Thursday, March 4, 2021
The 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly came to a close on Monday, March 1st, which really concluded with a long twelve hours on the floor Saturday that included the final passage of the Budget bill, and tax conformity legislation that set a critical $100,000 threshold for PPP expense deductibility for 2020 for all businesses in the Commonwealth.
The budget was not just one of our final bills passed, but one I played a significant role in as we wrapped up this special session. The budget allocates state funding to our legislative priorities, maintains our AAA bond rating, and promotes fiscal responsibility by adding an additional $250 million to our total of $900 million into our Revenue Reserve Fund — to help rebuild our economy and put our Commonwealth on a path to come back from this pandemic better than before. In my position as one of the seven Subcommittee Chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, I was instrumental in the passage of many important amendments to the budget, and in assisting my colleagues in getting their critical budgetary priorities included in our final product.
The budget employs new and existing federal dollars to address critical needs such as COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, and disease surveillance and investigation. $89.3 million non general funds (NGF) over the biennium is allocated for mass vaccination efforts, maximizing new federal dollars. It provides $6.1 million GF and $40.9 million in new federal funds for state agencies to support disease surveillance and investigation, testing, and contact tracing. The new funding supports 47 epidemiologists and communicable disease nurses across the Commonwealth’s 35 local health districts and 3.5 program managers in the central office.
This budget has a big focus on education, adding $466.8 million for education over the biennium, restoring over 95% of funding removed since the onset of the pandemic. These funds are critical as students and teachers begin returning to in-person learning.
Initiatives include learning loss supplemental payments, which provide $40 million GF monies in FY 2021 to support local efforts to address COVID-19 learning loss. These funds may be used for extending the school year, summer school, tutoring, remediation and recovery, counseling and student supports, and certain facility modifications. This also permits school divisions to carryover funds from FY 2021 to 2022, with no local match required.
$26.6 million will fund additional school counselors bringing our counselor to student ratio to 325:1. $49.5 million provides for funding three specialized student support positions per 1,000 students, including school nurses, school social workers, school psychologists, and behavioral analysts. $62.1 million will be used to temporarily expand family eligibility for the child care subsidy program to assist families affected by the pandemic.
Within our final budget, we have included a much-needed 5% salary increase for state employees and state supported local employees, which includes teachers and law enforcement officers. Correctional officers will receive a $1,000 bonus, and our state police will receive an additional 3% salary increase plus an additional $100 per year of service to address salary compression.
The budget contains $18.9 million in one-time funding for the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to forgive no-fault overpayments of unemployment insurance benefits. Many unemployment claimants around the Commonwealth, some my own constituents, have experienced receiving invoices from the VEC to return money paid out to them due to clerical errors, so this change was critically necessary.
Skilled game revenue from this year will add $25 million to the Rebuild Virginia program, bringing total support for the small business assistance fund to $145 million. But come July 1st, those skill game machines will be illegal and need to be removed from all public locations, mostly found in restaurants, convenience stores, and truck stops.
The budget authorizes the Department of Elections (ELECT) to use about $1 million in remaining funds appropriated during Special Session I, 2020 General Assembly for the reimbursement of postage on absentee ballots. It also adds language to extend absentee voting-related policies, such as ballot drop boxes and my initiative for prepaid postage on the return of absentee ballots until new laws formally codifying these changes take effect on July 1, 2021. Language is also Included to create uniformity in collecting petition signatures for state and local offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
$300,000 is included in FY 2022 for ELECT to educate voters on changes made to election law in the 2020 and 2021 General Assembly Sessions.
The budget adds $129.9 million in state and federal funds to increase Medicaid personal care rates. It also provides $6.9 million in state and federal funds in FY 2022 for up to 40 hours paid sick leave for personal care attendants. $93.4 million in state and federal funds to provide a $15/day add-on payment for Medicaid nursing home patients, including $4.4 million GF in FY 2022 to increase the Auxiliary Grant rate by 10 percent to support individuals in assisted living facilities. 435 Developmental Disability waiver slots will be added, bringing the total to 985 slots in FY 2022, with the goal of eliminating the waiver slot waiting list in coming years.
Locally, we were able to include $5 million for the National Museum of the United States Army; and, provide $200,000 to the Lorton Community Action Center; $500,000 to United Community; $200,000 to Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services; $250,000 to FACETS; $200,000 to Koinonia; and $200,000 to BritePaths in FY 2022 from the TANF block grant to provide services to low-income families in Northern Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, our efforts resulted in $2 million towards the purchase of River Farm, and $1.5 million for Mason Neck Park’s drinking water supply. My amendment of $1 million will increase enforcement of unlawful direct shipment of alcoholic beverages into Virginia to curb the negative effects of unlicensed alcohol shipments on lawful Virginia businesses and allow Virginia to recoup lost tax revenue from these products. Also, included was my amendment for funding for the Department of Environmental Quality to test the effectiveness of certain plants to remove road salt from impervious surface stormwater runoff, and money for DMAS to convene a workgroup to develop strategies to finance health care services for undocumented immigrant children to ensure that all children living in the Commonwealth have access to quality healthcare. And, I was able to help secure an additional $10 million towards NoVA localities’ FY22 obligation to WMATA’s capital and operating programs to ensure that public transit keeps Northern Virginia moving.
It was a busy session!