April 2021

SVCC & G3 – What does it mean for you?

Get Skilled. Get a Job. Give Back Initiative to Make College Possible for Qualifying Students

On March 29, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam signed the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, or “G3” program bill that will provide $36 million each year, over the next two years, to make program-targeted, tuition-free community college possible for qualifying students.

“Thanks to our legislative leaders," said VCCS Chancellor Glenn Dubois. “We are going to remove the cost to a certificate or degree for jobs that are high in demand. We wouldn’t be here without Governor Northam’s campaign and promise.” 

The G3 initiative aims to target key industries, from health care and information technology to skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education. Data shows that on average, participants in these high-demand degree programs can increase their wages by 60 percent upon program completion.

“Southside Virginia Community College could not be more excited about this G3 initiative and what it can mean for so many in the southside region,” said Dr. Quentin R. Johnson, president of SVCC. “This funding can open the door for career growth and the opportunity for students to receive the training needed for high paying, high-demand jobs.” 

Who is eligible for G3 funding?  Any Virginia resident is eligible if they meet the following criteria:  1) Qualifies for in-state tuition; 2) Has a total household income of less than or equal to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (roughly an income of $100,000 for a family of four); 3) Is enrolled for a minimum of six credit hours; 4) Is enrolled in a designated G3 program; 5) Has applied for federal and/or state financial aid programs.

For a complete list of SVCC programs that qualify for G3 funding please visit:  southside.edu/G3.  If you have any questions, don't delay, call today at 434.949.1035.  
 
We are waiting for your call and eager to help you get started on the path to a high-demand career!

May is Motorcycle Safety Month

May is National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and Virginia State Police is once again offering its “Ride 2 Save Lives” motorcycle self-assessment courses across the Commonwealth in the coming weeks.

The free motorcycle self-assessment courses allow current riders the opportunity to learn and practice rider safety, how to handle hazards, special situations, interstate highways, curve negotiation and much more. The courses are conducted by Virginia State Police Motors Troopers in a safe environment.

May 22 – 8:30 a.m. – Yorktown- Waters Edge Church

June 26 – 8:30 a.m. - Virginia Beach – ADS, Inc.

July 24 – 8:30 a.m. – Yorktown – Waters Edge Church

August 21 – 8:30 a.m. – Virginia Beach – ADS, Inc.

September 25 – 8:30 a.m. – Yorktown – Waters Edge Church

October 23 – 8:30 a.m. – Virginia Beach – ADS, Inc.

 A comprehensive listing of Ride 2 Save Lives courses can be found by visiting virginiastatepolice.eventbrite.com. Space is limited and advanced registration for these free courses is required.

 

WARNER INTRODUCES BICAMERAL, BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO BOOST WORKFORCE TRAINING AS PART OF COVID-19 ECONOMIC RECOVERY EFFORTS

~ With U.S. labor market slowly recovering from devastating economic effect of COVID-19, bill would establish a tax credit for employers who invest in training their workers ~

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance and Banking Committees, along with Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced legislation to promote workers’ long-term economic success and support U.S. economic recovery efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Investing in American Workers Act of 2021 prioritizes workers in U.S. recovery efforts by creating a tax credit to incentivize employers to invest in training tied to recognized postsecondary credentials for lower- and moderate-income workers.

 Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA), Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN).

 “As too many families know, the COVID-19 crisis has taken a major toll on the American workforce, pushing millions of workers into unemployment and decimating jobs that, frankly, may never come back. That’s why we need companies – especially those that employ a lot of low-wage workers – to be equal partners in the recovery effort by stepping in and offering training opportunities that grow workers’ skills for years to come,” said Sen. Warner. “We’re introducing a bill that builds upon the success of the R&D tax credit model and gives companies an incentive to invest in people, like they do R&D, to give more workers a chance to succeed during and after COVID-19.”

 “In Michigan, our workers are the best in the world and investing in them is the right thing to do. Our bipartisan bill does just that by supporting employers who offer training opportunities that grow workers’ skills for years to come,” said Sen. Stabenow.

 “Today’s fast-paced economy demands regular training for our workforce to keep our economy competitive, yet the percentage of American workers receiving employer-sponsored and on-the-job training has decreased dramatically in recent decades,” said Rep. Krishnamoorthi. “The Investing In American Workers Act will ensure our workers are able to develop the in-demand skills they need to build rewarding careers while helping American companies grow and thrive.”

 “The success of our nation’s economic recovery depends on the success of our workforce. But in Central Virginia and across the country, many working families continue to experience significant hardships due to the COVID-19 crisis — and many workers cannot independently afford the skills and training they need to access new opportunities, secure better-paying jobs, and gain peace of mind. In this climate, we need to celebrate and reward companies that make an effort to take care of their employees,” said Rep. Spanberger. “By providing tax incentives for American companies to invest in American workers, the Investing in American Workers Act is commonsense, bipartisan legislation that would recognize in-house workforce training as a key component of our country’s rebound. I’d like to thank my fellow Virginian Senator Warner for his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to move this legislation forward.”

“Business owners know their employees’ success is their success and they are committed to helping their employees improve their skills to advance and grow in their career. The Investing in American Workers Act helps employers invest in job training, apprenticeships, and continuing education by providing a tax credit for training expenses driving more investment to close the skills gap, advance careers, and ultimately grow the small businesses that drive our economy,” said Rep. Meuser.

“A four-year college degree isn’t the only pathway to prosperity, nor is it the only way to acquire the skills needed to be successful. When a company invests in high-quality skills and workforce training programs for their employees, both the company and the worker succeed,” said Rep. Axne. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Investing in American Workers Act to encourage companies to get their workers the skills they need to thrive in the modern economy.”

“Now is the time to invest in our workforce and incentivize job training, especially for lower and middle-income workers, ” said Rep. Wild. “The Investing in American Workers Act of 2021 does just that and builds off a proven model of success to create the dynamic workforce our modern economy requires while bringing in valuable industry partners along the way. The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis has devastated families across Pennsylvania, and I’m proud to support this effort to get more Americans back to work in the good-paying jobs of the future.”

“A four-year college degree should not, and cannot, be the only path to a successful career or financial security. This bipartisan legislation will promote apprenticeships and build a stronger American workforce. Although our nation continues to face a skills-gap, on-the-job educational and technical training opportunities will help us bridge the divide while giving Americans opportunities to advance their careers. I am proud to join Rep. Krishnamoorthi in this effort to ensure Americans have access to good-paying jobs when they need it more than ever,” said Rep. Emmer.

Right now, many companies have almost no direct financial incentive to invest in their workers. In fact, the current U.S. tax code offers a Research and Development (R&D) tax credit for employers that make long-term investments in innovation – such as computers, buildings, and machines – but not workers. In order to ensure the nation’s workforce is better prepared for a post-pandemic 21st century economy, tax and accounting systems need to be updated to promote these same kinds of investments in workforce training.

The Investing in American Workers Act of 2021 would make it easier for companies to invest in training their workers by:

Establishing a tax credit for employers who increase their spending on worker training:

  • Employers who spend more on training their workers in a given year than they have on average in the previous three years are eligible to receive a tax credit based on their increase in spending.
  • The amount of the credit is equal to 20 percent of the increased spending. The spending eligible for the credit must be used to provide qualified training to employees earning $82,000 or less per year.
  • For employers who are new to spending on qualified training or have a gap in any of the past three taxable years, the credit is calculated as 10 percent of the qualified training expenditures for the current year, multiplied by a cost-of-living adjustment factor. Requires collecting and reporting of racial, ethnic, and gender demographic

Incentivizing high-quality training by detailing allowable providers and programs:

  • Qualified training may be provided through a nationally or state-recognized registered apprenticeship program; a WIOA-certified training program; a program conducted by an area career and technical education school, community college, or labor organization; or a program sponsored or administered by an employer, industry trade association, industry or sector partnership, or labor organization.
  • Qualified training must result in the completion of a recognized postsecondary credential, including an industry-recognized certificate or certification, a certificate of completion of an apprenticeship, a license recognized by the State or Federal Government, or an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Pursuing clarity on the statutory definition of recognized postsecondary credential:

  • Requires the Secretary of Labor, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, to issue regulations or guidance on the definition of “recognized postsecondary credential” within one year.

