Ralph Northam

Governor Northam Appoints Eric J. Reynolds as Virginia’s First Children’s Ombudsman

Independent agency is authorized to investigate and resolve issues related to families of children served by state agencies

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the appointment of Eric J. Reynolds as Virginia’s first Director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. The Office was established by the General Assembly and approved by Governor Northam during the 2020 legislative session to serve as a mechanism for reporting concerns about the treatment of children within Virginia’s foster care system.

“The role of the Children’s Ombudsman is to ensure every child in Virginia has a safe and permanent home,” said Governor Northam. “Eric Reynolds is a compassionate leader with extensive experience working in our foster care system and with agencies that serve children—he is the right person for this important position.”

The Office is an independent agency that is authorized to receive complaints and investigate and review actions of the Virginia Department of Social Services, local departments of social services, child-placing agencies, or child-caring institutions. Prior to the creation of this office, the only way for families to file a complaint with a local department of social services was with the agency itself or with the Department of Social Services. It will also monitor and ensure compliance with relevant statutes, rules, and policies pertaining to child protective services and the placement, supervision, treatment, and delivery of care to children in foster care and adoptive homes. The Children’s Ombudsman has the ability to advocate for legislation.

“I am honored to serve in this inaugural role,” said Reynolds. “I was drawn to this position because I know how much of an impact it can make. I look forward to working alongside the Department of Social Services to ensure that the needs of foster care children across Virginia are put first.”

“I was thrilled to champion this legislation creating the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman,” said Delegate Chris Hurt. “The work of the Ombudsman will be a critical step forward in keeping the best interests of the child at the center as complicated decisions are made.”

Reynolds most recently served as Staff Attorney for Court Improvement Programs at the Virginia Supreme Court. Reynolds previously served as Assistant Attorney General in the Division of Health, Education, and Social Services at the Office of the Virginia Attorney General. He also served as legal counsel for the Department of Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, Department of Medical Assistance Service, and Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services. In this role, he provided analysis for agency programs and assisted in drafting proposed legislation and regulation.

As an attorney, Reynolds has represented both parents and children in child welfare cases and family law. Reynolds earned his law degree from the University of Richmond and his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York. Reynolds will assume his role on Friday, June 25, 2021.

“The creation of this office is an important step in our ongoing work to strengthen Virginia’s foster care system,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “I am confident that Director Reynolds will build an office that improves outcomes and delivers results for children in foster care and their families.”

The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is headed by the Children’s Ombudsman, who is appointed for a term of four years by the Governor and subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The Office is required to annually report its activities and findings to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services.

Governor Northam Announces Over $11.1 Million in GO Virginia Grants

Funding will support workforce and site development, infrastructure, entrepreneurial ecosystems

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced an allocation of more than $11.1 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grants to help advance economic recovery efforts across the Commonwealth. This funding will support 20 projects focused on expanding workforce development and talent pipelines in key industries, growing startup businesses and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and increasing Virginia’s business-ready sites portfolio.

“The targeted support that GO Virginia provides is critical to ensuring communities across our Commonwealth are well positioned to succeed in a post-pandemic economy,” said Governor Northam. “These projects demonstrate how regional collaboration can drive innovation and deliver positive economic results, including diversifying our workforce, supporting entrepreneurs, and upgrading our infrastructure.”

Included in this round of GO Virginia funding is one statewide project, 16 regional projects, and three projects through GO Virginia’s Economic Resilience and Recovery Program. The awarded projects will leverage an additional $7.1 million in local and other non-state resources.

“The regional approach of GO Virginia continues to spur creative economic development strategies throughout the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “These projects will support regional priorities and help communities achieve economic growth goals now and in the future.”

“The collaboration inspired by GO Virginia is evident in these projects,” said Nancy Howell Agee, who was elected to serve as Chair of the GO Virginia Board at the June 15th meeting. “It is important to recognize the leadership of the GO Virginia regional councils and the localities partnering on these important initiatives and acknowledge their continued efforts to build stronger regional economies that provide quality job opportunities for Virginians.”

Since the program’s inception in 2017, GO Virginia has funded 182 projects and awarded approximately $68 million to support regional economic development efforts. To learn more about the GO Virginia Program, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/gova.

2021 ROUND TWO STATEWIDE GRANT AWARDS

Cybersecurity Job Creation System | $1,450,000
Region 5 (lead): Counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton and cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach
Region 7: Fairfax County
Regions 3, 4, 6

Old Dominion University Research Foundation will develop and deliver a cost-effective, cloud-based compliance system to help Virginia’s Department of Defense contractors achieve Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) accreditation. A NIST 800-171/CMMC education program will be developed and delivered by Old Dominion University, Eastern Shore Community College, and as part of the four VA-affiliated universities and participating community colleges.
 

2021 ROUND TWO REGIONAL GRANT AWARDS

Southwest Virginia Regional Ecosystem Initiative Implementation | $290,850
Region 1: Cities of Bristol, Galax, and Norton and the town of St. Paul

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is partnering with SWVA Startup and Opportunity SWVA to increase the number of entrepreneurs in the region by 2027 and ensure they have access to a robust ecosystem, including support for existing, early-stage businesses. The multi-prong strategy includes hiring a regional ecosystem builder, implementing a virtual accelerator program, and focusing on increased outreach and programming to develop a more diverse entrepreneurship community.

Project Fuse | $70,000
Region 1: Counties of Dickenson, Lee, Scott, and Wise, and the city of Norton

Project Fuse will develop an action-oriented plan with business retention and recruitment tools for local economic developers to promote telework employment strategies in the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facilities Authority territory. This project supports the needs of companies and economic developers looking to expand the use of teleworking strategies as well as residents interested in remote employment opportunities.

Project Thoroughbred | $100,000
Region 1: Counties of Lee and Scott

Project Thoroughbred will add capacity to the maximum output farmers can produce, strengthen market confidence in the region’s ability to meet quality specifications, diversify products, and take the first step toward creating jobs for graduates of the Mountain Empire Community College’s Grain Management Program. 

Dearing Ford Industrial Park | $506,000
Region 2: Campbell County and the town of Altavista

The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance will manage a project to extend gas service to the Dearing Ford Industrial Park and the adjacent publicly-owned development parcels. This project will create the only gas-serviced site in the Lynchburg sub-region and significantly increase the marketability of the sites.

Helping Local Employers Prepare the Existing and Future Workforce for Industry 4.0 | $45,360
Region 2: Counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Covington, Roanoke, and Salem, and the town of Vinton

The Learning Factory in Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, in partnership with the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, will address the need for trained talent in Industry 4.0 technology skills in the region and increase competitiveness for manufacturers. The project will convene employers and stakeholders to help identify areas of needed growth in Industry 4.0 such as necessary new technology, skill gaps among the current and future workforce, areas of potential collaboration and others. 

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope | $97,740
Region 2: Amherst County and the city of Lynchburg

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope will develop a Playbook for Future Centers to provide a programmatic guide of its existing Future Centers model that will focus on in-demand careers in the region’s targeted industries of manufacturing, information technology, and life sciences. The playbook will guide the operations and sustainability of the Future Centers model, a template for hiring a director of each Future Center, and a professional development and training module for effective Future Centers. 

Building a Regional Health Sciences Talent Pipeline | $100,000
Region 2: Counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Covington, Roanoke, and Salem, and the town of Vinton

The project will establish the Blue Ridge Partnership for Health Science Careers to work as a consortium with public institutions and private employers, helping them to more systematically collaborate to leverage resources and align curriculum with employers’ future growth strategies. This project will accelerate the development of a new model for widespread business-education collaboration, increase the number of health and life science graduates, and begin to formalize a health science talent pipeline focused on engineering, cybersecurity, mechatronics, and the broader life sciences trade sector.

Minority Small Business Launch Center at Virginia State University | $453,000
Region 4: Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Henrico, Prince George, Surry, and Sussex and the cities of Colonial Heights, Emporia, Hopewell, Petersburg, and Richmond

The Division of Research and Economic Development and the Center for Entrepreneurship at Virginia State University will create a Minority Small Business Launch Center that will provide a comprehensive suite of services for minority business founders and early-stage businesses. Funding will support the creation of 90 jobs and 40 new businesses.

Virginia’s Gateway Region Sites | $1,634,407
Region 4: Counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, and Powhatan and the city of Petersburg

Virginia’s Gateway Region will advance site readiness in Region 4 by three-fold, elevating 15 sites (totaling 1,652 acres) to Tier 4 on the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Virginia Business Ready Sites Program. This effort will promote the availability of shovel-ready sites to prospective businesses, which will in turn help to create higher-paying jobs in the region.

Sussex County Water Study | $96,000
Region 4: Counties of Isle of Wight, Sussex, and Surry

Virginia’s Gateway Region will facilitate a preliminary engineering report for the evaluation of water supply alternatives to serve a 1,000-acre development site in Sussex County. Funding will support the expanded marketability of the site by identifying strategies to provide additional water capacity.

Campus 757 | $500,000
Region 5: Cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth 

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council will create an initiative to increase the percentage of college students who stay and work full time in Hampton Roads. The project aims to assist up to 400 companies and connect 700 to 1,500 students with employment opportunities. 

757 Collab | $2,415,573
Region 5: Cities of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk

757 Collab, an ongoing venture of 757 Accelerate, 757 Startup Studios, and 757 Angels, will continue building and delivering new innovation and entrepreneurship programming, capacity, and services to early-stage companies by bringing together an accelerator, private capital, collaborative space, and community outreach programs. 

Establishing a Regional Internet of Things Accelerator Program in the Rappahannock Regional Entrepreneur Ecosystem | $215,000
Region 6: Counties of King George and Stafford and the city of Fredericksburg

Stafford County and partnering localities will collaborate with the Center for Innovative Technology to expand entrepreneurial programs in the Rappahannock Region. Programs will also support the technology-based Virginia Smart Community Testbed in Stafford and provide entrepreneurs with access to the proven Regional Internet of Things Accelerator Program and additional community-focused programming.

Northern Virginia Community College Dual Enrollment Expansion Program for Information and Engineering Technology | $1,106,777
Region 7: Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park

Northern Virginia Community College, in conjunction with multiple partners, will implement the Dual Enrollment Expansion Program for Information and Engineering Technology (DEEP-IET) to develop regional workforce capacity in IET, specifically targeting information technology and engineering technology. The DEEP-IET approach will target successful student outcomes with multiple touch points on the STEM talent pipeline and will result in 288 additional graduates, 96 new internships, and expand the number of certified dual enrollment teachers in the region.

Innovation Forward | $100,000
Region 7: Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park

The Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance will undergo a strategic planning process to determine the best approaches to organization and management, budgeting and funding, staffing, policy development, business development activities, and brand development. This project will ultimately develop regional capacity and leverage combined assets to grow and diversify the regional economy.

Accelerating Regionally Significant Sites | $786,333
Region 9: Counties of Culpeper and Louisa

The Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development will elevate one 700-acre site to Tier 4 on the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Site Characterization scale and enhance the marketability of a 266-acre Tier 4 site by completing water and sewer engineering studies for the sites. The project will benefit the region by increasing the number of shovel-ready sites and supporting economic development efforts that will increase the business tax base and create high-paying jobs.
 

2021 ROUND TWO ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY STATEWIDE GRANT

Expansion of Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program Mentor Network | $882,794
Region 7 (lead): Counties of Loudoun and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax
Region 2, 4, 5, 6 

George Mason University will expand the statewide network of Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program mentors, who will support startups and early-stage companies. Services will include assistance with developing strategic plans and accessing funding and grants through a new regional hub service network.
 

2021 ROUND TWO ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY REGIONAL GRANTS

The Future of Workforce Development Outreach | $148,689
Region 9: Counties of Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, and Nelson

Virginia Career Works – Piedmont will address newly identified service equity gaps by providing targeted assistance to displaced workers who do not have access to a career center or high-speed internet. They will create face-to-face support for job seekers and increase access to training and employment opportunities.

Accelerate 2022 | $100,000
Region 7: Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the city of Fairfax

Refraction Inc., in partnership with George Mason University, will launch Accelerate 2022, a high-profile, multiday showcase and pitch competition that will bring investors from across the United States to fund Northern Virginia startups and high-growth companies. The project will address the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on raising critical capital, which will lead to more than 100 high-paying jobs and $16 million in follow-on funding within five years.

Governor Northam Urges Virginians to Prepare Now for 2021 Hurricane Season

Early predictions indicate active, above-normal Atlantic hurricane season

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam is calling on all Virginians to prepare now for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1 and lasts through November 30. The beginning of hurricane season is the ideal time for Virginians learn their risk for inland or coastal flooding, find out which evacuation zone they are in, and develop an emergency plan for their families or businesses.

“Hurricanes and tropical storms can have devastating impacts on every part of our Commonwealth, not just coastal communities,” said Governor Northam. “As the 2021 hurricane season begins, now is the time for all Virginians to prepare for a potential storm by checking your insurance coverage, making an emergency plan, and having a disaster kit ready.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts an above-normal 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, with a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes, including 3 to 5 major hurricanes. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season had a record-breaking 30 named tropical storms, including 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes. Virginia has been prone to many impacts from tropical systems including damaging winds, flooding, and tornadoes. Even storms that start in the lower Atlantic states have the potential to cause significant damage.

“Hurricane preparedness is even more important today, as we have seen an increase in the number and intensity of storms in recent years,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “Together with all of our emergency management and public safety partners across the Commonwealth, we have spent months preparing for hurricane season, and we encourage Virginians to make plans to protect their families and property.”

