more about the clean energy legislation passed during the 2020 General Assembly session here.

Watch the video of today’s bill signing ceremony here.

Governor Northam Announces GO Virginia Funding to Support Economic Recovery, Regional Workforce Development, and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Four regional projects awarded more than $5.5 million in grants

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) will award more than $5.5 million to support projects that will help address economic and public health challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The four regional projects and one statewide competitive project receiving funding are focused on strengthening the health sciences workforce pipeline, advancing new renewable energy ventures, and developing a regional services network for entrepreneurs.

Three of the approved projects were funded through the new GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery Program, which is designed to support activities that mitigate the economic impact of the ongoing public health crisis, create or sustain much-needed capacity to support business and industry, and facilitate safe reopening strategies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unprecedented challenges for businesses, and Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth continue to demonstrate resilience and ingenuity in navigating this health crisis,” said Governor Northam. “These projects represent tremendous opportunities for regional collaboration with resources dedicated to our economic recovery, while staying true to the GO Virginia mission of creating quality jobs and driving positive growth.”

The nine GO Virginia regional councils have developed Growth and Diversification plans and strategies organized around their own unique resources and assets. Initiatives that advance these strategies are key in strengthening each region’s economy and provide critical framework for each region’s response to the economic effects of COVID-19. The grant awards will leverage an additional $7,732,043 in non-state sources to assist with economic diversification and recovery efforts throughout Virginia. The board also approved a new policy that defines the permitted use of Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission Funds as matching funds for GO Virginia projects. This new policy will go into effect for projects submitted between July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.

“Since its inception, the GO Virginia program has prompted many important regional partnerships,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “In light of the economic impacts of COVID-19, stakeholders and localities in every region are coming together quickly and building off this foundation to create thoughtful initiatives that support their businesses and will help those individuals affected connect with much needed employment opportunities.”

“GO Virginia has created a foundation over the past three years that is allowing regions to rapidly develop high-impact solutions for near-term economic challenges while also focusing on longer term goals and objectives,” added GO Virginia Board Vice Chair Ben Davenport. “This smart new way of thinking is critical as Virginia moves forward through this crisis and beyond.”

Since the program began in 2017, GO Virginia has funded 114 projects and awarded approximately $37.5 million to support regional economic development efforts. More information can be found about the GO Virginia program can be found here.

2020 ROUND TWO REGIONAL GRANT AWARDS

GENEDGE – Retooling Virginia Manufacturers for Strategic Industries
All GO Virginia Regions
$2,950,000

GENEDGE will expand the capabilities of existing Virginia manufacturers to develop sustainable ongoing revenues in the areas of personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as other medical equipment and supplies. This imitative will help manufacturers diversify markets and product offerings in response to federal initiatives that support re-shoring critical and strategic sectors, intentionally reducing sourcing risk.

Virginia Tech Workforce Training and COVID-19 Response
Region 2: Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, and Roanoke counties, and the cities of Covington, Radford, Roanoke, and Salem
$500,000

The Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology at Virginia Tech will receive a follow-on GO Virginia grant to increase capacity at the two newly established laboratories in Blacksburg and Roanoke to allow for COVID-19 testing over a one-year period and develop an internship pipeline for full time positions.

Bridge to Recovery
Region 3: Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville (Region 4), Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, and Prince Edward counties, and the cities of Danville, Emporia (Region 4), Farmville, and Martinsville
$925,000

The Southern Virginia Regional Alliance and the Virginia Growth Alliance are leading a comprehensive and collaborative approach with a coalition of economic developers, chambers of commerce, and localities to provide technical assistance and subsidize support to key business sectors during the pandemic and help prepare them for the recovery steps ahead.

Offshore Wind Supply Chain Hub Development
Region 5: Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, and the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach
$529,788

The Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, in partnership with the Port of Virginia, the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Old Dominion University, and local chambers of commerce, will build an offshore wind supply chain by targeting and attracting suppliers to establish operations in the region.

Startup Shenandoah Valley
Region 8: Augusta, Bath, Clarke, Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren counties, the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Winchester, and the towns of Front Royal and Strasburg
$628,953

The Staunton Creative Community Fund will kick start a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that will deliver dedicated staff, partnerships with regional assets, workspaces, connections to mentorship, and access to capital to companies with a high potential for growth and success.

Virginia Companies Increase Exports through Commonwealth’s Two-Year Business Acceleration Program

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that 10 companies across the Commonwealth have graduated from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s (VEDP) Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) Program. VALET, which now has over 300 graduated companies, assists Virginia exporters that have firmly established domestic operations and are committed to international exporting as a growth strategy.

“Lending its proven, extensive set of resources to Virginia exporters, the VALET Program positions companies to thrive in the global marketplace,” said Governor Northam. “This program continues to be an important catalyst for driving export sales and private sector investment—and the Commonwealth’s economy is stronger as a result. We congratulate these 10 Virginia companies on the success they have achieved in the last two years, and their commitment to international growth during these unprecedented and challenging times.” 

The graduating companies are:

  • Dynamis, Inc., Fairfax County
  • FoxGuard Solutions, Inc., Montgomery County
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries Technical Solutions Division, City of Virginia Beach
  • Innerspec Technologies, Inc., Bedford County
  • Line Power, City of Bristol
  • New Ravenna Acquisition LLC, Northampton County
  • Parabon NanoLabs, Inc., Fairfax County
  • Spectra Quest Inc., Henrico County
  • STR Software Company, Chesterfield County
  • SYNEXXUS Inc., Arlington County
     

VALET is a two-year international business acceleration program that provides participating companies with international sales plan development services, assistance from a team of experienced international service providers, international business meetings with potential partners, educational events, and customized market research. There are currently 45 companies participating in the VALET program. More information on the VALET Program is available here.

“Virginia is one of the most competitive states in the nation for exporting, and VEDP’s International Trade team contributed greatly to our standing,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “From Bristol to the Eastern Shore, it’s exciting to see such a diverse group of companies across the Commonwealth working to grow their international sales, which will bring jobs and capital investment in Virginia.”

“VEDP is committed to assisting Virginia companies in growing their international sales, which is more important than ever in this time of economic recovery,” said VEDP President and CEO Stephen Moret. “We are proud of the continued success of the VALET program and its participants, who not only experience sales growth while in the program, but also learn valuable lessons about pursuing international sales that they can carry forward. The impact of the jobs and investments these companies contribute in every region of the Commonwealth cannot be overstated.”

Virginia exports over $35 billion in goods and services annually. Exports of the Commonwealth’s products and services are critical to growth, supporting more than 257,000 jobs and generating $2 billion in annual tax revenue. VEDP offers numerous programs to assist Virginia companies with selling into the global marketplace and has a network of international market research consultants covering more than 70 countries around the globe.

Governor Northam Launches COVIDWISE Exposure Notification App to Help Contain COVID-19

Virginia is first-in-the-nation to use Apple-Google Bluetooth framework to protect personal privacy

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” said Governor Northam. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community, while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity. 

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and the download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

Governor Northam Declares State of Emergency in Advance of Hurricane Isaias

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today declared a state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to impact parts of coastal Virginia starting on Monday, August 3, 2020. 

