Public Comments for 08/02/2021 Appropriations
Dear Members of the House Appropriations Committee, The Loudoun Chamber, which collectively represents over 1,100 member businesses and tens of thousands of employees across the region, would like to express our support for your investment priorities for the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funding. Specifically, we support your prioritization for secondary education affordability, full funding of the Rebuild Virginia small business recovery plan, funding of the Unemployment Trust Fund, and creating more equitable access to broadband for Virginia’s citizens. We also ask that you would consider an increase to the Rebuild Virginia Recovery Fund in order to support a greater number of new applicants in the tourism and hospitality industry most impacted over the past year. Providing $944 million in ARP funds to Virginia’s colleges and universities, with to help keep tuition costs low, especially for lower income students, will help thousands of students to achieve a degree or certification to begin refilling Virginia’s talent pipeline. Full funding of Rebuild Virginia and increased funding of the Unemployment Trust Fund will be critical to sustain our small businesses most impacted by the pandemic. Though, On July 12th in Virginia Beach, the Governor announced that over $353 million in additional relief would be directed to this industry. Of this, only $90 million will be available for new applications. The remainder of the balance is reserved to fund all previously submitted applications. For these reasons, the Loudoun Chamber respectfully requests that you increase funding to the Rebuild Virginia Recovery Fund to provide relief for previous applications as well as a greater number of tourism and hospitality businesses that will apply for the first time after being previously ineligible. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the need for equitable and reliable access to broadband. From the most rural areas to just being on the wrong side of a suburban road, broadband access allows workers more choice for employment opportunities and students across the Commonwealth to access their curriculum from home. This investment to full deploy broadband across Virginia will do just that. On behalf of our members and the business community across the Commonwealth. Thank you for your investment and consideration in these critical areas through the American Rescue Plan Funding. Sincerely, Grafton deButts Vice President of Membership & Government Affairs Loudoun Chamber
EVICTIONS: Thank you for the budget language on evictions. This will keep people in their homes, when bills have piled up for many without jobs or UI benefits, and the economy and health conditions continue to be changing. It also avoids Virginia spending money on the harms associated with families being dislocated. UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE (UI): 1) We support the allocation of $73.6M for customer service and related fixes. We continue to hear from Virginians who try repeatedly, without success, to get information and assistance with their claims. Adding capacity is essential. On customer service functions, it is essential that the VEC do a systemic audit and extensive system fixes to make the unemployment insurance system accessible to Virginians with limited English proficiency; currently, key documents are only in English, and the agency is poorly equipped to address inquiries in languages other than English and Spanish. We have heard from advocates that, functionally speaking, there is little to no access for other Virginians, including those that they serve. As to the modernization portion of this allocation, we ask that the VEC be directed to contract with 18F - a branch of the federal government that specializes in up-to-date best practices in government IT modernizations. We are worried that the current modernization plan will not succeed, and needs 18F's expertise. 2) The proposed payment of $862M into the UI trust fund is a mistake of historic proportions, and we oppose it. It is an anti-tax, trickle-down giveaway to business interests, and squanders Virginia's opportunity to respond to actual needs for Virginia families. The UI trust fund tax rules have worked for decades, in good and lean times, to replenish the fund via modest taxes on employers. Let that process work, and use this one-time ARPA money, instead, to lift up Virginia's poor. 3) We ask you to appropriate ARPA funds to provide $1000 monthly grants to Virginians who wait more than 30 days for their unemployment claims to be processed. (This follows the lead of a similar law passed earlier this year in Maryland.) Thousands of Virginia families, even now, are waiting long periods of time for crucial unemployment assistance, while they juggle bills and try to keep the basics. We've heard from people who can't put gas in the car to look for work, who can't pay for medicine, and who can't keep enough food on the table; their unemployment cases are still pending. There are still significant delays in the VEC being able to get to people's unemployment claims, and we hear from additional Virginians every day who are suffering from this. This grant program would help Virginia families stay afloat while they wait for their unemployment claims to be processed, and would cost only a fraction (likely, less than $100M) of the proposed UI trust fund deposit. Thank you.