Virginians are encouraged to review the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which includes information on preparedness, response, and recovery activities in the event of tropical weather, particularly for coastal evacuation areas of the Commonwealth. This year’s guide includes pandemic considerations, recognizing that COVID-19 is still circulating and there are still many unvaccinated individuals, including younger Virginians.

“Disasters and emergencies don’t affect everyone equally and we know that low-income and disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted,” said Curtis Brown, State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “We have made significant progress building equity into Virginia’s emergency management programs and will continue working to support at-risk populations well in advance of any event.”

Before peak storm season gets underway, all Virginians and those visiting the Commonwealth are encouraged to prepare by knowing your risk, purchasing flood insurance or reviewing your policy, and create an emergency plan that includes arrangements for your pets. Learn what to do to protect yourself, your loved ones, your property, and your community by taking these steps:

  • 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. 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 Proclaims First Week in May as Virginia Public Service Week

Recognizes approximately 701,500 public sector employees across the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today declared May 3–7, 2021 as Virginia Public Service Week to recognize the dedication of federal, state, local, and tribal government employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The annual observance honors approximately 701,500 public sector employees who work on behalf of Virginia residents.

“The past year has been extremely difficult—and our public employees continue to rise to the occasion, going above and beyond to serve their communities and fellow Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “From those on the front lines to others who are behind the scenes, this week we have an important opportunity to salute the hard work of thousands of people who help make our Commonwealth the best place to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”

Governor Northam shared a new video message celebrating the more than 124,000 state employees in Virginia who are answering the call of public service with commitment, professionalism, and creativity.

In Virginia, an estimated 17 percent of the workforce is employed by the government. During Virginia Public Service Week, public agencies and institutions of higher education recognize their employees through awards and special activities. Virtual programs will be held for state employees again this year, including a special tour of the Executive Mansion grounds, a cooking lesson from Executive Chef Ed Gross, and micro learning sites.

“We depend on our employees and their dedication each and every day,” said Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson. “As in years past, this week provides an opportunity for team-building, connecting, and interacting among employee teams.”

Virginia Public Service Week is also an opportunity for employees to recognize their co-workers, particularly those who volunteer through the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC) in their communities, which raised nearly $2 million in just the last year.

“Taking time to simply say thank you, whether from a manager or a co-worker, lets an employee know they are seen and what they did matters to someone else, too,” said Emily S. Elliott, Director of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management. “It’s important that we lift each other up during challenging times and remind one another just how important and purpose-driven our service to the Commonwealth really is.”

The full text of Governor Northam’s proclamation can be found here.

As Vaccinations Rise, Governor Northam Announces Expanded Capacity, Social Gathering Limits to Begin May 15

More than half of all adults in Virginia have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that sports and entertainment venues in Virginia may begin to operate with expanded capacity, and social gathering limits will increase beginning Saturday, May 15th. The announcement comes as vaccinations continue to rise in the Commonwealth, and more than half of all adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. All Virginians age 16 and older are now eligible to for the vaccine.

Governor Northam made the announcement in a new video message.

“It’s good news that half of all adults in Virginia have gotten a shot so far,” Governor Northam said. “Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID-19 case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year. So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures. We took a few more targeted steps this week, and we will do more next month.”

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June. We are working to significantly ramp up vaccinations even further and aim to reduce capacity limits in June, hopefully all the way. But some things need to continue—we all need to keep wearing masks, social distancing, and encouraging each other to get a shot. It’s how we take care of one another.”

The Governor also reminded Virginians that getting vaccinated keeps communities safer, and allows expanded personal activities—for example, people who have been fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after an exposure, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Commonwealth will continue to mandate mask-wearing and social distancing, even as commercial restrictions are further eased. Key changes in the Sixth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two will go into effect in about three weeks and include: 

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 100 people for indoor settings and 250 people for outdoor settings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. 
  • Entertainment venues: Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity or 1,000 people, up from 30 percent capacity or 500 people. Outdoor venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity—up from 30 percent—with no specific cap on the number of attendees.
  • Recreational sporting events: The number of spectators allowed at indoor recreational sporting events will increase from 100 to 250 spectators or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. Outdoor recreational sporting events will increase from 500 to 1,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. 
  • Alcohol sales: Restaurants may return to selling alcohol after midnight, and dining room closures will no longer be required between midnight and 5:00 a.m.

The full text of Sixth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here.

Earlier this week Governor Northam made minor changes to the existing mitigation measures, including increased accommodations for cross-country events, school-based fine arts performances, and expanded access to bar seating in restaurants with strict social distancing. These changes are reflected in the current Fifth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two available here.

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

Virginia has now administered more than 5.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and is currently giving almost 77,000 shots per day. Over 3.5 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, more than half of all adults in Virginia and more than 40 percent of the total population.

Virginians over the age of 16 can schedule an appointment for vaccination by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).

Governor Northam Announces Five New State Historical Highway Markers Addressing Black History in Virginia

Students suggested new markers through second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced five new state historical highway markers that address topics of national, state, and regional significance to African American history in the Commonwealth. These markers were submitted by Virginia students through the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest. The Governor was joined by First Lady Pamela Northam and members of his Cabinet for a virtual event yesterday recognizing the students and educators with this year’s winning submissions.

“The contributions of influential African Americans have frequently been ignored, underrepresented, and even silenced,” said Governor Northam. “With this initiative, we have asked students and teachers to help us tell a more accurate, comprehensive, and inclusive Virginia story by suggesting new historical markers that recognize Black Virginians and the important ways they have shaped our shared history. I am grateful to all those who have joined in our efforts to build a strong and equitable Commonwealth.”

The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest invites students, teachers, and families to learn more about African Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history and submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources. This year, 100 submissions were received and five were selected for installation.

“It was important for us to provide a unique opportunity for our students to get involved with their education by allowing them to think more deeply about Virginia history,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer. “This contest elevated the need to integrate Black history into the history taught in our classrooms because Black history is American history. As we launch the ONE Virginia plan, we are providing schools with resources that will guide conversation and promote equity by telling a fuller and more complete version of Virginia’s history.”

The student winners and the names and text of five new markers are as follows:

  • “Dangerfield and Harriet Newby” (Culpeper County), nominated by Sofia Rodriguez, Michael Burgess, and Valia Anderson from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.

    Dangerfield Newby, who was born enslaved in Virginia and later lived free in Ohio, was killed in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry as he fought to free his wife, Harriet, and their children from slavery.

  • “Mary Richards Bowser (Richmond City), nominated by Larissa Chambers, Sonia Alam, Hailey Solar, and Allison McKenzie from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.

    Bowser, born enslaved, became a missionary to Liberia, a Union spy in the Confederate White House during the Civil War, and a teacher at freedmen’s schools.

  • “John Lyman Whitehead Jr.” (Brunswick County), nominated by Jashanti Valentine from Brunswick High School in Lawrenceville, Virginia.

    Born near Lawrenceville, Whitehead served in World War II as a Tuskegee Airman and is credited with being the Air Force’s first African American test pilot and the first African American jet pilot instructor.

  • “Edwin Bancroft Henderson” (Falls Church), nominated by Sullivan Massaro from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.

    Henderson, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame known as the “Father of Black Basketball,” organized athletic leagues for African Americans, wrote The Negro in Sports (1939), organized the first rural chapter of the NAACP, and was president of the NAACP Virginia state conference as he worked for civil rights.

  • “Samuel P. Bolling” (Cumberland County), nominated by Ashley Alvarez, Allecia Mitchell, Anna Parker, Alex Hernandez, Christopher McCoy, Adalie Ruehrmund, and Harley Thurston from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.

    Born into slavery in 1819, Bolling later became a successful entrepreneur and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a member of the Readjuster Party, a biracial coalition that accomplished significant reforms in the 1880s.
     

“The Historical Marker Contest helped me learn more about Black Virginians who have made a difference, like Dr. Edwin Henderson,”said Sullivan Massaro, a 4th grader in Fairfax County Public Schools. “Dr. Henderson introduced the sport of basketball to Black athletes in Washington, D.C. and is a big part of why basketball is so popular today. As I researched him I learned how much he did not only for the sport of basketball, but for civil rights in Virginia. I couldn’t believe that he did not already have a historical marker, so I chose to nominate him for the contest.”

Governor Northam was joined by First Lady Northam, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler, and Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood to celebrate the students and educators who participated in the contest. The grandson of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, selected as one of the markers for installation, provided remarks at the event, and reflected on his journey to educate others on his grandfather’s legacy.

“On behalf of the Henderson Family, I’d like to express my deep appreciation to Sullivan and his teacher Ms. Maura Keaney for the recognition of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s accomplishments in Virginia by placing a historic marker in front of his home in the City of Falls Church,” said Edwin Henderson II. “This contest is part of an important effort to intertwine African American history into all school curriculum, and ensure that Virginia’s diverse history is represented honestly in classrooms across the Commonwealth.”

Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. This program is an effort to recognize and chronicle events, accomplishments, sacrifices, and personalities of historic importance to Virginia’s story. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape. The Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Department of Transportation co-manage the program.

“Virginia’s historical markers tell our history in a tangible way, and these students have worked hard to ensure that these markers are inclusive, diverse, and tell the full Virginia story,” said Secretary Strickler. “I am grateful to the Department of Historic Resources for their determination to highlight untold stories, and to all the students and educators who have helped make this vision a reality.”

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 markers along Virginia’s roadways, but only 350 markers highlighted African Americans as of January 2020. Since then, 42 state historical highway markers about African American history have been approved. Ten of these new markers were suggested by students during the Governor’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest in 2020, and the five new markers are expected to be approved by the Board of Historic Resources for approval at its upcoming meeting on June 17.

“The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest allows students to participate in place-based, experiential learning,” said Secretary Qarni. “As students research local history and discover newfound heroes, they gain a deeper understanding of their ability to impact the world.”

A recording of the 2021 Black History Month Historical Marker Contest virtual celebration is available here.

Virginia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Opens for All Adults on Sunday

Virginians seeking a vaccination opportunity can find and schedule appointments at vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA

RICHMOND—As Governor Ralph Northam announced earlier this month, all Virginians age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine starting Sunday, April 18. This expansion of eligibility comes as Virginia reaches a new milestone in its vaccination program—approximately half of all adults in the Commonwealth have received at least one dose.

Governor Northam shared a new video message today encouraging Virginians seeking a vaccination opportunity to use the statewide call center or the new Vaccinate Virginia website to find vaccine providers starting Sunday. Virginia’s eligibility expansion meets a nationwide goal set by President Joe Biden that all adults be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19.

“Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” said Governor Northam. “With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many parts of Virginia and across the country, it is important that everyone has an opportunity to make a vaccination appointment. If you are over 16 and want to get the safe, effective, and free vaccine, please make a plan to get your shot. The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”

With this move into Phase 2, appointments will still be required for most vaccinations. Starting Sunday, Virginians will be able to find and schedule appointments directly through the Vaccinate Virginia vaccine system by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). The vaccinate.virginia.gov site will link to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder website, which has a searchable map-based tool to find appointments at Community Vaccination Centers, local health departments, pharmacies, and hospitals.

Virginians seeking an opportunity to get vaccinated may have to wait for an appointment, as demand for vaccination is expected to continue to outpace supply in many parts of the Commonwealth. Those who were eligible under Phase 1 who cannot find an appointment should pre-register for a priority appointment at vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA. The Northam Administration anticipates that all Virginians who want a vaccine will be able to get at least their first dose by the end of May.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for individuals aged 16 and 17. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for ages 18 and up.

More than 5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Virginia. Approximately half of the adult population has received at least one dose, and one in five Virginians are fully vaccinated. The Commonwealth continues to work with a statewide network of providers and partners to distribute and administer doses as quickly as they are provided by the federal government.

Virginia has focused on equity throughout its vaccination program by providing targeted resources in multiple languages, scheduling clinics in collaboration with community partners, performing grassroots outreach to drive pre-registration and scheduling, and implementing large, state-run Community Vaccination Centers in areas with vulnerable populations. These efforts will continue with expanded eligibility in Phase 2.

All COVID-19 vaccines are free regardless of health insurance or immigration status. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Videoconferencing in American Sign Language also is available by videophone at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682) or online by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

Governor Northam Announces Virginia’s Unemployment Rate Fell to 5.1 Percent in March

Payroll employment increased by 800 jobs

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia’s unemployment rate decreased 0.1-percentage point to 5.1 percent in March, which is down 6.2 percentage points from its peak of 11.3 percent in April 2020. The Commonwealth’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate of 6.0 percent.

“Virginia’s unemployment rate is steadily improving and we are making real progress in safely reopening our economy,” said Governor Northam. “While we have made great strides in our recovery, we know there is still more work to do. We will continue to focus our efforts bringing more Virginians into the workforce and supporting families, businesses, and communities with the resources they need to build back stronger.”

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 800 jobs in March. The labor force increased by 1,618 to 4,238,239, as the number of unemployed residents decreased by 5,051. The number of employed residents rose by 6,669 to 4,023,563. In March 2021, Virginia saw over-the-year job losses of 4.4 percent.

“As more and more Virginians receive vaccines, we get closer to ending this pandemic, and our economy becomes stronger,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “Despite a tough year, companies have continued to expand and create new jobs in Virginia thanks to our strong business climate and world-class workforce.”

“Virginia’s workers and businesses have faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but their resolve and perseverance has helped overcome them,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “The growing rate of vaccinations gives us confidence that this downward trend will continue in the months ahead. We will keep working diligently to assist Virginians with job training programs and help them gain employment in a changing, post-pandemic job market.”

