Governor

Governor Northam Announces $500 Million Investment to Improve Air Quality in Virginia Schools

$250 million in American Rescue Plan funding, $250 million in local matching funds, will complete nearly all currently planned school HVAC projects

HOPEWELL—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia plans to invest $500 million to improve ventilation and air quality in public schools, securing the completion of nearly all currently planned HVAC projects. The Commonwealth will allocate $250 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding for necessary ventilation upgrades, which will be matched 1:1 by local ARP or other relief funding. Ventilation systems clean and disperse air, decreasing the risk of various airborne illnesses including COVID-19.

Governor Northam made the announcement at Hopewell High School, joining school officials to celebrate the launch of their year-round school initiative. This announcement marks the start of “Investment Week,” during which the Governor and legislative leaders will highlight proposals for allocating the $4.3 billion in ARP funding available to the Commonwealth in advance of the August 2nd special session.

“Air quality is a key part of maintaining safe and healthy learning environments for our students across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “This investment will help families, educators, and students feel more confident about the quality of the air they breathe as we return to in-person learning five days a week this fall.”

In a recent report to the Commission on School Construction and Modernization, the Virginia Department of Education analyzed 117 Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) from school divisions detailing the projects they plan to complete in the next decade. Following plans for new buildings and renovations, school divisions most frequently planned for HVAC repair and replacement projects, with a total of 463 HVAC projects amounting to $623 million. Governor Northam’s investment will secure the completion of nearly all currently planned projects.

“Ensuring there is clean air in our classrooms helps assure staff and students that schools are safe places so they can focus on learning,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “We know high quality ventilation systems reduce the number of virus particles in the air, and this investment means that Virginia schools will have updated HVAC systems for years to come.”

Funding will be allocated to school divisions based on their average daily membership, with a minimum allocation of $200,000 per school division. The funds will be granted as reimbursements to divisions completing HVAC projects.

“This funding is incredibly important for schools across the Commonwealth in dire need of upgrading their ventilation systems,” said Senator Louise Lucas, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee. “I’m proud we can provide this necessary support on behalf of teachers, staff, students, and communities.”

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have recognized the need to improve their air quality and HVAC systems,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler, Chair of the House Education Committee. “Now more than ever, this funding is critical to ensuring we provide a safe and supportive learning environment to students in Virginia schools.”

Every schools in Virginia is required to make in-person instruction available to all students in the 2021-2022 school year, pursuant to Senate Bill 1303 which was passed during Virginia’s 2021 special session.

“When the special session convenes next week, the Commonwealth has the opportunity to invest in its future, beginning with its students,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “This investment is another prime example of how we will be utilizing American Rescue Plan funding to move Virginia forward and build on the investments of last year’s CARES Act funding.

“Together with the localities, we are working to address school modernization needs across the Commonwealth,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “This partnership will support our collective efforts to create healthy learning environments for all of our students.”

In 2020, Governor Northam directed $492 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to public schools and PreK-12 state-level education initiatives. This year, Virginia received approximately $939 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021. Ninety percent of the funding was distributed to school divisions in January, with the other 10 percent set aside for targeted state-level initiatives to address the impact of the pandemic on students and schools. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act ESSER III funds directly allocate $1.9 billion to school divisions, with an additional state set aside of $211 million.

Governor Northam Announces Virginia’s Unemployment Rate Dropped Again, Falling to 4.3 Percent in June

Payroll employment increased by 3,200 jobs

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia’s unemployment rate dropped 0.2-percentage point to 4.3 percent in June, compared to 8.8 percent one year ago. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the Commonwealth continues to be below the national rate of 5.8 percent.

“Virginia’s falling unemployment rate and expanding labor force show the strength of our economy and business climate,” said Governor Northam. “We continue to be recognized as best place in America to do business because we are building a Commonwealth where both workers and employers can thrive. We can all be optimistic about what the future holds as we move beyond this pandemic.”

Virginia had the fourth lowest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate among the Southeast states behind Alabama, Oklahoma, and Georgia.

“The Commonwealth’s positive job growth and falling unemployment rate are welcome signs that workers are finding safety and opportunity in the job market,” said Secretary of Labor Megan Healy. “I look forward to maintaining this positive momentum in partnership with our business and workforce development partners, who are working diligently to ensure Virginians have all the support they need to transition back into employment.”

“Another drop in the Commonwealth’s unemployment rate is a great way to conclude this exciting week,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We expect to see continuing job growth in the coming months.”

In June, Virginia saw over-the-year job gains of 2.8 percent, and total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 3,200 jobs. The labor force increased by 4,343 to 4,234,360, as the number of unemployed residents decreased by 5,448 to 183,799. The number of employed residents rose by 9,791 to 4,050,561.

The private sector recorded an over-the-year gain of 179,900 jobs, and employment in the public sector added 10,500 jobs. Compared to a year ago, on a seasonally adjusted basis, 10 of 11 major industry divisions experienced employment gains. The largest over-the-year job gain occurred in leisure and hospitality, up 67,200 jobs, or 25.5 percent. The next largest over-the-year job gain occurred in trade and transportation, up 40,100 jobs, or 6.5 percent. Professional and business services experienced the third largest over-the-year job gain of 26,300 jobs, or 3.5 percent.

For a greater statistical breakdown, visit the Virginia Employment Commission’s website at vec.virginia.gov.

Governor Northam Announces Virginia to Invest $700 Million in American Rescue Plan Funding to Achieve Universal Broadband by 2024

Proposal will allow the Commonwealth to connect remaining unserved locations, accelerate 10-year plan to close the digital divide

ABINGDON—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia plans to invest $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to expedite the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure to unserved areas and close the digital divide within the next three years. This proposal will accelerate the Governor’s 10-year goal for achieving universal internet access from 2028 to 2024, with the majority of connections obligated within the next 18 months. In May, Governor Northam and General Assembly leaders released a joint statement outlining shared priorities for allocating the $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the Commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan.

The Governor made the announcement at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon and was joined by U.S. Senator Mark Warner, State Senator Janet Howell and Delegate Luke Torian, who chair the General Assembly’s money committees, and State Senator Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Roslyn Tyler, who lead Virginia’s Broadband Advisory Council. Governor Northam also reported that the Commonwealth has successfully bridged half of the digital divide, with an estimated 233,500 unserved locations remaining.

“It’s time to close the digital divide in our Commonwealth and treat internet service like the 21st century necessity that it is—not just a luxury for some, but an essential utility for all,” said Governor Northam. “The pandemic has reinforced how important high-quality broadband is for the health, education, and economic opportunity, and we cannot afford to leave any community behind. With this historic $700 million investment, universal broadband is now within our reach. I am grateful to Senator Warner for fighting to include this funding in the American Rescue Plan, which will be key to the success of local connectivity efforts and to ensuring every Virginian has affordable, reliable, and equitable access to high-speed internet.”

Since 2018, the Commonwealth has awarded approximately $124 million in broadband grants and connected over 140,000 homes, businesses, and community anchors. Governor Northam and the General Assembly made historic investments—$50 million in 2020 and an additional $50 million in 2021—in the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), a public-private partnership that provides targeted financial assistance to extend broadband service to areas currently unserved by a provider. With this $700 million allocation of federal dollars and continued state investment, the Commonwealth has the necessary resources to meet the tremendous demand from localities and broadband providers and close the digital divide in Virginia.

“With telehealth and telework becoming permanent staples across the nation, access to broadband is more critical than ever,” said U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner. “Earlier this year, I was proud to help deliver more than $3.7 billion dollars in direct fiscal relief for the Commonwealth through the American Rescue Plan, including hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband. I’m hopeful that my friends in the General Assembly will use $700 million of that funding to expand access to broadband, thereby creating economic opportunity and ensuring that every Virginian can meaningfully participate in our 21st century economy.”

“Localities and broadband providers have stepped up over the past three years and helped the Commonwealth connect thousands of unserved Virginians,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “With today’s announcement, large regional projects that achieve universal service can be funded across the Commonwealth without delay.”

Because Governor Northam prioritized broadband expansion well before the pandemic, Virginia is on track to be one of the first states in the country to achieve universal broadband service. In 2019, the Governor worked with the General Assembly to establish a pilot program that promotes collaboration between localities, electric utilities, and internet service providers to connect unserved areas to high-speed internet. In just two years of the pilot program, Virginia’s utility companies have helped connect more than 13,000 homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. Earlier this year, Governor Northam signed bipartisan legislation that makes the pilot program permanent.

“The Commonwealth continues to prioritize funding for universal broadband access and I’m encouraged to see these investments coming ahead of schedule,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “This appropriation of federal dollars will go a long way towards supporting the investments that the Commonwealth has already made to bridge the digital divide.”

“Funding for broadband is more critical now than ever,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We must continue to ensure that all citizens of the Commonwealth have access to quality internet access.”

“The Broadband Advisory Council has long prioritized funding to reduce the cost of broadband access and connect unserved Virginians,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko, Chair of the Broadband Advisory Council. “With this investment of American Rescue Plan dollars, we will greatly accelerate our progress.” 

“I have lived in a rural area my entire life and I know that the Commonwealth benefits as a whole when we lift up all communities,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler, Vice Chair of the Broadband Advisory Council. “This investment will have a tremendous impact on countless Virginians and allow our communities to prosper and grow.”

Video of today’s announcement is available on Governor Northam’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Governor Northam Launches #YourSayVA Digital Town Hall on Speeding

Virginians are encouraged to participate through August 13

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a new summer travel safety campaign and survey designed to engage Virginians in efforts to reduce speed-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the Commonwealth’s roadways.