“Hurricane Isaias is a serious storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia as early as this weekend,” said Governor Northam. “This state of emergency will ensure localities and communities have the assistance they need to protect the safety of Virginians, particularly as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. I encourage Virginians to take all necessary precautions, monitor local weather forecasts, and stay alert.”

A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment needed for response and recovery efforts. While the track of Hurricane Isaias is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia could see impacts and therefore must prepare for the possibility of flooding, high winds, and potential storm surge that could come along with a tropical storm or hurricane.

Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health. 

The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) is actively monitoring the situation and coordinating resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness efforts with local, state, and federal officials.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Nine is available here.

Recommendations for Virginians  

  • Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone. If internet or computer access is not available, call 2-1-1 to learn your zone. Residents not residing in a pre-identified evacuation zone should listen to evacuation orders from local and state emergency agencies to determine if and when to evacuate.
  • Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, emergency kits should include face coverings and sanitization supplies.
  • Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

For more information about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats visit VAemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Governor Northam Urges Virginians to Prepare for Hurricane Season Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Agencies and cabinet members participate in preparedness exercise to test hurricane readiness, plan for disaster response during ongoing health crisis

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam is reminding all Virginians to prepare now as peak hurricane season approaches and the Commonwealth continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, the Governor and his cabinet joined state local public safety agencies for a virtual exercise to test Virginia’s hurricane readiness and address the challenges of managing disaster response and recovery efforts during the ongoing health crisis.

“Hurricane season brings added challenges this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are committed to ensuring that Virginians know their risks, get prepared, and stay informed,” said Governor Northam. “Our administration remains actively focused on planning for simultaneous emergencies, and we will continue to adjust our plans as needed to protect public health and keep the Commonwealth safe. As our government agencies prepare for the possibility of a complex incident involving a major natural disaster amid virus outbreaks, it is also important that individuals and businesses make sure they are ready as well.”

One of the key statewide coordination efforts is the development of the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which highlights preparedness, response, and recovery actions in the event of tropical weather in coastal areas of the Commonwealth. This year’s guide includes pandemic considerations such as updating kits to include sanitation and personal protective supplies and following public health guidance. The Commonwealth is also preparing to adjust operations to ensure the delivery of critical services while adhering to social distancing guidelines and keeping people safe from storm impacts.

“As public safety professionals, the staff at our state agencies are accustomed to managing multiple issues at once, and are specifically trained in hurricane response,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “I have confidence in our preparedness efforts and ask that Virginians also take the time to plan for the hurricane season.”

The traditional Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, and forecasters are projecting an above average season—there have been eight named storms so far this year, and the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season made landfall in Texas on July 25.

Virginians know the devastating impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms and recognize these threats are not isolated to coastal areas. High winds, flooding, and tornadoes have also caused significant damages to inland communities. Hurricanes can be unpredictable in terms of timing and scope, and this year, it is particularly vital to prepare for hurricane season in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This exercise was extremely beneficial, not only in strengthening our overall hurricane coordination efforts, but in identifying limitations and risks due to COVID-19 and operating in a more dispersed, virtual environment,” said Curtis Brown, State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “Understanding how we can enhance our preparedness, especially to support our most at-risk populations, is critical to the success of any disaster response and recovery.”

Governor Northam is calling on all Virginians and those visiting the state to prepare now by knowing your risk, purchasing flood insurance, developing a family communication plan, and making an emergency kit. It’s important to know what to do to protect yourself, your loved ones, your business, and your community.

  • Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone.
  • Complete a family communication plan. Prepare for how you will assemble and communicate with your family and loved ones. Identify meeting locations and anticipate where you will go. Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on family communications plans is available here.
  • Check your insurance coverage. Remember, there may be a waiting period for a flood insurance policy to become effective, and be aware that not all hurricane-related losses, such as flooding, are covered under traditional policies. Now is the time to review your coverage and contact your insurance agent for any changes. If you are not insured against floods, talk to your insurance agent or visit floodsmart.gov. If you are a renter, now is the time to ensure you have adequate coverage to protect your belongings.
  • Make an emergency kit. Assemble an emergency kit that includes nonperishable food, water, medication, sanitary supplies, radios, extra batteries, and important documents. Learn more about building an emergency supply kit here.
  • Stay informed. Identify where to go for trusted sources of information during emergencies. Check with your local emergency management office to sign up for alerts that go directly to your phone or email. Be sure to monitor local news for watches and warnings in your area and follow directions of local officials. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

There are many resources available to assist with hurricane planning efforts. Learn more about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats at vaemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Governor Northam Announces $644.6 Million in Federal Coronavirus Relief Fund Dollars Distributed to Local Governments

Second round of payments completes allocation of funding Virginia received under federal CARES Act, provides a total of $1.3 billion to localities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the Commonwealth will distribute $644.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to local governments in its second and final round of allocations. These payments represent the remaining 50 percent of local allocations and do not include $200.2 million that Fairfax County received directly from the federal government. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) established the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to provide funding to states and eligible units of local government navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia received approximately $3.1 billion as its share of the $150 billion CRF. While the CARES Act does not require that states distribute funding to local governments with populations less than 500,000, the Governor recognizes that cities and counties of all sizes have expenses related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and directed these federal dollars to localities.

“Virginia was one of the first states to provide such a large share of its federal aid directly to local governments,” said Governor Northam. “We are committed to making sure localities of all sizes get the assistance they need to respond to COVID-19 and keep Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne sent a memorandum to cities and counties in Virginia on May 12, 2020 outlining the distribution of the first round of allocations to local governments, totaling $644.6 million. Once the second and final round of payments are disbursed, the Governor will have distributed 100 percent of the local allocations the Commonwealth received under the CARES Act, providing a total of $1.3 billion to localities.

“Local governments are responsible for spending the money they receive, and we need them to step up and make sure that these federal dollars are going to the right places,” said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. “Localities must be able to demonstrate to taxpayers that they are spending these funds wisely.”

Similar to the first round, the second round of funding will be allotted proportionally based on population. Consequently, the second round of allocations will be equivalent to the amount each locality received in the first round on June 1, 2020. The Secretary of Finance issued an updated memorandum to cities and counties regarding the second and final allocation of federal CRF dollars. The updated memorandum, which includes the distributions by locality, is available here.

To receive the second allocation, localities must submit a new certification form and complete an online survey regarding the use of their CRF dollars. After these two documents are completed and submitted, the Department of Accounts will initiate the transfer of funds to the local Treasurer. Localities can expect to receive the transfer from the State Comptroller within five business days following confirmation of receipt of the completed documents.

The CARES Act requires that CRF dollars only be used to cover costs that (1) are necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, (2) were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the state or government; and (3) were incurred during the period of March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020.

Current federal rules prohibit state and local governments from using the CRF to replace lost revenues and address significant budget shortfalls. State and local government officials have requested that this restriction be lifted in future stimulus packages, or that additional federal funds are provided to address the loss of state and local revenue.

The Governor previously announced $246 million to support the state’s response to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, including $205 million in federal CARES Act funds. Governor Northam also allocated an initial $50 million to launch the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program and help Virginians who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia also recently unveiled a $70 million economic recovery fund to assist small businesses and nonprofit organizations whose normal operations were disrupted by the ongoing health crisis.