In March, the private sector recorded an over-the-year loss of 145,200 jobs, while employment in the public sector lost 36,800 jobs. Compared to a year ago, on a seasonally adjusted basis, all 11 major industry divisions experienced employment decreases. The largest over-the-year job loss occurred in leisure and hospitality, down 76,600 jobs, or 18.8 percent. The next largest over-the-year job loss occurred in government, down 36,800 jobs, or 5.0 percent. Local government employment fell by 30,700 jobs and state government employment was down 7,400 jobs, while the federal government added 1,300 jobs. Education and health services experienced the third largest over-the-year job loss of 22,100 jobs, or 4.0 percent.

For a greater statistical breakdown, visit the Virginia Employment Commission’s website at vec.virginia.gov.

Governor Northam Announces Over $6.3 Million in GO Virginia Grants to Drive Economic Growth

Funding to support workforce development, site development and infrastructure, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and COVID-19 recovery efforts

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced an allocation of more than $6.3 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grants to help the Commonwealth continue addressing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding will support a total of 15 projects, including eight regional GO Virginia projects and seven projects through GO Virginia’s Economic Resilience and Recovery Program.

“This funding will go a long way towards supporting a broad-based economic recovery across our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “As we celebrate these projects, we must also recognize the leadership and many contributions of the late GO Virginia Board Chairman Tom Farrell, whose business acumen helped advance the GO Virginia mission of fostering lasting regional collaboration, and was instrumental in mounting a robust effort to spur Virginia’s economic recovery amid the pandemic. His legacy will live on through innovative, impactful programs like this one.”

The projects receiving funds will provide additional capacity to expand workforce development and talent pipelines in key industries, support the growth of startup businesses and entrepreneurial ecosystems, grow Virginia’s portfolio of business-ready sites, and assist regions with mitigating the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The awards will leverage an additional $5.6 million in local and other non-state resources to assist with ongoing economic diversification and growth efforts throughout Virginia.

“From energy and life sciences to manufacturing and tourism, GO Virginia continues to spur innovative ideas and strategies to support businesses throughout the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “As Chair, Tom Farrell gave so much of his time to the betterment of Virginia communities, and he will be dearly missed.”

“The recent efforts of the GO Virginia program demonstrate the importance of strategic thinking in regions, and how addressing near-term economic needs can create long-term economic growth opportunities,” said GO Virginia Board Member and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “This round of grants represent a combination of ingenuity, collaboration, and resiliency during a time of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I look forward to seeing the positive impact they have on communities around the Commonwealth.”

Since the program’s inception in 2017, GO Virginia has funded 163 projects and awarded approximately $56.9 million to support regional economic development efforts. To learn more about GO Virginia, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/gova.

2021 ROUND ONE REGIONAL GRANT AWARDS

Energy Storage and Electrification Manufacturing Jobs | $486,366
Region 1: Counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, and Tazewell

Together with multiple partners, Appalachian Voices will execute a strategy to build a new, high-wage industry cluster around energy storage electrification. The project will also provide technical assistance to existing manufacturers as they diversify and expand sales into these new markets.

Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center | $99,360
Region 2: Montgomery County and the city of Roanoke

The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) will develop a market study, conceptual design, and associated operational plan to support the life science ecosystem in Blacksburg and Roanoke with flexible laboratory space. This space will ultimately support commercial entities and startup companies in the life sciences sector while providing a focal point to keep locally grown talent in the region.

SOVA Innovation Hub and Longwood University Office of Community and Economic Development Entrepreneurship and Innovation Implementation Project | $449,000
Region 3: Counties of Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Halifax, Patrick, and Prince Edward

The SOVA Innovation Hub, in partnership with the Longwood University Office of Community and Economic Development, will launch a series of entrepreneurship training, youth entrepreneurship, and capital access programming. Funding will support the creation of new jobs by building entrepreneurship capacity and a stronger, more equitable region-wide network of resources for startups and early-stage companies.

Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education | $613,000
Region 4: Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, Surry, and Sussex and the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, and Petersburg

The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, in partnership with Richard Bland College, will establish a Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) chapter in Virginia and launch an Advanced Manufacturing Technician program. Funding will support the development of new hands-on learning space for advanced manufacturing and new training capacity for jobs that are in high demand by area manufacturers.

757 Collab Bridge | $32,000
Region 5: Cities of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk

757 Collab, a new venture of 757 Accelerate and 757 Angels, will provide rent-free space and essential programming for 25-30 startup companies each year. This grant will support the ongoing activities of 757 Accelerate and 757 Startup Studios as they develop the new 757 Collab organization.

Richmond County Commerce Center Expansion | $1,223,974
Region 6: Counties of Richmond and Westmoreland, and the town of Warsaw

Richmond County, in partnership with Westmoreland County, will expand the Richmond County Commerce Center to develop two business-ready sites, totaling 45 acres. The partnership of these localities will contribute to the joint promotion and marketing of the area and provide space for new and expanding businesses.

Northern Virginia Smart Region Initiative | $1,287,580
Region 7: Counties of Arlington and Fairfax, and the city of Fairfax

Smart City Works will help establish Northern Virginia as a center of excellence for urban technology innovation and a top destination for digital technology companies to build and grow their businesses. Funding will support the growth of high-tech startup companies through the introduction of capital investment opportunities, the expansion of business acceleration programs, and the creation of pathways to successfully deliver new products to the marketplace. 

Shenandoah Valley Sites Enhancement Program | $821,000
Region 8: Counties of Augusta, Frederick, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren

The Shenandoah Valley Partnership will lead an effort to advance six regionally significant sites, totaling 1,112 acres, for potential new or expanding businesses in the region’s targeted industries.
 

ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY GRANTS

Virginia Restaurant and Hotel Workforce COVID Recovery and Upskilling Program | $132,500
Region 4: Counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico, and the city of Richmond

The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association will support the restaurant and hospitality industry by offering COVID-related skills training to unemployed and underemployed restaurant and hotel workers. This initiative will also further develop an industry-specific job board to support ongoing industry recovery efforts.

Engineering Interns + Manufacturers = Success Squared (S2) | $39,200
Region 4: County of Prince George and the city of Hopewell

The College of Engineering and Technology at Virginia State University will create an internship program to support regional manufacturing companies impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of a semester, interns will develop projects focused on a company’s specific needs related to economic distress brought on by the pandemic, while also getting the hands-on experience needed to round out their degrees.

Startup Stability Program | $197,000
Region 5: Cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth

The Portsmouth Development Foundation will support small businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic through subsidized co-working space and mentoring services.

Marine Trades Training Program Expansion | $99,137
Region 5: Cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk

Tidewater Community College’s Marine Trades Training Program will expand its welding and marine coatings programs at the Skilled Trades Academy in Portsmouth. The welding program will be expanded by 33 percent to accommodate an additional 40 students per year, and the marine coating program will be relocated and expanded to support an additional 84 students per year.

Virginia Cyber Skills Academy | $699,995
Region 7: Counties of Arlington and Loudoun and the city of Alexandria

The Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu and the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) will train individuals whose employment was impacted by the pandemic for high-demand cybersecurity roles. All courses and certifications will be provided online at no cost to students, and this project will assist graduates with obtaining employment with area technology companies.

Local Ordering, Communication, and Agricultural Logistics Initiative | $60,602
Region 8: County of Page and cities of Harrisonburg and Roanoke

Common Grain Alliance (CGA) will provide support and build cooperative relationships between farmers, local producers, and distributors impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will leverage existing web-based applications with an online marketplace to increase sales and enhance the resiliency of the industry through the creation of an online platform to facilitate supply chain logistics and new technology to streamline food sales, storage access, and distribution.

Central Virginia Small Business Development Center Resiliency | $131,220
Region 9: Counties of Albemarle, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Louisa, Madison, Orange, and Rappahannock, and the city of Charlottesville

The Central Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) will address growth challenges and improve economic resiliency among area businesses by enhancing firms’ digital presence and e-commerce capabilities. Additionally, this funding will help increase SBDC’s capacity to serve the region’s business development needs, emphasizing services to rural and under-resourced communities.

Virginia Expands COVID-19 Vaccination Workforce, Creates Additional Pathway to Enlist Volunteer Vaccinators

Qualified individuals can now sign up through the newly established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced several efforts aimed at increasing Virginia’s vaccinator workforce to support the continued expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations across the Commonwealth, including a new initiative to recruit eligible individuals interested in administering vaccines.

Governor Northam recently signed House Bill 2333, sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby, and Senate Bill 1445, sponsored by Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant, which expand the pool of health care providers eligible to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia. Last month, the Governor issued Third Amended Executive Order Fifty-Seven to provide additional flexibility to health care providers in supporting the Commonwealth’s vaccination program and ongoing COVID-19 response. Earlier this week, Governor Northam announced that starting April 18, all adults in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Last year, we issued a call for 30,000 medical and non-medical volunteers to join our fight against COVID-19, and I am proud that over 35,000 Virginians have since stepped forward to assist through the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps,” said Governor Northam. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our health care providers and volunteer vaccinators, Virginia is now administering an average of more than 70,000 of the COVID-19 vaccine each day and has given over 3.8 million shots to date. By further expanding our vaccinator workforce, we can build on this momentum and ensure we have additional vaccination capacity as supply increases and more individuals become eligible to receive the vaccine.”

Health care providers who are now authorized to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia include but are not limited to dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, optometrists, and health professions students enrolled in an accredited Virginia program. Eligible providers may serve as vaccinators if they have the appropriate training and meet the supervision requirements. All COVID-19 vaccine providers are responsible for ensuring that individuals who administer shots at their site are authorized by law to do so.

Eligible health care providers may register to volunteer as a COVID-19 vaccinator through either the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) or the newly-established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry (VVVR).

“These efforts to increase the ranks of vaccinators will immediately affect Virginians and their ability to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We need ‘all hands on deck’ as we ramp up our vaccination campaign, and the legislation introduced by Delegate Bagby and Senator Dunnavant is crucial to providing additional tools for these unprecedented times.” 

Established in 2002, the Virginia MRC is a force of dedicated volunteers who stand ready to support the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in responding to public health emergencies and addressing ongoing public health initiatives. MRC volunteer vaccinators are required to complete a background investigation, volunteer orientation, vaccination-specific training as outlined by the VDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a skills assessment to demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. MRC medical volunteers may have the opportunity to serve in other positions and response missions.

The VVVR is a temporary COVID-19 emergency program administered by VDH and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) that serves as a pathway for eligible providers who only wish to serve as vaccinators during the COVID-19 response. Qualified registry volunteers are required to complete vaccination-specific training as outlined by the CDC and VDH and demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. A list of credentialed volunteers will be made available to hospitals, non-profit agencies, and local health departments operating community vaccination clinics upon request.  

Registering through either pathway is not a guarantee that an eligible health care provider will be enlisted to vaccinate, and volunteers may not be deployed immediately. While most Virginia localities are meeting the current need for COVID-19 vaccinators through existing workforce channels, demand is expected to increase alongside the Commonwealth’s growing supply of federally allocated vaccines.

For more information or to sign up as an MRC or VVVR volunteer, please visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-community-vaccinator.

Governor Northam Announces Limited Capacity Increases for Indoor and Outdoor Gatherings, Some Entertainment Venues as Vaccinations Rise

Approximately one in four Virginians vaccinated with at least one dose

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to rise in Virginia, certain sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate with additional capacity and indoor and outdoor gathering limits will increase starting Thursday, April 1. He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus. More than two million Virginians, or approximately one in four people, have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“With increased vaccination capacity and our health metrics continuing to trend the right direction, we can safely take these targeted steps to ease certain mitigation measures,” said Governor Northam. “Virginians have come so far over the past year, and now is not the time to simply throw the doors open or let down our guard. While some capacity limits will be increased, we must all remember to stay vigilant and work together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.”

The Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued mitigation strategies like physical distancing, teleworking, and universal mask requirements. Key changes in the Fourth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two include:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 50 people for indoor settings and 100 people for outdoor settings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
  • Entertainment venues: All indoor and outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity. Indoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity or with a maximum of 500 people, an increase from the current cap of 250 people. Outdoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity, with no specific cap on the number of attendees. These venues were previously limited to 30 percent capacity or up to 1,000 attendees, whichever was fewer. 
  • Recreational sporting events: The number of spectators allowed at recreational sporting events will increase from 25 to 100 people per field or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less for indoor settings, and from 250 to 500 people per field or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less for outdoor settings.
  • In-person graduation and commencement events: Last week, Governor Northam issued preliminary guidance on safe in-person graduations and commencements, which included a cap of 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity for outdoor events, whichever is less. Events held indoors may have up to 500 people, or 30 percent of the venue capacity, whichever is less. Attendees must wear masks and follow other guidelines and safety protocols to ensure proper distancing.
     

The full text of Fourth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Virginia has now administered more than 3.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and is currently giving approximately 50,000 shots per day. Virginians are strongly encouraged to make sure they are pre-registered at vaccinate.virginia.gov, or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA, to ensure that the Virginia Department of Health has all the relevant information to reach out when individuals are eligible to schedule vaccination appointments.

Governor Announces New Service to Assist Virginia Students Applying for Financial Aid

Sets goal for every eligible student to complete FAFSA application

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of a new free advising service to assist Virginia students and families applying for financial aid and help address the COVID-19 related decline in completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Governor Northam also set forth a long-term goal for every eligible student in Virginia to complete a FAFSA application each year. 