The “Don’t Speed Thru Summer. Make it Last.” initiative uses both online and traditional media to focus on the dangers of speed and aggressive driving. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety, preliminary numbers indicate speed-related crashes have already claimed 182 lives on Virginia’s roadways and injured another 4,248 people within the first six months of 2021. Last year, 22,479 speed-related crashes on Virginia roadways resulted in 406 fatalities, the highest number in at least 10 years.

“Speed is driving up the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities on our roadways to record high levels,” said Governor Northam. “But these are not just statistics, these are the lives of parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends, and loved ones. As the summer continues, I urge all Virginians to make safe driving a priority as you travel throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.”

In addition, Governor Northam is inviting Virginians to participate in the #YourSayVA Digital Town Hall on speeding through Friday, August 13. To participate, visit the Commonwealth’s new highway safety portal, TZDVA.org, and click the icon for the #YourSayVA Digital Town Hall to access the anonymous survey. The data collected from the #YourSayVA Digital Town Hall will better inform state leaders of driving behaviors related to speeding. 

Speeding is the latest traffic-safety priority to be addressed by the Governor and his Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety, which is composed of representatives from the Virginia Departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, Health, Education and State Police, and led by the Secretaries of Transportation and Public Safety and Homeland Security. The team is charged with reducing fatalities on Virginia’s roadways and driving change in the Commonwealth’s highway safety culture. 

“While this may be hard to believe, driving seven miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit of 65 miles per hour saves approximately five minutes when traveling to a destination 60 miles away,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to safely maneuver around curves, adds to the time it takes to come to a complete stop, and increases the risk of crashes and injuries.”

“Every driver in Virginia plays a role in helping prevent a crash on our roadways by following the posted speed limits,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “Complying with the posted speed limits not only protects your life but the lives around you.”

The Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety will be promoting the “Don’t Speed Thru Summer. Make it Last.” campaign, both as a group and as individual agencies throughout the summer season. To stay up to date, follow the hashtag #SlowDownVA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

 

Virginia Finishes Fiscal Year 2021 with Record-Breaking $2.6 Billion Surplus

Revenue collections surged 26.4 percent between April and June, resulting in largest budget surplus in Virginia history

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today reported that Virginia reached the end of fiscal year 2021 with an historic $2.6 billion surplus, the largest in the Commonwealth’s history. Total revenue collections soared 14.5 percent over fiscal year 2020, ahead of the forecast of 2.7 percent growth.

“We have effectively managed Virginia’s finances through the pandemic, and now we are seeing the results—record-breaking revenue gains, a recovery that has outpaced the nation, and recognition as the best place to do business,” said Governor Northam. “Fueled by a surging economy, federal American Rescue Plan funds, and the largest surplus in Virginia history, we have significant resources available to make transformational investments in this Commonwealth. I look forward to working with the General Assembly in the fall to seize this opportunity so we can build a brighter future for all Virginians. ”

All major general fund revenue sources exceeded their forecasts for the fiscal year. Individual nonwithholding taxes, one of the Commonwealth’s most volatile revenue sources, accounted for about half of the surplus, although collections in payroll withholding, sales, and corporate income taxes were also well above their respective forecasts.

Total revenue collections reached $8.6 billion in the final quarter of fiscal year 2021. In June, revenues decreased by $180.8 million, or 5.8 percent, compared to the previous year, which can be attributed to the extension of the individual income tax filing deadline to May 17.

“We expected a strong revenue performance and this surplus is even larger than initially anticipated,” said Secretary of Finance Joe Flores. “We are encouraged that for the fiscal year, payroll withholding and retail sales taxes increased by 6.4 percent signifying that Virginia’s underlying economic foundation is strong.” 

The Commonwealth will release the final figures for fiscal year 2021 on August 18 at the Joint Money Committee meeting.

Analysis of Fiscal Year 2021 Revenues
Based on Preliminary Data

  • Total general fund revenue collections, excluding transfers, exceeded the official forecast (Chapter 552) by $2.6 billion (11.7 percent variance) in fiscal year 2021.
    • The 30-year average general fund revenue forecast variance is 1.6 percent.
  • Payroll withholding and sales tax collections, 80 percent of total revenues, and the best indicator of current economic activity in the Commonwealth, finished $560.2 million or 3.3 percent ahead of the forecast.
    • Payroll withholding grew by 4.7 percent, exceeding the forecast of 2.7 percent growth.
  • Sales tax collections increased 12.4 percent as compared to the annual forecast of 4.7 percent. Brick and mortar store sales increased 7.6 percent and internet sales increased 32.3 percent.
  • Fourth quarter results show that payroll withholding and sales tax grew 12.5 percent.
  • Nonwithholding income tax collections finished the year ahead of expectations, up 37.1 percent. This was mainly due to a 68.0 percent increase in final payments to the Department of Taxation. Estimated payments increased 19.8 percent.
  • Individual income tax refunds were a positive to the forecast as the average check size did not increase. Tax refunds were $339.4 million below expectations, a positive to the bottom line.
  • Corporate income tax collections increased 49.8 percent for the year, ahead of the annual forecast of 27.4 percent. A preliminary analysis of the data reveal a broad based increase from larger corporations based on economic related growth.
  • A complete analysis of all final receipts for revenue sources, including transfers, will not be available until the Joint Money Committee meeting on August 18.

Virginia Earns Back-to-Back Titles in CNBC Ranking, Remains “America’s Top State for Business”

Commonwealth becomes the first to claim consecutive wins with education system, workforce, and inclusiveness highlighted

NORFOLK—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that CNBC, a world leader in business news, has named Virginia as America’s “Top State for Business” in 2021. The Governor joined CNBC at the Port of Virginia for a live broadcast where the winner was revealed following an extensive study of 85 distinct metrics across 10 competitiveness categories. CNBC’s scorecard highlighted the Commonwealth’s education system, workforce, and commitment to equity and inclusion. 

Following the announcement, Governor Northam held a press conference with leaders from the General Assembly to discuss the pragmatic, forward-looking policies that propelled the Commonwealth to reclaim the top spot in 2019 and made Virginia the first state to win back-to-back titles in CNBC’s ranking.

“Virginia continues to be the best place to do business because of our world-class education institutions, talented workforce, and shared commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” said Governor Northam. “I am proud of what this coveted recognition says about the policies we have put in place and how they are driving growth and innovation across our Commonwealth. Our success is a blueprint for creating a vibrant economic climate in the post-pandemic world—and proves that when you lift everyone up, when you treat people right, and when you celebrate diversity, it’s also good for business.”

With previous wins in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2019, Virginia surpassed Texas for most years as the top state for business since CNBC debuted its ranking in 2007. This year, CNBC adapted its formulas to address the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, with a new focus on areas like health care, inclusiveness, and sustainability. Information about the methodology used by CNBC to determine America’s Top States for Business in 2021 is available here.

States can earn a maximum of 2,500 points across the 10 categories, and Virginia received a total of 1,587 points. In its 2021 ranking, CNBC noted Virginia’s highly educated workforce, strong economy, and stable business environment. The study also gives Virginia top scores for education, infrastructure, and technology and innovation. Read more about Virginia’s 2021 ranking here.

Since Governor Northam took office in January 2018, the Commonwealth has created nearly 90,000 new jobs and secured more than $45.4 billion in statewide capital investment, including approximately $7 billion in distressed communities. With major investments from global leaders like Amazon, Facebook, and Micron, and companies of all sizes choosing to locate or expand their operations in Virginia, businesses continue to recognize the Commonwealth’s competitive advantages.

Under Governor Northam’s leadership, Virginia has made historic investments in early childhood education, increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and worked to expand degree programs in computer science and technology at public higher education institutions to help meet the increased demand for tech talent. Virginia’s workforce investments also include the new G3 program, which launched this month and makes tuition-free community college and financial support for other expenses available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields.

Investing in infrastructure has been an essential component of Virginia’s ongoing work to create economic opportunity, facilitate commerce, and improve the quality of life. This includes improvements to the heavily traveled I-81 corridor, an expansion project that will once again make the Port of Virginia the deepest port on the East Coast, and the Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative to build a 21st-century statewide rail network across the Commonwealth.

The Northam Administration has also put a strong focus on advancing policies that make Virginia more welcoming and inclusive, ensure people are treated fairly and equitably, and make it as easy as possible for Virginians to participate in democracy.

Watch the full CNBC interview with Governor Northam here.

Governor Northam Announces Extension of Expanded Child Care Subsidy Program for Virginia Families

First Lady Pamela Northam kicks off Child Care Access Month of Action to raise awareness about new resources

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia families with young children will have improved access to quality, affordable child care through an extension of the expanded Child Care Subsidy Program. Earlier this year, Governor Northam signed House Bill 2206, sponsored by Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, which established a new short-term eligibility category for parents seeking financial assistance for child care while looking for employment and temporarily increased the income eligibility criteria through July 31, 2021. The Governor has directed the Virginia Department of Education to use existing federal funding to continue covering co-payments for families through December 31, 2021.

“Access to high-quality child care is not only critical to the health and safety of Virginia’s children, but it is also important for advancing a strong, equitable recovery,” said Governor Northam. “Extending these resources through the end of 2021 will help close the affordability gap for parents and providers, allowing thousands of Virginians to return to work, support their families, and grow our economy.”

The expanded Child Care Subsidy Program makes financial assistance for child care available to families with at least one child under age five who is not yet in kindergarten, with a household income up to 85 percent of the state median income. This expansion nearly doubles the previous income threshold in many regions of the Commonwealth and is the highest eligibility level in Virginia history. Families approved for the subsidy will remain eligible to receive benefits for 12 months, or until their income exceeds 85 percent of the state median income. More than 1,000 additional Virginia families were receiving child care assistance through the expanded Child Care Subsidy Program as of July 1, 2021.