The Virginia Community College System registers concern about the omission of two-year public institutions of higher education in line 1032 of HB 7001, and makes a request that ", two-year public institution of higher education," be inserted after "education," in line 1032. Twelve of twenty-three community colleges (CVCC, DCC, DSLCC, NRCC, NVCC, PDCCC, PHCC, SSVCC, SWVCC, TCC, TNCC, WCC) fall under the rules of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) for intercollegiate athletics. NJCAA rules effective on July 1 began allowing student-athletes to use their name, image, and likeness for commercial purposes. These rules apply, unless state legislatures impose additional restrictions or qualifiers. Many of these colleges' programs are nationally ranked, the colleges are serious about recruitment, and their student-athletes have a great record of retention and success. The introduced language could either prevent affected colleges from allowing student-athletes to use their name, image, and likeness for commercial purposes, or may allow them to engage in the prohibited endorsements and conditions contained in lines 1010-1030 by default since they are not included in the language. (Currently, the NJCAA bylaws relating to name, image and likeness prohibit institutional employees or boosters from making direct payment to athletes, and prohibit direct payments from the institution in exchange for athletic performance or as a recruiting inducement. These items are covered in lines 988—989, 18.a.1 and in lines 1026-1027, 18.f. Other conditions in HB 7001, such as prohibition for the student-athlete using his or her NIL for iitems contained in 1012-1020 are not addressed by the NJCAA). Thank you for your consideration of inserting “two-year public institutions of higher education” in line 1032 of HB 7001. Ellen Davenport, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations, Virginia Community College System
HB 7001: Dear House Appropriations Committee Members, The Virginia Association of School Superintendents would like to comment on Governor Northam’s proposed recommendation to allocate $250 million in federal ARP state set aside funding to school divisions for the improvement of HVAC systems. We are grateful for the Governor’s recommendations. However, there are several issues that may limit, if not exclude, some school divisions from benefiting from these funds. 1) Some school divisions may have already upgraded their HVAC systems with earlier funding. Thus, they would not have access to these funds if the current limitations remain in place. It would be helpful if these school divisions could use these funds in some other manner such as roof repair, mobile classrooms, ADA compliance or other such needs to keep students and staff safe to return to school. 2) At present, there appears to be a critical shortage of materials and vendors available to fill the existing need for upgrades. It would be helpful to have greater flexibility in the use and timing of these funds if the HVAC upgrades cannot be accomplished within the current time frames. 3) The requirement of a local match may limit school divisions from using their direct ARP funding to address critical needs not covered in the Governor’s proposal. 4) It is unclear if local funding spent for HVAC subgrades after March, 2021 but before the state funds are acted upon during the Special Session will be eligible for reimbursement. This issue needs to be clarified and greater flexibility provided if reimbursement is not available under the Governor’s current proposal. Thus, we would ask that the use of these funds not require a local match. In addition, we also want to highlight the need for greater flexibility in the use and reimbursement requirements for these funds. School divisions throughout the Commonwealth are continuing to experience great challenges in opening school for five days a week of in-school instruction while at the same time keeping students and staff safe. We want to thank you for your consideration on these concerns. Dr. Tom Smith Virginia Association of School Superintendents
July 14, 2021 Blue Ridge PBS by the numbers (5 channels and 3 streaming platforms) Broadcast Platform Households (Avg Weekly Viewers) Roanoke/Lynchburg: 110,153 Bluefield/Beckley/Oak Hill: 2,257 Tri-Cities/ TN-VA: 4,357 People 18+ (Avg Weekly Viewers) Roanoke/Lynchburg: 122,991 Bluefield/Beckley/Oak Hill: 2,495 Tri-Cities/ TN-VA: 4,373 Streaming Platforms (Google Analytics) Views – 30,810 Watch Hours – 7,112 Impressions 258,350 Click-through rate – 5% average (live streams have lower click rate since they are continuous) Special Funding Request The newly established education department intends to use the appropriated $650k to be where others are not and serve our community in a way that other stations cannot. The need is great and Southwest Virginia and our rural areas of Appalachia deserve our help. Blue Ridge PBS has been serving Southwest Virginia and underserved regions of Appalachia as the leader in educational and thoughtful news, documentaries, arts and culture, and children’s programming for over 50 years. Children, family, and community are important values in our economically depressed area with collapsed coal mines and barren tobacco fields. People struggle, yet their spirit is strong and unwavering, often giving when it means they do without.