The Virginia College Access Network (VirginiaCAN) and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) have partnered on a statewide effort to offer free, one-on-one FAFSA completion assistance. From March 22 through June 30, 2021, students and families can go to virginiacan.org/fafsa to schedule a virtual meeting and connect with an advisor who can answer questions and walk them through filling out the FAFSA application. 

“The FAFSA is the first step in helping Virginia students qualify for thousands of dollars in state and federal grants and scholarships,” said Governor Northam. “Completing the FAFSA can be difficult under normal circumstances, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote learning have added to the challenge of assisting our high school seniors with filling out their forms. This free one-on-one advising service will support our goal of ensuring every eligible student in our Commonwealth completes an application, and open the doors to affordable higher education and technical training for even more Virginians.” 

So far in 2021, 4,315 fewer Virginia high school seniors have completed the FAFSA, which is down nearly 10 percent compared to last year and mirrors the nine percent decline in FAFSA completion rates nationally. For students attending Virginia high schools with high concentrations of low-income students, FAFSA completions are down 33 percent. This means students who have the most to gain from state and federal aid are missing out on thousands of dollars in financial assistance for college and postsecondary training. According to a 2018 study, approximately 15,000 Virginia high school seniors that would have been eligible for Pell grants did not complete the FAFSA, amounting to more than $58 million in federal aid that students left on the table. 

The FAFSA is also vitally important for Governor Northam’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative, which provides financial support to cover tuition, fees, and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA. The G3 Program aims to make community college more affordable for low- to middle-income individuals seeking employment in high-demand sectors such as technology, skilled trades, health care, early childhood education, and public safety.

“The launch of this new advising tool comes at a critical time when we must double down on our efforts to support the future success of our students and our Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “While we have a lot of ground to make up this year, we are committed to helping every Virginia student get the federal student aid they are entitled to, and that starts with connecting them with the resources they need to complete the FAFSA.”

To meet the Governor’s goal of ensuring that every eligible Virginia student completes the FAFSA, he has directed Secretary Qarni to convene a work group tasked with forming long-term legislative and budgetary recommendations to improve Virginia’s FAFSA completion rates. This group will include representatives from SCHEV, Virginia Community College System, and the Virginia Department of Education, along with other key stakeholders and college access experts. The work group will conduct listening sessions with community groups to collect input which will inform their final recommendations to the Governor.

“Right now, Black, African American, Hispanic, and low-income students are less likely to enroll in college than the state average,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “The Virginia Plan for Higher Education calls for closing gaps in college access and improving FAFSA completion is the first step in closing those gaps.” 

VirginiaCAN, a non-profit organization with a mission to support and enhance post-high school education access and attainment for Virginians, is the lead organization in the new one-on-one FAFSA advising service. The five college access organizations participating in this effort include the Access College Foundation, ECMC’s The College Place, GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA), and the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC). 

“Most people who begin a FAFSA are stymied by questions on the form,” writes Joy Pugh, VirginiaCAN Board President and Executive Director of the Virginia College Advising Corps, in a new op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is where Virginia’s access providers can help. In the spirit of collective impact, these organizations have banded together to meet this critical FAFSA completion need for students and families across the Commonwealth.”

Governor Northam Proclaims March Women’s History Month in Virginia

Virginians encouraged to participate in virtual events, honor the leadership and contributions of women in the Commonwealth and throughout history

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued a proclamation and made the following statement on Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in Virginia and nationwide during March to honor trailblazing women who have helped move the country and the Commonwealth forward.

“Virginia has no shortage of pioneering women who have made history by overcoming doubt and discrimination, by daring to step into roles that had never been held by a woman, and by breaking down barriers for those who would follow. During Women’s History Month, we celebrate milestones in gender equality, and we uplift the stories of women who have impacted our world with their creativity, advocacy, service, invention, and discovery.

“As we honor the progress we have made, we must also acknowledge that many of these gains were not inclusive of all women, particularly women of color. In Virginia, we will continue to lift up all who identify as women as we strive for a more equitable future.

“We went into the 2020 General Assembly session calling it the ‘year of the woman’, with Eileen Filler-Corn becoming the first female speaker of the House of Delegates, and L. Louise Lucas becoming the first female and African American President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In addition, Charniele L. Herring became the first female and first African American legislator to serve as House Majority Leader, and Suzette Denslow became the first woman to serve as Clerk of the House of Delegates and Keeper of the Rolls of the Commonwealth. Her counterpart, Susan Clark Schaar, has served as Clerk of the Senate for two decades.

“Following decades of advocacy and with women at the helm, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which brought the nation one step closer to ensuring true gender equality is enshrined in our Constitution.

“Finally, 2021 was ushered in with Kamala Harris taking office as the first woman and first Black and South Asian Vice President of the United States. I am proud to stand alongside so many brilliant and intrepid women leading our country and this Commonwealth forward, especially in my cabinet, across our Administration, and directing our state agencies. Women’s History Month is both an opportunity to recognize the importance of women’s representation wherever decisions are being made, and to learn about the women who have helped us reach this moment, paving the way for the change makers of today and tomorrow.”

 

The theme of Women’s History Month in 2021 is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced,” which extends last year’s recognition of the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the continuing fight for suffrage for all women.

Virginians are encouraged to participate in Women’s History Month events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of some of these events can be found here.

The full text of Governor Northam’s Women’s History Month proclamation is available here or below.

Governor Northam Recognizes February as Black History Month in Virginia

Invites Virginians to reflect upon contributions of African Americans, participate safely in events throughout the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued a proclamation and made the following statement on Black History Month, which is celebrated in Virginia and nationwide during February.

“Black history is American history and should be acknowledged and celebrated continuously as fundamental to the strength and diversity of our Commonwealth and our country. The celebration of Black History Month provides an important opportunity to tell a more accurate and comprehensive story of our past and honor the legacy of countless Black Americans that have shaped our history.

“As we continue working to build a more inclusive, equitable, and just future for all, we must also reaffirm our commitment to lifting up the people and places that for too long have been marginalized or forgotten. From business and science to sports and the arts, I encourage Virginians to find ways to recognize the many contributions and achievements of African Americans, not just during the month of February, but every month of the year.”

The theme of 2021’s national Black History Month is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” This year marks the 95th observance of Black History Month, which was originally founded as Negro History Week by Virginia native and historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926.

Virginians are encouraged to participate in events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of such events can be found here.

Click here to view a video from the Virginia Tourism Corporation that highlights artists, exhibits, and events that celebrate Black History in Virginia.

The full text of Governor Northam’s Black History Month proclamation is available here or below.

Governor Northam Delivers State of the Commonwealth Address

RICHMOND—Tonight (January 13, 2021), Governor Ralph Northam will deliver the annual State of the Commonwealth address before a virtual joint session of the General Assembly. He will discuss Virginia’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight accomplishments from his third year in office, and share his vision to continue building a stronger, fairer, and more equitable Virginia. He will detail his proposals to support small businesses, give teachers a raise of more than two percent, expand access to early childhood education, legalize marijuana, and abolish the death penalty.

Governor Northam’s remarks as prepared for delivery available below. Watch the live address on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY:

Good evening. Madam Speaker Filler-Corn, Madam President Lucas, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, ladies and gentlemen—thank you for inviting me to speak with you tonight.

To my wife Pam, to Attorney General Herring, Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the State Corporation Commission, and my Cabinet and staff, thank you for your service to our Commonwealth.

We do this every year. This speech is one of our rituals as Virginians, when elected leaders come together, from different branches of government, from different political parties, representing every part of Virginia, and every person who calls our Commonwealth home. It’s part of who we are and what we do, and it’s important to maintain this tradition, even in this most unusual year.

But many things are different this year, of course. Normally, more than 200 people are in this room. Tonight there are fewer than 20.

Another thing that’s different is a part of the ritual that I will miss. In a normal year, when I say something my friends like, they stand up and cheer. That’s a nice feeling! And at the same time, the other side of the room sits quietly. But I know you’re secretly cheering in your hearts!

Here’s some good news: Tonight, you don’t have to be quiet. If you’re watching from home, when I say something you like, feel free to stand up and cheer me on—no one has to know!

During these challenging times, kindness and calmness must prevail. So many things are different, in all parts of our lives right now. The changes are always on our minds and in our hearts. We miss what was comfortable, and we don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like being apart, and we long for the day when we can come together again. We are social people, and we are meant to be together. The separation and the absence remind us of what has been lost. It’s a heavy burden to carry.

More than 5,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19, including Senator Ben Chafin, from Russell County in Southwest Virginia. He was my friend, and I miss him. Whether on the Senate floor or in my office, his presence always brightened my day.

The stories around his initials, A B C, always were entertaining. I hope that fond memories of Ben will help his family through these difficult times. I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to honor Ben, and everyone who has lost their lives to COVID-19.

We’ve all experienced loss this year, and it has made us all stop, and ask ourselves some basic questions: What’s really important? What do I believe in? Am I taking actions that reflect my values? These are some of the most fundamental questions of life.

We need to ask these questions as a Commonwealth too, and that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight. We need to talk about who we are as a state, what we believe in, and the actions we’re taking to live out our values.

I want you to know that my heart is filled with optimism and hope when I think about this. Because while we have just come through a tough year that brought everyone pain and sacrifice, I’ve seen something remarkable.

Over and over again, I have seen you taking care of one another. I’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors. People like Anthony Gaskin, a UPS driver in Chester. He has been delivering packages for 16 years, delivering more than 180 packages a day—always with a smile.  Patti Friedman lives on his route, and she organized her neighbors to thank Anthony.

So one day, as Anthony drove down the street, he saw his route lined with people to thank him with signs and cheers.  Patti said she did it "to show gratitude and appreciation for simple acts of kindness on his part.” When Anthony saw the response, he got emotional. He said, “I was in shock. My heart was overjoyed. In the world, regardless of what’s going on … people still genuinely care.”

Or Emily, who is a nurse who lives in Southwest Virginia, who spoke to us about caring for patients in their dying hours. How painful it is to care for them and how dangerous this virus is. She had the courage to share her story and empathy to care for people who are sick. There are thousands more like her who are health care heroes across our Commonwealth.

Or Katie Gaylord, a school counselor in Williamsburg, who created a T-shirt that said, “Virginia is for Kindness.” She did it to raise money for the local food bank. When people asked why, she said, “when we help someone ... you feel more connected to each other, and I think we feel less afraid.”

Or our National Guard members, who have their own jobs and lives, but have spent months working to help with our pandemic response, helping with testing and—soon—vaccinations.

Here’s my favorite example: the Virginia State Troopers who protected the Capitol of the United States during the insurrection last week. When the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and the leaders of Congress said to me, “send help fast”—these men and women dropped everything and raced to defend our country’s temple of democracy. Our Guard members went there too.

While others hesitated, Virginians were first on the scene. It made me proud to see that line of State Police cars racing across the 14th Street Bridge. Senator Tim Kaine told me that when all 100 senators were evacuated to a secure location during the insurrection, they saw TV footage of Virginia troopers entering the Capitol, and they cheered them on, knowing help was on the way.

But sadly, many were injured because of the coup attempt, and two Virginians died. They were officers in the United States Capitol Police. Please join me in a moment of silence for Officer Brian Sicknick and Officer Howard Liebengood.

While the fact that our help was needed is terrible, I am proud we were able to help avert more tragedy. There is nothing to celebrate about the fact that our nation needed help—especially to defend our Capitol from fellow Americans—but we can all be proud that Virginia stepped up.

That’s what Virginians do. That’s what service means. And this is what it means to live out our values. And that’s how I know—with all my heart and all my soul—that we will get through this pandemic: It’s because of our limitless ability to care for one another. We are one Virginia.

These stories inspire me, and I want you to know that your government is following your lead—taking action to help people. And we’re going to move even faster in this new year.

When we met a year ago, before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, we met in a spirit of celebration. We celebrated new leadership, and the first women to lead the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia. Congratulations again to Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and President Pro Tem Louise Lucas. What a difference their leadership has made.

Together, we embarked on a path that was more progressive and forward-looking than ever before. We took these steps because voters sent us here to take action. So we did.

We passed landmark clean energy legislation.

We passed common-sense gun safety measures.

We raised the minimum wage.

We advanced important criminal justice reforms, such as raising the felony larceny threshold, and ending the practice of taking away someone’s driver’s license because they couldn’t pay court fees. 

We took important steps forward in treating everyone with dignity and respect, becoming the first Southern state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and requiring schools to develop plans for transgender students. 

We repealed nearly 100 instances of racist and discriminatory language from our law books. 

These actions were about living out our values. Virginia is a large and diverse state that welcomes everyone, and we took action to demonstrate that.

We ended last year’s winter session on a high note, having delivered on the commitments we made to you. We were just finishing this historic session when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. It seemed as though one minute we were living our normal lives, and the next those lives were literally turned upside down. Over the months that followed, we all took a lot of hard actions, to protect ourselves, our families, and each other.

I want to thank the General Assembly, our local elected officials across the Commonwealth, and you, Virginia—especially the nurses, doctors, first responders, and volunteers. Nothing about this has been easy.

In the ten months since then, we have learned a lot about this virus. Today, we have more tools to fight it. 

We now have the best tool: vaccines. As a doctor, I can tell you the incredible effort and cooperation it took to develop these vaccines. It shows us what we can do when people work together for the common good. 

The vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. The vaccines, and continuing to follow the guidelines on masks, distancing, and hand washing. Tonight, Virginia, I urge you to get vaccinated when your turn comes. I will do it, and so will my family. 

This is how we get back to a new normal. This is how we reopen our schools and rebuild our economy: through the vaccine. It is the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. And while it is a massive undertaking, and it will take some months to get to everyone, I promise: your turn is coming, and soon.