Encouraging small businesses to upskill their workers by providing a simplified filing process and allowing them to apply the credit against payroll and alternative minimum taxes:

  • Qualified small businesses making less than $5,000,000 for at least six years in a row, as well as qualified tax-exempt entities, can elect to apply up to $250,000 of the credit against payroll taxes.

 “The world of work is changing at a rapid pace and Workday believes a focus on skills is essential to providing workers and employers the agility they need to navigate these changes. We appreciate the reintroduction of the Investing in American Workers Act, helping support the workers who need it most with access to reskilling and providing employers with even more incentive to invest in their most valuable asset: their people,” said Rich Sauer, Workday Chief Legal Officer and Head of Corporate Affairs.

“U.S. businesses – including small and medium sized employers – are investing every day in the skills of their workforce, helping their employees advance their careers and creating new job opportunities in our communities. But today’s tax code doesn’t adequately reward those companies that are willing to make these critical investments, making it harder for businesses to compete in a global economy,” said Katie Spiker, Director of Government Affairs for the National Skills Coalition. “Sen. Warner’s and Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s legislation is an important step in the right direction, and will help expand high quality training that leads to better results for companies and workers alike. We look forward to working with Senator Warner and Rep. Krishnamoorthi to advance this legislation and we applaud his leadership and vision on this vital issue.”

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken advocate of investing in workers and ensuring they are adequately equipped to participate in the 21st century labor force. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner released the first two parts of his 3-part white paper series on the future of American capitalism, which focuses on what the U.S. will need to do to address the chronic under-investment in workers and create an inclusive 21st century economy that does not leave workers behind. Part one of the white paper is available here. Part two is available here.

Bill text is available here. A summary of the bill is available here.

Benchmark Bankshares, Inc. Reports First Quarter Earnings

KENBRIDGE, VA – Benchmark Bankshares, Inc. (BMBN), the Kenbridge-based hold­ing company for Benchmark Community Bank, announced unaudited results for the first quarter of 2021. Net income of $2,775,123 was up from the $2,110,986 earned during the first quarter of 2020, while earnings per share increased from $0.47 to $0.61 for the period.

“Lending activity through the first quarter has been strong,” observed Jay A. Stafford, President and CEO. “In addition to a robust residential mortgage and commercial real estate market, the second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans have kept our loan officers busy.”

Stafford added, “It is hard to believe that we are over a year into the pandemic. We operated most of last year with our lobbies closed, assisting customers via personal appointments, internet banking, BCB Mobile app, and using our ATMs and telephone banking. I am pleased to report that we are now again operating with our lobbies open, allowing us to return to meeting our customers in person while following guidelines designed to keep everyone healthy.”

The federal government’s CARES Act, adopted on March 27, 2020, continues to provide an additional opportunity for the bank to serve business customers adversely impacted by the COVID-19 event. It has also fueled the bank’s deposit growth through a combination of PPP loan proceeds and stimulus payments to both individuals and municipalities.

“We began working on PPP loans in March of last year,” Stafford explained. “We continue working with customers, helping them navigate through the SBA loan forgiveness process while at the same time helping customers qualify for additional funding.”

“This has certainly been an extraordinary and difficult time in our nation’s history. We continue to deal with COVID-19, but things have slowly begun to return to normal across the country. We are proud to serve our local communities and continue to meet the banking needs of our customers at our branches and through our electronic delivery channels.”

Notable Items:

  • A total of $70,411 was provisioned to the loan loss reserve during the quarter, compared to a provision of $224,589 made during the first quarter of 2020.
  • Interest expense on borrowings, used to support the stock repurchase program, amounted to $50,832 for the period, down from $78,062 recognized last year during the same period.
  • Total loans are up $12.47 million for the quarter, with total loans up by $38.81 million over the last twelve months.
  • Deposit growth during the first quarter amounted to $79.74 million, with total deposits up $228.26 million over the past twelve months. This growth has been driven by the PPP loan program and government backed stimulus payments to both individuals and municipalities.
  • The bank’s overnight cash position was $205.33 million as of March 31, 2021, up from $28.61 million one year ago.

Key Financial Ratios:

  • Return on average equity (ROAE) increased from 12.08% to 14.33% and Return on average assets (ROAA) increased from 1.19% to 1.21% for the quarter.
  • Yield on loans decreased from 5.46% to 5.30%.
  • The bank’s cost of funds decreased from 0.63% to 0.33%.
  • Net interest margin was down from 4.49% to 3.63% due to a large amount of cash holdings.

As of March 31, 2021, the current book value of the company was $17.42 per share compared to $15.72 one year ago. The closing share price at quarter-end was $18.75 per share, which represents a price to book trading ratio of 107.61%. The company currently has 4,532,320 shares outstanding.

The common stock of Benchmark Bankshares, Inc. trades on the OTC Pink marketplace under the symbol BMBN. Any stockbroker can assist with purchases of the company's stock, as well as with sales of holdings.

Benchmark Community Bank, founded in 1971, is headquartered in Kenbridge, VA. It is the company's sole subsidiary and operates a total of 17 banking offices throughout central Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina. Additional information is available at the company’s website, www.BCBonline.com.

Commissioner Saul Communicates to Congress about the State of Social Security Services

Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, wrote to key members of Congress to raise awareness of the resources Social Security needs to recover from the ongoing pandemic and improve service.

“Since becoming Commissioner, I have focused our actions and our resources on efforts to improve the service we provide to the millions of people who turn to us for help. I have been clear in my budget requests about what it takes to improve service and maintain the integrity of our programs: both additional frontline staff to help people now, and information technology (IT) investments to improve our future,” said Commissioner Saul.  “2021 is a critical year to shape the agency for post-pandemic success, but our resource constraints will delay our recovery. I appreciate President Biden’s support of our needs with his FY 2022 budget request of nearly $14.2 billion for us, which is $1.3 billion more than what we received this year to operate our agency. No one anticipated the duration of the pandemic and the ongoing challenges it presents.”

The full text of the letter follows:

April 21, 2021

The Honorable John B. Larson
Chair, Subcommittee on Social Security, Committee on Ways and Means
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Subcommittee Chair Larson:

I am writing because I want to be clear about the negative impact to Social Security services due to the ongoing pandemic and our funding level in fiscal year (FY) 2021. Our FY 2021 annual appropriation was nearly $900 million less than my original request. It is effectively level with the funding we have received for each of the last four years, despite significant increases in costs that we do not control – such as the Government-wide pay increases.

The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes. The safety of the public and our employees has been the paramount driver of how we deliver services during the pandemic. To protect the public and our employees, we have necessarily limited in-person service to critical situations that can only be resolved in-person. While we continue to serve the public over the phone and online, we are still experiencing issues receiving and verifying documents and medical evidence we need to make decisions. Even with fewer applications in FY 2021, pandemic-related challenges and operational constraints present numerous barriers to employees completing workloads timely. In FY 2020, the average time it took us to complete an action in our field offices increased by 20 percent, significantly reducing our productivity. We are working diligently to address these challenges, but the abrupt changes to the way we do our work has caused bottlenecks in certain workloads and service deterioration beyond our control. On February 23, 2021, we shared with your staff the potential implications of our FY 2021 funding level to further harm services.

However, our operational challenges have been aggravated by our inability to fully use our program integrity funding. To use this funding, we must complete cost-saving continuing disability reviews (CDR) and Supplemental Security Income redeterminations. We have had to reduce our planned full medical CDRs by 30 percent due to the pandemic, the lowest level since FY 2013. We deferred these workloads in the early part of the pandemic to protect beneficiaries’ income and healthcare and to reduce the burden on the medical community, which had stopped most elective services.

