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Virginia lawmakers approve budget for COVID-19 relief money

Richmond (WSLS)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers gave final approval Monday to a spending plan for $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, including funding for initiatives aimed at helping small businesses, increasing broadband access and replenishing the state’s depleted unemployment trust fund.

The budget approved by the Senate and the House of Delegates preserves most of a plan crafted by Gov. Ralph Northam and fellow Democrats, but also includes several amendments proposed by Republicans in the Senate, including raising bonuses for law enforcement officers. Under a compromise worked out by a conference committee, sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers will receive bonuses of $3,000, while state police will receive $5,000.

The budget will now be sent to the governor, who supports the budget compromise, according to Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky.

The budget also calls for helping small businesses avoid a large tax increase by using $862 million of the federal money to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund, which has been depleted by the large number of claims filed during the pandemic.

The spending plan also includes some protections against evictions and utility disconnections for families still struggling financially due to the pandemic.

There is also a provision to extend a 12.5% Medicaid rate increase for providers of services to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities through the end of June.

Another provision will require the Department of Motor Vehicles to resume walk-in service at its customer service centers throughout the state within 60 days. Because of the pandemic, the DMV instituted an appointment-only system for in-person services 17 months ago, a system that has drawn widespread complaints from customers.

The budget plan also includes a provision that would establish regulations to allow student-athletes - including students at four-year colleges and universities and two-year community colleges - to receive compensation from outside parties for use of their name, image and likeness in sponsorships, paid partnerships and advertisements.

Approval of the budget has been the main focus of a special legislative session that began last week. Lawmakers are also slated to elect eight new judges to the state Court of Appeals.

Republicans, in the minority in both chambers, have complained that they were kept out of the budget-writing process and stifled by Democrats who allowed little or no debate on Republican-proposed amendments.