Here’s where we are. According to the CDC, only nine states have given more doses than Virginia, and each of those states is larger than we are. We are currently receiving initial shipments of about 110,000 vaccine doses each week for Virginia—and we expect to be receiving more soon.

I appreciate the hospitals, the local health departments, and everyone working to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. I’ve set a goal of ramping up to 25,000 vaccinations per day as soon as possible.

Just last week, I called on our federal partners to release all the doses they have. I am pleased that the incoming Biden administration has agreed to do that, and the outgoing administration has agreed as well.

Also yesterday, they authorized states to go ahead and start vaccinating people age 65 and up. We’ll be moving forward with that quickly—I’ll be talking to local health directors and hospitals tomorrow about how we make this happen.

The teams are moving fast. This week some local health districts began vaccinating older people and essential workers like our teachers, our front line workers, law enforcement, and more. Vaccinating teachers and other K-12 staff is an important step forward in getting our schools open—a goal I know we all share.

I’m counting on the people who work in our public health departments to push hard to get this done. You’re not alone. We’re all with you. We have partners in hospitals, businesses, colleges, and universities—everyone in Virginia is ready and willing to help.

Getting everyone vaccinated is the largest deployment of volunteers that we have ever seen, and we need you to help. The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps is already training new volunteer vaccinators. If you have medical experience, you’re a retired doctor or nurse, or you just want to help with the logistics, please reach out to that program.

That’s a message we’ve heard over and over again this past year, in every part of our country: I want to help, and let’s get moving. People sent a clear message throughout the year: Move faster. People are no longer willing to wait for change, and they expect their public officials to act. And this year, we will continue taking actions to help people.

When my team and I wrote the budget that I proposed last month, we focused on two things: helping Virginians who are hurting because of this pandemic, and laying the groundwork to help the economy rebound.

So let’s start with healthcare, and some good news. Virginia is the only state in the nation where the rate of people without insurance actually dropped from 2018 to 2019. That was the first year we had the Medicaid expansion program in place. And thank goodness we took that action. Ahead of the pandemic, we are seeing vast improvements in health metrics. Hospitals seeing fewer uninsured patients. More new mothers with health coverage in the first year after giving birth. Fewer people with medical debts or with unmet medical needs, and a reduction in health disparities.

When we expanded Medicaid three years ago, we could not have foreseen the pandemic, of course. But the pandemic has proven that was the right decision. I am so grateful that when the crisis came, this safety net was in place. 

Just a few weeks ago, we marked 500,000 Virginians who are covered through the expansion program. That’s half a million Virginians who would feel a lot less secure about their health during this pandemic if they were uninsured. I want to thank everyone who came together in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to get this done. It was the right thing to do.

Now it’s time to take further steps, because the pandemic has highlighted the need to modernize the way we fund public health in Virginia. Here’s the issue. In Virginia, both the state and local governments have a role in operating our public health departments. That takes money, of course, but we allocate state money to cities and counties using an outdated formula, written a generation ago. Virginia’s population has nearly doubled since then, and we’ve grown into a much more urban and suburban state.

But the funding plan has stayed the same. In 2021, we’re funding public health like it’s 1980. In lots of places, local communities are paying more than their fair share, because the state is paying less than it should. Counties that thrived a generation ago with the coal economy are now hurting. They’re paying more to the state each year for basic health services like opioid recovery, even as their population decreases.

At the same time, urban areas such as Richmond and Petersburg are paying more too, even as their tax base has changed. This is fundamentally inequitable and wrong. The formula should have been updated all along. But it wasn’t, and that has created winners and losers.

So this year, we’re taking action. I want to thank Delegate Lamont Bagby for sponsoring legislation to address this. We’ll make sure the localities that need more resources get them, and no one will get less. It’s the right thing to do, and now is the time to act.

Our budget proposal also includes funding for doula services for pregnant women. Doulas provide non-clinical support to pregnant women through their pregnancy and after they give birth, and multiple studies show they improve health outcomes for the mother and the baby. I’m grateful to Delegates Cia Price and Lashcrese Aird for their advocacy on this issue. We know it means a better outcome for mothers and babies. And we’re providing dollars to increase access to long-acting reversible contraceptives.

These actions help women control their own reproductive decisions. There is no excuse that a group of legislators, most of whom are men, should be telling women what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their bodies.

But I am glad that more and more women are entering our legislature—a record number of women are serving in our General Assembly now, and I hope that number will only go up.

It’s also time to help people by taking more action on affordable housing. We have made record investments in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund that helps make more affordable housing available, and the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program has put almost $54 million into helping people make their rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic. That program has helped nearly 17,000 families so far.

We’ve also worked to put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for those having trouble paying their rent or mortgage. Now, we need to take action to do more. So we have proposed $25 million new dollars to the trust fund. This record is more than we have ever invested in helping make sure people have stable housing, and we need to get it done this session.

We need to take action to protect jobs, especially in small businesses. We all know our small businesses need a lot of help to make it through the pandemic—the restaurants, the small gyms, the barber shops and thousands of other small businesses that are struggling to keep the doors open.

The Rebuild VA program has given nearly $120 million in grants to more than 2,500 Virginia small businesses and nonprofits, to help them get through this. Two thirds of those grants have gone to businesses that are minority, woman, or veteran owned. More than $40 million has gone to businesses in low-income areas. That money was exhausted fast, but the need is huge. This need won’t be around forever, but for now, it’s urgent.

So I’m proposing to use revenue from the so-called “gray machines” to help small businesses. These gaming machines are in convenience stores, truck stops, and restaurants across Virginia. They bring in a lot of money—upwards of $90 to $100 million in revenue from these taxes.

Last special session we did the right thing and earmarked this money for education in the event that revenues slipped. Well, they didn’t slip, and this money can once again be used for its original purpose—to help our small businesses. That could double the number of small employers who get help, and for many, that could mean surviving instead of going under.

The need is great. Rebuild VA has helped non-profits like the Blue Ridge Discovery Center in Troutdale, restaurants like the Alpine Chef Restaurant in Fredericksburg, and small businesses like the Richmond barber shop A Cut 2 Perfection. More businesses are in line for help, so we need to take action now.

We also need to take action on broadband. Broadband is as critical now as electricity was in the last century. Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office. And the pandemic has highlighted how urgent this is—for workers, for businesses, for students, for telehealth. 

For the past ten months, you have been fortunate if you have a job that can be done from home, and access to a fast Internet connection to make your meetings easier and your child’s virtual education possible. But if you have a job that can’t be done remotely, or you live an area where Internet access is out of reach, then you’ve had a very different experience during this pandemic. You’ve put on a mask and crossed your fingers when you go to work. You’ve driven your child to the public library parking lot so she can get a good enough Internet signal to do her school work. 

Make no mistake, this is about equity. In 2018, we estimated that 660,000 Virginians didn’t have access to broadband. Since then, we’ve cut that number by 20 percent with projects that connected more than 130,000 homes and businesses. And we are far from finished. My budget provides $50 million in each year to maintain our historic level of funding for broadband. We need to get it done.

We need to take action on education. I know that everyone wants to get our schools open and our students back into their desks, and to do it safely. So do I. So we are taking action. Just yesterday, I visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, where teachers and school staff were getting their COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinating teachers is just one way we’re working toward the shared goal of reopening schools and making sure students are getting the support they need.

Education is the best tool we have to make our Commonwealth a better, more equitable place for everyone. Education helps start our smallest Virginians—our littlest learners—off on the right foot. It trains workers for new jobs. And when we do it right, it gives everyone access to opportunity to build the life they want.

In this pandemic, it’s especially important that we continue to invest in education, so that when it’s over, we’re not just in a position to rebuild—we already have a strong foundation, one built not on sand, but on solid rock.

That’s why we’re making sure schools don’t suffer harm from the challenges of this school year. That means putting $500 million into schools to make sure they don’t lose funding from drops in enrollment this year. We’ve proposed more than $26 million to increase the number of school counselors. We also put additional dollars into providing more needed resources for English Language Learners.

Students need counselors now more than ever. School staff and teachers have made great sacrifices this year, and I thank them. But our children have been champions, and I want to thank them as well. They’ve been through a lot these past ten months. They’ve made sacrifices and endured a lot of change. We are all grateful.

Investing in education includes giving teachers a pay bonus. We were all proud in 2018 to give our teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years. Last year, I proposed an additional three percent pay raise. That had to be cut from the budget last year. When I first proposed the bonus for teachers a few weeks ago, I said that if revenues improve enough this month, we should convert that one-time bonus into a permanent raise. Well, tonight I have good news: revenues look good, and we’re going to have more money than we thought. We need to make this teacher bonus a raise, and make it more than two percent. I look forward to working with you all to get that done.

For children who have not yet entered kindergarten, I’m proposing a pilot program to provide three-year-olds access to early childhood education programs, and grants to address pay equity for early childhood educators. We want every child to enter kindergarten ready to learn, and to provide equal opportunities to underserved children. I want to thank my wife Pam, the First Lady, for her work and leadership on early childhood education.

To help people get the skills training or education they need, particularly if they’re out of work because of the pandemic, my budget invests in the G3 program—Get skilled, get a job, give back. That program helps people get tuition-free job skills training in high-need fields, through our community colleges—and provides the financial aid to help them do it.

We also allocated $30 million more for financial aid at public colleges and universities across our Commonwealth, and we’ll increase Tuition Assistance Grants for students at private institutions to $4,000. This helps a wide range of schools, like Hampton University, Virginia Union, and Marymount University—recently designated as the first Hispanic-serving institution in Virginia.

We’re also going to propose additional tuition assistance for our National Guard members. I sat down with Major General Timothy Williams last week, and told him how grateful I am for the work of the Guard. He said one thing we can do to help those Guard members is to provide more access to an affordable education. Our Guard members have been a huge support with the pandemic and now with the threats of violence in Washington, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this done.

We have also proposed additional assistance for our public historically black colleges and universities, Virginia State University and Norfolk State University, which have long been underfunded.

While Virginia is not immune to the economic impacts of the pandemic, we’re doing better than many states. They’ve had to lay off workers, cut services, and borrow money to cover operating costs. But here, our finances are solid, and the actions we have taken have kept our triple-A bond rating secure.

And while those other states are borrowing money or raiding their retirement plans, we’re doing the opposite. Our budget proposes investing $100 million in our retirement plan for public school teachers, the state employee health insurance credit program, and benefits for our first responders through the Line of Duty Act. This is sound fiscal policy, and it means more security for our public servants.

We need to take action to protect the outdoors. The pandemic has reminded us of this too. From the coast to the mountains, Virginia is simply a beautiful state, including our 40 amazing state parks. We’re committed to keeping it that way, and to helping Virginians—and visitors—enjoy all the natural beauty we have to offer.That’s why my budget includes $5 million to develop more regional trails, specifically those more than 35 miles long.

Anyone who lives near the Virginia Capital Trail here in Richmond, or the Virginia Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia, knows that they are great assets to a community. They’re places for locals to walk or ride bicycles, and they attract visitors—and visitor dollars—from all over.

The pandemic has shown us how important it is to be able to get outside. More trails means more opportunity to enjoy nature. I want to thank the General Assembly’s Outdoor Recreation Caucus, and Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate David Bulova, for their work to put a spotlight on outdoors activities.

We’re also putting nearly $12 million into water quality, air quality, and land conservation initiatives at natural resources agencies. This includes DEQ staffing to make sure the permitting process is more robust and thorough. These are important investments to ensure that we don’t fall behind in protecting these critical assets, and ensuring that DEQ can continue to protect our natural areas.

And we’re investing in making it easier to move around the Commonwealth. Our budget invests $50 million in right-of-way to open up more rail service into the Roanoke area. This has been a priority for a generation. We know it’s needed: in the past decade, Amtrak ridership along the U.S. 29 I-81 corridor has increased 77 percent. And the current Roanoke train is the only Amtrak service in Virginia that covers 100 percent of its operating costs through ticket sales. So we need this, and it’s time we do it.

We also need to keep taking action to treat people more equitably. That starts with humility and forgiveness. Those are two words we don’t hear much these days, but they matter. Humility means acknowledging that we may have done wrong ourselves sometimes. We are all human. Forgiveness is welcoming other people back after they have done wrong. We have begun that journey, and we must keep taking action.

If you break the law in Virginia, you’ll be punished. But right now, part of the punishment follows you for the rest of your life—even after you’ve paid your debt to society. You lose your civil rights—like the right to vote—and you don’t get them back unless the governor acts to give them back. 

Virginia is one of just a few remaining states where, if you have a felony conviction, someone has to act to restore your civil rights to vote or run for office. It’s not automatic, but it should be. I’ve made it a priority, restoring civil rights for more than 40,000 people, and I have pardoned more Virginians than any Governor in our Commonwealth’s history. But that shouldn’t be up to one person, and you shouldn’t have to ask for your basic civil rights to be restored.

So I’m proposing to change Virginia’s constitution to make that process automatic. If we want people to return to their communities and participate in society, we need to welcome them back fully. It’s wrong to keep punishing people forever. This is the right thing to do.

It will take a constitutional amendment, and that will take two sessions, so I’m calling tonight on the folks in the General Assembly now, and the people who want to be in my position and in the General Assembly next year, to commit to doing it.

It’s also time to acknowledge ways that our criminal justice system treats different people unfairly. Marijuana is a great example. We know that while White people and Black people use marijuana at similar rates, Black people are three and a half times more likely to be charged with a crime for it. And they’re almost four times as likely to be convicted.