While we restarted these workloads at the end of FY 2020, we are handling them through the mail and over the phone. During the pandemic, these complex workloads often require multiple contacts with a beneficiary, which slows our ability to complete this work. In addition, over 30 percent of our initial disability claims and CDRs require a consultative exam (CE) with a medical provider so that we can obtain enough medical information to make a decision. Right now, just over 70 percent of our CE providers are scheduling in-person exams. We have focused our limited CE capacity on initial disability claims to ensure that we can provide benefits to people who qualify. Even with that focus, the average processing times for initial disability claims increased about 45 days in the last year. Ultimately, we currently estimate the constraints on our program integrity funding deepens our shortfall by approximately $200 million.

Since becoming Commissioner, I have focused our actions and our resources on efforts to improve the service we provide to the millions of people who turn to us for help. I have been clear in my budget requests about what it takes to improve service and maintain the integrity of our programs: both additional frontline staff to help people now, and information technology (IT) investments to improve our future. IT is fundamental to offering the public more electronic and online options they expect from organizations today, improving the technology to make it easier for our staff to help the public, and ensuring we have a safe, modern platform to support over $1 trillion in benefits payments each year.

I have frozen hiring in non-frontline positions so that we can push all available resources to the offices that directly serve the public. I have increased the staffing in our field offices, national 800 number, processing centers, and State disability determination services (DDS) by nearly 3,000 people since 2019. I have increased IT investments to accelerate our modernization and increase online service options.

We are working with the advocate community to help ensure that the most vulnerable populations can access our services. Our efforts include a robust communications campaign, in combination with a wide range of online resources, to provide information on service options for the beneficiary and individuals or organizations that help them.

I also decided to pay employee awards so they know that we appreciate their hard work and dedication, especially during this difficult time. I have pushed the agency to find creative ways to maintain these efforts despite the significant cut to our budget request this year.

We have explored all possibilities to eliminate our budget shortfall but we are unable to overcome it. I have no other option but to delay our planned hiring to operate within our appropriated resources. Further, we will not be able to compensate for fewer employees with additional overtime. We are operating with the lowest level of overtime in the last decade. These decisions have a lasting negative impact on the service we can provide to the American public. It will increase waits for service from our field offices and on our 800 number as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. The number of pending actions in our processing centers will grow from about 3.7 million actions pending at the end of FY 2020 to more than 4.2 million actions pending by the end of FY 2021. It will delay our plan to eliminate the backlog of cases in the DDS, which currently has about 20 percent more pending cases than prior to the pandemic, as we anticipate an increase in disability receipts into FY 2022.

The pandemic has changed the way we do work at SSA in unprecedented ways. At the start of the pandemic, we transitioned to remote work, focused on critical service workloads through online and telephone options, and suspended some adverse actions to protect the public during an especially critical time. The pandemic required necessary operating adjustments to safely serve the public, reducing our ability to complete our workloads and contributing to increased backlogs and wait times in some priority service areas. These novel factors prevented us from achieving some of our goals in FY 2020 and put our goals for FY 2021 and future years at risk. FY 2021 is a critical year to shape the agency for post-pandemic success, but our resource constraints will delay our recovery.

I appreciate President Biden’s support of our needs with his FY 2022 budget request of nearly $14.2 billion for us, which is $1.3 billion more than what we received this year to operate our agency. No one anticipated the duration of the pandemic and the ongoing challenges it presents. I hope you will consider these challenges and support his request to help us improve service.

Sincerely,

Andrew Saul

Commissioner

After Identifying Gaps in Previous Aid, USDA Announces ‘Pandemic Assistance for Producers’ to Distribute Resources More Equitably

USDA Reopens Program Sign-Up to a Larger Share of Producers with Plans to Expand Outreach and New Programming

Washington, D.C., March 24, 2021 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs. USDA is dedicating at least $6 billion toward the new programs. The Department will also develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, timber harvesters, as well as provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel, among others. Existing programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers. 

USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producerswas needed, said Vilsack, after a review of previous COVID-19 assistance programs targeting farmers identified a number of gaps and disparities in how assistance was distributed as well as inadequate outreach to underserved producers and smaller and medium operations. 

“The pandemic affected all of agriculture, but many farmers did not benefit from previous rounds of pandemic-related assistance. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to helping as many producers as possible, as equitably as possible,” said Vilsack. “Our new USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative will help get financial assistance to a broader set of producers, including to socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.” 

USDA will reopen sign-up for CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning on April 5, 2021. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has committed at least $2.5 million to improve outreach for CFAP 2 and will establish partnerships with organizations with strong connections to socially disadvantaged communities to ensure they are informed and aware of the application process. 

The payments announced today (under Part 3, below) will go out under the existing CFAP rules; however, future opportunities for USDA Pandemic Assistance will be reviewed for verified need and during the rulemaking process, USDA will look to make eligibility more consistent with the Farm Bill. Moving forward, USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers will utilize existing programs, such as the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach, and Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and others to enhance educational and market opportunities for agricultural producers. 

 USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers – 4 Parts Announced Today

Part 1: Investing $6 Billion to Expand Help & Assistance to More Producers  

USDA will dedicate at least $6 billion to develop a number of new programs or modify existing proposals using discretionary funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and other coronavirus funding that went unspent by the previous administration. Where rulemaking is required, it will commence this spring. These efforts will include assistance for:

  • Dairy farmers through the Dairy Donation Program or other means:
  • Euthanized livestock and poultry;
  • Biofuels;
  • Specialty crops, beginning farmers, local, urban and organic farms;
  • Costs for organic certification or to continue or add conservation activities
  • Other possible expansion and corrections to CFAP that were not part of today’s announcement such as to support dairy or other livestock producers;
  • Timber harvesting and hauling;
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective measures for food and farm workers and specialty crop and seafood producers, processors and distributors;
  • Improving the resilience of the food supply chain, including assistance to meat and poultry operations to facilitate interstate shipment;
  • Developing infrastructure to support donation and distribution of perishable commodities, including food donation and distribution through farm-to-school, restaurants or other community organizations; and
  • Reducing food waste. 

Part 2: Adding $500 Million of New Funding to Existing Programs

USDA expects to begin investing approximately $500 million in expedited assistance through several existing programs this spring, with most by April 30. This new assistance includes:

  • $100 million in additional funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which enhances the competitiveness of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.
  • $75 million in additional funding for the Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach program, administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, which encourages and assists socially disadvantaged, veteran, and beginning farmers and ranchers in the ownership and operation of farms and ranches.
  • $100 million in additional funding for the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, administered by the AMS and Rural Development, which supports the development, coordination and expansion of direct producer-to-consumer marketing, local and regional food markets and enterprises and value-added agricultural products. 
  • $75 million in additional funding for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, administered by the NIFA, which provides funding opportunities to conduct and evaluate projects providing incentives to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers
  • $20 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to improve and maintain animal disease prevention and response capacity, including the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. 
  • $20 million for the Agricultural Research Service to work collaboratively with Texas A&M on the critical intersection between responsive agriculture, food production, and human nutrition and health.
  • $28 million for NIFA to provide grants to state departments of agriculture to expand or sustain existing farm stress assistance programs.
  • Approximately $80 million in additional payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton based on a formula set in the Consolidated Appropriations  Act, 2021 that USDA plans to deliver through the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills program. 

Part 3: Carrying Out Formula Payments under CFAP 1, CFAP 2, CFAP AA

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted December 2020 requires FSA to make certain payments to producers according to a mandated formula. USDA is now expediting these provisions because there is no discretion involved in interpreting such directives, they are self-enacting. 

