Northam proposes $240M for pandemic response
Governor's proposed budget amendments includes funding for jobs training, education, housing
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and frontline medical workers receive the first vaccine doses, Gov. Ralph Northam called on the General Assembly to allocate $240 million toward pandemic response in his proposed budget amendments released Wednesday.
“The budget I present today preserves our focus on flexibility, targeted investments and help for Virginians. While we believe an end to this crisis — and a rebounding of our economy — is in sight, we are not there yet,” Northam said on Wednesday as he addressed a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.
Of the proposed $240 million set aside for COVID-19 response, $90 million would support vaccine deployment. Northam’s budget is based on a revenue forecast that anticipates $1.2 billion more in revenue than the August forecast.
“Vaccines are now being deployed in Virginia,” Northam said in his remarks. “Health care workers got the first shots yesterday. And while it will take months to vaccinate everyone, we can now start to look to the future with hope. We’re all tired, but this is not the time to let down your guard or be reckless.”
In addition to preventative measures, Northam’s budget proposals include dedicated funding for internet access, workforce development and evictions — all issues that have come to the forefront during the pandemic.
Northam’s proposed budget includes an additional $15 million for broadband expansion through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) in fiscal year 2022, matching the $50 million for fiscal year 2021 to bring the state’s broadband funding to a historic high of $50 million annually. In conjunction with the broadband expansion funding, Northam also proposed $36 million for the state’s G3 Program (Get a Skill, Get a Job, Give Back), which offers free or low-cost job skills training through Virginia’s community college system.
“I have also maintained our historic level of funding for broadband in this budget — $50 million in each year,” Northam said in his remarks. “For G3 to work, for our students to access virtual classrooms, for businesses to survive, for Virginians to access telehealth — they need broadband internet. It is as critical now as electricity was in the last century. Increasing broadband access has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has simply highlighted how necessary it is.”
Northam’s budget also proposes spending an additional $25 million on Virginia’s Housing Trust Fund for fiscal year 2022 to go toward housing affordability and $15.7 million for fiscal year 2021 for the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, which provides financial assistance through a one-time payment with the opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding, the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.
“While programs to help people with rent and utility payments continue, it’s also important to look ahead, and help unemployed Virginians get back on their feet,” Northam said in his remarks.
Northam proposed other major funding for P-12 education, higher education, health care, natural resources and transportation. His budget invests $500 million to prevent reductions to school division funding due to COVID-19, $30 million to higher education institutions for tuition assistance, $23 million for health care enrollment, $12 million for environmental protection and $50 million to support passenger rail service between Roanoke and Christiansburg/Blacksburg.
“The pandemic has taught us to prepare for the unexpected, and help people get through this crisis,” Northam said in his remarks. “That is what this budget does. It provides targeted support to help people, and lays a foundation for recovery as we move into the next phases of the pandemic.”