The Commonwealth has distributed more than $600 million to K-12 schools and higher education institutions and $70 million to assist child care facilities in providing services for essential personnel. Virginia also allocated $85 million in CARES Act funding to support child nutrition programs, and $219 million for the Pandemic EBT program through the Department of Social Services.

 

Governor Northam Signs Legislation to Ease Transitions for Military Families

New laws improve expedited licensure process for military spouses

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today signed legislation to expedite the occupational and professional licensure process for military spouses during a special ceremony that kicked off the quarterly Virginia Military Advisory Council meeting.

Joining the Governor at today’s event at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond were Blue Star Families CEO and Board President Kathy Roth-Douquet, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, State Senator David Suetterlein, Delegate Rodney Willett, and Delegate Carrie Coyner. Watch the video of today’s event here.

“As an Army veteran and as a Virginian, I am committed to ensuring the Commonwealth continues to provide an environment where our veterans and military families can thrive,” said Governor Northam. “Complex rules about license equivalence and the portability of certifications too often result in the unemployment or underemployment of military spouses. This legislation will enable the spouses of the men and women who serve our country to maintain their professional licenses and continue their careers in Virginia with a streamlined and simple process.”

Governor Northam was also joined by representatives of the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission to sign a Regional Intergovernmental Support Agreement that will improve the delivery of resources to their military installations in Northern Virginia. The support agreement strengthens the partnership between the Department of Transportation, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region – Marine Corps Base Quantico, and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to find opportunities for the use of transportation goods and services throughout the Northern Virginia region.

Virginia’s existing expedited application process for military spouses requires licensing boards to determine if a military spouse’s out-of-state license is equivalent within 20 days and issue an automatic one-year temporary license, affording the spouse the opportunity to begin finding employment immediately upon settling into their new communities. This legislation and process address the issue of portability of the professional and occupational licenses of military spouses.

“Taking care of military families is of the utmost importance to us,” said Delegates Rodney Willett and Carrie Coyner, and Senator David Suetterlein. “We are grateful for the opportunity to assist our service members, their families, and for being able to improve upon Virginia’s existing professional and occupation licensure process. This legislation expands access to transitioning service members, our National Guardsmen, and all of the military spouses of our neighboring states and Washington, D.C.”    

House Bill 967, sponsored by Delegate Rodney Willett and Senate Bill 981, sponsored by Senator David Suetterlein, improve Virginia’s expedited licensure process for the spouses of military service members assigned to installations and residing in the Commonwealth by:

  • Expanding access and eligibility to the spouses of service members in all surrounding jurisdictions;
  • Expanding access to the spouses of National Guardsmen who are active on federal orders to deploy oversees;
  • Expanding eligibility to the spouses of recently transitioned service members; and
  • Granting the Commonwealth’s licensing boards greater authority to determine a substantially equivalent license.
     

“This enhanced process will help our military spouses find employment opportunities quicker and without the stress of worrying if their credentials will carry over to Virginia,” said Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos L. Hopkins. “Implementing innovative ways to support our military families is one of the reasons Virginia continually ranks as one of the best states for service members, veterans, and their families.”

“Military spouses were hobbled before COVID-19, and our research forecasts that military spouse unemployment and underemployment rates could climb upwards of 30 percent and 77 percent, respectively, as we emerge from this public health and economic crisis,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families. “That’s why the expansion of Virginia’s expedited licensure policy is so key—it removes a critical barrier to military spouses working in the fields of their training. We are grateful to Governor Northam and the Virginia legislature for taking action on this important issue.” 

According to the United States Department of Labor, more than 34 percent of all military spouses in the labor force require an occupational or professional license. The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation and the Department of Health Professions administer the process of granting professional licenses for all professions regulated under Title 54.1 of the Code of Virginia. Additional information about the licensure process for military personnel and their spouses is available here.



Virginia Adopts First-in-the-Nation Workplace Safety Standards for COVID-19 Pandemic

In the absence of federal guidelines, newly adopted workplace safety rules will help protect Virginia workers from the spread of COVID-19

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the adoption of statewide emergency workplace safety standards in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. These first-in-the-nation safety rules will protect Virginia workers by mandating appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth. The actions come in the absence of federal guidelines.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements. Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”

Newly adopted standards require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible, provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer, and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. In addition, new standards require all employees be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus. Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests. 

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted today to approve an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in May. These temporary emergency standards will remain in effect for six months and can be made permanent through the process defined in state law.

“As a top state for workforce development, it should be no surprise that Virginia is also the first in the nation to establish such a robust set of emergency workplace safety regulations,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Our workers are our greatest asset, and I am confident that these temporary standards will provide Virginians with the peace of mind they need to return to work and fuel the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.”

“Keeping Virginia’s economy moving forward has never been more important, and keeping our workers safe is critical to sustained economic recovery,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “COVID-19 is unfortunately going to continue impacting our everyday lives, and these regulations will provide for safer, more predictable workplaces for Virginians.”

“The Commonwealth’s new emergency workplace safety standards are a powerful tool in our toolbox for keeping Virginia workers safe and protected throughout this pandemic,” said C. Ray Davenport, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. “Many employers have already enacted these evidence-based practices, and we are committed to working collaboratively with those who have not to ensure they are in compliance with the new emergency temporary standard.” 

The emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website at doli.virginia.gov. Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.

Virginia Issues Year-End Revenue Report

Total General Fund revenue collections increased 2.0% over prior year, but $236.5 million below official forecast

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia ended fiscal year 2020 with a deficit of approximately $236.5 million in general fund revenue collections. While the shortfall was expected due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the state’s economy and budget, it is smaller than anticipated, and overall, revenues increased 2.0 percent over fiscal year 2019.

“COVID-19 has created both a health crisis and an economic crisis, and we have to box in this virus before we can fully address its fiscal impacts,” said Governor Northam. “While I am pleased that our revenue shortfall is less than initially expected, we know this pandemic will continue to negatively affect our state’s finances as long as this virus is with us. We must all keep taking steps to protect public health so we can continue our economic recovery and ensure the Commonwealth remains on strong financial footing.”

Total revenue collections rose by 2.0 percent in fiscal year 2020, behind the forecast of 3.1 percent growth. The main drivers of the revenue shortfall were payroll withholding and sales taxes—these two sources contributed $351.5 million to the deficit. Nonwithholding income tax payments—mainly from 2019 tax returns—were on target and income tax refunds contributed positively to the bottom line revenues by $146.3 million. Total revenues were $3.1 billion in June, a 26.7 percent increase, as the due date for payments from individuals and corporations was extended to June 1. 

“While this is good news as it relates to the final fiscal year 2020 projected shortfall, I am concerned that payroll withholding fell 2 percent and retail sales declined by 7 percent for the months of April, May, and June contributing to a $496.5 million shortfall in the fourth quarter,” said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. “We were helped by prior year income tax payments and current year payroll withholding and sales tax revenues not falling as much as initially anticipated.  But the fact remains, the Commonwealth has had a significant contraction in jobs and those effects on payroll withholding and the ability for consumers to spend is an obvious concern going forward into fiscal year 2021 for the state budget.” 