  • An increase in CFAP 1 payment rates for cattle. Cattle producers with approved CFAP 1 applications will automatically receive these payments beginning in April. Information on the additional payment rates for cattle can be found on gov/cfap. Eligible producers do not need to submit new applications, since payments are based on previously approved CFAP 1 applications. USDA estimates additional payments of more than $1.1 billion to more than 410,000 producers, according to the mandated formula. 
  • Additional CFAP assistance of $20 per acre for producers of eligible crops identified as CFAP 2 flat-rate or price-trigger crops beginning in April. This includes alfalfa, corn, cotton, hemp, peanuts, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat, among other crops.  FSA will automatically issue payments to eligible price trigger and flat-rate crop producers based on the eligible acres included on their CFAP 2 applications. Eligible producers do not need to submit a new CFAP 2 application. For a list of all eligible row-crops, visit gov/cfap. USDA estimates additional payments of more than $4.5 billion to more than 560,000 producers, according to the mandated formula. 
  • USDA will finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications and begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of the CFAP Additional Assistance program in the following categories: 
  • Applications filed for pullets and turfgrass sod;
  • A formula correction for row-crop producer applications to allow producers with a non-Actual Production History (APH) insurance policy to use 100% of the 2019 Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Option (ARC-CO) benchmark yield in the calculation;
  • Sales commodity applications revised to include insurance indemnities, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payments, and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus payments, as required by statute; and
  • Additional payments for swine producers and contract growers under CFAP Additional Assistance remain on hold and are likely to require modifications to the regulation as part of the broader evaluation and future assistance; however, FSA will continue to accept applications from interested producers. 

Part 4: Reopening CFAP 2 Sign-Up to Improve Access & Outreach to Underserved Producers

As noted above, USDA will re-open sign-up for of CFAP 2 for at least 60 days beginning on April 5, 2021. 

  • FSA has committed at least $2.5 million to establish partnerships and direct outreach efforts intended to improve outreach for CFAP 2 and will cooperate with grassroots organizations with strong connections to socially disadvantaged communities to ensure they are informed and aware of the application process. 

Please stay tuned for additional information and announcements under the USDA Pandemic Assistance to Producers initiative, which will help to expand and more equitably distribute financial assistance to producers and farming operations during the COVID-19 national emergency. Please visit www.farmers.govfor more information on the details of today’s announcement. 

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean-energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

Early voting begins for Virginia June primary

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The first day of early voting began Friday for the June 8 Virginia primary election. 

Voters will be able to choose candidates in advance of the November state election, including for the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general races. Republican and Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates are also on the ballot.

 Legislators recently changed laws to allow early, in-person and no-excuse absentee voting. A record number of absentee and early votes were cast during the last presidential election, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Turnout was at its highest since 199, 2.

Voters do not have to fill out an application to vote early. They can go to their voting location and cast a ballot, VDOE stated in a news release. Early, in-person voting remains open until June 5.

 The voter registration deadline for the June primary is May 17. The deadline to request to have an absentee ballot mailed to a residence will be May 28 at 5 p.m.

Nearly half of Virginia’s Democratic voters are backing former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in his second bid to lead the state, according to a report released April 22 by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Newport News-based Christopher Newport University. McAuliffe, according to recent campaign finance reports, also leads the pack in fundraising.

None of the other four Democratic candidates reach double-digit support. Also on the primary ballot are Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (8%); Richmond Sen. Jennifer McClellan (6%); former Prince William Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (5%); and Manassas Del. Lee Carter (1%). The report states that 27% of voters are undecided.

The field for lieutenant governor is also crowded and almost two out of three Democratic voters are undecided, according to the Wason Center. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, has emerged as the front runner with 12% support.

Attorney General Mark Herring, vying for his third term in the position, currently leads the attorney general race with 42% of Democratic voter support. Herring’s opponent Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, D-Norfolk, has 18% voter support. More than 30% of Democratic voters are undecided about the attorney general race. 

The gubernatorial election could be historic, said Jatia Wrighten, an assistant professor in the political science department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Four Black women are running for governor this year: two Democrats, one independent and a Republican. If any won, they would be the first Black woman to serve as head of any state, Wrighten said. 

“What is so very different right now in Virginia is that you're not only looking at one very competent, very viable, Black woman for the governorship, there's two [Democratic] women running,” Wrighten said.

Wrighten doesn’t believe there will be an uptick in early voting.

 “I don't think there's going to be [an] even larger increase from November but it is possible that maybe the rates stay the same,” Wrighten said. 

A record number of Democrats in the House of Delegates face a challenge from within their own party this year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. 

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly session marked the first time since 1994 that the Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly along with the governor’s office. Virginia has shifted from a red to a blue state, which could be due to a change in demographics, especially around Northern Virginia, Wrighten said. 

The Republican party will hold a statewide convention on May 8. The party will determine its candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general by ranked choice voting among participating delegates. 

Early voters must bring an acceptable ID to vote in person. They also can request an absentee ballot through the Virginia Department of Elections website or return an absentee ballot request by mail, fax, or email. 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Judith R. Smith

May 29, 1948-April 22-2021

Graveside Services

2 p.m. Monday, April 26

Community Center Baptist Church Cemetery
2360 Ridgecrest Rd
Halifax, NC 27839.

 

Judith R. Smith, 72, of Emporia, passed away Thursday, April 22, 2021. She was preceded in death by her husband, Woodie Smith and a son, Brian Keith Anderton.

Mrs. Smith spent her career as a Registered Nurse at Avis B. Adams Convalescent Center for nearly 40 years. She loved all animals and was most fond of the many cats she cared for at her home.

Mrs. Smith is survived by her son, Michael “Tony” Anderton (Brandy); sister, Marilyn Riggan and brother, Kenneth Riggan (Kathy).

The funeral service will be held graveside 2 p.m. Monday, April 26 at Community Center Baptist Church Cemetery, 2360 Ridgecrest Rd, Halifax, NC 27839.

Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

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).

Haywood “Woody” D. Jones

July 15, 1937 - April 18, 2021

Visitation Services

Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 1:00PM

Echols Funeral Home
806 Brunswick Avenue
Emporia, Virginia

Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 2:00PM

Echols Funeral Home
806 Brunswick Avenue
Emporia, Virginia

Haywood “Woody” D. Jones passed away unexpectedly at the age of 83 on Sunday, April 18, 2021, at St. Mary’s Hospital, Richmond, Virginia.

Woody was born on July 15, 1937 in Salisbury, North Carolina. In 1955 he joined the United States Air Force where he served our Country for twenty years as an Early Warning Radar Technician. Despite no longer serving in uniform, his patriotism and faithful service to our nation, our flag, and all those still serving ran strong. Following retirement Woody farmed for his ‘other brother’ R.J. “Bobby” Ferguson and enjoyed spending his time working on construction projects and woodworking special keepsake items for the family and friends.

He was preceded in death by his parents,  Charlie Denson Jones and Thelma Jones Stokes, his  sisters Jean Kraft, Grace Anderson (Ronald), and brother Wayne (Phyllis) and one Niece and two Nephews.     

Woody is survived by his beloved and loving wife; Martha E. Jones, Son; Terry Brown (Kelley) of Colleyville, Texas,  Sister; Charleen Shoemaker of Faith, North Carolina. Sister-In-Law; Carolyn E. Roach (David). Grandchildren; Katherine Rose and Abigail Ann Brown of Colleyville, Texas. Niece; Lori R. Jarratt (Timmy). Nephew; Jeffrey C. Roach (Jackie). Great-Niece; Carleigh Jarratt, all of Emporia. He is also survived by numerous Nieces and Nephews. Woody will also be forever remembered by his extended family and dear friends.

Funeral Services will be held on Thursday, April 22, 2021 at 2:00PM at Echols Funeral Home with Rev. Rick Regan officiating. Burial will follow in Emporia Cemetery. The family will receive friends Thursday beginning at 1:00PM until the time of the service.

Donations can be made to Greensville Volunteer Rescue Squad or Lifestar Ambulance Service.

Online condolences may be left at echolsfuneralhome.com.

Gary Wayne Davis, Sr.

