Sun, September 26, 2021

international

Negotiators strike deal on spending Virginias $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus aid


RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia Senate and House budget negotiators quickly struck a deal on Friday on how to spend $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding, rebuffing a last-minute plea from Gov. RalphNorthams administration that they stick strictly to the governors original plan for the money.

But Northam, a Democrat, indicated he supports the new plan, which the General Assembly will vote on when lawmakers convene again Monday.

The plan deviates from Northam's by providing a one-time $3,000 bonus to sheriff's deputies, boosting Medicaid rates for workers who serve people with disabilities, and requiring DMV offices to reopen to walk-in services that were halted during the pandemic. But their compromise would also allow college athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness - a provision in Northam's original proposal that the Senate version hadstripped out.

The conference report appeared to have buy-in from Northam, despite the tweaks to the original appropriations bill.

"The governor is grateful to the legislature for their hard work and collaborative partnership," Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a written statement. "This bill makes critical investments in small businesses, public health infrastructure, first responders and law enforcement, universal broadband, and college affordability. It will move our Commonwealth forward, and we look forward to seeing it passed."

The General Assembly convened a planned two-week special session on Aug. 2 with the expectation that both chambers would pass the plan that Northam had hashed out ahead of time with leaders of the two Democratically controlled chambers.

That plan included$800 million in American Rescue Plan Act fundsto restore the unemployment trust fund, $700 million for rural broadband projects and $250 million for school ventilation systems. It also set aside $800 million for future needs.

The House passed that versionwithout amendments, but a few Democrats teamed up with Republicans in the closely divided Senate to force several changes, including one to provide $5,000 bonuses for three years to sheriff's deputies and jail personnel, and another to boost pay for Medicaid disability providers.

The upper chamber had also stripped language from the bill related to the ability of college athletes to earn money for the use of their name, image and likeness. And it included language to require Department of Motor Vehicle offices to resume walk-in services, which have been suspended during the pandemic.

The House and Senate appointed budget conferees Thursday, and late that night, they got an email from Finance Secretary Joseph Flores, urging them to revert to the original bill, according to a copy of the emailobtained by The Washington Post.

Northam is "looking forward to a quick resolution to the few outstanding items to ensure these resources are put to work for Virginians as soon as possible," Flores wrote. "As such, he is asking for a bill with no amendments - fiscal or policy - reflecting the agreement we negotiated and hammered out prior to the beginning of this special session."

A bipartisan team from both chambers began meeting Friday and came to an agreement within a few hours, loweringthe bonus for sheriff's deputies to $3,000 and limitingit to a single year instead of three. It restored the college athletics provision, and gave the DMV 60 days to start walk-in service, rather than the 30 the Senate had called for.

Published : August 07, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Laura Vozzella