In reviewing the State Comptroller’s report on the preliminary revenue shortfall, the Commonwealth will conduct an interim forecasting process with an updated economic and revenue outlook for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. These forecasts will be released on August 18 at the Joint Money Committee meeting.

Analysis of Fiscal Year 2020 Revenues
Based on Preliminary Data

  • Total general fund revenue collections, excluding transfers, fell short of the official forecast (Chapter 1283) by $236.5 million (1.1 percent variance) in fiscal year 2020.
    • The 30-year average general fund revenue forecast variance is plus or minus 1.6 percent.

  • Payroll withholding and sales tax collections, 85 percent of total revenues, and the best indicator of current economic activity in the Commonwealth, finished $351.5 million or 2.1 percent behind the forecast.
    • Payroll withholding growth of 3.0 percent was behind the forecast of 4.7 percent growth.

    • Sales tax collections increased 3.5 percent as compared to the annual forecast of 7.4 percent.

    • Fourth quarter results show that payroll withholding fell 2.0 percent and sales tax revenues fell 7.0 percent.

  • Nonwithholding income tax collections finished the year in line with expectations, down 4.3 percent. 2019 tax year final payments due June 1 were ahead of expectations; however, estimated payments due in June for 2020 were below expectations.
  • Individual income tax refunds were a positive to the forecast, as the average check size did not increase. Tax refunds were $146.3 million below expectations and is a positive to the bottom line.

  • Corporate income tax collections increased 7.2 percent for the year, behind the annual forecast of 9.3 percent mainly due to the lower than expected payments in the April to June period.

  • A complete analysis of all final receipts for revenue sources, including transfers, will not be available until the Joint Money Committee meeting on August 18.

Governor Northam Launches Rent and Mortgage Relief Program to Assist Virginians Facing Eviction or Foreclosure

 
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today launched the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP), which will provide $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for households facing eviction or foreclosure due to COVID-19. RMRP will provide short-term financial assistance on behalf of households in the form of rent and mortgage payments.
 
“Expanding access to safe, affordable housing has been and will continue to be a top priority of my administration, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” said Governor Northam. “The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program will help Virginians experiencing financial instability as a result of this unprecedented health crisis by preventing evictions and foreclosures and keeping Virginia families safely in their homes as we battle this virus.”
 
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will administer the $50 million program through a variety of partners, including nonprofit organizations and local governments, which will receive upfront funds that they will distribute on behalf of eligible households. Individuals and families receiving funding will also be connected to housing counseling and receive other technical assistance.
 
Eligible households must demonstrate an inability to make rent or mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly rent or mortgage must be at or below 150 percent Fair Market Rent (FMR), and eligible households must have a gross household income at or below 80 percent of area median income (AMI).
 
“Safe, stable housing is essential for public health,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “As we continue to secure funding for rent and mortgage assistance, this $50 million investment will serve the most vulnerable Virginians while providing a roadmap for future relief.”
 
To ensure RMRP funding assists households most in need, the program will complete targeted outreach to communities of color across Virginia. Before the pandemic, analysis from RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University found that minority communities had higher eviction rates, even after controlling for income, property value, and other characteristics. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on people of color.
 
“DHCD delivers programs through our partners that are closest to the Commonwealth’s communities, and our team is deeply appreciative of the local and regional network that has rapidly developed this program to assist in meeting this critical housing and health need,” said DHCD Director Erik Johnston. “We urge all tenant advocates, landlords, lenders, philanthropy, local governments and faith communities to partner with your local program providers to ensure that these funds stretch as far as possible to Virginians most in need of this assistance.”
 
The program will also give precedence to households without other federal and state eviction or foreclosure protections. From June 29 to July 20, priority will be given to households with current gross incomes equal to or below 50 percent of AMI. After July 20, households with current gross incomes at or below 80 percent of AMI will be also be included. In addition, households with an unlawful detainer action dated prior to June 8 will be given top consideration.
 
To identify the local RMRP administering organization for a household and to conduct a self-assessment for eligibility, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility or call 211 VIRGINIA by dialing 2-1-1 from your phone. Tenants and homeowners are encouraged to know their rights and responsibilities and pay their rent and mortgages on time if they are able. Visit StayHomeVirginia.com for additional information and resources.
 

Governor Northam Prohibits Congregating in Bars, Stresses Caution As Virginia Moves to Phase Three

With cases rising in other states, Virginia will maintain current restrictions on bar seating, congregating

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that bar seating will remain prohibited in restaurants as the Commonwealth moves into Phase Three at midnight tonight. While key health indicators in Virginia are improving, the Governor made clear that he is taking a cautious approach and is prepared to implement tighter restrictions if needed.

To reduce the likelihood of patrons gathering in bar areas without observing social distancing guidelines, bar seating and congregating areas of restaurants will remain closed except for those passing through. Restaurants may use non-bar seating in the bar area, as long as a minimum of six feet between tables is provided.

“I am watching what is happening in other states—we are taking a cautious approach as we enter Phase Three and maintaining the current restrictions on bar areas,” said Governor Northam. “In Virginia, our hospitalization rates have fallen, our percentage of positive tests continues to trend downward, and we are conducting more than 10,000 tests each day. We want these trends to continue, but if our public health metrics begin moving in the wrong direction, I will not hesitate to take action to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

Virginia is currently averaging more than 10,400 tests per day—exceeding Governor Northam’s goal—and hospitals continue to report ample supplies of personal protective equipment. The percentage of positive tests has dropped to six percent from a high of 20 percent in mid-April. The number of Virginians hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test has declined significantly over the past several weeks, and more than 1,200 contact tracers are presently working throughout the Commonwealth.

Despite these positive trends, Governor Northam is monitoring increases in several states, and taking proactive steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia. Governor Northam also continues to remind Virginians that they are safer at home, especially if they are high-risk or vulnerable. All Virginians must continue to comply with the statewide face covering requirement in indoor public spaces, and Virginians are strongly encouraged to:

  • continue teleworking if possible
  • wash hands regularly
  • maintain six feet of physical distance when outside of home
  • get tested immediately if you have COVID-19 symptoms

     

Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven is available here. Read the order in Spanish here.

Sector-specific guidelines for Phase Three can be found here. View this document in Spanish here.

Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Governor Northam Announces 20 New State Historical Highway Markers Highlighting Black History

Markers include student winners from Governor’s Black History Month Historical Marker Contest

RICHMOND––In recognition of Juneteenth, Governor Ralph Northam today announced 20 newly approved state historical highway markers that address topics of national, state, and regional significance in Virginia’s African American history. The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the markers at its public quarterly meeting on June 18. Five of the 20 new markers were suggested by students across the Commonwealth in the Governor’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

“The Commonwealth’s storied past is complicated and painful, but it is important to step up and tell a more inclusive story.” said Governor Northam. “As we elevate Juneteenth, celebrating and acknowledging the contributions of our Black communities and history is a critical and imperative step forward––especially through historical markers that are highly visible across Virginia.”

On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced Juneteenth as a paid state holiday and proclaimed the day in observance across the Commonwealth.