That happens because that’s how the system was set up generations ago. In fact, one of the early leaders of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency was clear that marijuana laws should be written explicitly to target people of color. And so they were, and they’ve been targeting people for years.

It’s time to join 16 other states and make marijuana legal, and end the current system rooted in inequity. We’ve done the research, and we can do this the right way, leading with social equity, public health, and public safety. Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone.

Marijuana has become a cash crop that rivals tobacco—even here in Virginia. But as an illegal crop, it makes no money for Virginia. By legalizing and taxing it, we can use the revenue to help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws. 

For example, just half of the potential annual revenue could pay for two years of quality Pre-K to every one of Virginia's most vulnerable three- and four-year-olds—children who deserve the best start in life.

Rooting out inequities includes expunging the records of people who were convicted of this and certain other crimes in the past. It’s time to act, during this session, to have the robust debate about how to best conduct the process of expunging people’s records. This will make our system more just and equal, and it needs action this session.

Forgiveness is important. But when we all agree that a crime deserves the strongest punishment we can give, it’s still vital to make sure our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably.

We know the death penalty doesn’t do that. But make no mistake—if you commit the most heinous crimes, you should spend the rest of your days in prison. But here are the facts about the death penalty. Virginia has executed more people than any other state—more than 1,300 people. And here’s another truth: a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white, than when the victim is Black.  

Now, some of that is because Virginia is an old state. 400 years of history. But it’s also true that we’re near the top of the list in the modern era too, since federal law allowed executions to resume in the 1970s, after a long moratorium.

Over that time, most countries in the world have turned away from capital punishment. So what parts of the world continue to use capital punishment? Here’s a list, in order: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. But that’s changing. In the U.S., 22 states have said, no longer will the state take a life, even when someone has killed another. There are a lot of reasons. It doesn’t work as a deterrent. It’s expensive. And the drug companies refuse to supply the lethal chemicals.

There’s another important reason: What if the system gets it wrong? If you think it can’t happen, you’re wrong. It can happen, and it has happened, here in Virginia.

Remember the case of Earl Washington. In 1984, he was convicted of capital murder. He spent 18 years in prison in Virginia, including 9 ½ of them on death row. But he didn’t do it.

By the early 2000s, the technology behind DNA evidence showed that he was innocent. In the time it took to get the right people to look at that evidence, this innocent man came within nine days of being executed. Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot do this. If ten days had passed, we would ask ourselves today—How did Virginia execute an innocent man? For all of these reasons, the death penalty is much less common in Virginia than before. Today, only two people are on death row. It’s time to change the law, and end the death penalty in Virginia. We’re taking these actions because we value people, and because we believe in treating people equitably. That matters in policy, and it matters in symbols.

No accounting of the state of our Commonwealth in 2021 would be complete without examining how we are moving away from the burden of our past. Virginia’s history is deeply complicated, and progress has not come without struggle. The Lost Cause has had a long reach here. For 150 years, the Confederate insurrection against the United States has been celebrated in Virginia.

We started changing that last year—ending holidays that celebrate Confederate leaders, giving cities and counties the right to remove monuments, and changing the way that Virginia represents itself in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

It was important progress, and throughout the year, we heard the call to move faster. The people said, it’s past time for these monuments, these echoes of revisionist history, to come down. 

We saw that most clearly in our capital city, and Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will soon come down. But that’s just a first step. Now, it’s time to engage the community and ask, what’s next?

So I have proposed a plan to help our capital city reimagine what the famous Monument Avenue should look like, as Virginia consigns the Confederate cause to the dustbin of history. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the world’s leading museums, and is an ideal partner in this work.

It’s an important step in showing who we are and what we value. Another important step is in another part of our capital city. It’s just outside the windows of this room, at the bottom of the hill, just a few blocks from where I’m standing.

Virginians operated one of the country’s largest slave-trading markets there in the early days of this country. In time, it would become one of the biggest—second only to New Orleans. It was a place where Virginians would sell men, women, and children for profit.

That’s an important part of our history. It’s not pretty, but it’s part of who we are. People need to know about it, and children need to learn about it. That’s hard, because right now there are just a few small plaques around the area. It’s not enough. So I have proposed to work with the city of Richmond and Mayor Levar Stoney to preserve the site known as the Devil’s Half-Acre, or Lumpkin’s Jail, and the African Burial Ground nearby. This project will turn this sacred ground into a heritage site that will tell the story of slavery and the people who experienced it. I want to thank Delegate Delores McQuinn for her advocacy on behalf of this project.

North of here, along the Potomac River, we will restore gravestones that were taken from Columbian Harmony Cemetery, an historic African American burial ground in D.C. People buried there included one of D.C.’s first Black policemen; many Black Union Army veterans; Elizabeth Keckley, confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln; two sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass; and Phillip Reid, who helped create the statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol dome.

In the 1960s, the cemetery was moved to make way for commercial development. The grave markers were dumped or sold for scrap stone, a dehumanizing act—and that was part of the goal. Today, they are being used as “riprap”—rocks to protect erosion on the Potomac River. It’s time to change this, and I thank Senator Richard Stuart for his leadership on this issue.

And in our nation’s Capitol, we have removed the Confederate statue that represented Virginia for more than a century. Soon, civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns—who fought to right the wrongs of racism—will represent Virginia there. That is thanks in large part to the work of Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Jeion Ward. They told me this work was one of the most important experiences of their legislative career. Thanks are also due to Congressman Donald McEachin and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton.

Let’s get that done this year, together. We honor Barbara Johns for her work to integrate public schools in Virginia.

But at the same time, Virginia also continues to celebrate a man who worked against integration—Democrat Harry Byrd, the architect of Massive Resistance, which closed public schools to children like Barbara Johns. It’s time to stop this celebration too, and remove this monument from Capitol Square.

One week from now, this nation will inaugurate our next President, Joe Biden.

And just one week ago, a mob of domestic terrorists stormed our nation’s capital. They were egged on by conspiracy theories and lies from a president who could not accept losing. Their goal was simple: overturn a legal and fair election. Those were scenes I don’t believe any of us ever expected to see in our lifetime. But none of that “just happened.” None of it was an accident, and nothing was spontaneous. Those who want a government that serves only themselves don’t care about democracy. And they will always come with violence to try to end it.

Tonight I say to every elected official in Virginia, you can be part of our democratic institutions, or you can use falsehoods to try to destroy them, but you can’t do both. Words have consequences. Inflammatory rhetoric is dangerous. This is not a game.

When elected leaders purposely reject facts and truth, and fan the flames of conspiracy, all in pursuit of power, they are taking dangerous steps. We have now seen where those steps can lead. God forbid we see anything worse.

We have a duty to tell the truth. Voters deserve the truth, even when it’s hard to hear—not lies that will comfort them. Because as we saw last week, lies do not quell outrage. They encourage it. And that creates real damage. Americans are better than this, and I pray that we all can summon the better angels of our nature in this new year.

I also pray that we take action. People are hurting, and they sent us here to do a job. They are counting on us. We can do a great deal of good this session. I’m excited to get to work with all of you, so we can keep making progress in, and for, this Commonwealth.

A wise man once wrote, “adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” The adversity of the past ten months has revealed a strong, resilient Virginia.

Virginians have lost a great deal—jobs, livelihoods, and unfortunately, loved ones. But we are still here. We are poised and ready to rebound. We have laid a strong foundation for ourselves: sustaining government services that you rely on, using federal pandemic funds to help our neighbors get through this, making targeted investments in our long-term success. 

We are moving past the burden of our history, taking action to shape a Virginia that reflects who we are and what we value. We step into this new year with a lot of hope—that the vaccines will end this pandemic, that we can get back to normal life, and that we can return to a time when government was just part of the background noise of daily life, not the top headlines. 

But I hope we don’t just move back to those times when this crisis is over. I hope we move forward with a new understanding of what’s important. Things like hugging people, sending our children off to school every day, work lunches, concerts, and all the experiences that we miss. We need to remember that we care about each other.

We have learned a lot in this past year, but the main thing is that we are all connected. What I do affects you, and what you do affects me. We are one Virginia, and we need to keep taking care of each other.

I am proud of the state of our Commonwealth, and the foundation we have built to get through this pandemic and recover in a way that is equitable and fair. And I am proud of you, Virginia. You have made this the greatest state in the greatest nation in the world. And together, we are shaping a Virginia that once again leads the nation. So now, let’s get to work!

Thank you all, and may God bless our country and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Governor Northam Announces New Steps to Accelerate COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program and accelerate the pace of vaccinations across Virginia.

Governor Northam is taking the following steps to help providers increase the rate of vaccinations as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible:

  1. Vaccination goal. Governor Northam set an initial goal of vaccinating 25,000 Virginians each day when supply allows.
  2. ‘Use it or lose it’ model. Medical facilities will be required to put the vaccine they receive into arms as soon as possible, or risk having future vaccine allotments reduced.
  3. Danny T.K. Avula to lead vaccination efforts in Virginia. Governor Northam appointed Dr. Avula, who serves as director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments to coordinate work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals, and private providers.
  4. Expanded priority groups. Governor Northam announced that K-12 teachers and child care workers will be among the next priority groups to receive vaccinations after Group A, and outlined the populations that will be included in Groups B and C.
  5. Elevating the Virginia National Guard. As the Commonwealth receives more doses, the Virginia National Guard will provide logistical support and help local health departments will administering vaccines.

“Getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move our Commonwealth forward,” said Governor Northam. “By setting clear goals and appointing Dr. Avula to spearhead our vaccination program, we will have a clear vision of how this effort—the largest public vaccination campaign in modern history—is progressing. I plan to get vaccinated when my turn comes, and I encourage Virginians to do the same.”

Governor Northam also announced the next priority populations to receive vaccinations, based in part on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations form the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The Virginia Department of Health is developing an online portal to help people understand how to register to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Group B includes frontline essential workers in specific industries, K-12 teachers and staff, childcare providers, adults age 75 and older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps. Additional information about Group B, which is expected to start near the end of January, is available here.

Group C includes other essential workers, adults age 65 and older, and people age 16-64 with certain medical conditions or disabilities that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Additional information about Group C is available here.

Governor Northam Announces Advisory Committee on Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the leadership and members of a new advisory committee charged with making recommendations on culturally relevant and inclusive education practices in Virginia’s public schools.

The Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee, which will hold its first meeting today, Wednesday, January 6, was established under House Bill 916, sponsored by Delegate Mark D. Sickles, and Senate Bill 853, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Boysko during the 2020 General Assembly session.

The legislation directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to select the committee’s members, and tasked the advisory panel with reporting its recommendations to Governor Northam, the Board of Education, and the Chairs of the House Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Education and Health, by July 1, 2021.

“Inclusive and culturally relevant learning environments are vital to creating equitable pathways to success for all Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “The work of this committee will advance our ongoing efforts to tell the complete and accurate story of Virginia’s complex past, improve our history standards, and give educators opportunities to engage in important conversations and lessons with their students.”

“When we teach an honest narrative of our past, students better understand their place in history and are equipped to work toward a better society,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This committee will build on the work of the Commission on African American History Education to ensure the content taught in Virginia classrooms is accurate and inclusive of perspectives which have been historically marginalized.”

The committee will be led by three co-chairs: Senator Boysko, Arlington County Superintendent and Board of Education Member Francisco Durán, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education Dean Andrew Daire.

Other committee members are as follows:

  • Chief Ken Adams, Virginia Tribal Education Consortium, Chief Emeritus, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe
  • Kathryn Adkins, High School History Teacher, Henry County Public Schools 
  • Elena Baum, Director, Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater
  • Seyoum Berhe, State Refugee Coordinator, Department of Social Services, Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Kristin Bolam, Elementary School Principal, York County Public Schools 
  • Maria Burgos, Supervisor of Global Learning and Culturally Responsive Instruction, Prince William County Public Schools and Member, African American History Education Commission
  • Angela Byrd-Wright, Mathematics Curriculum Leader, Hampton City Public Schools
  • Steven H. Cregger, Elementary School Art Teacher, Washington County Public Schools 
  • Amaarah DeCuir, Professor, American University School of Education
  • Colleen Eddy, History and Social Science Content Coordinator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Veleka S. Gatling, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University
  • Rachel Gomez, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education
  • Jennifer Goss, Teacher, Staunton City Public Schools; Teacher Fellow, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Alfred J. Lerner Fellow, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous 
  • Tameshia Grimes, Superintendent, Nottoway County Public Schools and Member, African American Superintendents Advisory Council 
  • Austin Houck, Student, University of Virginia and LGBTQ+ Activist, Homoglobin 
  • Hyun Lee, Member, Virginia Asian Advisory Board and Adjunct Professor, IGlobal University
  • Steve Legawiec, Coordinator of Social Studies, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
  • Divya Lobo, Student, Dominion High School and the Academy for Engineering and Technology
  • Deborah March, Division Administrator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Herbert Monroe, Assistant Superintendent, Caroline County Public Schools 
  • Jared A. Morris, Division Curriculum Innovation Lead, Madison County Public Schools 
  • Jessica Morris, Director of Special Education, Giles County Public Schools 
  • Monica Motley, Member, Virginia African American Advisory Board
  • Kirk Moyers, Social Studies Coordinator, Harrisonburg City Public Schools and Co-Chair, Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium
  • Brenda Muse, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Franklin County Public Schools 
  • Ilham Nasser, Senior Researcher and Director, International Institute of Islamic Thought
  • Megan de Nobriga, Director of Special Education, Bristol Virginia Public Schools
  • Carla Okouchi, Education Subcommittee Chair, Virginia Asian Advisory Board
  • Monica Robinson, K-12 Academic Support Programs Coordinator, Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • Lyons Sanchezconcha, Spanish Teacher, Richmond Public Schools and Member, Virginia Latino Advisory Board
  • Jennifer Santiago, Director of Equity and Excellence, Falls Church City Public Schools 
  • Patty Smith, English Teacher, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology
  • Monica Starkweather, ESL Teacher, New Kent County Public Schools and Member, Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Ghassan Tarazi, Independent Consultant; Member, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights; and Retired, Fairfax County Public Schools
  • The Honorable Schuyler VanValkenburg, House of Delegates and High School History Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools 
  • Emma Violand-Sanchez, Retired Administrator, Arlington County Public Schools 
  • Carolyn Waters, ESL Teacher, Chesterfield County Public Schools 
  • Thelma Williams-Tunstall, Retired Content Specialist, Richmond Public Schools

Specifically, the Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Practices Committee will develop:

  • Recommendations to VDOE for consideration by the Board of Education during the 2021-2022 review of the History and Social Science Standards of Learning;
  • Recommendations for the development of Board of Education guidelines for local school division staff, including teachers and school counselors, on age-appropriate anti-bias education for students; and
  • Recommendations on professional development for school personnel related to culturally relevant and inclusive education practices, including, but not be limited to, considerations for:
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher preparation programs; and
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher licensure and professional development requirements for licensure renewal.