“Our team has visited programs in every region of the Commonwealth this year and the benefits of in-person instruction for our littlest learners are clear,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “Virginia’s early educators are truly superheroes, and we want to ensure all families have access to these vital programs.”

As of June 2021, over 90 percent of licensed early childhood programs in Virginia were open, yet enrollment in the Child Care Subsidy Program was only 78 percent of what it was prior to the pandemic. The effort to continue assistance coincides with projected increases in demand for child care as parents and caregivers seek new employment or return to in-person work settings.

“Every child in Virginia is capable of success in school and beyond if they have access to the right resources,” said Speaker Filler-Corn. “I know, as a mom myself, that parents want what is best for their children. By reducing barriers to quality child care, this extension will be of great help to working families.”

The General Assembly allocated $62.1 million to the Department of Social Services and the Department of Education across state fiscal years 2021 and 2022 to expand access to the Child Care Subsidy Program. On July 1, 2021 the Department of Education became the lead agency for oversight of early childhood care and education programs in Virginia, a change that will help build a more unified and equitable system.

“Co-payments can be an insurmountable barrier for families who are already struggling economically as a result of the pandemic, said Senator Louise Lucas. “We want every parent and family in Virginia with a little learner to know that there are new resources available for quality care and education.”

On Wednesday, July 7, First Lady Northam will kick off a Child Care Access Month of Action with visits to early childhood care and education programs to raise awareness about these new resources. Information about upcoming events will be posted on here.

“School readiness begins years before the first day of kindergarten,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “We are dedicated to improving the subsidy program experience for parents and providers alike as we simultaneously increase access.”

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation will host a webinar for child care providers, advocates, and other frontline workers who are interested in helping families access these resources at 12:00 PM on Wednesday, July 7. Register here to access this virtual event.

For more information about child care assistance in Virginia or to apply for the Child Care Subsidy Program, visit ChildCareVA.com.

Governor Northam Announces $304.5 Million in Federal American Rescue Plan Act Funding Distributed to Virginia’s Towns

Payments follow funds received from U.S. Treasury for counties and cities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the Commonwealth has distributed approximately $304.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to 190 towns. These payments represent the first half of funding provided by the U.S. Treasury for Non-Entitlement Units of local government, with the same amount to be provided in June 2022. These funds are in addition to $2.3 billion available to Virginia’s 133 counties and cities directly from the federal government, as well as $4.3 billion that Governor Northam and the General Assembly will allocate during a special session beginning August 2. 

“Our Administration is committed to ensuring that communities of all sizes get the assistance they need to recover from the impacts of the pandemic—that’s why we expedited the distribution of funding for Virginia’s towns,” said Governor Northam. “These federal dollars represent an unprecedented opportunity to meet local response needs while also making transformative investments to support broad-based, equitable growth in every corner of the Commonwealth. We encourage collaboration across localities to maximize these funds for the benefit of all Virginians.” 

The Secretary of Finance issued a memorandum to local officials of Non-Entitlement Units of government on June 9, 2021 with guidance on distributing the first round of CSLFRF allocations.

“ARPA funding will provide significant assistance to state and local governments in a wide range of areas,” said Secretary of Finance Joe Flores. “We have worked diligently to ensure that all localities receive the funds designated for them, and we are excited to see the positive outcomes that will result for communities across Virginia.” 

The ARPA established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (CSLFRF) to assist states and eligible units of local and tribal government with COVID-19 recovery and infrastructure improvements. Within the categories of eligible uses, recipients have broad flexibility to decide how best to use this funding to meet local needs. Eligible uses of CSLFRF funds include: 

  • Supporting public health expenditures, including COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral health care, and certain public health and safety staff;
  • Addressing economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector;
  • Replacing lost public sector revenue, providing government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic;
  • Providing premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors; and 
  • Investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and expand access to broadband internet.

Governor Northam Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the Virginia Constitution

1971 document replaced regressive constitution in place since 1902 that enshrined segregation, disenfranchisement

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today marked Constitution Day by visiting the Library of Virginia to view original copies of four of Virginia’s Constitutions and commemorate 50 years since the current Virginia Constitution took effect on July 1, 1971. Until 1971, the Virginia Constitution included detailed provisions intended to disenfranchise Black voters and prohibit racially integrated public schools.

In the years after the Civil War, the brief period of Reconstruction was characterized by state and federal laws that expanded the rights and freedoms of citizens. But Virginia leaders re-wrote the state constitution explicitly to restore white supremacy, culminating in the Constitution of 1902 that instituted poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers to voting. The Constitution also required segregated schools by prohibiting the teaching of Black and white children in the same school. While some of the most discriminatory provisions of the 1902 Constitution were reversed by federal law or court decisions, it remained in effect in Virginia for most of the 20th century, until voters approved a new constitution in 1971.

“The 50th anniversary of Virginia’s 1971 Constitution is an important opportunity to acknowledge how our Commonwealth has evolved,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has 400 years of history—good and bad—and it is important that we tell the accurate, honest story of our past. Understanding our full history means learning about these events and the ways they are connected to the present day, so we can work together to build a better future for all Virginians.”

The 1971 Virginia Constitution took important steps to renounce the constitution in place since 1902 by eliminating the poll tax, enshrining a ban on racially segregated schools, providing free public education for every school-aged child, and prohibiting governmental discrimination based on race, color, national origin or sex. 

Work on the 1971 Virginia Constitution began in 1968 when Governor Mills E. Godwin, Jr. appointed a commission to revise the 1902 document. This action came in response to the momentous social changes of the 1960s, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other laws that superseded discriminatory provisions in state constitutions, including that of Virginia.

A.E. Dick Howard, the Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of Law at University of Virginia School of Law, served as executive director of the Commission on Constitutional Revision 50 years ago and directed the successful referendum campaign for the ratification of a new constitution.

“Thomas Jefferson famously called for each generation to consider the extent to which a constitution serves the needs of its own time,” said Professor Howard. “In 1971, the revision commission’s purpose was to repudiate the racism of the 1902 constitution, and to put Virginia on a sound and progressive footing. I consider Virginia to have been well served by the commission—they handed us a good constitution, and the proof lies in the fact that it continues to serve the purpose of upholding a democratic government.” 

Virginia adopted its first Constitution on June 29, 1776, declaring the total dissolution of the rule of Great Britain and its monarch over the citizens of the Commonwealth. Virginia also led the nation by adopting the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which later influenced the United States Constitution Bill of Rights. 

Virginians are encouraged to participate in events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Virginia Constitution of 1971. A list of some of those events can be found here

The public can view original copies of Virginia’s Constitutions of 1776, 1869, 1902, and 1971 from June 29 – July 1, 2021 at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

Governor Northam and Professor Howard viewing original copies of Virginia’s Constitutions at the Library of Virginia.

Governor Northam Awards Grants to Brunswick, Lee, Lunenburg, and Rockingham Counties to Support Innovative Agricultural Projects

Funding to help farmers transitioning from tobacco to vegetable production, explore feasibility of sustainable organic waste disposal

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Brunswick, Lee, Lunenburg, and Rockingham Counties will each receive grants from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund Planning Grant program to support local agriculture initiatives.

“We are pleased to see localities continue to use AFID Planning Grants to further embed agriculture into their current recovery efforts and long-term economic development plans,” said Governor Northam. “Identifying and supporting local initiatives like these that strengthen and diversify Virginia’s agricultural economy is critical to positioning this vital industry for success in the years to come.”

Brunswick and Lunenburg Counties submitted a joint application for $35,000 in AFID funds to help develop architectural and engineering plans for a proposed large-scale produce processing facility. The facility will be operated by Southside Virginia Vegetable Packing, LLC (SVVP) and provide infrastructure that allows the region’s former tobacco producers to transition to vegetable production. Organic and conventional vegetable crops offer former tobacco farmers a stable and growing market opportunity that leverages existing farmland, labor, and production equipment to maintain and expand their operations. SVVP has seen tremendous growth through its existing fruit and vegetable production, aggregation, and distribution, leading to the need for a larger produce processing facility to meet increasing demand. The AFID Planning Grant award will leverage an additional $90,000 in local funds.

Lee County and the surrounding region is also experiencing a shift from tobacco to vegetable production. The $20,000 AFID Planning Grant will be used to fund a feasibility study for locating a produce auction in the county. The AFID award will leverage $20,000 in funding from the county and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to develop a business and marketing plan, identify a suitable site, and create a design for the proposed produce auction facility.

Lastly, Rockingham County is exploring the feasibility of an anaerobic digester to provide the county’s large agriculture and food and beverage manufacturing sectors with a sustainable disposal option for their organic waste streams. Anaerobic digesters are an established technology that accepts organic wastes and processes them into useful soil amendments and fertilizers, while also producing a methane bio-gas that can be used locally or sold back to a gas utility. The $20,000 AFID Planning Grant will be matched with local funds and will explore the financial feasibility of such a facility, available waste streams, potential locations, and ownership structures. 

“Embracing innovation and exploring new opportunities in agriculture is key to the growth and prosperity of rural communities,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “Congratulations to Lee County, Rockingham County, and Brunswick and Lunenburg Counties for recognizing the importance of our local agriculture industries and supporting local farmers and producers by creating and expanding new markets to maintain and grow their farms.”

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which administers the AFID Planning Grant program, accepts applications for the program on a rolling basis. Successful applications demonstrate a clear need, a proposed solution, strong support from local government and the agriculture and forestry community, and the ability to provide matching funds. Additional information about the AFID Planning Grant program is available here. Questions about the program and application process should be directed to Jennifer.Perkins@vdacs.virginia.gov.

