Northam, GA leaders pledge to invest $4.3B in federal funds in special session
Small businesses, VEC upgrades among priorities
Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday issued a statement with General Assembly leaders outlining their priorities for a $4.3 billion windfall from the most recent federal stimulus package passed in March.
Among their plans during a special legislative session this summer will be to allocate money from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to fully fund the Rebuild Virginia small business recovery program and invest in Virginia Tourism and the Virginia Housing and Community Development’s infrastructure program. Also, they intend to put more money into the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund, which ran out of money last October due to record-breaking unemployment claims and relied on loans from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The leaders further plan to fund more staffing and a computer system upgrade at the Virginia Employment Commission, which has been under heavy criticism for delays in processing unemployment checks and responding to claimants’ calls and complaints. Another priority is to fully deploy broadband across the state, completing in 18 months what was intended as a 10-year project. Other priorities are to improve school buildings and upgrade state and local public health services.
Northam — along with House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, Senate President pro-tem Louise Lucas and other Democratic statehouse leaders that signed on to the joint statement — notes that Virginia is in an unusual position, because state revenue has begun to rise again and unemployment is starting to decline. In March, the state recorded 5.1% unemployment, down from the national average of 6%.
“Few states can say this, but it is no accident. This is the result of careful stewardship,” the statement says. “This is a unique opportunity to invest in Virginia’s long-term future. We intend to be good stewards of these taxpayer dollars, in full compliance with fiduciary guidelines. We reject calls to refuse these federal dollars, and we support the law’s prohibition on cutting state taxes to substitute federal dollars.”
Virginia received $3.2 billion last spring from the CARES Act, the first federal stimulus package, and through the American Rescue Plan, local governments will receive a total of $2.7 billion directly from the federal government, in addition to $4.3 billion received by the state.