“We have overlooked or dismissed the important contributions of Black Virginians for far too long when telling Virginia’s history,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “That’s why Governor Northam proclaimed Juneteenth a state holiday, and why the Department of Historic Resources remains committed to the preserving and proclaiming Black history. These markers are important and highly visible symbols of our efforts to ensure historic justice and address inequities across the Commonwealth.”

The forthcoming markers highlight people, places, or events tied to African American civil rights, education, health, or Civil War and Reconstruction-era history.

“The purpose of the highway marker program is to educate the public by presenting an objective and truthful version of history,” said Director of the Department of Historic Resources Julie Langan. “It is past time for Virginians to more fully understand and appreciate the experiences and many contributions of African Americans who shaped the Virginia of today. Yesterday’s actions by the Board of Historic Resources couldn’t be more timely or fitting.”

The markers about matters of national consequence include:

  • “Stingray Point Contraband” (Middlesex County) tells of six enslaved men who fled potential impressment into the Confederate army during the Civil War.
  • “Barbara Rose Johns (1935-1991)” (Prince Edward County) notes that at age 16, Johns led a student walkout to protest conditions at Farmville’s segregated and “vastly inferior” Robert Russa Moton High School. The resulting NAACP lawsuit seeking to end segregation, Davis v. Prince Edward, was the only student-initiated case consolidated into U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in which the court ruled public school segregation unconstitutional.
  • “Calvin Coolidge Green (1931-2011)” highlights Green’s leadership in integrating New Kent County. His efforts resulted in the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Green v. New Kent Co., which determined that localities must swiftly integrate public schools and hastened school desegregation nationwide.
  • “Wyatt Tee Walker (1928-2018)” recalls that this Petersburg pastor served as chief of staff for several years to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The first full-time director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Walker helped organize major civil rights protests including the Birmingham (Alabama) Movement and the March on Washington.

The Barbara Johns and Wyatt Tee Walker markers resulted from the Black History Month Historical Marker Contest that Governor Northam announced in February. The contest encouraged schools to feature a different African American historical marker each day of February, provided teachers with resources to guide history discussions, promoted Black History Month events around the Commonwealth, and initiated a competition for students to submit ideas for new historical markers to the Virginia Department of Historical Resources. Over 285 students submitted ideas, including more than 60 students who suggested a marker be erected for Barbara Johns.

"As the leaders of tomorrow, it is critically important for students to develop a deeper understanding of Black history in the Commonwealth over the past 400 years," said Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni. "The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest gave students and educators alike an opportunity to research local heroes, and celebrate the incredible contributions Black and brown individuals have made to Virginia history. I am so proud of the educators and students who are helping us tell a more complete Virginia story through their participation in this contest."

Three other markers submitted by students were approved:

  • “Camilla Ella Williams (1919-2012)” spotlights this Danville native, an operatic soprano, who became the first African American woman to secure a contract with a major opera company in the United States. An international touring soloist, she performed in Danville to raise funds for civil rights demonstrators, and sang the national anthem at the March on Washington before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • “Ona Judge (ca. 1773-1848)” (Fairfax County) recalls this woman born into slavery at Mount Vernon. After George Washington became president, Judge escaped during one of Washington’s many extended residences in Philadelphia to perform his presidential duties. She successfully resisted Washington’s attempts to recover her and ultimately married and raised a family in New Hampshire.
  • “Sergeant William H. Carney (1840-1908)” born into slavery in Norfolk, later gained his freedom and settled in Massachusetts around 1856. In 1863, he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fought at Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. In May 1900, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions while experiencing heavy fire and serious wounds during the battle, which the 54th led.

In addition to the Johns and Green markers, three others center on advances in education for African Americans, focusing on specific schools. The “Campbell County Training School” and “Prospect School” (Scott County) were built with plans and funds provided by the Julius Rosenwald Fund, one of the most successful programs to support universal schooling for Black students during the Jim Crow era. Long before the Rosenwald initiative, one of the first African American schools in Shenandoah County opened in Strasburg by 1875. After a fire destroyed the school in 1929, the county built a new one, “Sunset Hill School.”

Two markers relay stories about African Americans in the pre-Civil War era. “The African Preacher (ca. 1746-1843)” recalls the African-born John Stewart, who ended up enslaved in Nottoway County. After becoming a licensed Baptist preacher, known for his “wisdom and oratory” and community leadership, Stewart so impressed his white neighbors that they contributed to purchasing his freedom. “Spy Hill African American Cemetery” discusses a burial ground in King George County that emerged by the mid-1800s with the graves of enslaved plantation laborers.

Post-Civil War, Reconstruction history grounds five markers. Two of those signs—“Little Zion Baptist Church” (Orange County) and “Westwood Baptist Church” (City of Richmond)—speak to the statewide trend during Reconstruction of African Americans exercising newfound autonomy to establish churches separate from white congregations. 

Three markers recount places that arose during Reconstruction. One sign for the City of Richmond, “Central Lunatic Asylum,” and one for Dinwiddie County, “Central State Hospital Cemetery,” discuss the origins and burial ground of Central State Hospital, the nation’s first stand-alone mental hospital for Black patients. The settlement of emancipated African Americans in the northern Shenandoah Valley’s Clarke County is the subject of “Bristow,” a community that originated in 1869, one of about 20 county villages emancipated people established or settled in.   

The only documented lynching of a black woman in Virginia, where more than 100 lynchings were recorded between 1877 and 1950, is relayed in the marker “Charlotte Harris Lynched, 6 March 1878” (Harrisonburg).

Twentieth-century history is the domain of two markers. “Burrell Memorial Hospital” tells about the founding in 1915 of the Roanoke area’s first hospital for Black patients. “John Chilembwe (ca. 1871-1915)” is about the leader of the first major African uprising against colonial authorities in present-day Malawi. A British Official Commission later asserted that a main cause of the revolt resulted from Chilembwe’s education in the United States, at Lynchburg’s Virginia Seminary.

The full text of the markers is available here.

“This is another win for the Commonwealth,” said Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Dr. Janice Underwood. “To move Virginia forward, it is vital that we prioritize telling a more complete narrative of our story. The extraordinary individuals represented in these markers are Black lives that mattered. In real time, we are building a road map for the country as millions across the nation reflect about Black oppression and the systemic reforms necessary for healing, reconciliation, and racial equity.”

Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most of which are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

More information about theo Department of Historic Resources' Historical Highway Marker Program is available here.

Governor Northam Announces $246 Million to Support Response to COVID-19 in Long-Term Care Facilities

~ Directs increased public reporting, CARES Act funding for facility testing requirements ~

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced new guidelines and testing requirements for reopening long-term care facilities, and outlined how the Commonwealth will direct $246 million, primarily from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, to support long-term care facilities in their response to COVID-19. In addition, the Governor is directing the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to make public facility-specific data regarding COVID-19 cases and deaths associated with long-term care facilities.
 
“The lockdowns of long-term care facilities to protect residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19 have been hard on residents and their families,” said Governor Northam. “These actions will help support long-term care facilities as they ease those restrictions, while keeping their residents safe and ensuring that the public gets accurate information on the spread of this virus in these facilities.”
 
