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Virginia Lawmakers Urged to Direct COVID Funds to Working Families


Monday, August 2, 2021   

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia's General Assembly Special Session begins today to budget more than $4 billion in federal COVID relief funds, and advocates for low-income families are urging the money be targeted for those hit hardest by the pandemic.

Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said she thinks it's fine that lawmakers have promised more than $350 million to support businesses and long-term infrastructure projects, like sewer systems.

But she also said she sees a need for equitable investment for working-class families, which so far is missing from the budget proposal. Bobo said it's especially important to help with evictions, since many landlords are refusing to take rental-assistance dollars.

"We need budget language that would require landlords to take the rental assistance before trying to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent," said Bobo. "Because we are very worried that there's going to be a huge number of evictions."

Officials from Gov. Ralph Northam's administration formed the budget bill with only Democratic lawmakers, causing an outcry from House Republicans, who say the budget process should be more transparent when deciding how to spend such a large amount of money.

Bobo said she agrees, noting there also have been no community hearings for public input - which could have helped allot more money for priorities like restocking food banks.

She said legislators have been told they can't make any budget amendments, and the governor didn't release the full budget until this past Friday.

"The result right now is that a year ago, there was a huge amount of talk about justice and equity," said Bobo. "And now, we have an opportunity to focus our dollars on low-income people - on people of color, on folks who've been marginalized - and the budget does not do that."

She added the American Rescue Plan budget calls for spending on a range of initiatives, from increasing broadband access to paying for air-quality improvements in public schools.

But she said she thinks those dollars might be better spent helping families pay for their own broadband access or computer equipment. And the money for schools requires one-to-one matching, which is more difficult for low-income communities.

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