Governor Northam Welcomes Air Force F-22 Training Unit Move to Joint Base Langley-Eustis

Virginia’s congressional delegation and General Assembly members united in support of relocation to Hampton Roads

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today welcomed the decision by the United States Air Force to permanently locate the F-22 Raptor formal training unit (FTU) at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton.

In 2019, Governor Northam joined Virginia’s bipartisan congressional delegation and General Assembly members in urging the Air Force to select Joint Base Langley-Eustis as the new home for the F-22 FTU after it was displaced from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida due to Hurricane Michael.

“We are thrilled to welcome the F-22 Raptor formal training unit to our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Home to a significant number of military installations with critical national security missions and operations, there is no place that welcomes service members more warmly than the Hampton Roads region. Langley-Eustis is the right choice, with the ideal environment to achieve the maintenance and supply efficiencies that are critical to successful F-22 squadron training. This move is good for the Air Force and the Langley-Eustis community, and demonstrates that Virginia is best suited to host this mission and the next generation of air dominance fighter aircraft.”

“After years of advocating alongside the Virginia congressional delegation, we’re pleased that the U.S. Air Force has confirmed what we already knew: Hampton Roads is the ideal location to permanently house the F-22 training squadron,” said United States Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force and the Virginia Air National Guard to make sure the relocation process is a smooth one for the service members and their families that will now make the Commonwealth their new home.”

“The United States Air Force has chosen Joint Base Langley-Eustis here in Hampton for the F-22 Flight and Maintenance Formal Training Unit,” said Congressman Bobby Scott. “The Hampton Roads area is vital to our military and national security and we look forward to welcoming these service members to our community.”

“I am proud to welcome the F-22 Flight and Maintenance Formal Training Unit to Joint Base Langley-Eustis and Hampton Roads,” said Congresswoman Elaine Luria. “This decision from the Air Force and the Department of Defense sends a strong message about our community’s commitment to active duty personnel, our veterans, and their families.”

The rebasing of the F-22 FTU will include the relocation of more than 31 F-22 and 16 other training aircraft, along with an estimated 700 skilled military and civilian personnel and contractors and approximately 1,600 dependents. The personnel will settle in communities near Joint Base Langley-Eustis to support the unit’s training mission and operations. 

Joint Base Langley-Eustis is home to the Virginia Air National Guard 192nd Fighter Wing, which flies the F-22 Raptors. The Virginia Air Guard has experienced instructors and maintainers to help support the FTU.

“Consolidating the F-22 FTU at Langley-Eustis is the sensible move, and will allow the Air Force greater training opportunities while ensuring that investments in Langley-Eustis and its infrastructure get the use for which they were intended,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “This is important for our region and for the entire Langley-Eustis community.”

“One in 12 Virginians is a veteran, which speaks to the value and welcome we have for our military and its installations,” said Delegate Jeion Ward. “We welcome the F-22 FTU and its airmen to Langley-Eustis and the Hampton Roads community.”

Governor Northam Appoints Eric J. Reynolds as Virginia’s First Children’s Ombudsman

Independent agency is authorized to investigate and resolve issues related to families of children served by state agencies

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the appointment of Eric J. Reynolds as Virginia’s first Director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. The Office was established by the General Assembly and approved by Governor Northam during the 2020 legislative session to serve as a mechanism for reporting concerns about the treatment of children within Virginia’s foster care system.

“The role of the Children’s Ombudsman is to ensure every child in Virginia has a safe and permanent home,” said Governor Northam. “Eric Reynolds is a compassionate leader with extensive experience working in our foster care system and with agencies that serve children—he is the right person for this important position.”

The Office is an independent agency that is authorized to receive complaints and investigate and review actions of the Virginia Department of Social Services, local departments of social services, child-placing agencies, or child-caring institutions. Prior to the creation of this office, the only way for families to file a complaint with a local department of social services was with the agency itself or with the Department of Social Services. It will also monitor and ensure compliance with relevant statutes, rules, and policies pertaining to child protective services and the placement, supervision, treatment, and delivery of care to children in foster care and adoptive homes. The Children’s Ombudsman has the ability to advocate for legislation.

“I am honored to serve in this inaugural role,” said Reynolds. “I was drawn to this position because I know how much of an impact it can make. I look forward to working alongside the Department of Social Services to ensure that the needs of foster care children across Virginia are put first.”

“I was thrilled to champion this legislation creating the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman,” said Delegate Chris Hurt. “The work of the Ombudsman will be a critical step forward in keeping the best interests of the child at the center as complicated decisions are made.”

Reynolds most recently served as Staff Attorney for Court Improvement Programs at the Virginia Supreme Court. Reynolds previously served as Assistant Attorney General in the Division of Health, Education, and Social Services at the Office of the Virginia Attorney General. He also served as legal counsel for the Department of Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, Department of Medical Assistance Service, and Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services. In this role, he provided analysis for agency programs and assisted in drafting proposed legislation and regulation.

As an attorney, Reynolds has represented both parents and children in child welfare cases and family law. Reynolds earned his law degree from the University of Richmond and his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York. Reynolds will assume his role on Friday, June 25, 2021.

“The creation of this office is an important step in our ongoing work to strengthen Virginia’s foster care system,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “I am confident that Director Reynolds will build an office that improves outcomes and delivers results for children in foster care and their families.”

The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is headed by the Children’s Ombudsman, who is appointed for a term of four years by the Governor and subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. The Office is required to annually report its activities and findings to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services.

Governor Northam Announces Over $11.1 Million in GO Virginia Grants

Funding will support workforce and site development, infrastructure, entrepreneurial ecosystems

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced an allocation of more than $11.1 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grants to help advance economic recovery efforts across the Commonwealth. This funding will support 20 projects focused on expanding workforce development and talent pipelines in key industries, growing startup businesses and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and increasing Virginia’s business-ready sites portfolio.

“The targeted support that GO Virginia provides is critical to ensuring communities across our Commonwealth are well positioned to succeed in a post-pandemic economy,” said Governor Northam. “These projects demonstrate how regional collaboration can drive innovation and deliver positive economic results, including diversifying our workforce, supporting entrepreneurs, and upgrading our infrastructure.”

Included in this round of GO Virginia funding is one statewide project, 16 regional projects, and three projects through GO Virginia’s Economic Resilience and Recovery Program. The awarded projects will leverage an additional $7.1 million in local and other non-state resources.

“The regional approach of GO Virginia continues to spur creative economic development strategies throughout the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “These projects will support regional priorities and help communities achieve economic growth goals now and in the future.”

“The collaboration inspired by GO Virginia is evident in these projects,” said Nancy Howell Agee, who was elected to serve as Chair of the GO Virginia Board at the June 15th meeting. “It is important to recognize the leadership of the GO Virginia regional councils and the localities partnering on these important initiatives and acknowledge their continued efforts to build stronger regional economies that provide quality job opportunities for Virginians.”

Since the program’s inception in 2017, GO Virginia has funded 182 projects and awarded approximately $68 million to support regional economic development efforts. To learn more about the GO Virginia Program, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/gova.

2021 ROUND TWO STATEWIDE GRANT AWARDS

Cybersecurity Job Creation System | $1,450,000
Region 5 (lead): Counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton and cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach
Region 7: Fairfax County
Regions 3, 4, 6

Old Dominion University Research Foundation will develop and deliver a cost-effective, cloud-based compliance system to help Virginia’s Department of Defense contractors achieve Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) accreditation. A NIST 800-171/CMMC education program will be developed and delivered by Old Dominion University, Eastern Shore Community College, and as part of the four VA-affiliated universities and participating community colleges.
 

2021 ROUND TWO REGIONAL GRANT AWARDS

Southwest Virginia Regional Ecosystem Initiative Implementation | $290,850
Region 1: Cities of Bristol, Galax, and Norton and the town of St. Paul

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is partnering with SWVA Startup and Opportunity SWVA to increase the number of entrepreneurs in the region by 2027 and ensure they have access to a robust ecosystem, including support for existing, early-stage businesses. The multi-prong strategy includes hiring a regional ecosystem builder, implementing a virtual accelerator program, and focusing on increased outreach and programming to develop a more diverse entrepreneurship community.

Project Fuse | $70,000
Region 1: Counties of Dickenson, Lee, Scott, and Wise, and the city of Norton

Project Fuse will develop an action-oriented plan with business retention and recruitment tools for local economic developers to promote telework employment strategies in the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facilities Authority territory. This project supports the needs of companies and economic developers looking to expand the use of teleworking strategies as well as residents interested in remote employment opportunities.

Project Thoroughbred | $100,000
Region 1: Counties of Lee and Scott

Project Thoroughbred will add capacity to the maximum output farmers can produce, strengthen market confidence in the region’s ability to meet quality specifications, diversify products, and take the first step toward creating jobs for graduates of the Mountain Empire Community College’s Grain Management Program. 

Dearing Ford Industrial Park | $506,000
Region 2: Campbell County and the town of Altavista

The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance will manage a project to extend gas service to the Dearing Ford Industrial Park and the adjacent publicly-owned development parcels. This project will create the only gas-serviced site in the Lynchburg sub-region and significantly increase the marketability of the sites.

Helping Local Employers Prepare the Existing and Future Workforce for Industry 4.0 | $45,360
Region 2: Counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Covington, Roanoke, and Salem, and the town of Vinton

The Learning Factory in Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, in partnership with the Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, will address the need for trained talent in Industry 4.0 technology skills in the region and increase competitiveness for manufacturers. The project will convene employers and stakeholders to help identify areas of needed growth in Industry 4.0 such as necessary new technology, skill gaps among the current and future workforce, areas of potential collaboration and others. 