“The instructional, policy and equity staff of the department and I look forward to supporting the committee during the next six months,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to all of the educators and community leaders who graciously agreed to make this substantial commitment of their time and expertise to helping the commonwealth develop standards, practices, policies, and school cultures that support all learners.” 

The committee’s first meeting will take place virtually on Wednesday, January 6 and will be livestreamed on the VDOE You Tube channel, beginning at 2 p.m.

The agenda includes an opportunity for public comment. Members of the public who wish to comment must register in advance online. Speakers will be limited to two minutes each to ensure adequate time for all registered speakers to provide public comment.

Additional information about the committee and meeting materials can be found on the Virginia is for Learners website.

Governor Northam Statement on Violence at United States Capitol

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement today after he deployed members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police to respond to events in Washington, D.C.

“I have been working all afternoon and this evening with leaders in Washington D.C., the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Police, and others in the federal government.

“The violence we saw at the U.S. Capitol today was nothing short of an armed insurrection and a humiliating assault on American democracy. The President incited this mob with his refusal to accept the lawful results of a fair and secure election. And the members of Congress who have enabled him—and who continue to encourage and praise his efforts—bear just as much responsibility.

“This did not come about overnight. When elected leaders purposefully reject facts and fan the flames of conspiracy theories, all in pursuit of power, they are taking dangerous steps. And now we are seeing where those steps can lead. God forbid we experience anything worse.

“I continue to pray for the safety of every member of the House and Senate, all the staff, the journalists, everyone who works in the Capitol. And I commend the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police for quickly stepping up in this time of great need.

“Let me be clear: Virginia will be there for as long as it takes to protect our nation’s capital and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.”

Governor Northam Announces 2020 Governor’s Honor Awards Recipients

Thirty-nine state employees recognized during virtual broadcast

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam today announced the recipients of the 2020 Governor’s Honor Awards during a virtual broadcast. The annual award program has 11 categories and recognizes state employees who have demonstrated exemplary service and commitment to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“This has been a challenging year for everyone, but our state employees continue to reach beyond themselves to improve the lives of their fellow Virginians every day,” said Governor Northam. “Ensuring state government delivers high-quality services, and does so efficiently, largely depends on the hardworking, competent, and professional workforce that diligently responds to the needs of the people they serve. I am pleased to recognize these outstanding individuals for demonstrating just how important and purpose-driven public service really is, and for making a difference in communities across our Commonwealth.”

“I am so proud of our state employees and their tremendous accomplishments,” said Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner. “These awards showcase the spirit of our employees, whether they are working as champions for change, providing innovative services, helping reduce the cost of government, or showing their commitment to our shared values of diversity, inclusion, and outreach to the communities we serve.”

A full list of award winners is available here.

Governor Northam Signs “Breonna’s Law”

Virginia is the first state to ban no-knock search warrants in response to Breonna Taylor’s death

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam ceremonially signed “Breonna’s Law” today. Sponsored by Delegate Lashrecse Aird and Senator Mamie Locke, the law prohibits the use of no-knock search warrants in the Commonwealth. Virginia is the third state in the country to ban this practice—and the first state to do so since the tragic death of Breonna Taylor, 26, who was killed in March during the execution of a no-knock search warrant in her Louisville, Kentucky home.

Governor Northam was joined at the ceremony by Bianca Austin and Tahasha Holloway, Breonna Taylor’s aunts. Also participating was civil rights advocate and attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family of Breonna Taylor in ongoing litigation and has represented the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake.

“Virginia is leading the way on policing reforms like this one, which will make our communities safer and our criminal justice system more fair and equitable,” said Governor Northam. “While nothing can bring back Breonna Taylor, and so many others, we honor them when change laws, when we act to right long-standing wrongs, and when we do the work to make sure more names do not follow theirs.”

Video of the signing ceremony is available here, courtesy of WTVR CBS6, and phots can be found below.

Governor Northam formally signed House Bill 5099 and Senate Bill 5030 on October 28, 2020. This year, Virginia passed sweeping new laws to advance police and criminal justice reform, including reducing the militarization of local policing, strengthening law enforcement training and the decertification process, and limiting the use of neck restraints. Additional information on these measures can be found here.

Governor and First Lady Northam, Cabinet Members Volunteer at Food Banks Across Virginia

Ongoing pandemic has put thousands of Virginia families at risk of food insecurity, increased demand for food banks

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam, First Lady Pamela Northam, and members of the Governor’s Cabinet volunteered at food banks throughout Virginia today, highlighting the critical role food banks are filling for Virginians facing food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Food banks are an important first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia food banks have gone to extraordinary lengths to increase capacity and streamline the distribution of food amid a growing need for their services. Our administration will continue to use a variety of programs and funding to ensure no Virginian goes hungry during this health crisis.”

Governor Northam, along with Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, volunteered at Feeding Southwest Virginia in Abingdon, packing bags with fresh fruit and vegetables to be distributed to people in need across Southwest Virginia. First Lady Northam volunteered at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, and Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dan Carey, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, and Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner volunteered at Feed More in Richmond. Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood volunteered with Congressman Bobby Scott, Congresswoman Elaine Luria, and Mayor Donnie Tuck at the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank in Hampton. A number of state legislators also participated in each event.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased food insecurity across the Commonwealth and as a result, more Virginians are using the services of food banks and other food programs. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 850,000 Virginians, including 250,000 children, did not know where their next meal would come from. Feeding America estimates that the ongoing pandemic could make up to 275,000 more Virginians food insecure.

“We rely heavily on volunteers to get donated food items packaged in a way that we can distribute it to our local partner agencies,” said President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia Pamela Irvine. “Volunteers are the backbone of our organization, and we welcome everyone who wants to come help provide this critical service in our community.”

The Federation of Virginia Food Banks operates seven regional Feeding America food banks across the Commonwealth that distribute food to partners within their regions. To support Virginia food banks or to learn more about volunteer opportunities, please visit vafoodbanks.org.

In July, the Commonwealth committed an initial $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to help launch a new statewide initiative with Sentara Healthcare, Truist, and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks called the “We Care” COVID-19 Virginia Emergency Food Support Plan, providing approximately 100,000 food boxes to Virginia families.

Earlier this month, Governor Northam allocated $7 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to help Virginia food banks to continue to provide food to Virginians who need it. This funding is in addition to $650,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to support food bank services. In October, Governor Northam and the Children’s Cabinet released the Virginia Roadmap to End Hunger, a set of goals and strategies to prioritize food security during the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19 and beyond.

Photos from Wednesday’s (November 30, 2020) events are included below.

Governor Northam Hosts 343rd Annual Indian Tax Tribute Ceremony, Commemorates Native American Heritage Month in Virginia

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today hosted a small delegation from the Mattaponi Indian Tribe and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe at the Executive Mansion in Richmond for the 343rd annual Indian tax tribute ceremony. This follows a proclamation issued by the Governor earlier this month designating November as Native American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Indian tax tribute ceremony dates back to 1677 with the signing of the Treaty of Middle Plantation between a group of tribes and the Virginia Corporation—the predecessor to the Commonwealth of Virginia—establishing the first reservations in the United States. Each year, the chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes honor the spirit of the treaty with a symbolic tax of wild game and hand-crafted gifts presented to the Governor of Virginia in return for continued possession of their tribal lands. The ceremony is the oldest continuing nation-to-nation ceremony in the country. While song and dance are a central component of the annual event, this year’s ceremony did not include these traditions to protect the health and safety of all participants amid the pandemic. Photos from this year’s ceremony can be found below.

“Virginia’s native people enrich our Commonwealth with their vibrant heritage, traditions, and continuing contributions,” said Governor Northam. “Native American Heritage Month is a celebration of the resilience of our tribal communities, and an opportunity to reflect on how we can better address the unique challenges they face and recommit to cultivating strong government-to-government relations with Virginia’s Indian tribes. Even during these difficult and uncertain times, let us remember that our diverse backgrounds only strengthen the Commonwealth we love.”

Governor Northam also released a video message to mark Native American Heritage Month in Virginia, in which he highlights a portrait from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that was unveiled in the Executive Mansion in 2019 depicting former Chief of the Pamunkey Walter Bradby wearing traditional regalia. The work is by Ethan Brown, one of his descendants.

“Virginia Indians are an integral part of our past, present, and future,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “We are committed to working with Virginia’s Indian tribes to protect the health and vitality of these communities and ensure that Virginia remains an inclusive place for all who call the Commonwealth home.”

Virginia is home to 11 state-recognized Indian tribes, which include the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, Mattaponi Indian Tribe, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Tribe, Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia, Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Seven of these tribes are federally recognized.

In October, Governor Northam designated October 12 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Commonwealth, the first such proclamation in Virginia history. And last year, Governor Northam announced a land acquisition by the Chickahominy Tribe and signed a land trust agreement with the Mattaponi Indian Tribe, two significant actions that help to rectify past wrongs when the Commonwealth allowed their reservation land to be encroached upon and ensure the sustainability of Virginia’s Indian tribes for future generations.

The Virginia Department of Education has instructional resources on the history of Native Americans in the Commonwealth available here. To learn more about Virginia’s Indian Tribes, visit commonwealth.virginia.gov/virginia-indians.

Governor Northam Announces New Statewide Measures to Contain COVID-19

Includes limit of 25 individuals for in-person gatherings, expanded mask mandate, on-site alcohol curfew, and increased enforcement

RICHMOND—As COVID-19 surges in states across the country, Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to mitigate the spread of the virus in Virginia. While the Commonwealth’s case count per capita and positivity rate remain comparatively low, all five health regions are experiencing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests, and hospitalizations.

“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” said Governor Northam. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”

Governor Northam shared a new video to update Virginians on the additional steps the Commonwealth is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which is available here.

The following measures will take effect at midnight on Sunday, November 15:

  • Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
  • Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
  • Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor. 
  • On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart. 

Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly-reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of approximately 1,200 in May. While Southwest Virginia has experienced a spike in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, all five of the Commonwealth’s health regions are currently reporting a positivity rate over five percent. Although hospital capacity remains stable, hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35 percent in the last four weeks.

On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced new contracts with three laboratories as part of the Commonwealth’s OneLabNetwork, which will significantly increase Virginia’s public health testing capacity. Contracts with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk will directly support high-priority outbreak investigations, community testing events, and testing in congregate settings, with a goal of being able to perform 7,000 per day by the end of the year.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five and sixth amended Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven will be made available here

For information about COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

Governor Northam Signs Sweeping New Laws to Reform Policing in Virginia

Measures ban no-knock warrants, strengthen officer decertification process, limit use of neck restraints

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced he has signed new laws that will significantly advance police and criminal justice reform in Virginia. Governor Northam has been working closely with legislators on these measures since early summer, when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor led to a national reckoning on racial bias in policing.

“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Governor Northam. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I am grateful to the legislators and advocates who have worked so hard to make this change happen. Virginia is better, more just, and more equitable with these laws on our books.”

Governor Northam took action on the following bills that reform policing:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5030, sponsored by Senator Locke, omnibus police reform legislation, which incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates:
    • House Bill 5099, sponsored by Delegate Aird, prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing a no-knock search warrant. With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants.
    • House Bill 5049, sponsored by Delegate Helmer, reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. Governor Northam amended this bill to clarify that law enforcement agencies can seek a waiver to use restricted equipment for search and rescue missions.
    • House Bill 5109, sponsored by Delegate Hope, creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. Governor Northam made technical amendments to this bill to align it with Senate Bill 5030.
    • House Bill 5104, sponsored by Delegate Price, mandates law enforcement agencies and jails request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.
    • House Bill 5108, sponsored by Delegate Guzman, expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.
    • House Bill 5051, sponsored by Delegate Simon, strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.
    • House Bill 5069, sponsored by Delegate Carroll Foy, limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.
    • House Bill 5029, sponsored by Delegate McQuinn, requires law enforcement officers intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.
    • House Bill 5045, sponsored by Delegate Delaney, makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” someone they have arrested or detained, an inmate, parolee, probationer, pretrial defendant, or post trial offender, if the officer is in a position of authority over such individual.
  • Governor Northam signed House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, sponsored by Leader Herring and Senator Hashmi, respectively, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.
  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5014, sponsored by Senator Edwards, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers complete crisis intervention training.

