Northam calls special session for federal relief funds

(The Center Square) – Virginia lawmakers will meet Aug. 2 to allocate more than $4.3 billion in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief to schools, businesses, workers and other initiatives.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a proclamation to call the General Assembly to a special session to allocate the funds. The money was provided from the federal government after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“With more Virginians getting vaccinated every day, we are turning the corner and building back stronger,” Northam said in a statement. “Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we have a unique opportunity to fund public schools, support small businesses, achieve universal broadband access, and make generational investments in our shared future. I look forward to working with legislators to get it done.”

Lawmakers are also expected to allocate funding to the Unemployment Trust Fund. The high levels of unemployment caused by the pandemic and the shutdown dried up the fund and forced the state to borrow money from the federal government. If the state does not add money to the fund, it could force a tax hike on businesses to offset the losses.

With the increased need for unemployment benefits, the state also failed to settle disputed claims in the timeframe required by policy in 95% of cases, sometimes leaving people without benefits for months. The governor directed money to the Virginia Employment Commission to help fix this problem, but is also seeking more funds to increase support for the VEC, hire more staff and upgrade its computer system.

The General Assembly will also consider education-related funding to modernize school buildings, rehabilitate and upgrade existing facilities, improve safety and improve air quality and HVAC systems. The governor is also asking lawmakers to speed up the state’s 10-year broadband expansion plan.

Other items on the agenda include upgrades to public health services, affordable housing and assistance for utility payments.

Lawmakers will also work to fill judicial vacancies.