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope | $97,740
Region 2: Amherst County and the city of Lynchburg

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope will develop a Playbook for Future Centers to provide a programmatic guide of its existing Future Centers model that will focus on in-demand careers in the region’s targeted industries of manufacturing, information technology, and life sciences. The playbook will guide the operations and sustainability of the Future Centers model, a template for hiring a director of each Future Center, and a professional development and training module for effective Future Centers. 

Building a Regional Health Sciences Talent Pipeline | $100,000
Region 2: Counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin, and Roanoke, the cities of Covington, Roanoke, and Salem, and the town of Vinton

The project will establish the Blue Ridge Partnership for Health Science Careers to work as a consortium with public institutions and private employers, helping them to more systematically collaborate to leverage resources and align curriculum with employers’ future growth strategies. This project will accelerate the development of a new model for widespread business-education collaboration, increase the number of health and life science graduates, and begin to formalize a health science talent pipeline focused on engineering, cybersecurity, mechatronics, and the broader life sciences trade sector.

Minority Small Business Launch Center at Virginia State University | $453,000
Region 4: Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Henrico, Prince George, Surry, and Sussex and the cities of Colonial Heights, Emporia, Hopewell, Petersburg, and Richmond

The Division of Research and Economic Development and the Center for Entrepreneurship at Virginia State University will create a Minority Small Business Launch Center that will provide a comprehensive suite of services for minority business founders and early-stage businesses. Funding will support the creation of 90 jobs and 40 new businesses.

Virginia’s Gateway Region Sites | $1,634,407
Region 4: Counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, and Powhatan and the city of Petersburg

Virginia’s Gateway Region will advance site readiness in Region 4 by three-fold, elevating 15 sites (totaling 1,652 acres) to Tier 4 on the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Virginia Business Ready Sites Program. This effort will promote the availability of shovel-ready sites to prospective businesses, which will in turn help to create higher-paying jobs in the region.

Sussex County Water Study | $96,000
Region 4: Counties of Isle of Wight, Sussex, and Surry

Virginia’s Gateway Region will facilitate a preliminary engineering report for the evaluation of water supply alternatives to serve a 1,000-acre development site in Sussex County. Funding will support the expanded marketability of the site by identifying strategies to provide additional water capacity.

Campus 757 | $500,000
Region 5: Cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth 

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council will create an initiative to increase the percentage of college students who stay and work full time in Hampton Roads. The project aims to assist up to 400 companies and connect 700 to 1,500 students with employment opportunities. 

757 Collab | $2,415,573
Region 5: Cities of Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk

757 Collab, an ongoing venture of 757 Accelerate, 757 Startup Studios, and 757 Angels, will continue building and delivering new innovation and entrepreneurship programming, capacity, and services to early-stage companies by bringing together an accelerator, private capital, collaborative space, and community outreach programs. 

Establishing a Regional Internet of Things Accelerator Program in the Rappahannock Regional Entrepreneur Ecosystem | $215,000
Region 6: Counties of King George and Stafford and the city of Fredericksburg

Stafford County and partnering localities will collaborate with the Center for Innovative Technology to expand entrepreneurial programs in the Rappahannock Region. Programs will also support the technology-based Virginia Smart Community Testbed in Stafford and provide entrepreneurs with access to the proven Regional Internet of Things Accelerator Program and additional community-focused programming.

Northern Virginia Community College Dual Enrollment Expansion Program for Information and Engineering Technology | $1,106,777
Region 7: Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park

Northern Virginia Community College, in conjunction with multiple partners, will implement the Dual Enrollment Expansion Program for Information and Engineering Technology (DEEP-IET) to develop regional workforce capacity in IET, specifically targeting information technology and engineering technology. The DEEP-IET approach will target successful student outcomes with multiple touch points on the STEM talent pipeline and will result in 288 additional graduates, 96 new internships, and expand the number of certified dual enrollment teachers in the region.

Innovation Forward | $100,000
Region 7: Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park

The Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance will undergo a strategic planning process to determine the best approaches to organization and management, budgeting and funding, staffing, policy development, business development activities, and brand development. This project will ultimately develop regional capacity and leverage combined assets to grow and diversify the regional economy.

Accelerating Regionally Significant Sites | $786,333
Region 9: Counties of Culpeper and Louisa

The Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development will elevate one 700-acre site to Tier 4 on the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Site Characterization scale and enhance the marketability of a 266-acre Tier 4 site by completing water and sewer engineering studies for the sites. The project will benefit the region by increasing the number of shovel-ready sites and supporting economic development efforts that will increase the business tax base and create high-paying jobs.
 

2021 ROUND TWO ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY STATEWIDE GRANT

Expansion of Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program Mentor Network | $882,794
Region 7 (lead): Counties of Loudoun and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax
Region 2, 4, 5, 6 

George Mason University will expand the statewide network of Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program mentors, who will support startups and early-stage companies. Services will include assistance with developing strategic plans and accessing funding and grants through a new regional hub service network.
 

2021 ROUND TWO ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND RECOVERY REGIONAL GRANTS

The Future of Workforce Development Outreach | $148,689
Region 9: Counties of Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, and Nelson

Virginia Career Works – Piedmont will address newly identified service equity gaps by providing targeted assistance to displaced workers who do not have access to a career center or high-speed internet. They will create face-to-face support for job seekers and increase access to training and employment opportunities.

Accelerate 2022 | $100,000
Region 7: Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the city of Fairfax

Refraction Inc., in partnership with George Mason University, will launch Accelerate 2022, a high-profile, multiday showcase and pitch competition that will bring investors from across the United States to fund Northern Virginia startups and high-growth companies. The project will address the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on raising critical capital, which will lead to more than 100 high-paying jobs and $16 million in follow-on funding within five years.

Governor Northam Urges Virginians to Prepare Now for 2021 Hurricane Season

Early predictions indicate active, above-normal Atlantic hurricane season

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam is calling on all Virginians to prepare now for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1 and lasts through November 30. The beginning of hurricane season is the ideal time for Virginians learn their risk for inland or coastal flooding, find out which evacuation zone they are in, and develop an emergency plan for their families or businesses.

“Hurricanes and tropical storms can have devastating impacts on every part of our Commonwealth, not just coastal communities,” said Governor Northam. “As the 2021 hurricane season begins, now is the time for all Virginians to prepare for a potential storm by checking your insurance coverage, making an emergency plan, and having a disaster kit ready.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts an above-normal 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, with a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes, including 3 to 5 major hurricanes. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season had a record-breaking 30 named tropical storms, including 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes. Virginia has been prone to many impacts from tropical systems including damaging winds, flooding, and tornadoes. Even storms that start in the lower Atlantic states have the potential to cause significant damage.

“Hurricane preparedness is even more important today, as we have seen an increase in the number and intensity of storms in recent years,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “Together with all of our emergency management and public safety partners across the Commonwealth, we have spent months preparing for hurricane season, and we encourage Virginians to make plans to protect their families and property.”

Virginians are encouraged to review the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which includes information on preparedness, response, and recovery activities in the event of tropical weather, particularly for coastal evacuation areas of the Commonwealth. This year’s guide includes pandemic considerations, recognizing that COVID-19 is still circulating and there are still many unvaccinated individuals, including younger Virginians.

“Disasters and emergencies don’t affect everyone equally and we know that low-income and disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted,” said Curtis Brown, State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “We have made significant progress building equity into Virginia’s emergency management programs and will continue working to support at-risk populations well in advance of any event.”

Before peak storm season gets underway, all Virginians and those visiting the Commonwealth are encouraged to prepare by knowing your risk, purchasing flood insurance or reviewing your policy, and create an emergency plan that includes arrangements for your pets. Learn what to do to protect yourself, your loved ones, your property, and your community by taking these steps:

  • Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone.
  • Complete a family communication plan. Prepare for how you will assemble and communicate with your family and loved ones. Identify meeting locations and anticipate where you will go. Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on family communications plans is available here.
  • Check your insurance coverage. Remember, there may be a waiting period for a flood insurance policy to become effective, and be aware that not all hurricane-related losses, such as flooding, are covered under traditional policies. Now is the time to review your coverage and contact your insurance agent for any changes. If you are not insured against floods, talk to your insurance agent or visit floodsmart.gov. If you are a renter, now is the time to ensure you have adequate coverage to protect your belongings.
  • Make an emergency kit. Assemble an emergency kit that includes nonperishable food, water, medication, sanitary supplies, radios, extra batteries, and important documents. Learn more about building an emergency supply kit here.
  • Stay informed. Identify where to go for trusted sources of information during emergencies. Check with your local emergency management office to sign up for alerts that go directly to your phone or email. Be sure to monitor local news for watches and warnings in your area and follow directions of local officials. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

There are many resources available to assist with hurricane planning efforts. Learn more about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats at vaemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

 

Governor Northam Proclaims First Week in May as Virginia Public Service Week

Recognizes approximately 701,500 public sector employees across the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today declared May 3–7, 2021 as Virginia Public Service Week to recognize the dedication of federal, state, local, and tribal government employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The annual observance honors approximately 701,500 public sector employees who work on behalf of Virginia residents.

“The past year has been extremely difficult—and our public employees continue to rise to the occasion, going above and beyond to serve their communities and fellow Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “From those on the front lines to others who are behind the scenes, this week we have an important opportunity to salute the hard work of thousands of people who help make our Commonwealth the best place to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”

Governor Northam shared a new video message celebrating the more than 124,000 state employees in Virginia who are answering the call of public service with commitment, professionalism, and creativity.

