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Southwest Virginia legislators divided on how COVID-19 relief money should be spent

Some say it should go towards universal broadband while others say it should go towards benefitting law enforcement

Efforts to divvy up billions in COVID-19 relief funds continues in Richmond.
Efforts to divvy up billions in COVID-19 relief funds continues in Richmond.

RICHMOND, Va. – Efforts to divvy up billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief continued Tuesday at the state capitol, but Southwest Virginia lawmakers stand split on how much money should be spent and where it should go.

Day 2 of what is expected to be at least a weeklong special session in Richmond hosted several proposed changes to how federal COVID-19 relief gets divided among Virginia.

“I think there’s some things on the table for southwest Virginia that really helped our area,” Republican Sen. Travis Hackworth said.

Democrats are standing by proposals already presented by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Some of the big-ticket items include $862 million to replenish the unemployment trust fund, $485 million toward behavioral health and $700 million to help achieve universal broadband by 2024.

Something Roanoke Del. Sam Rasoul says is a long time coming.

“Broadband accessibility is two things: it’s infrastructure and affordability, so we need to increase competition and have affordability, but then also build out more infrastructure to ensure everyone has access and $700 million will be coming out of this our plan to ensure that Virginia wins over the next four years are connected,” Rasoul said.

Meanwhile, $250 million is proposed for school modernization. Newly elected Republican Sen. Travis Hackworth, who represents part of the New River Valley, says he and his colleagues would like to see more,

“Southwest Virginia has long been overlooked for the schools we were wanting to see more latitude given to the low court localities on how that money could be spent,” Hackworth said.

Hackworth is also advocating for more money benefiting local law enforcement.

“We put in an amendment to the budget governor’s budget to actually increase the $1,000 bonus that he had in there for the sheriff’s deputies and the Regional Jail officers to 5,000, so we’re getting some traction with that,” he said.

As Democrats remain in control of the House and the Senate, it’s unclear if any proposed changes by Republicans will get added to the budget bill.

“For us is making sure that we’ve got funding for some of our health care needs or education, ensuring that our schools are up and running, ready to go this fall, and then, of course, our small businesses,” Rasoul said.

But with the November General Election just months away, it could be a preview for their priorities if there is new leadership next year.

About the Author:

Annie Schroeder joined the 10 News team as a reporter in June 2020 and is no stranger to Southwest Virginia.