December 20, 1951-April 19, 2021

 

Visitation

5-8 p.m. Thursday, April 22

Owen Funeral Home
303 S. Halifax Rd
Jarratt, Virginia

 

Gary Wayne Davis, Sr., 69, of Skippers, passed away Monday, April 19, 2021. He had recently retired after 21 years’ service with the Virginia Department of Corrections. He was preceded in death by his father, Emmett and stepfather, Jack.

Gary Wayne is survived by his wife, Denise M. Davis; daughters, Tracy Sison (Thiery) and Tanya D. Clary (Al) and son, G.W. Davis, Jr. (Megan); four grandchildren, Jonathan & Anna Sison and Hannah & Luca Davis; his mother, Rose Phillips; sister, Glenda D. Creath (David); his beloved canine companion, Spanky and numerous nieces and nephews. He also leaves behind a large extended family and the many friends made in the ball community and in the time he spent hunting and fishing.

The family will receive friends 5-8 p.m. Thursday, April 22 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia 23867. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Greensville Volunteer Fire Department.

Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

McEachin Announces Covid-19 Funeral Relie

WASHINGTON  Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) announced last week that funding is available for assistance for funeral expenses for a death which was likely the result of COVID-19.

“If you paid for funeral expenses after January 20, 2020 for an individual whose death may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19, you may be able to receive some financial assistance.  You can apply for up to $9,000 per funeral through FEMA’s dedicated call center at 844-684-6333; TTY 800-462-7585, Monday-Friday, 9 AM ET - 9 PM ET. Online applications will not be accepted. You may apply for assistance for multiple funerals.”

 Find more information from FEMA HERE

“Every life lost to this pandemic is a tragedy and the loss of a loved one leaves a void that will never be filled. I can only hope that these available resources, thanks to COVID relief monies, will help ease the financial strain.”

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.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s March Team Member of the Month for March 2021

South Hill, VA  – The pandemic has affected almost every workplace in some manner. Adjustments arose. Careers changed. People pivoted.

At VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH), Director of Pharmacy Rick Clary, RPH, MBA, is no exception. “Rick has maintained a very positive leadership attitude during the chaotic and ever-changing vaccine phase of the COVID pandemic and has committed much personal time to ensuring these vaccines reach the people who need them the most,” said CEO Scott Burnette.

Rick earned the March Team Member of the Month award for STAR service: Safety, Teamwork, Accountability and Relationships. Rick said, “It was truly a team effort. Tracey Bailey, the Clinical Coordinator at the clinics, is more deserving of this than I am. It is a great feeling to make a difference and help meet the needs of the community.” Rick received the STAR service award, STAR pin, a parking tag that allows him to park wherever he wants for the month of April and a $40 gift card.

Rick started out his health care career as an emergency medical technician. He joined the hospital in 1985 as a pharmacy tech and worked his way up. “I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, so it just worked out; it was  good choice,” he explained. His leadership philosophy is to have fun at work and enjoy what you do every day. Rick has a daughter who graduated from the University of Virginia with a master’s in teaching and a son who is graduating from William & Mary and is headed to South Carolina to earn his Ph.D in history.

Rick encourages all who are eligible to get their vaccinations when the time comes. “It will make a difference so we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said. “Our hospital has 74% of staff fully vaccinated and we’ve seen a decrease in the number of COVID-postive employees and patients from double digits to single digits.”

Other nominees for March include: Tracey Bailey – C.A.R.E. Offices, Keisha Bumpass – Hendrick Rehab, Phyllis Cavan – Administration, Kelsey Clark – C.A.R.E. Offices, Erin Davis – Acute Care, Andrea Godette – Cardiology, Jennifer Hargrave – Garland Birthing Center, Joanne Malone – Quality, Mark Ornopia – Surgical Services, Curtis Poole – Food and Nutrition, Kathy Smith – C.A.R.E. Offices, Brianna Taylor – Administrative Representatives, and Angie Tanner – Quality.

Lawmakers amend bill banning guns in state buildings, Capitol Square

By Christina Amano Dolan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia legislators recently accepted the governor’s substitute to a bill banning firearms on and near Capitol Square, as well as in state buildings. Lawmakers voted last year to ban firearms from the state Capitol. 

Senate Bill 1381, introduced by Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, will make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a person to possess or transport a firearm or explosive material within Capitol Square and the surrounding area or buildings owned or leased by the commonwealth. Any person convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor may face a sentence of up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,500, or both.

Current and retired law enforcement officers, active military personnel and others performing official duties are exempted from the restrictions.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s recommendation requested further protection for magistrates. The measure originally allowed magistrates to carry firearms in courthouses, but the substitute now includes magistrates on duty working outside of courthouses and in other government buildings. The Office of the Executive Secretary requested the amendment. 

“They are on duty in various locations at all times of day, working on sensitive and sometimes volatile situations,” Ebbin said. “Magistrates are required to accept cash bonds. That requires the magistrate to frequently possess large sums of cash.”

The Senate passed the substitute along party lines, 21-19. The House agreed to the measure mostly along party lines, 52-46.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, sponsored an identical bill that was also amended and passed both chambers. 

Virginia Democrats passed an existing ban on firearms early last year, similarly excluding police officers and other security personnel. The ban prohibits guns inside the state Capitol and the General Assembly’s adjacent office building but does not extend to Capitol grounds. 

The ban will now include Capitol Square and the area bounded by the four roads in each direction. It also includes the sidewalks of Bank Street extending from 50 feet west of the Pocahontas Building entrance to 50 feet east of the Capitol building entrance.

Ebbin said during a February Senate floor hearing that the bill is in the interest of public safety. There was a “close call” incident last year, Ebbin said, when FBI agents arrested three men on firearms charges. Federal officials were concerned the men were headed to Richmond to attend an annual gun-rights rally, people familiar with the investigation told The Washington Post at the time. Northam had declared a state of emergency ahead of the rally, citing “credible threats of violence surrounding the event.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the measure is about politics, not public safety. The VCDL is a nonprofit organization that advocates for Second Amendment rights. 

Van Cleave said Capitol Police protect legislators, so a weapons ban is unnecessary. 

“They don’t like gun owners exercising their First Amendment rights nor their Second Amendment rights,” Van Cleave said. “These efforts are more to shut us up than anything else.” 

Van Cleave’s organization helped organize a gun rally last January with over 22,000 gun-rights supporters. The organization called for thousands of its armed supporters to gather on Capitol grounds to oppose gun control legislation. The event ended without incident. 

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, said in last week’s Senate hearing that she believes the measure is an attack on the Constitution. 

“I will be voting against any bill that has anything to do with restricting law-abiding citizens’ ability to protect themselves,” Chase said. “I don’t even understand why we are introducing legislation that goes against our Constitutional rights.” 

Chase and other Republican legislators voiced concern for the safety of General Assembly employees when the bill was originally before the Senate. They said police cannot enforce the measure. 

“Capitol Police cannot be everywhere, and as great of people they are, we do not properly give them the resources they need to do the job they’ve been asked to do,” Chase said.

Capitol Police and Virginia State Police will “adequately and reasonably” enforce the law, Ebbin stated in a previous email interview.

“The threat of violence and proliferation of firearms in the public square quashes the civil discourse and exchange of ideas we so value in Virginia,” Ebbin stated. 

The new law goes into effect July 1. 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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.

NO FATAL CRASHES ON I-95 DURING VIRGINIA “I-95 DRIVE TO SAVE LIVES” INITIATIVE

RICHMOND – Virginia was among 15 states, from Maine to Florida, to participate in the annual “I-95 Drive to Save Lives” traffic safety initiative April 9-10. This initiative concentrated on traffic safety enforcement on Interstate 95 and resulted in zero traffic crash fatalities during the enforcement operational period.

“With 2020 being an especially tragic year for traffic fatalities in Commonwealth, zero traffic deaths on the entire 178 miles of I-95 in Virginia proves enforcement initiatives like this help save lives,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of Virginia State Police. “Being visible on Virginia’s highways and interstates and enforcing live-saving traffic laws make an impact and State Police is proud to be part of the solution.”