In Virginia, an estimated 17 percent of the workforce is employed by the government. During Virginia Public Service Week, public agencies and institutions of higher education recognize their employees through awards and special activities. Virtual programs will be held for state employees again this year, including a special tour of the Executive Mansion grounds, a cooking lesson from Executive Chef Ed Gross, and micro learning sites.

“We depend on our employees and their dedication each and every day,” said Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson. “As in years past, this week provides an opportunity for team-building, connecting, and interacting among employee teams.”

Virginia Public Service Week is also an opportunity for employees to recognize their co-workers, particularly those who volunteer through the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC) in their communities, which raised nearly $2 million in just the last year.

“Taking time to simply say thank you, whether from a manager or a co-worker, lets an employee know they are seen and what they did matters to someone else, too,” said Emily S. Elliott, Director of the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management. “It’s important that we lift each other up during challenging times and remind one another just how important and purpose-driven our service to the Commonwealth really is.”

The full text of Governor Northam’s proclamation can be found here.

Governor Northam Invites Virginians to Celebrate Educators During Teacher Appreciation Week

Virginia Lottery’s sixth annual “Thank a Teacher” campaign honors educators across the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has proclaimed May 3–7, 2021 as Teacher Appreciation Week in the Commonwealth and is encouraging all Virginians to participate by sending personalized thank-you notes to recognize educators for their service and dedication to students. This year’s sixth annual Thank a Teacher campaign, sponsored by the Virginia Lottery in partnership with the Virginia Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and The Supply Room, celebrates the important role of teachers in Virginia and highlights the talent of young artists by featuring student artwork on each thank you note.

“While this school year looks unlike any other, one thing remains the same—teachers are the driving force in equipping our children with the knowledge, skills, and mindsets necessary for success,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia’s teachers have risen to the challenges presented by the pandemic, and during Teacher Appreciation Week we have a special opportunity to show them our gratitude. I encourage Virginians across the Commonwealth to join us in recognizing all those who are investing their time and talent to ensure every student is served equitably and shaping the lives of our future leaders in more creative ways than ever before.”

More than 100,000 thank-you cards have been sent to Virginia teachers during the first five years of the campaign. To send a digital thank-you note, or to request hard copy notes for your school, please visit thankateacherva.com. Hard copy notes also are available through participating PTA chapters and at all Virginia Lottery customer service centers. Digital and hard copy thank-you notes may be sent to teachers through Friday, May 7.

Qualifying teachers who receive a thank-you note can enter a drawing for a chance to win one of two Virginia vacations from the Virginia Lottery and $5,000 in credit for their school from The Supply Room. 

“Our superhero teachers have gone above and beyond for students over the past year,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “From early childhood to K-12, Virginia educators have quickly adjusted to new guidelines and are providing students with a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment to return to throughout the Commonwealth. This week, let’s thank them for going the extra mile every day for Virginia’s children.” 

For the fourth year in a row, the thank-you notes feature the beautiful designs of three student artists selected through the Virginia Lottery’s “Thank a Teacher” Art Contest. The winning entries were created by Sarah Saravanan, a first grade student at McNair Lower Elementary School in Fairfax County, Karmare Brownlee, an eighth grade student at Tabb Middle School in York County, and Andrew Gibson, a senior at Gretna High School in Pittsylvania County. 

Each winning student-artist received a $150 gift card from the Virginia Lottery. The art department at each winner’s school also received $1,000 from the Virginia Lottery and a $1,000 credit from The Supply Room.

“Every day, thousands of teachers are working to make a difference in the lives of our children and, consequently, Virginia’s future,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Teachers choose their profession because they are passionate about enriching the lives of the students who fill their classrooms. As your Secretary of Education, a former teacher, and a public school parent, I invite you to take a few moments to write a thank-you note to the teachers that sacrifice so much for our students.”

“Virginia’s K-12 public school teachers have always been a valuable and important resource for the Commonwealth,” said Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kevin Hall. “The Thank a Teacher campaign is a great opportunity to celebrate those teachers who have moved heaven and earth to continue supporting Virginia students and their families during these challenging days.”

Authorized by Virginia voters in a successful 1987 referendum, Virginia Lottery players generate more than $1.6 million per day for Virginia’s K-12 public schools. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, lottery customers helped generate more than $595 million in funding for public education. The Virginia Lottery has been the source of more than $10 billion for public schools since 1999.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Virginia Expands COVID-19 Vaccination Workforce, Creates Additional Pathway to Enlist Volunteer Vaccinators

Qualified individuals can now sign up through the newly established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced several efforts aimed at increasing Virginia’s vaccinator workforce to support the continued expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations across the Commonwealth, including a new initiative to recruit eligible individuals interested in administering vaccines.

Governor Northam recently signed House Bill 2333, sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby, and Senate Bill 1445, sponsored by Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant, which expand the pool of health care providers eligible to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia. Last month, the Governor issued Third Amended Executive Order Fifty-Seven to provide additional flexibility to health care providers in supporting the Commonwealth’s vaccination program and ongoing COVID-19 response. Earlier this week, Governor Northam announced that starting April 18, all adults in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Last year, we issued a call for 30,000 medical and non-medical volunteers to join our fight against COVID-19, and I am proud that over 35,000 Virginians have since stepped forward to assist through the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps,” said Governor Northam. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our health care providers and volunteer vaccinators, Virginia is now administering an average of more than 70,000 of the COVID-19 vaccine each day and has given over 3.8 million shots to date. By further expanding our vaccinator workforce, we can build on this momentum and ensure we have additional vaccination capacity as supply increases and more individuals become eligible to receive the vaccine.”

Health care providers who are now authorized to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia include but are not limited to dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, optometrists, and health professions students enrolled in an accredited Virginia program. Eligible providers may serve as vaccinators if they have the appropriate training and meet the supervision requirements. All COVID-19 vaccine providers are responsible for ensuring that individuals who administer shots at their site are authorized by law to do so.

Eligible health care providers may register to volunteer as a COVID-19 vaccinator through either the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) or the newly-established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry (VVVR).

“These efforts to increase the ranks of vaccinators will immediately affect Virginians and their ability to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We need ‘all hands on deck’ as we ramp up our vaccination campaign, and the legislation introduced by Delegate Bagby and Senator Dunnavant is crucial to providing additional tools for these unprecedented times.” 

Established in 2002, the Virginia MRC is a force of dedicated volunteers who stand ready to support the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in responding to public health emergencies and addressing ongoing public health initiatives. MRC volunteer vaccinators are required to complete a background investigation, volunteer orientation, vaccination-specific training as outlined by the VDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a skills assessment to demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. MRC medical volunteers may have the opportunity to serve in other positions and response missions.

The VVVR is a temporary COVID-19 emergency program administered by VDH and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) that serves as a pathway for eligible providers who only wish to serve as vaccinators during the COVID-19 response. Qualified registry volunteers are required to complete vaccination-specific training as outlined by the CDC and VDH and demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. A list of credentialed volunteers will be made available to hospitals, non-profit agencies, and local health departments operating community vaccination clinics upon request.  

Registering through either pathway is not a guarantee that an eligible health care provider will be enlisted to vaccinate, and volunteers may not be deployed immediately. While most Virginia localities are meeting the current need for COVID-19 vaccinators through existing workforce channels, demand is expected to increase alongside the Commonwealth’s growing supply of federally allocated vaccines.

For more information or to sign up as an MRC or VVVR volunteer, please visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-community-vaccinator.

Marijuana possession and cultivation could be legal by July

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam amended legislation to accelerate the legalization of marijuana possession and home cultivation in the state to July as opposed to 2024.

“Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize marijuana—and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health and social justice,” Northam stated in a release.

The governor proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. 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 possession. 

“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,” the group Marijuana Justice stated in a press release. 

Marijuana Justice seeks to legalize the use and possession of marijuana. The group advocates for communities most impacted by the criminalization of drugs with their “legalize it right” campaign.

The bills allow adults 21 years of age or older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. 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 cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The governor’s amendments would allow households to grow up to four plants beginning July 1. 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.

Legislators will review the governor’s proposals during the General Assembly’s reconvened session on April 7, according to Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who sponsored the House bill. 

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said 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 is key, Kory said. 

“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 original legislation established the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products. 

The governor’s amendments would allow the 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.

Lawmakers grappled with the dangers of juvenile use of marijuana, Kory said, and the impact of use on developing brains. 

Marijuana Justice wants to remove the delinquency charge that designates marijuana possession a crime, not a civil penalty, if committed by someone underage. The penalty is still up to $25. 

“Instead of punishment, young people should be evaluated for appropriate services that address the root causes of their usage,” Marijuana Justice stated.

The amendments would fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. The changes also would train law enforcement officers to recognize and prevent drugged driving. Northam stated that his amendments include “explicit language directing ongoing support for public health education.”

The bill established a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board tasked with providing youth mentoring programs to marginalized youth and those in foster care, as well as providing scholarships to children who have been negatively impacted by marijuana in their family or community. 

The current expungement of marijuana-related crimes is set for July 1, 2025. Northam’s new amendments call for 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. This will allow individuals convicted with marijuana offenses to be resentenced, according to the new amendment.

The bills originally passed along party lines. No Republicans voted for either bill, and several Democrats in the House did not vote on either measure. Sens. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, and Jill Vogel, R-Warrenton, stated that the governor’s amendments helped assuage their original concerns.

The conservative, faith-based organization The Family Foundation told supporters Thursday to contact their representatives and urge them to vote against the accelerated timeline. 

The organization stated that violent and nonviolent crime rates have increased in states that have legalized marijuana, citing an opinion piece from a police defense group.

