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Why Virginia does not have a back-to-school sales tax holiday this year

The tax-free weekend allowed Virginians to buy school supplies, clothing, hurricane preparedness equipment, and energy-saving appliances without paying sales tax.

NORFOLK, Va. — A much-anticipated annual sales tax holiday in Virginia isn’t happening this weekend.

The state provision that allowed for a three-day sales tax holiday expired last month and there isn't a new provision on the table in the Virginia General Assembly.

The tax-free weekend let people buy school supplies, clothing, and hurricane preparedness equipment without having to pay sales tax. Certain Energy Star™ and WaterSense™ products were also tax-free like washing machines and air conditioners. 

Many parents and teachers relied on the weekend to stock up on school supplies, but things are different for thousands of families across Hampton Roads this year.

RELATED: Virginia's sales tax holiday coming to an end

Allyson Carthon, a Virginia Beach grandmother, said she’s never missed a sales tax holiday weekend to stock up on school supplies.

"It’s a lot," she said. "Now we have a 3rd grader and a 6th grader, so we have to take advantage of that.”

Carthon is raising her two grandchildren: Amir, a Kempsville Middle student, and Christian, who goes to Providence Elementary. She said she usually spends close to $100 on items like pencils and notebooks every school year.

“Pencils are now $4 a box! And that’s not even the sharpened ones!" Cathon joked. “Dollar store glue is not an option anymore! As much as we love going there, that glue does not work like it used to.”

But without the holiday, plus inflation, Carthon has noticed the higher prices.

"We have to have that tax credit back. We need it back," Carthon said.

How did Virginia lose the sales tax holiday? 

Dr. Benjamin Melusky, an associate political science professor at Old Dominion University (ODU), said state lawmakers are to blame.

"The state basically just plum forgot," Dr. Melusky said. 

The provision that allowed the tax-free weekend expired on July 31 and lawmakers are still in the middle of budget negotiations.

But could it come back? It depends on if the state legislature can agree on the budget in time.

“It also requires either a brand new bill from the legislature or it requires an amendment," Dr. Melusky said. "We would need somebody to step up and advance that, then have both chambers agree to it before the governor can sign off on it.”

Could the governor step in and do something? When asked, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s spokeswoman would only say in a statement: “…The status of critical items, such as the sales tax holiday, remains uncertain until a budget is finalized. The governor is currently considering the best course of action to address these concerns.”

Dr. Melusky noted that without this annual tax break, “for the average Virginian, it’s going to be a little bit of pain in the pocket.”

How local organizations are helping people get by without sales tax holiday

No tax breaks and rising inflation mean money is tight for many people. And with things costing more this year, more families are turning to charitable organizations to help.

That's something Alycia Archer, the chief operating officer of Norfolk’s Southside Boys and Girls Club, is noticing.

“That tax-free weekend gave them the ability to purchase a little more than they would usually have for the kids they have to provide for," Archer said. "Now that it’s not there anymore, it’s frustrating for everyone as far as being able to just provide, stretching a dollar.”

This month, her team is collecting donations for their annual backpack school supply drive. The club collects everything from USB drives to geometry sets for families who need them and gives them out in the community, free of charge.

“We’re just trying to bridge the gap," Archer said, adding she too has noticed the higher mark-ups at the store.

"Markers, notebooks, pencils, eggs!" Archer said. "Notebooks that would usually cost 10 cents, 15 cents are now a whole dollar.”

And it’s not just parents feeling the strain.

Regan Davis of the Chesapeake Education Association said teachers shouldn’t have to spend their own money on supplies, but that’s not always the case. And with the new school year nearly upon us, he’s urging lawmakers to act quickly on the sales tax holiday.

“I do know a lot of folks who have to buy supplies for the classroom because as an educator, we do not want our students to go without," Davis said. “We always look for a deal. Because in reality, we all spend money on our classrooms.”

Carthon said a lot of families are going to have to stretch their budgets this school year.

“I tell everyone to take advantage of when you see the backpack drives and all of that stuff –- that the churches offer, the neighborhoods and communities offer -- take advantage of it because, without it, a lot of people aren’t going to make it," she said.

The Southside Boys & Girls Club’s annual backpack giveaway is on Saturday, Aug. 19 from 12 to 8 p.m. at the Club. The address is 701 Berkley Avenue Extension in Norfolk.

The club is still accepting donations for the drive. They're looking for school supplies, art supplies, and school uniforms, including shoes.

Donations can be dropped off at Southside Boys and Girls Club anytime between 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can also donate money. Your gift is tax-deductible.

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