Regular Briefings End - Governor Announces Assistance Programs
In his last regular briefing on COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam reviewed coronavirus numbers, announced assistance programs for housing and energy bills, and turned the tables on reporters, asking them a series of trivia questions related to the last few months.
Going forward, Northam says his office will regularly release information and hold briefings on an as-needed basis, and will end the regularly-scheduled Tuesday and Thursday sessions.
Coronavirus numbers continue trending downward. Northam said phase three will happen as planned on July 1, although he cautioned Virginians to remember that the pandemic isn't over, and to continue hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing.
With the ending of moratoriums on evictions and power shutoffs, Northam also announced two assistance programs. Northam has directed the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to create a mortgage and rent relief program using $50M in federal CARES Act funds. The money will help cover rent and mortgage payments for those that haven’t been able to pay them due to economic and financial issues related to COVID-19. The governor says housing stability is a nationwide challenge, and addressing Virginia’s homelessness issues are crucial.
“Virginians are facing a number of difficulties, but having a safe and stable place to call home shouldn’t be one of them,” Northam said. “Because we know the pandemic is having a disproportionate health and financial impact on people of color, this program will have an equity lens and target outreach to those communities."
Early in the pandemic, Northam put into effect a freeze on evictions that would last through June 28. On Tuesday, it was announced that the Supreme Court of Virginia will restart those evictions, reversing the statewide eviction freeze. Courts can resume hearing these cases, and sheriffs’ departments can carry out granted evictions. The governor’s relief program will begin on June 29.
Governor Northam also announced that the Department of Social Services will be launching a one-time energy response assistance program in mid July. The program will supplement the existing energy assistance program, and be geared toward households who are not typically eligible to help them pay energy debts incurred because of the pandemic.
The governor also explained how the Department of Motor Vehicles will handle expiring licenses and vehicle registrations. Northam said he is making a 90-day extension for those who will have to renew their license or registration by July 31. While it’s been difficult to book appointments at the DMV, he said more appointment slots will become available as facilities continue to reopen.
The governor’s staff also gave updates on school reopenings. Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said that it’s strictly up to individual school board members on how they choose to reopen their schools.
“Local public health conditions, community concerns, and practical facility constraints have to be taken into account in these school reopening decisions. And we believe our local leaders are best positioned to do that thoughtfully,” Mercer said.
Mercer said he believes schools should enter phase three along with other areas across the state. Parents and staff from both Chesterfield and Henrico County Public Schools have had discussions on how they wish to reopen schools, but with school starting on August 31, many questions remain statewide.