VIRGINIA, USA — Lawmakers are meeting in Richmond for a short special session to elect judges and adjust the state budget to account for billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money.
The legislators convened at noon Monday at the Capitol. They will be meeting there in person for the first time since the 2020 regular session ended.
Meetings since then have taken place virtually or in special event centers because of the pandemic.
Legislators will be taking up a wide-ranging budget proposal crafted by Gov. Ralph Northam and fellow Democratic leaders. Over the summer, Northam has toured across Virginia unveiling different components of the larger budget, from small business relief, broadband access, unemployment assistance, and more.
Among their tasks will be to allocate Virginia’s $4.3 billion share of the latest federal coronavirus relief bill. The sweeping relief bill President Joe Biden signed into law in March directed $350 billion in aid to state, local and tribal governments. The American Rescue Plan totals $1.9 trillion, intended to help meet pandemic response needs and bolster the economy.
In a tweet Monday morning, Gov. Northam highlighted these issues:
- $862 million to replenish Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund
- $700 million to achieve universal broadband by 2024
- $485 million to strengthen Virginia’s behavioral health system
- $353 million in small business recovery aid
- $250 million for school modernization and air quality improvements
- $411.5 million to increase access to clean water
- $120 million to help Virginians struggling with utility payments
- $114 million for public safety initiatives
- $111 million to expand need-based financial aid for Virginia college students
- $73.6 million to fast track critical upgrades to the Virginia Employment Commission
Northam worked with fellow Democratic legislative leaders to craft the proposal that will be taken up.
That's drawn the ire of Republicans, who say it shows a lack of transparency to decide behind closed doors how to use such a huge influx of taxpayer money.