“It’s always been about generating more tax revenue to finance the ever-expanding state bureaucracy, creating massive fortunes for those who would use marijuana (like gambling) to prey on our most vulnerable citizens, and catering to a generation increasingly void of moral standards,” stated Victoria Cobb, the foundation’s president.

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.

Governor Northam Announces Limited Capacity Increases for Indoor and Outdoor Gatherings, Some Entertainment Venues as Vaccinations Rise

Approximately one in four Virginians vaccinated with at least one dose

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to rise in Virginia, certain sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate with additional capacity and indoor and outdoor gathering limits will increase starting Thursday, April 1. He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus. More than two million Virginians, or approximately one in four people, have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“With increased vaccination capacity and our health metrics continuing to trend the right direction, we can safely take these targeted steps to ease certain mitigation measures,” said Governor Northam. “Virginians have come so far over the past year, and now is not the time to simply throw the doors open or let down our guard. While some capacity limits will be increased, we must all remember to stay vigilant and work together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.”

The Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued mitigation strategies like physical distancing, teleworking, and universal mask requirements. Key changes in the Fourth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two include:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 50 people for indoor settings and 100 people for outdoor settings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
  • Entertainment venues: All indoor and outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity. Indoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity or with a maximum of 500 people, an increase from the current cap of 250 people. Outdoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity, with no specific cap on the number of attendees. These venues were previously limited to 30 percent capacity or up to 1,000 attendees, whichever was fewer. 
  • Recreational sporting events: The number of spectators allowed at recreational sporting events will increase from 25 to 100 people per field or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less for indoor settings, and from 250 to 500 people per field or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less for outdoor settings.
  • In-person graduation and commencement events: Last week, Governor Northam issued preliminary guidance on safe in-person graduations and commencements, which included a cap of 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity for outdoor events, whichever is less. Events held indoors may have up to 500 people, or 30 percent of the venue capacity, whichever is less. Attendees must wear masks and follow other guidelines and safety protocols to ensure proper distancing.
     

The full text of Fourth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Virginia has now administered more than 3.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and is currently giving approximately 50,000 shots per day. Virginians are strongly encouraged to make sure they are pre-registered at vaccinate.virginia.gov, or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA, to ensure that the Virginia Department of Health has all the relevant information to reach out when individuals are eligible to schedule vaccination appointments.

Governor Announces New Service to Assist Virginia Students Applying for Financial Aid

Sets goal for every eligible student to complete FAFSA application

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of a new free advising service to assist Virginia students and families applying for financial aid and help address the COVID-19 related decline in completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Governor Northam also set forth a long-term goal for every eligible student in Virginia to complete a FAFSA application each year. 

The Virginia College Access Network (VirginiaCAN) and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) have partnered on a statewide effort to offer free, one-on-one FAFSA completion assistance. From March 22 through June 30, 2021, students and families can go to virginiacan.org/fafsa to schedule a virtual meeting and connect with an advisor who can answer questions and walk them through filling out the FAFSA application. 

“The FAFSA is the first step in helping Virginia students qualify for thousands of dollars in state and federal grants and scholarships,” said Governor Northam. “Completing the FAFSA can be difficult under normal circumstances, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote learning have added to the challenge of assisting our high school seniors with filling out their forms. This free one-on-one advising service will support our goal of ensuring every eligible student in our Commonwealth completes an application, and open the doors to affordable higher education and technical training for even more Virginians.” 

So far in 2021, 4,315 fewer Virginia high school seniors have completed the FAFSA, which is down nearly 10 percent compared to last year and mirrors the nine percent decline in FAFSA completion rates nationally. For students attending Virginia high schools with high concentrations of low-income students, FAFSA completions are down 33 percent. This means students who have the most to gain from state and federal aid are missing out on thousands of dollars in financial assistance for college and postsecondary training. According to a 2018 study, approximately 15,000 Virginia high school seniors that would have been eligible for Pell grants did not complete the FAFSA, amounting to more than $58 million in federal aid that students left on the table. 

The FAFSA is also vitally important for Governor Northam’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative, which provides financial support to cover tuition, fees, and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA. The G3 Program aims to make community college more affordable for low- to middle-income individuals seeking employment in high-demand sectors such as technology, skilled trades, health care, early childhood education, and public safety.

“The launch of this new advising tool comes at a critical time when we must double down on our efforts to support the future success of our students and our Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “While we have a lot of ground to make up this year, we are committed to helping every Virginia student get the federal student aid they are entitled to, and that starts with connecting them with the resources they need to complete the FAFSA.”

To meet the Governor’s goal of ensuring that every eligible Virginia student completes the FAFSA, he has directed Secretary Qarni to convene a work group tasked with forming long-term legislative and budgetary recommendations to improve Virginia’s FAFSA completion rates. This group will include representatives from SCHEV, Virginia Community College System, and the Virginia Department of Education, along with other key stakeholders and college access experts. The work group will conduct listening sessions with community groups to collect input which will inform their final recommendations to the Governor.

“Right now, Black, African American, Hispanic, and low-income students are less likely to enroll in college than the state average,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “The Virginia Plan for Higher Education calls for closing gaps in college access and improving FAFSA completion is the first step in closing those gaps.” 

VirginiaCAN, a non-profit organization with a mission to support and enhance post-high school education access and attainment for Virginians, is the lead organization in the new one-on-one FAFSA advising service. The five college access organizations participating in this effort include the Access College Foundation, ECMC’s The College Place, GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP), the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA), and the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC). 

“Most people who begin a FAFSA are stymied by questions on the form,” writes Joy Pugh, VirginiaCAN Board President and Executive Director of the Virginia College Advising Corps, in a new op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is where Virginia’s access providers can help. In the spirit of collective impact, these organizations have banded together to meet this critical FAFSA completion need for students and families across the Commonwealth.”

Governor Northam Proclaims March Women’s History Month in Virginia

Virginians encouraged to participate in virtual events, honor the leadership and contributions of women in the Commonwealth and throughout history

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued a proclamation and made the following statement on Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in Virginia and nationwide during March to honor trailblazing women who have helped move the country and the Commonwealth forward.

“Virginia has no shortage of pioneering women who have made history by overcoming doubt and discrimination, by daring to step into roles that had never been held by a woman, and by breaking down barriers for those who would follow. During Women’s History Month, we celebrate milestones in gender equality, and we uplift the stories of women who have impacted our world with their creativity, advocacy, service, invention, and discovery.

“As we honor the progress we have made, we must also acknowledge that many of these gains were not inclusive of all women, particularly women of color. In Virginia, we will continue to lift up all who identify as women as we strive for a more equitable future.

“We went into the 2020 General Assembly session calling it the ‘year of the woman’, with Eileen Filler-Corn becoming the first female speaker of the House of Delegates, and L. Louise Lucas becoming the first female and African American President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In addition, Charniele L. Herring became the first female and first African American legislator to serve as House Majority Leader, and Suzette Denslow became the first woman to serve as Clerk of the House of Delegates and Keeper of the Rolls of the Commonwealth. Her counterpart, Susan Clark Schaar, has served as Clerk of the Senate for two decades.

“Following decades of advocacy and with women at the helm, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which brought the nation one step closer to ensuring true gender equality is enshrined in our Constitution.

“Finally, 2021 was ushered in with Kamala Harris taking office as the first woman and first Black and South Asian Vice President of the United States. I am proud to stand alongside so many brilliant and intrepid women leading our country and this Commonwealth forward, especially in my cabinet, across our Administration, and directing our state agencies. Women’s History Month is both an opportunity to recognize the importance of women’s representation wherever decisions are being made, and to learn about the women who have helped us reach this moment, paving the way for the change makers of today and tomorrow.”

 

The theme of Women’s History Month in 2021 is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced,” which extends last year’s recognition of the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the continuing fight for suffrage for all women.

Virginians are encouraged to participate in Women’s History Month events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of some of these events can be found here.

The full text of Governor Northam’s Women’s History Month proclamation is available here or below.

Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Successfully Launches Fifteenth Resupply Mission to International Space Station

Spacecraft named for pioneering Black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson

RICHMOND—The 15th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station successfully launched on Saturday, February 20 at 12:36 p.m. from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A located on Wallops Island. The mission, designated NG-15, is a partnership of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft launched on the company’s Antares rocket, carrying approximately 8,200 pounds of cargo that included scientific investigations, crew supplies, and hardware. A secondary payload of thirty ThinSats, which are small satellites that carry scientific experiments into space and are capable of transmitting data from low earth orbit, was integrated on the second stage of the Antares as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) student outreach program.

The Cygnus spacecraft has been named in honor of longtime Virginia resident and pioneering Black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and in celebration of Black History Month. Northrop Grumman traditionally names each spacecraft after an individual who has played a pivotal role in the legacy of human spaceflight. Johnson’s hand-written calculations were critical to the success of America’s early human spaceflight missions. She was among the group of Black women mathematicians at NASA who were celebrated in the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures,’ based on the nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly with the same title. The February 20 launch date also marks the 59th anniversary of the launch of Friendship 7, a mission that made John Glenn the first American astronaut to orbit Earth. Glenn asked Johnson to verify the complex orbital trajectory calculations prior to his flight.

“This important mission honors the legacy of Katherine Johnson, who broke through barriers of gender and race, and whose mathematical skill has been integral to the advancement of human spaceflight,” said Governor Northam. “Her work also paved the way for the delivery of critical equipment and scientific experiments to the International Space Station, like that which is aboard this spacecraft bearing her name. We remain committed to making strategic investments to support the growing aerospace industry in Virginia and help shape the future of space exploration.”