On May 18, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined reopening criteria for nursing facilities. These criteria include a recommendation that all facilities conduct a baseline testing survey, and that facilities with outbreaks test residents and staff weekly. VDH’s state-specific guidelines for nursing home reopening require licensed nursing homes, certified skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and certified nursing facilities (NFs) to conduct baseline and ongoing testing of all facility staff and residents while those facilities are in the first phase of the reopening process. Testing recommendations for latter phases of the reopening process are under development and will be informed by what is learned in the initial part of reopening. 
 
Virginia will spend an additional $246 million in new funding to support nursing homes and assisted living facilities in addressing staffing shortages, increasing infection control measures, and purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as complying with the new testing requirements. The majority of funding will go to nursing facilities, which receive Medicaid payments. More than $56 million is provided for periodic testing of nursing home residents and staff. During the reconvened session in April, Governor Northam and the General Assembly agreed to increase Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes by $20 per resident per day, to help support facilities.
 
This additional funding includes $152 million from the Provider Relief Fund that long-term care facilities have received for COVID-related expenses. While assisted living facilities have not benefited from this fund thus far, there is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that these facilities should receive federal funding to offset their costs. Assisted living facilities will receive $20 million in support, nearly doubling state funding for these facilities, in recognition that these facilities are also experiencing additional costs and have not had the federal support that nursing facilities have received. 
 
Because a majority of outbreaks in the Commonwealth have occurred in long-term care facilities, VDH, in partnership with the Virginia National Guard, has supported long-term care facilities in conducting “baseline” or point prevalence surveys (testing all residents and staff in the same time period). VDH has a goal to complete these baseline surveys of all Virginia nursing homes by July 15, 2020. 
 
Governor Northam also announced that, given the changing nature of the pandemic in Virginia, he is directing VDH to release the names of individual long-term care facilities (nursing facilities and assisted living facilities) that have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak.  
 
VDH has previously released aggregate data about outbreaks in long-term care facilities, given their responsibility to protect patient and facility anonymity under the Code of Virginia. However, due to the widespread nature of this pandemic, it is now unlikely that releasing facility information would compromise anonymity or discourage facilities from participating in a public health investigation. Recently released data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also been inconsistent, creating public confusion. 
 
Facility-specific data can be found here.
 

Governor Northam Announces New Recovery Marketing Aid for Tourism Businesses

Virginia Tourism Corporation to award up to $500,000 in marketing funds to address impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that new recovery marketing funds are available to destination marketing organizations (DMO) across the Commonwealth that have been heavily impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The WanderLOVE Recovery Grant Program, which is administered by the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), will provide up to 50 grants to DMOs of up to $10,000 each.

“The coronavirus pandemic had an immediate and devastating impact on our tourism industry,” said Governor Northam. “When it is safe to resume travel, we want to equip Virginia destinations with the tools they need to support and promote the diverse communities that travelers love to visit. There will be a lot of demand for leisure travel, and the WanderLOVE Recovery Grants will help towns and cities across our Commonwealth position themselves as an ideal getaway when visitors are ready to get back on the road.”

Tourism is one of the Commonwealth’s largest economic engines, with visitors to Virginia spending more than $26 billion in 2018, supporting 235,000 work opportunities and contributing $1.8 billion in local and state tax revenue. The tourism and hospitality industries have also been among the hardest-hit by the pandemic, experiencing decreased revenue and job loss, along with the temporary closure of many tourism-related businesses. A revived tourism economy can help spur new economic activity and inject critical funds back into Virginia communities.

Based on industry research, in-state and drive-market road trips will be the first to return as restrictions are lifted in Virginia and across the country. Travelers will be seeking safe, close-to-home destinations that allow for social distancing and access to open spaces, specifically beach, outdoor, and rural experiences. 

“Tourism is an instant revenue generator for the Commonwealth, and a major contributor to our economy,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The pandemic has had catastrophic effects on tourism nationwide, and these grants will help get Virginia back on its feet as a premier travel destination.”

WanderLOVE, a new integrated summer campaign created by VTC, will provide travel inspiration for road trips, outdoor recreation, hidden gems, small towns, and its signature LOVEworks program. Grant recipients will be equipped with creative assets and a toolkit to implement in their own marketing. 

Applications for the DMO WanderLOVE Recovery Grant Program open on June 18, 2020 and will close on July 2, 2020. Awardees will be announced by July 15, 2020. Grants are open to any of Virginia’s 114 recognized DMOs. Funds must be used for recovery marketing and may be used for participating in the VTC co-ops, local advertising, out-of-state marketing, and other allowable items. DMOs may apply for DMO Recovery Grants here

While the DMO WanderLOVE Recovery Grant Program is only open to eligible DMO partners, VTC’s traditional Marketing Leverage Program (MLP) grants will open to all Virginia tourism industry partners in August 2020. More information on that program is available here.

Governor Northam Outlines Phase Three Guidelines to Lift Additional Public Health Restrictions

Virginia will continue to closely monitor key health metrics to determine when to safely move to next phase

FAIRFAX—Governor Ralph Northam today presented the third phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue easing public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The Commonwealth does not yet have a targeted date for entering Phase Three.

Ahead of his bilingual COVID-19 press conference, the Governor met with local Latino leaders and community activists in Northern Virginia to discuss the issues they are facing in fighting this virus. Latino Virginians make up 45.3 percent of the cases for which Virginia has demographic data, and 35 percent of hospitalizations—even though Hispanic and Latino people make up about 10 percent of the Commonwealth’s population.

As many states are experiencing a surge in new infections, Virginia’s case counts continue to trend downward. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of individuals hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to decline as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the key health indicators laid out in April.

“Our Phase Three guidelines will help Virginia families and businesses plan for what the next stage of easing public health restrictions will look like in our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “While we may not have the same spike in infections that many states are seeing right now, Virginians need to remain cautious and do the things that we know reduce transmission: wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. This virus is still with us, and we must continue to adapt our lives around it and ensure we are keeping our vulnerable communities safe.”

In Phase Three, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing and teleworking, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals allowed in social gatherings will increase from 50 to 250 people. All businesses should continue to follow physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and keep enhanced workplace safety measures in place. 

Restaurant and beverage establishments are required to maintain six feet of distance between tables, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 75 percent occupancy, and recreation and entertainment venues at may operate at 50 percent occupancy, or a maximum of 1,000 persons. Swimming pools may also expand operations to free swim in addition to indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction. Overnight summer camps will remain closed in Phase Three.

Phase Three guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase Two guidelines are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Read the Phase Three guidelines in Spanish here.

View the slides from today’s presentation here.

Governor Northam to Make Juneteenth a State Holiday

Will give state workers this Friday off, propose legislation to make state holiday permanent

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he intends to mark Juneteenth as a permanent paid state holiday, starting by giving state employees a day off this Friday, June 19. Virginia has long marked Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation, but the date has not previously been considered a state holiday.

Juneteenth is the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, finally heard that the Civil War had ended, and learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had made them free nearly two years earlier.

“Since 1619, when representative democracy and enslaved African people arrived in Virginia within a month of each other, we have said one thing, but done another,” said Governor Northam. “It’s time we elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us. It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country, and it matters now because it says to Black communities, this is not just your history—this is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together. This is a step toward the Commonwealth we want to be as we go forward.”