In total, during the two-day “I-95 Driver to Save Lives” enforcement initiative, Virginia State Police cited 194 speeders and 11 people for failing to wear a seatbelt. In addition, 20 drivers were cited for violating Virginia’s new hands-free law. There were also two drug arrests made and three wanted persons were apprehended.

As Virginians start to plan for summer travel, Virginia State Police urge motorists to comply with all traffic laws, including Virginia’s hands-free law. Distracted driving can be deadly and as a driver, anytime your attention is not on the road, you are distracted. Do not let tragedy ruin your summer adventures – obey posted speed limits, buckle up and ditch distractions.

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES OFFERUP TO STOP SALES OF FAKE VACCINATION CARDS

~ Herring has also called on Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to act immediately to stop the sale of fraudulent vaccination cards on their platforms ~

RICHMOND (April 19, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 42 attorneys general in calling on OfferUp, an online mobile marketplace, to act immediately to prevent fraudulent or blank COVID-19 vaccine cards from being sold on its platform. In their letter to the company, the coalition raises concerns about the public health risks of these fake vaccination cards. Attorney General Herring has also called on Twitter, eBay, and Shopify to act immediately to stop the sale of fraudulent vaccination cards on their platforms.
 
“Vaccinating as many Virginians as possible is one of the most important ways we will be able to get back to normal and get this pandemic under control,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unvaccinated people, who use fraudulent vaccine cards to pretend they are vaccinated, could potentially spread COVID throughout our communities, putting the health and safety of Virginians and their families at risk. I will continue to push companies to prevent the sale of these fake vaccination cards to help Virginia stay on the right track in combating COVID.”
 
In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are urging OfferUp to:
  • Monitor its platform for ads or links selling blank or fraudulently complete vaccination cards
  • Promptly take down ads or links that are selling cards
  • Preserve records and information about the ads and the people who were selling them
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

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.

FOIA bill allows some access to criminal investigation records

By Anya Sczerzenie, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill allowing the public access to limited criminal investigation records will go into effect in July, along with a handful of other bills related to government transparency.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, a former television reporter, introduced House Bill 2004. The bill requires files related to non-ongoing criminal investigations be released under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law. 

“I’d been a journalist for 10 years, and I frequently saw that access to police records was very difficult,” Hurst said. “In denying those records, accountability and transparency were lost.”

Hurst said he hopes the bill will give the public reasonable access to criminal investigation files. 

“It’s good governance once a case is closed to let the public see it,” Hurst said. 

The bill will allow requesters access to files including descriptions of the crime, where and when the crime was committed, the identity of the investigating officer, and a description of any injuries suffered or property stolen. 

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors opposed the bill, Hurst said. Journalists and victim advocates generally supported it, and many crime victims want to see their case files, Hurst said.

The bill will benefit journalists, but they aren’t the main reason Hurst introduced the legislation.

“I didn’t introduce the bill on behalf of journalism,” Hurst said. “I introduced it for the people in the public who care about police accountability, to help victims get closure, and to help victims of wrongful incarceration, so we can try to achieve justice in those cases.”

A public body, such as a law enforcement agency, will have longer to respond to a FOIA request that is related to a non-ongoing criminal investigation. Public bodies can now ask for up to 60 additional days as opposed to a week to provide records, as long as they communicate this to the requester and have a valid reason. 

Hurst introduced a similar bill during the 2020 special session. The bill narrowly passed the House but didn’t advance past subcommittee in the Senate. HB 5090 expanded the scope of records made available to the public and also sought to limit the time frame for categorizing a case as “ongoing.” 

HB 2004 has no time frame behind its definition of an ongoing case. An ongoing case is defined as one that has not been resolved, or in which evidence is still being gathered for future criminal cases. 

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said her organization supported HB 2004.

“It’s not everything we wanted, by a long shot, but it’s a bill that moves us away from rejecting requests for records as a matter of policy,” Rhyne said.

The legislation only pertains to closed investigations, so it will be more useful for investigative reporters writing long-term stories than for breaking news reporters, Rhyne said. 

“This bill is aimed at at least getting the police to open up the file, look through it, and determine which parts of it can be withheld with justifications,” Rhyne said. “In the past, reporters would just be told that this material is exempt.”

Rhyne said the bill might also benefit the families of crime victims.

“The family members of both the defendants and the victims, and victims and defendants themselves, will be able to take control of their own narrative,” Rhyne said. “During the legislative session, we had family members of two people killed in Virginia Beach who said: ‘We want to be able to see this, to see evidence from the investigation of what took our loved ones from us.’”

Legislators introduced more than 40 bills during the 2021 Virginia General Assembly sessions that would have impacted the FOIA, according to the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. The governor also signed two other FOIA-related bills, Senate Bill 1271 and HB 1931, that apply to electronic meetings. Many government meetings have been held over Zoom and other video conferencing platforms during the pandemic. 

SB 1271 allows public bodies to meet electronically if a locality declares a state of emergency. Electronic meetings only were allowed previously if the governor declared a state of emergency. The bill also requires officials to allow the public to attend and comment at the meetings. Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Woodbridge, introduced the bill.

“It encourages videoconferencing, but doesn’t require it, in case small localities or public bodies don’t have broadband or funds to be able to do video,” stated Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association.

HB 1931 allows members of public bodies to meet electronically if a member has to take care of a relative with a medical condition and cannot attend an in-person meeting. Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, introduced the bill.

“This bill was put forward to make it easier for members of public bodies to attend meetings—at any time, not just during a pandemic—by electronic means,” Edwards stated.

HB 2025, introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, would exempt government email distribution lists from being automatically disclosed under the FOIA law. Under current law members of the public have to “opt-out” to not have their personal information disclosed when they sign up for government email lists. The new law requires members of the public and government officials to “opt-in” to have their information publicly disclosed. FOIA advocates wanted the “opt-in” provision taken out of the bill, saying it contradicts public records policy and could bleed into other potential exemptions.

The bills take effect July 1.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

FIRST STORAGE AUCTION IN NEARLY A YEAR UPCOMING

Attendees should wear masks, adhere to COVID-19 guidelines

EMPORIA, VA – An upcoming auction at Emporia Storage could produce a record number of units for sale, marking the most ever auctioned in the city in a single day. With the last storage auction in the city being held nearly a year ago due to Covid 19, expectations are high for this upcoming sale.

Emporia Storage has a unit auction scheduled at its three facilities in the city beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 24, 2021. Several climate-controlled units are expected to be included. A common thought among seasoned storage unit buyers is that climate-controlled units can contain higher-quality items that the renter felt deserved weather protection. While, that cannot be guaranteed in this auction, it is often true.

The auction will begin at Emporia Storage office headquarters at 315 West Atlantic Street, Emporia, VA 23847, then move to the units at 623 South Main Street across from 7-11 and finish up at its third location on East Atlantic Street across from Georgia Pacific. Those attending should adhere to current government guidelines regarding COVID-19 by wearing masks and practicing distancing.

Multiple units will be auctioned. The exact number of units will not be available until the day before the auction, but current trends are predicting several dozen. During this cash only sale, the belongings of delinquent storage units are auctioned to the highest bidder to recoup the loss of rental fees.

Gates open at 9 a.m. for registration. The auction begins at 10 a.m. Bidders will be given a few minutes to look at the units once they are opened. In this absolute auction, units will be sold "as is, where is" and contents must be removed by the winning bidder by 6 p.m. that day. A 15% buyers’ premium will apply. Please bring your own masks and locks, as you are responsible for security of your units upon winning the bid. The auction will be conducted by Carla Cash Harris, Emporia, Va., (434) 594-4406, VA License # 2907004352, a member of the Virginia Auctioneers Association. For more information, call Carla or Emporia Storage at (434) 634-2919.

Correction: VSP Seeking Tips to Locate Convicted Sex Offender of Lunenburg County

Virginia State Police is asking for the public’s help in locating a convicted sex offender who has failed to re-register, as required by state law. 