The S.S. Katherine Johnson will arrive at the International Space Station on Monday, February 22, and will remain attached to the space station for approximately three months. NG-15 is the thirteenth successful Antares launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, which serves as the homeport of the Northrop Grumman Antares launch vehicle. The Commonwealth built the $120 million launch pad to accommodate the Antares 230+ rocket configuration and Cygnus spacecraft. 

Once the S.S. Katherine Johnson is deployed to the International Space Station filled with the primary cargo payload, the ThinSats will be released into Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO) from the second stage of the rocket. Students will be able to collect and analyze data relayed from their satellites for approximately five days before they deorbit and burn upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Today’s mission marks the second time Virginia Space has launched ThinSats on a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket—the inaugural launch was on April 17, 2019. First Lady Pamela Northam witnessed the liftoff and participated in a virtual ThinSats team meeting with students ahead of the launch.

“As a former science educator, I understand the importance of sparking curiosity and inspiring young minds to explore their world,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “I am so pleased to be able to watch this innovative STEM initiative launch the dreams—and possibly careers—of students across the country thanks to the amazing team at Wallops.”

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), in partnership with Northrop Grumman, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and Twiggs Space Lab, created the ThinSat Program, a low-cost initiative to increase student engagement in STEM-related fields. Through this program, students in grades 4-12, as well as university-level students, have developed satellite hardware, tested sensor components with low and high-altitude balloon flights, analyzed data, and as of today, launched an actual payload into space. 

Satellites for the ThinSat NG-15 mission were built by students from more than 50 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities located in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Princeton University, Salisbury University, and Taylor University, along with Virginia institutions Old Dominion University, George Mason University, and Virginia Tech designed custom payloads for the ThinSat NG-15 mission. Learn more about the ThinSat Program and the custom payloads here

“We are living in such an exciting time for space exploration,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Today, we launched an Antares rocket carrying a spacecraft that bears the name of NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson, witnessed the ingenuity of students, and marked the fifteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station.” 

“The Virginia Space ThinSats mission for NG-15 was especially challenging for schools during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Virginia Space CEO and Executive Director Dale Nash. “Like the vigilant Virginia Space workforce that has safely continued mission essential work during COVID-19, these students and their instructors persevered, showing tremendous resilience and grace.” 

The Cygnus spacecraft is also carrying critical materials to directly support some of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during future expeditions. The scientific investigations launching on Cygnus are part of commercial and academic payloads across a variety of disciplines, including:

  • Micro-16, a study of muscle strength changes in worms that will help scientists better understand the cause of decreased muscle strength that astronauts experience in microgravity. The findings could support the development of countermeasures to help maintain crew member health and support new therapies to combat the effects of age-related muscle loss on Earth.
  • The European Space Agency Dreams experiment will serve as a technology demonstration of the Dry-EEG Headband in microgravity, while also monitoring astronaut sleep quality during a long duration flight mission.
  • Spaceborne Computer-2 will build off of the success of its first study to explore how commercial off-the-shelf computer systems—those without radiation shielding or other modifications—can advance space exploration by processing data significantly faster in space, speeding scientists’ time-to-insight from months to minutes.
  • The Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing experiment builds upon an earlier project and will examine how microgravity may optimize production of artificial retinas or retinal implants, which could benefit millions of people on Earth who suffer from retinal degenerative diseases.
  • The International Space Station serves as a testing ground for technologies that NASA plans to use on future Artemis missions to the Moon. The Artemis HERA on Space Station (A-HoSS) is a radiation detection system developed for the Orion spacecraft and certified for use on NASA’s Artemis II mission. The investigation will evaluate this hardware in the space radiation environment prior to the Artemis II mission, the first mission on which astronauts will orbit the Moon in the spacecraft.
  • Previous research has shown that microgravity produces larger, clearer protein crystals that can be used to help better understand diseases and identify treatments. Real-Time Protein Crystal Growth-2 will test new ways of growing protein crystals in space and allow scientists to make real-time adjustments to the growth conditions throughout the duration of the experiment.
  • The Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) is a critical element of regenerative life support technology that provides clean air and water to the space station crew. The Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System investigation will upgrade to the space station’s life support system to help provide more clean air and water.
     

This will be the fourth mission under Northrop Grumman’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) contract with NASA, for which the company will fly a minimum of eight missions to the International Space Station through 2024. Launch pad modifications in 2019 made it possible to accommodate the loading of time-sensitive experiments into the Cygnus spacecraft up to 24 hours before liftoff, shortening the previous four-day pre-loading requirement. This is the fourth official mission to use this late loading capability, which has made the facility eligible for missions that include life science investigations in the payload.

Last year marked 25 years since the Virginia General Assembly established Virginia Space Flight as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the 75th anniversary of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Wallops Flight Facility. Twenty successful missions have launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. 

Virginia Space owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the MARS Payload Processing Facility, and the MARS Unmanned Systems Test Range. The facilities are all located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where their mission is to provide low-cost, safe, reliable, and “schedule-friendly” access to space and secure facilities for testing unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Air Space. Virginia continues to play a key role in national security and assured access to space, as one of only four states in the United States hosting a spaceport licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories. For more information, visit vaspace.org.

Governor Northam Announces Second Annual ‘Black History Month Historical Marker Contest’

Submission period open from February 15 to March 15

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today invited Virginia students, educators, and families to participate in the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

This initiative offers opportunities to learn about African Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history, provides teachers with resources to guide history discussions, and includes a contest where students can submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources. 

“This contest is a new Virginia tradition, and one of many ways we are working to tell a more accurate and comprehensive story of our shared past,” said Governor Northam. “Historical markers are a unique and visible way to educate the public about our history, and we need to do a better job of recognizing Black Virginians who have played prominent roles in areas like improving education, championing equal justice, deepening faith communities, and advancing science, technology, and medicine throughout our history. I remain committed elevating initiatives like this one that help make our Commonwealth a more just, compassionate, and culturally rich place to live, work, visit, and learn.”

Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1, and is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Historic Resources, the 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.

“These markers bring Virginia history to a large audience, including people who may not have another occasion to learn about Virginia history,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Virginia’s markers bear the state seal, so they should provide a clear indication of our values. This annual contest helps ensure Virginia’s historical markers more equitably represent Virginia’s diversity.” 

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 markers along its roadways, but as of January 2020, only 350 markers honored African Americans. Last year on Juneteenth, Governor Northam announced 20 newly approved state historical highway markers addressing topics of national, state, and regional significance to African American history in the Commonwealth. Ten of the markers were submitted by Virginia students through Governor Northam’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest and included civil rights pioneer Barbara Rose Johns, entrepreneur Maggie Lena Walker, Sergeant William H. Carney, and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.

“As a classroom teacher, I believe that Black history is the cornerstone to build a better tomorrow,” said Dr. Shavonne Ruffin, a Northampton County Public Schools elementary school teacher. “The Governor’s Black History Month Historical Marker Contest allowed my students an opportunity to discover the stories of influential African Americans in Virginia. It was remarkable to watch them light up as they learned about heroes like Katherine Johnson, and to witness their joy when they found out that due to their efforts, her important contributions would be forever memorialized through a historical marker.”  

“I liked the contest because I got to learn about amazing people who inspire me to be a better kid and make a difference in my community,” said Javier Rodriguez-Aragon, a fifth grader in Fairfax County Public Schools. “Last year, I nominated William H. Carney and Barbara Johns for Virginia historical markers so that more people can learn their stories and be inspired.”

Learn more about the winning markers submitted by students in the inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest here.

The contest web page includes a lesson plan and classroom activity guide developed by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood, which is designed to help teachers and administrators navigate these discussions thoughtfully and inclusively and can be used for in-person or virtual classroom settings.

“As an educator, I believe deeply in the power of learning through the exploration of local history,” said Dr. Underwood. “Since 1619, stories of incredible African American Virginians have frequently been ignored. This contest allows for students to discover local heroes and provides students an opportunity for civic engagement inviting them to suggest new historical markers.”  

Governor Northam’s Black History Month Historical Marker Contest begins on Monday, February 15, and suggested historical markers must be submitted by Monday, March 15. The Department of Historical Resources will review all submissions and will select the top five, in consultation with Governor Northam and members of his Cabinet.  

“As the leaders of tomorrow, it is critically important for students to develop a deeper understanding of Black history in the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest provides students and educators alike an opportunity to celebrate the incredible contributions of Black and brown Virginians. I invite all educators and students to help us tell a more complete Virginia story through participating in this contest.”

More information about how to participate in the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest is available here.

 

Governor Northam Recognizes February as Black History Month in Virginia

Invites Virginians to reflect upon contributions of African Americans, participate safely in events throughout the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued a proclamation and made the following statement on Black History Month, which is celebrated in Virginia and nationwide during February.

“Black history is American history and should be acknowledged and celebrated continuously as fundamental to the strength and diversity of our Commonwealth and our country. The celebration of Black History Month provides an important opportunity to tell a more accurate and comprehensive story of our past and honor the legacy of countless Black Americans that have shaped our history.

“As we continue working to build a more inclusive, equitable, and just future for all, we must also reaffirm our commitment to lifting up the people and places that for too long have been marginalized or forgotten. From business and science to sports and the arts, I encourage Virginians to find ways to recognize the many contributions and achievements of African Americans, not just during the month of February, but every month of the year.”

The theme of 2021’s national Black History Month is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” This year marks the 95th observance of Black History Month, which was originally founded as Negro History Week by Virginia native and historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926.

Virginians are encouraged to participate in events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of such events can be found here.

Click here to view a video from the Virginia Tourism Corporation that highlights artists, exhibits, and events that celebrate Black History in Virginia.

The full text of Governor Northam’s Black History Month proclamation is available here or below.

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