“This is a big display of progress and I am grateful for Virginia for leading the way,” said performing artist Pharrell Williams, a Virginia native, who participated in the announcement. “From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They are dancing in celebration because their lives are acknowledged.”

This announcement comes days after Governor Northam announced the state will remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee located on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Earlier this year, Governor Northam also successfully proposed ending a state holiday that celebrated Confederate generals and making Election Day a state holiday in its place.

“State holidays are a statement of dates we think are important to all people,” said Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn. “Making Juneteenth a state holiday raises its significance and will help educate Virginians on the meaning of Juneteenth in the history of our country and our Commonwealth.”

“Juneteenth is a time for reflection, conversation, and action,” said House Minority Leader Charniele Herring. “A Juneteenth state holiday is an important step toward affirmation of Black history in the Commonwealth.”

“As we work to make changes in our systems, symbols matter too,” said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. “I support adding Juneteenth as a state holiday, to ensure that the ending of slavery is commemorated and celebrated.”

“After years of work by many people, there is momentum and will to truly change our systems to make them more equitable to African-American people,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “A state holiday commemorating the day Black people learned they were free helps ensure that all Virginians learn about, and value, how significant that event was in the history of this country.”

“There are many steps Virginia can take to advance justice and equity, and that includes adding a state holiday to mark an event that was critical in the lives of millions of Black people,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Governor Northam Provides Guidance for Reopening Higher Education Institutions

Virginia’s public and private degree-granting institutions to develop plans to bring students back to campus, resume in-person instruction

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued guidance for Virginia public and private higher education institutions as they develop plans to safely reopen their campuses and resume in-person instruction. This guidance document was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Health, and was informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Governor is directing all of Virginia’s colleges and universities to create detailed reopening plans that demonstrate compliance with this new guidance.

“Virginia has one of the best and most diverse systems of higher education in the nation and each institution will take on this challenge in a way that meets their unique mission, location, circumstances, and student bodies,” said Governor Northam. “A safe, responsible reopening of Virginia’s college and university campuses is critical, especially for students who depend on our campus communities to provide valuable resources that they do not have access to at home.”

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. Secretary Qarni, Deputy Secretary Fran Bradford, and staff from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard a wide range of perspectives including parents, students, faculty, student affairs specialists, college access program staff, and more.

“At their best, Virginia higher education institutions are engines of economic and social mobility for the students they serve and the communities they are embedded in,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Virginia’s colleges and universities create space for dialogue about hard issues and promote new ideas that are critical to moving the Commonwealth forward. For all of this to be possible, students, faculty, staff, and families alike need to know that our institutions are prioritizing the health and safety of campus communities. Transparency and accountability is critical in this process.”

Virginia’s higher education reopening guidance is among the first in the nation, and is one of the most comprehensive accounts of criteria that should be considered when reopening a college or university campus. The document requires institutions to meet certain public health conditions in order to reopen their campuses, and to develop plans to address the following considerations:

  • Repopulation of the campus
  • Monitoring health conditions to detect infection
  • Containment to prevent spread of the disease when detected
  • Shutdown considerations if necessitated by severe conditions and/or public health guidance
     

For more information, read the guidance document available here. This document is also available in SpanishChineseKoreanVietnameseArabic, and Tagalog.

“With this robust guidance document, Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities can begin the hard work necessary to reopen their campuses,” said Peter Blake, Director of SCHEV. “While life at our colleges and universities will change, the energy, creativity and commitment shown by faculty and staff ensures that the learning experience will not be sacrificed. SCHEV stands ready to support institutions in developing strategies to serve students more effectively, without sacrificing the highest public health standards.”

Institutions must submit comprehensive reopening plans SCHEV, who will review their plans for compliance to relevant guidelines. Plans may need to be updated as guidance evolves, especially in the areas of testing, contact tracing, and symptom tracking. Institutions are encouraged to post their reopening plans publicly.

Governor Northam Announces New Tools for Virginia Workers and Job Seekers

Virginia Career Works Referral Portal will help working Virginians impacted by COVID-19 access comprehensive employment support

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today shared a new suite of technology tools to help Virginians take full advantage of the supportive services available through the Commonwealth’s workforce system. The Virginia Career Works Referral Portal is a statewide platform designed to streamline intake processes across state agencies and connect individuals with training, certification, education, and employment services to help them find a job or advance a career path. The new Virginia Career Works Dashboard is an innovative data visualization tool that makes information about Virginia’s labor market and workforce system more accessible to workers, businesses, and policymakers.

“Workers and families across Virginia are experiencing tremendous financial pain, as well as coping, in many cases, with the devastation of getting sick or losing a loved one to COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “This ongoing health crisis requires our government systems to respond faster and with more flexibility than ever before. This strategic investment in our workforce technology infrastructure puts the Commonwealth is in a stronger position to help Virginians get back on their feet and overcome these unprecedented challenges.”

Building up Virginia’s workforce development system has long been a priority of the Northam administration. While these tools were in development before the COVID-19 crisis began, the Commonwealth worked to accelerate their rollout to ensure the resources would be available to Virginians who need them during an extremely difficult time.

“The new portal and strategic workforce dashboard embody Governor Northam’s vision for the workforce development system as a whole,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “By making the full spectrum of services accessible through one virtual door, we are bringing every resource to the table to help Virginians recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Consistent with the requirements of Executive Order Nineteen, the cloud-based system leverages open-source software supported by the Apache Foundation, expediting development and reducing long-term operational costs.

“This scalable, standards-driven system is an important addition to Virginia’s growing information technology ecosystem,” said Chief Data Officer Carlos Rivero. “In addition to its immediate benefits, this collaboratively built solution provides a future-proofed foundation for continuing development.”

The new technology tools were developed in collaboration with the Chief Workforce Development Advisor, the Commonwealth’s Chief Data Officer, and six state agencies: the Virginia Community College System, the Virginia Employment Commission, the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Social Services, the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. Technology partners that supported the development and implementation of the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal and Virginia Career Works Dashboard include Qlarion, BrightHive, and PAIRIN.

For more information, please visit the Virginia Career Works Portal here. A guide to navigating the Portal and creating an account can be found here.

Governor Northam Announces $66.8 Million in Emergency Education Relief Funding

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia schools will receive $66.8 million through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to expand distance learning opportunities, fund services for students disproportionately impacted by loss of class time, and provide financial assistance to higher education students and institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This funding will help Virginia provide high-quality instruction and continue the delivery of services for K-12 and higher education students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “We are prioritizing this federal assistance to help address learning gaps caused by school closures, expand and improve internet connectivity, increase access to robust distance learning programs, and help students in need of additional financial assistance complete their postsecondary education and training.”

The GEER Fund, which was authorized under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, gives states the flexibility determine how best to allocate the emergency assistance to meet their educational needs.

