Ken Plum: Relief is on the way
Relief seems to be on the way for some of the drastic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with the discovery and manufacturing of several vaccines and the incredible rate at which the vaccines are being administered. There has been some easing of regulations of everyday life, but caution is in order to ensure that we do not ease ourselves back into high rates of incidences. It is safe to be hopeful, but caution is the smarter way to go. Over time with continued public encouragement the hard-core opposition by a small minority to vaccinations will gradually become less. How much evidence is needed as to the dangers inherit in the pandemic and the successes that vaccinations are having to change the minds of the very hard-core remains to be seen.
On the economic front there is very good relief. President Biden signed into law in March the American Rescue Plan from which Virginia will realize nearly seven billion dollars for state and local government. That is a lot of money by any measure but especially when compared with the $3.2 billion from the CARES Act funding last year. The American Rescue Plan provides $4.3 billion to the Commonwealth of Virginia and an additional $2.7 billion going directly to counties and cities.
While this huge chunk of money coming to Virginia will go a long way to offset some of the economic losses from the pandemic, it also will provide a jump-start to programs that have long been needed but never funded or funded at less than a sufficient level. It will not be necessary to wait for the money as it is being immediately distributed by federal agencies.
Last week Gov. Ralph Northam and leadership of the House of Delegates and the State Senate announced “shared priorities for American Rescue Plan Funding” that will be considered in a special legislative session this summer to formally allocate the funds. Those priorities read like a wish list for those familiar with the operation of Virginia government but now with the understanding that funding will be available to meet these priorities.
The priorities include upgrading state and local health services that were shown to be inadequate during the pandemic. Funding will be provided in addition to that appropriated in the last legislative session to help people with the cost of housing and utilities. The new money will help to fully fund the “Rebuild Virginia” small business recovery plan and provide relief dollars for the hardest-hit industries.
The Unemployment Trust Fund will be replenished after the historically high demand for relief by unemployed workers. Technology and staffing in the Virginia Employment Commission will be upgraded to better meet employment demands.
The pandemic made us aware of the need to rehabilitate and upgrade existing public school facilities to make them healthier, safer, and more conducive to learning. The additional money coming to the state will permit the acceleration of the ten-year plan to bring broadband to all of the cities and rural areas in the Commonwealth.
If you hear a big sigh of relief coming from the direction of the State Capitol in Richmond it is because relief is on the way!
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.