Michael Paul Trim, 44, is registered at a home in Victoria, Va., but absconded at some point and has not registered a new address. He last registered with state police in January 2021. He is believed to now be in the Hampton Roads area.

Trim is 5’9” in height and weighs approximately 155 pounds. He has blue eyes and brown hair.

Anyone with information about Trims's whereabouts is encouraged to contact state police by using the “Tips” link located under the offender’s picture on the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry search page located here.

PHOTO ATTACHED: The attached photo is the property of the Virginia State Police, which grants permission for its publication/broadcast.

Book Giveaway – Thursday, April 15th from 10AM-2PM AND Friday, April 16th from 2-6PM:

Please stop by the Greensville/Emporia Extension Office THIS Thursday (4/15) from 10AM-2PM or Friday (4/16) from 2-6PM to receive FREE books.
We have several great, high quality books that target reading levels from 4th-12th grade. We even have entire series of some book selections! Please come by to pick up as many as you like.
These books can make great gifts for family members as well. Come by to say hello and share the love of reading with youth you know!
If you can't come by during this event, but are still interested in receiving some books, please reach out to Hannah Parker at hdp2513@vt.edu or 434-348-4223.
 
Greensville/Emporia 4-H Earth Day Plant-A-Tree Event:
In celebration of Earth Day, Greensville/Emporia 4-H is offering FREE tree seedlings and educational material for the youth and their families of Greensville County, the City of Emporia, Jarratt and surrounding areas.
 
Please register by completing the form at the link below. Register soon to ensure you get to participate! Supplies are limited. First come, first served.

 
You will be able to pick up your trees and materials from the Greensville/Emporia Extension office on Wednesday, April 21st from 4-6PM or Thursday, April 22nd (Earth Day) from 8:30AM-5:00PM.  If a time is needed outside of this for pick-up, please get in touch with Hannah Parker, 4-H Extension Agent, to make other arrangements. Contact: 434-348-4223 or hdp2513@vt.edu.

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Sylvia Cullins Morris

June 14, 1934 - April 14, 2021

Graveside Service

11 a.m. Saturday, April 17

Greensville Memorial Cemetery
1250 Skippers Road
Emporia, Virginia

 

Sylvia Cullins Morris, 86, of Emporia, Virginia, passed away Wednesday, April14, 2021. She worked for Continental, GTE and Verizon phone companies and for 25 years as switchboard operator at SVRMC. She enjoyed her time spent as a member of the Red Hat Society.

Mrs. Morris was preceded in death by her husband of 60 years, Clayton Morris; her parents, Ella Johnson Cullins and John Cullins; also four sisters and a very dear sister-in-law.

Left to cherish her memory are daughter, Terry Anne Morris Joyner and special friend, Terry Pulley; son Winfield Morris and special friend, Mari; grandsons, Clayton Earl Boles, Jerry Mcintyre and Joseph Mcintyre; granddaughters, Libby and Kiara and numerous nieces and nephews and special friend and helper, Tammy Simmons.

A graveside funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, April 17 at Greensville Memorial Cemetery.

The family will receive friends at the home, 7700 Little Lowground Rd., Emporia, Virginia 23847.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Grace Community Fellowship, 8014 Little Lowground Rd, Emporia, Virginia 23847. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

WARNER REINTRODUCES BICAMERAL, BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO ENSURE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS ARE NO LONGER RESPONSIBLE FOR FORMER SPOUSES’ STUDENT LOAN DEBT

~ Bill would make a commonsense fix to make it easier for borrowers who need to separate their joint consolidation loans ~

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. David Price (D-NC) reintroduced bicameral, bipartisan legislation that would provide much-needed relief for individuals who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their spouse. While Congress eliminated the joint consolidation program in 2006, it did not provide a way for borrowers to sever existing loans, even in the event of domestic violence, economic abuse, or unresponsiveness from a former partner. The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act, cosponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would fix this oversight, which has unfortunately left too many borrowers liable for their former spouse’s student loan debt.

“Victims of domestic violence who flee their dangerous living situations shouldn’t find themselves burdened with their partner’s debt when trying to move forward with their lives. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for some Americans who are stuck with joint consolidation loans,” said Sen. Warner. “This commonsense bill would help a vulnerable population who’s been unfairly held responsible for their former partner’s debt, by giving them the ability regain their financial independence.”

“This bill is a direct response to my constituent’s experience with a damaging joint consolidation loan. I introduced this bill to provide relief to borrowers who are victims of abusive or uncommunicative spouses by allowing them to sever these loans,” said Rep. Price. “The impact on borrowers is often crippling and I’m grateful for the bipartisan support that this common-sense bill has received. Congressional action is long overdue.” 

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to pay the debts of their abuser,” Sen. Rubio said. “This legislation would provide financial independence to those survivors who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their partner. I am proud to join Senators Warner and Cornyn in reintroducing this legislation, and I urge my Senate colleagues to support this bill to deliver relief to these individuals.”

“Victims of domestic abuse should never, ever be on the hook for an abusive partner’s debt,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I am proud to join this commonsense, bipartisan effort that will be key in helping vulnerable Texans, and others across the nation, regain their financial autonomy.”

Specifically, the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act would allow borrowers to submit an application to the Department of Education to split the joint consolidation loan into two separate federal direct loans. The joint consolidation loan remainder – the unpaid loan and accrued unpaid interest – would be split proportionally based on the percentages that each borrower originally brought into the loan. The two new federal direct loans would have the same interest rates as the joint consolidation loan. 

Each borrower would also have the ability to transfer eligible payments made on the joint consolidation loan towards income-driven repayment programs and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act is supported by a number of organizations, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Consumer Law Center, North Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

“When survivors escape abuse, they should be able to start over without the debts of their abusers. We applaud this bill for creating a solution for those survivors who consolidated loans either in good faith or under duress and are now rebuilding their lives,” said Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. 

“For far too long, many student loan borrowers have been stuck in joint consolidation loans, and this bill ensures that struggling borrowers, including survivors of domestic and economic abuse, who previously consolidated their student loan debts, have the opportunity to regain their financial footing. We applaud Senator Warner and Representative Price for their efforts. This bill would benefit many vulnerable student loan borrowers, and we are proud to support it,” said Persis Yu, Director, Student Borrower Assistance Project for the National Consumer Law Center.

“Survivors of domestic violence in North Carolina face many barriers when they decide to leave an abusive relationship; shouldering the burden of an abusive partner’s debt should not be one of them. We applaud Congressman Price for filing this bill and helping survivors get one step closer to regaining rebuild their lives and regain their financial independence,” said Kathleen Lockwood, Legal & Policy Director at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The Action Alliance is pleased to support these efforts to provide victims of domestic and economic abuse with student loan relief. This bill will make a difference for people who need it, and I hope Congress will move swiftly to enact it,” said Jonathan Yglesias, Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

A copy of the one-pager can be found here. A copy of the bill text and be found here.

VIRGINIA AMONG 15 EAST COAST STATES PARTICIPATING IN ANNUAL “I-95 DRIVE TO SAVE LIVES”

RICHMOND – Virginia will be among 15 states, from Maine to Florida, participating in a two-day “Drive to Save Lives” traffic safety initiative along Interstate 95. On Friday and Saturday, April 9-10, 2021, Virginia State Police will be dedicating additional patrol resources to Interstate 95 traffic safety enforcement. Motorists can expect to see an increased presence of troopers along Virginia’s entire 178 miles of I-95, from the border of North Carolina to Maryland. This year the initiative coincides with Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“With April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month and Virginia’s new hands-free law, this enhanced enforcement initiative along the East Coast couldn’t come at a better time,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police. “This time of year people are on the road for Spring Break, vacations and outdoor adventuring. Keeping your eyes on the road, buckling up, complying with posted speed limits and never driving intoxicated, will help ensure your spring travels are safe, especially along the I-95 corridor.”