Governor Northam is distributing $43.4 in GEER funding for the following PreK-12 priorities:

  • $26.9 million to support short-term and long-term initiatives expanding high-speed internet access to all communities in the Commonwealth, including providing laptop computers and Mi-Fi devices for students without home internet access;
  • $10 million to expand early childhood education and child care programs in the Commonwealth, especially for children with academic and social-emotional needs;
  • $3.5 million to support the expansion of the Virtual Virginia online learning program to provide content for elementary and middle school students; allow teachers in all school divisions to use the platform to create, edit, and share content as well as provide personalized virtual instruction for all students; and expand the Virtual Virginia Professional Learning Network, in partnership with the Virginia Society for Technology, to ensure that educators and technology-support personnel have the capacity and skills to meet the demand for quality online learning; and
  • $3 million to cover unfunded costs for the continuation of school-based meals programs while schools remain closed, including hazard pay for school nutrition staff.
     

“These initiatives will support efforts of PreK-12 schools to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable students and increase the capacity of local divisions to continue instruction and critical support services during future emergencies,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “We will also allocate flexible funding to our institutions of higher education that will allow colleges and universities to address the unique needs of their students. We trust they will maintain a focus on equity by distributing funds and services to students who are facing monumental challenges due to the pandemic.”

Approximately $23.4 million—one third of GEER funds—will be distributed throughout Virginia’s higher education system, with $18.3 million allocated to public and private four-year institutions and Richard Bland College. Of this funding, $14.5 million will be allocated to four-year public institutions and Richard Bland College, and $3.8 million will be allocated to private, four-year Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) eligible institutions. All of these institutions will use the one-time funding to address immediate student financial needs, cover health and safety costs associated with COVID-19, and support activities that make online learning more accessible and equitable.

GEER funds totaling $4.9 million will be distributed to the Virginia Community College System to support the following initiatives:

  • One-time funding to address immediate student financial needs;
  • Last-dollar scholarships for displaced adults who enroll in stackable credential programs leading to jobs in targeted industry sectors; and
  • Initiatives to extend internet access into parking lots on or adjacent to the 40 campuses to provide help connect students who do not have internet subscriptions at home.
     

The Governor will also distribute $175,000 of GEER funds among Virginia’s five higher education centers, which provide access to college degrees and job training for in-demand careers located in parts of the Commonwealth with fewer college and university resources. 

GEER funding has been made available in addition to $587.5 million allocated to the Commonwealth in May under the federal CARES Act. This included $238.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities. Additionally, the CARES Act provided $343.9 million for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

In addition to allocating funding directly to every local school division, the ESSER K-12 funding includes a $23.9 million state set aside to fund state-level initiatives. In Virginia, these funds will be used to meet the needs of schools in regard to special education, instruction and assessment, student social and emotional health, and COVID-19-related health and safety in school buildings and facilities.

More information on the ESSER state set aside funds will be made available through the Virginia Department of Education in the coming weeks. 

Governor Northam Shares Guidance for Phased Reopening of PreK-12 Schools

Back to school plan informed by collaborative process, outlines steps for safely resuming in-person instruction and school activities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a phased approach that allows Virginia schools to slowly resume in-person classes for summer school and the coming academic year. The K-12 phased reopening plan was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Department of Education and is informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

All PreK-12 schools in Virginia will be required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings. The PreK-12 guidance is aligned with the phases outlined in the Forward Virginia blueprint and provides opportunities for school divisions to begin offering in-person instruction to specific student groups.

“Closing our schools was a necessary step to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of staff, students, and our communities,” said Governor Northam. “Our schools have risen to the occasion and found ways to provide remote learning opportunities, keep students engaged, continue serving meals for children who otherwise would have gone hungry, and support students and families through an immensely challenging time. Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus and meets the needs of the Virginia students who have been disproportionately impacted by lost classroom time.”

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) convened numerous and diverse stakeholders through the Return to School Recovery Task Force, the Accreditation Task Force, and the Continuity for Learning Task Force this spring to inform strategies for reopening. Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. The Secretary and his team engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard from a wide range of perspectives including English language learners, parents of students with special needs, career and technical education centers, early childhood educators, students, school nutrition workers, private school leaders, bus drivers, school psychologists, the Virginia High School League, counselors, nurses, and more.

“These plans are informed by a range of perspectives and will help ensure that we prioritize the social emotional well-being of all of our students, their families, and educators as we go back to school this summer and fall,”  said Secretary Qarni.  “In-person learning is most essential for special education students, English language learners, young children, and other vulnerable students who depend upon the structure, in-person connection, and resources our school communities provide.”

Local school divisions will have discretion on how to operationalize within each phase and may choose to offer more limited in-person options than the phase permits, if local public health conditions necessitate. Entry into each phase is dependent on public health gating criteria, corresponding with the Forward Virginia plan. School divisions will have flexibility to implement plans based on the needs of their localities, within the parameters of the Commonwealth’s guidance.

The opportunities for in-person instruction in each phase are as follows:

  • Phase One: special education programs and child care for working families
  • Phase Two: Phase One plus preschool through third grade students, English learners, and summer camps in school buildings
  • Phase Three: all students may receive in-person instruction as can be accommodated with strict social distancing measures in place, which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students
  • Beyond Phase Three: divisions will resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance

     

Beginning with Phase Two, local divisions and private schools must submit plans to the Virginia Department of Education that include policies and procedures for implementing Virginia Department of Health and CDC mitigation strategies. State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA has issued an Order of Public Health Emergency that requires all Virginia PreK-12 public and private schools to develop plans that demonstrate adherence to public health guidance. Public schools must also outline plans to offer new instruction to all students regardless of operational status.

Detailed information on each phase can be found in the guidance document available here.

VDOE has also developed comprehensive guidance to aid schools in planning for a return to in-person instruction and activities. “Recover, Redesign, Restart” can be found here.

“School will be open for all students next year, but instruction will look different,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “The phased, hybrid approach allows PreK-12 students to have valuable class time and face-to-face interaction with their peers, while prioritizing health and safety by ensuring physical distancing measures are maintained. This plan keeps equity at the forefront by giving divisions the opportunity to deliver in-person instruction to those who need it the most.”

In every phase, PreK-12 schools must follow CDC Guidance for Schools, including social and physical distancing, enhanced health and hygiene procedures, cleaning and disinfecting measures, and other mitigation strategies. These precautions include, but are not limited to:

  • Daily health screenings of students and staff
  • Providing remote learning exceptions and teleworking for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness
  • The use of cloth face coverings by staff when at least six feet physical distancing cannot be maintained
  • Encouraging the use of face coverings in students, as developmentally appropriate, in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained

Governor Northam Announces Phase Two Guidelines to Further Ease Public Health Restrictions

Phase Two expected to begin Friday June 5, Northern Virginia and Richmond to remain in Phase One

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty-Five and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue safely and gradually easing public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order Sixty-One directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.

Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the indicators laid out in April.

“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

Executive Order Sixty-Five modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Sixty-One and Sixty-Two and establishes guidelines for Phase Two. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond entered Phase One on Friday, May 29, and will remain in Phase One to allow for additional monitoring of health data. Accomack County delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, which have largely been controlled through rigorous testing. Accomack County will move to Phase Two with the rest of the Commonwealth, on Friday, June 5.

Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures. 

Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will also remain closed in Phase Two.

Phase Two guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase One guidelines sectors are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Five and Order of Public Health Emergency Six is available here.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-One can be found here.

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