Governor Northam also took action on the following bills that make Virginia’s criminal justice system more equitable:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5018, sponsored by Senator Bell, which allows individuals serving a sentence for certain felony offenses who are terminally ill to petition the Parole Board for conditional release.
  • Governor Northam amended House Bill 5148 and Senate Bill 5034, sponsored by Delegate Scott and Senator Boysko, respectively, which allow for increased earned sentencing credits. The Governor proposed a six-month delay to give the Department of Corrections sufficient time to implement this program.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery woke Americans to a longstanding problem that has existed for generations—and we know Virginia is not immune,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “These are transformative bills that will make Virginians’ lives better, and I’m so proud to see them signed into law.”

“Today is about progress,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “After generations of work on this issue, we are finally taking steps to hold police accountable and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It’s a new day in Virginia.”

Governor Northam also signed measures to support COVID-19 relief. A full list of legislation signed by the Governor from the Special Session can be found here.

Governor Northam Invites Small Businesses and Nonprofits to Apply for Up to $100,000 from Rebuild VA Grant Fund

Program allotted additional $30 million, eligibility expanded

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Rebuild VA, a grant program to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, will expand eligibility criteria and increase the amount of grant money businesses receive.

Rebuild VA launched in August with $70 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Governor Northam is directing an additional $30 million to support the expansion of the program. Businesses with less than $10 million in gross revenue or fewer than 250 employees will be eligible under the new criteria, and the maximum grant award will increase from $10,000 to $100,000.

“We started Rebuild VA to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “These changes to the program will ensure that we can provide additional financial assistance to even more Virginians so they can weather this public health crisis and emerge stronger.” 

Rebuild VA will now be open to all types of Virginia small businesses that meet size and other eligibility requirements, from restaurants and summer camps, to farmers and retail shops. Businesses that previously received a Rebuild VA grant will receive a second award correlated with the updated guidelines.

Rebuild VA is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD) in partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. 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 September, the program expanded eligibility to supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the pandemic. 

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 and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.

 

Governor Northam Announces Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance to Build Wind Energy Workforce in Virginia

New College Institute, Centura College, and Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy will join forces to position Virginia as leader in offshore wind industry training

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the formation of Virginia’s first offshore and onshore wind workforce training collaborative, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance. The program will offer industry required certifications that are critical to the operations and long-term maintenance of wind projects. The Governor made the announcement addressing the 2020 Offshore WINDPOWER Virtual Summit hosted by the American Wind Energy Association.

The New College Institute, which will serve as the host institution, is joining forces with Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy to create the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance (the Alliance). This partnership will bring courses certified by the Global Wind Organization and National Center for Construction, Education, and Research wind technician training to onshore and offshore wind projects to Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Building a strong wind energy workforce will give the Commonwealth a significant competitive advantage in attracting onshore and offshore wind projects,” said Governor Northam. “There is currently massive potential for offshore wind up and down the East Coast, and we look forward to working with our partners across Virginia and in neighboring states to grow this industry and reap the tremendous economic benefits for our communities, especially those that have been historically disadvantaged.”

The Alliance represents an important first step in what will be a much larger workforce development effort to support the renewable energy industries in Virginia. Course offerings will span a wide variety of wind energy related disciplines and provide students with a customizable portfolio of training options. Programs will range from specific certifications to a year-long wind turbine technician program that bundles several industry-recognized certifications and prepares students to serve as certified installation technicians, inspectors, and maintenance technicians. The Alliance plans to start offering programs in early 2021. 

“Virginia is actively working to welcome new and expanding business in the offshore and onshore wind sector,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “These companies require a skilled workforce to reach their highest potential, and fortunately, because of our deep maritime roots, that workforce is here.”

The wind industry in the United States continues to experience exponential growth, supporting 120,000 American jobs in 2019, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The AWEA also estimates that the wind industry has invested more than $208 billion in wind projects across the country with the capacity to produce at least 109 gigawatts of power to date. Dominion Energy and Avangrid Renewables have nearly 400 offshore wind turbines under development off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.

“Clean energy jobs in construction and operations will serve as a catalyst for delivering clean, renewable energy to the Commonwealth,” said Josh Bennett, Vice President of Offshore Wind for Dominion Energy. “The formation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance is a critical step to developing a talented offshore wind workforce here in Virginia.”

“As Avangrid Renewables builds the future of clean energy offshore, establishing the workforce that will maintain and operate these projects for decades will be critical,” said Eric Thumma, Interim Vice President of Offshore Wind for Avangrid Renewables. “The Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance will facilitate the development of that workforce and the success of the offshore wind industry.”

“Virginia is taking important steps forward in harnessing the significant economic and job opportunities of American wind power,” said Tom Kiernan, American Wind Energy Association CEO. “Wind turbine technicians are America’s fastest growing career and today’s foresighted move to train additional workers in this field shows that the Commonwealth continues to lead our nation toward a cleaner and more prosperous energy future.”

Located in Martinsville, the New College Institute is a Commonwealth Higher Education Center that partners with industry and academia to provide post-secondary education, industry relevant workforce development and training opportunities in cutting-edge industries.

Centura College has seven education centers across eastern Virginia, including Tidewater Tech, which is home to the largest welding training center in the Commonwealth, with 100 welding booths. Centura is also parent to Aviation Institute of Maintenance, which has 13 aviation technician training centers nationwide and focuses on the repair and maintenance of aircraft including engineering fiberglass and composites.

Located in Norfolk, the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) is the largest training center for United States Coast Guard (USCG) certifications on the East Coast. MAMA is certified by the USCG to teach 90 deck and engineering courses that are critical to the safe operation of the United States commercial fleet.

For more information on the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance, please visit vaoffshorewind.org/workforce.

Governor Northam Directs More Than $220 Million in CARES Act Funding to Virginia’s K-12 Schools

All 132 school districts to receive at least $100,000 for COVID-19 preparedness and response

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a new allocation of more than $220 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to help K-12 public schools in Virginia. The funding will support COVID-19 preparedness and response measures for the 2020–2021 school year, including testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitization, and technology for distance learning. Funding will be distributed to all 132 public school districts using an allocation formula of $175 per pupil based on fall enrollment, with a minimum of $100,000 for each school division. 

“Students, teachers, principals, and parents are going to great lengths to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic amid a new school year, and we must do everything we can to support them,” said Governor Northam. “This additional $220 million in federal funding will give our schools the resources they need to continue operating and provide Virginians with a world-class education, whether safely in person or remotely from home.” 

This funding will supplement $66.8 million provided to Virginia through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and an additional $587.5 million allocated to the Commonwealth in May under the 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.

“This funding is critical as we continue to provide safe, high-quality education for Virginia students,” said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to Governor Northam for his ongoing support of public education—and I can assure you that his funding will immediately be put to good use.”

Governor Northam was one of the first governors in the country to close schools for in-person instruction when COVID-19 began to spread quickly during the 2020 spring semester. Virginia school divisions have been working overtime to adapt during the fall semester, and many continue to face challenges associated with maintaining public health protocols and increased technology needs. In June, the Commonwealth provided guidance for the phased reopening of PreK-12 schools, including guidelines for safely resuming in-person instruction and school activities.

“We applaud Governor Northam’s commitment of more than $220 million in federal CARES Act funding to our public schools,” said Dr. James Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association. “COVID-19 has brought huge new challenges for our students and educators, and members of the Virginia Education Association have made clear throughout the pandemic that additional, necessary services require additional funding. This action will help keep our students safe, healthy, and learning.”

“Virginia’s teachers are heroes, and they are doing an incredible job in the midst of this pandemic,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This funding will help ensure the safety of students, families, and teaching staff, all while providing critical support for our most at-risk students.”

“School divisions, teachers, and families are working overtime for the safety and wellbeing of Virginia’s students,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas. “Whether this funding is used for personal protective equipment, testing, or technology for distance learning, it will help keep our children safe and ensure no student is left behind.”

“This pandemic has disproportionately impacted vulnerable Virginians, including our most at-risk students,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler. “I am grateful to Governor Northam for this additional support, which will increase access to education for all families—including those who need it most.”

More information on the amount of funding allocated to each school division can be found here.

Virginia Raises a Glass to 32nd Annual Wine Month in October

Virtual Harvest Party celebrations held on October 17

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today invited Virginians to celebrate the richness of Virginia wine and raise a glass to the 32nd annual Virginia Wine Month this October. The oldest wine month in the country, the annual celebration occurs as winemakers traditionally harvest grapes off the vine and prepare their next vintages. This year, the month-long festivities will be held in accordance with social distancing guidelines and culminate with multi-faceted virtual Harvest Party celebrations on October 17. 

Home to 312 wineries, Virginia is now the sixth-largest wine region in the United States. The Virginia wine industry generates an estimated $1.37 billion in economic impact and 8,218 jobs for the Commonwealth and drew more than 2.2 million tourists to Virginia wineries in 2015, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

“Virginia Wine Month is a time to honor the resilience and pioneering spirit that cultivated our world-class wines,” said Governor Northam. “Winemakers are no strangers to uncertainty, and the wine industry has demonstrated its ability to adapt and thrive despite the challenges created by the ongoing pandemic this year. This October, I encourage people across the Commonwealth to join me in celebrating the diversity, distinction, and unique character of our wine and the Virginians who make them.”

Virginia’s diverse landscape means winemakers have learned to listen to the land and craft wines that speak to the grace and grit of the Commonwealth. In recognition of their efforts and the end of the harvest season, the Virginia Wine Board has designated the third Saturday of October as the annual Harvest Party, a home-grown tradition that encourages revelers to gather safely in vineyards, restaurants, open fields, or virtual settings for a feast of Virginia food and wine.

“Nearly 50 years ago, a small group of Virginia winemakers embarked on an endeavor of viticulture, despite skepticism from the global wine community,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “This has yielded not only a thriving economic sector of agriculture and tourism, but also expressive and one-of-a-kind wines. Opening Harvest Party to a number of celebrations, in-person and virtual, allows Virginia wine fans anywhere in the world to join in on the festivities, and I hope to see those in the Commonwealth and beyond join me in raising a glass on October 17.”

Planned Harvest Party activities include virtual and socially distant events at vineyards featuring local food trucks, live music, and more, as well as restaurant-curated cuisine paired with a variety of Virginia Wine. Select wineries will offer “Harvest Party Bundles,” complete with wines and local artisanal foods. In partnership with SevenFifty Daily, a resource on the history and character of Virginia Wine can be found here

Individuals, wineries, restaurants, and retailers celebrating October Wine Month have access to how to-guides, seasonal recipes and wine pairing information and events planned across Virginia. Virginians can participate in a social media sweepstakes to win a virtual guided tasting with a local expert with tasty food and wine pairings included. As wineries begin to reopen, retailers and restaurants are participating in the Virginia Wine Board’s “Toast Our Local Bounty” program, which offers incentives to those creating Virginia Wine displays and by-the-glass and bottle promotions. Those interested in celebrating the richness of the region’s food, wine, and culture can visit the Virginia Wine Month homepage for more information.

To find out more information about Virginia wine and wine travel in the Commonwealth, visit VirginiaWine.org or click here to download the Virginia Wine App.

Governor Northam Announces More Than $8.4 Million to Support COVID-19 Recovery and Response Efforts in Rural Virginia

Funding will help small businesses and community partners with rent relief, equipment purchases

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced more than $8.4 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for 14 projects that will help rural communities across Virginia respond to recover from the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our administration remains committed to investing in rural communities during this unprecedented health crisis and as we work to rebuild Virginia’s economy,” said Governor Northam. “This funding will go a long way to address the immediate needs of Virginia families and provide relief to small businesses, so they are better prepared for economic growth despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.”

Since 1982, the federally funded CDBG program has been administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Virginia receives funding annually to distribute to small cities, towns, and counties, and funding is allocated among local government applicants through an open submission application process using objective scoring criteria developed in consultation with eligible localities. Large cities and counties receive direct allocation of CDBG resources from the federal government, so the state administered funds must focus on smaller and more rural regions of the state. This year, more than $20.4 million has been distributed to communities across Virginia through the CDBG program.

DHCD reallocated existing CDBG funding to assist with COVID-19 response and recovery activities. Funding can be used for: 

  • Construction or rehab of structures for shelters
  • Testing or equipment manufacturing
  • Training programs for healthcare workers or service industry jobs transitioning to food or pharmaceutical delivery systems
  • Acquisition costs for telework or telemedicine services
  • Job creation or business development for manufacturing of COVID-related materials
  • Business assistance for job training or re-tooling business services to reopen and adapt in a new environment
  • Small business recovery funds for rent/mortgage assistance
  • Personal protective equipment, sanitization, dining equipment, and barrier devices to meet social distancing requirements

“Virginia continues to take an innovative approach in providing resources to assist households and businesses throughout the Commonwealth as they navigate this pandemic,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “From housing to business assistance, this CDBG funding will create healthy and safe ways for Virginians to move forward with recovery efforts.”

The following projects (among others) will receive CDBG funding:

Brunswick County Small Business Recovery Assistance
$520,000
Brunswick County

Brunswick County will provide recovery assistance to small businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 for retooling and technology activities and up to $10,000 for three to six months of rent and mortgage relief. Brunswick County will work with its local partners to assist at least 40 businesses.

Mecklenburg County Small Business Recovery Assistance
$520,000
Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County will assist at least 40 businesses that have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 for retooling and technology activities and up to $10,000 for three to six months of rent and mortgage relief.

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

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