 In 2020, Virginia recorded 37 traffic crash fatalities on I-95, six of which involved distracted driving. Additionally, five of those crashes involved drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In all, 625 people lost their lives in crashes along the entire 1,920 miles of I-95 last year.

In addition to complying with traffic laws, drivers are reminded that as of January 1, 2021, it is illegal to hold a handheld personal communications device while driving a moving motor vehicle on Virginia highways. For more information on the new law, visit www.phonedown.org.

With increased patrols, State Police also remind drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.

Virginia Ranks 17 in Number of State Farm Dog-related Injury Claims

Emporia, Va. (April 8, 2021) - A new report from State Farm explains how it isn’t just people affected by the COVID pandemic. In fact, your own pets may have been picking up on your stress and anxiety.

In 2020, State Farm paid nearly $157 million dollars for over 3,185 dog-related injury claims. The highest month for number of claims and amount paid for those claims was at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. In March 2020, State Farm paid over $19 million dollars for 320 injury claims. Dogs were picking up on their owner stress and increased activity on the home (children home from school, adults working from home), resulting in negative behavior because of anxiety. In fact, children make up more than 50% of all dog bite victims.

Educating dog owners about being responsible will help reduce dog-related injuries because under the right circumstances, any dog might bite.

Virginia was ranked 17 in 2020 in number of State Farm dog-related injury claims (64 claims totaling $1.7 million amount paid).

In 2020, the top 5 states for dog-related injury claims according to State Farm were:

State                   # of claims             Amount paid               Avg paid per claim

  1. California              402 claims              $26.1 million                   $65,016

  2. Illinois                        258 claims              $12.6 million                   $49,012

  3. Ohio                    187 claims              $6.7 million                    $36,024

  4. Pennsylvania            158 claims              $7.0 million                    $44,716

  5. Michigan                143 claims              $6.3 million                    $44,735

 

National Dog Bite Prevention Week in 2021 will focus on transitioning pets in a post-pandemic world. As pet owners return to the work place or school, pets will be left home alone. This may result in destructive or aggressive behavior due to stress and anxiety. This will be a particular problem for dogs adopted during the pandemic. Newly adopted or fostered dogs might get the impression that normal life is quarantine life.

Emporia State Farm agent Peggy Malone is the president of the Emporia Greensville Humane Society.  According to Malone, the Humane Society had 32 adoptions in 2020 which is the most adoptions in a single year.   She is worried about the pets as their owners return to their work place.

“It is going to be hard for pets once everything returns to normal. They are used to having their humans around all the time and being able to spending a lot of time together,” stated Malone. “It is best to start transitioning your pet now by leaving them alone for short periods of time and gradually increase the duration.  If your dog shows signs of stress or anxiety consider having regular playdates with another dog, enrolling them in a doggie day care or using a thunder shirt.” Malone emphasized that this process may take time so it’s important for owners to be patient with their animals.

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.

McEachin Announces Nearly $400,000 in School Funding from American Rescue Plan

WASHINGTON – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today announced $398,399 in funding from the American Rescue Plan to support public schools in the district as they reopen classrooms safely for students and staff.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away valuable, in-person learning from our students while leaving many schools struggling to support themselves,” McEachin said. “The American Rescue Plan is an opportunity to help get our students and teachers back in the classroom while also ensuring their safety. I am glad we passed this historic bill so that we may finally turn our attention to restoring our homes, businesses and schools.”

Below is a breakdown of grants received by each district:

Charles City County Public Schools

$1,312

Chesapeake City Public Schools

$49,327

Chesterfield County Public Schools

$57,817

Colonial Heights City Public Schools

$4,689

Dinwiddie County Public Schools

$6,537

Emporia City Public Schools

$3,624

Greensville County Public Schools

$3,967

Henrico County Public Schools

$75,560

Hopewell City Public Schools

$12,121

Petersburg City Public Schools

$23,994

Prince George County Public Schools

$4,820

Richmond City Public Schools

$118,556

Southampton County Public Schools

$4,172

Suffolk City Public Schools

$26,485

Surry County Public Schools

$1,508

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Lawmakers okay recreational marijuana possession, cultivation

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia lawmakers signed off on amendments that make the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana and homegrown plants legal in the state in July as opposed to 2024. 

“On July 1, 2021 dreams come true,” Marijuana Justice stated in a tweet.

 The group has worked to legalize the use and possession of marijuana for the past two years but said more work must be done. 

Gov. Ralph Northam proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. The House and Senate approved the changes Wednesday. The bills legalized marijuana possession and sales by Jan. 1, 2024, but marijuana legalization advocates and Democratic lawmakers lobbied to push up the date for recreational possession. 

Adults 21 years of age or older will be able to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. Marijuana cannot be used in public or while driving, lawmakers said. Virginia decriminalized marijuana last year and reduced possession penalties to a $25 civil penalty and no jail time for amounts up to an ounce. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. 

Individuals can also cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion beginning July 1, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The plants would need to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of people under the age of 21. Marijuana retail sales still do not begin until 2024. 

The amendments passed along party lines in both chambers. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Two Senate Republicans last week stated their support of the amendments, but voted no Wednesday. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, voted no. The vote was 53-44 in the House, with two abstentions. Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, voted no. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, did not vote. 

“This is an historic milestone for racial justice and civil rights, following years of campaigning from advocates and community groups and a strong push by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” Marijuana Justice stated in a press release when the amendments were announced. 

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said last week that legalizing simple marijuana possession now rather than later is important for racial justice. 

“Waiting until 2024 to legalize simple possession and therefore stop the desperate policing is allowing this continued bias enforcement against Black Virginians to continue for three years,” Wise said. 

Accelerating the legislative timeline was key, said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored the House bill. 

“The figures show that it is much more common for a Black or Brown person to be charged with possession,” Kory said. 

A state study released last year found that from 2010 to 2019 the average arrest rate of Black Virginians for marijuana possession was more than three times higher than that of white residents for the same crime—6.3 per 1,000 Black individuals and 1.8 per white people. This is despite the fact that Black Virginians use marijuana at similar rates as white residents. The conviction rate was also higher for Black individuals. Northam stated that people of color were still disproportionately cited for possession even after marijuana was decriminalized.

The legislation establishes the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products. 

The governor’s amendments called for the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts; failed to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor; or classified more than 10% of employees as independent contractors. This part garnered heavy opposition. The amendments are the first attempt to dismantle the commonwealth’s right to work laws, Republicans said. However, lawmakers pointed out that several provisions of the bill are subject to reenactment in the 2022 General Assembly session. 

Northam’s amendments called for public health education. The amendments will fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. Law enforcement officers will be trained to recognize and prevent drugged driving with the latest amendments. Legislators approved budget amendments to help fund the initiatives.

Legislators spoke in favor of the governor’s educational campaign. Others worried about an increase of drugged driving. Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, said that law enforcement will not have time to prepare how to identify drugged driving. He cited a study that found 70% of marijuana users surveyed in Colorado said they drive while under the influence of marijuana.

“I think this is another time where we are putting political expediency, political agenda over what is right for the safety and security of our citizens,” DeSteph said.

Northam’s amendments allow for certain marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged and sealed “as soon as state agencies are able” and to “simplify the criteria” for when records can be sealed. The expungement of marijuana-related crimes was originally set for July 1, 2025. 

The law will also allow individuals convicted with marijuana offenses to have a hearing before the court that originally sentenced them, Virginia NORML, a group that seeks to reform the state’s marijuana laws, stated in a post. That portion of the bill must be reenacted in 2022, the organization stated. 

“We are sending a message to our kids that it is okay to do drugs in Virginia now,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. “As a mom of four young adults I don’t like that message. I think it is selfish. I think it is reckless, and I think it is irresponsible.”

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said later that “the kids are already smoking marijuana.” She called it “a non-starter of an argument against the bill.” 

Howell, a parent of two, spoke in favor of passing the bill.

“If we have to wait another three years, I will be in my 80s before I can do legally what I was doing illegally in my 20s.”

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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