July’s Unemployment rate falls in VA.

emergency funding for homeless

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent in July.

That rate is 3.7 percent below the rate from a year ago.

The number of unemployed residents in the state decreases by over 7,000.

Job gains over the year was up 3.8 percent.

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate of 5.4 percent.

Gov. Northam praised the rate saying it shows the strength and resiliency of the state’s economy and workforce.

CNBC once again named Virginia one of the top states for business according to Gov. Northam.

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Sen. Warner starts a tour in Front Royal

front royal town hall

On Monday Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. Sen. Mark Warner will visit Front Royal to begin a tour of the commonwealth.

The Senator will participate in a series of meetings and discussions on the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act.

The first stop of this tour will be at the Virginia Inland Port at 7685 Winchester Road Front Royal.

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VA. Allocates funds for environmentally friendly school buses

emergency funding for homeless

The state of Virginia has allocated $10.5 million to replace 83 diesel school buses in the state.

The funds come from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust which is administered by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The funds will be used to buy electric and propane buses which will go to 19 school districts in the Commonwealth.

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VA. Invest in preschool programs

school security equipment grants

Virginia has invested $151.6 million in two of it’s largest state funded preschool programs for 2022.

The funding will fuel Virginia Preschool Initiative and Virginia Early Childhood Foundation’s Mixed Delivery Preschool Grant Program.

This funding will open federally funded early childhood programs to more Virginia families than ever before.

This has the Virginia Department of Education anticipating one of the biggest preschool enrollments ever.

The state expects well over 25,000 three and four year olds enrolled by this fall.

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In Democrats’ budget: Eviction protection, utility relief

emergency funding for homeless

By SARAH RANKIN and BEN FINLEY

By Associated Press | Published Aug. 5,2021 10:30 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A key protection against evictions would be restored and a new round of funding would flow to utilities to cover unpaid customer bills under legislation advancing through the Democrat-controlled Virginia General Assembly.

Those provisions are among a host of other priorities lawmakers are considering this week as they meet in Richmond for a special session to allocate billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief, intended to cover pandemic response needs and bolster the economy.

The budget legislation, which received initial approval in the House and Senate on Wednesday, reinstates what housing advocates say was a significant protection against eviction that expired at the end of June: a requirement that a landlord must have applied for rental assistance on their tenant’s behalf before an eviction for non-payment of rent can proceed.

While the protection does not amount to an eviction moratorium, housing advocates had worried that evictions would surge, and homelessness could eventually follow, if landlords didn’t face a requirement to tell tenants about the relief money.

Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said it makes sense for landlords to handle the applications.

“They’re the ones who know who’s behind (on rent), and they are the ones who will end up with the money,” Wegbreit said. “And that will keep them paid and keep tenants staying in their apartments.”

As of July 14, more than $308 million had been paid out statewide to support more than 48,000 households, according to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

The protection would take effect after the bill is passed and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, and it would remain in place through June 30 of next year, under the version of the budget that advanced out of the House and Senate money committees Monday.

The deliberations in Virginia come after the Biden administration allowed a federal moratorium on evictions to expire over the weekend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday issued a new moratorium that would last until Oct 3.

Michael Hipps, an attorney representing various landlords in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region, said that shifting the onus back on to landlords to apply for rental assistance would not be “terribly burdensome” for large-scale landlords.

But he said it could pose a challenge to landlords who only have one or two properties. They would have to navigate the application process without many resources, he said.

Also in the Democrats’ budget plan is a new round of funding to cover certain unpaid water, electric, natural gas or other utility bills. It would allocate $120 million to provide assistance to residential utility customers with accounts over 60 days past due.

The State Corporation Commission would establish an application process to distribute the funds directly to utilities, according to the legislation. Funding is to be awarded proportionally based on the total amount of money owed.

The SCC doesn’t currently have an accounting of what’s owed, spokesman Ken Schrad said. The legislation directs the state to undertake one.

Utilities may ask customers to attest that they have experienced a financial hardship due to the pandemic, according to the bill. They are not required to do so.

Dominion Energy Virginia, the state’s largest electric monopoly, is excluded from the funding.

State regulators have routinely found that the company has over-earned, but Dominion has pushed through legislation in recent years that limited state regulators’ ability to mandate refunds or rate reductions.

Instead of allowing Dominion to tap into the new pool of money, the budget contains language that says Dominion cannot disconnect certain low-income customers until March 1 of next year.

Rayhan Daudani, a Dominion spokesman, said the company has flexible payment options even for customers who don’t fall into that category.

In addition to the rent and utility provisions aimed at helping Virginians, the budget also allocates money for various state agencies to pay for costs associated with the pandemic, including $34.8 million for the Department of Corrections to cover ongoing COVID testing, the purchase of personal protective equipment and the expansion of telehealth services and video visitation.

It further provides $20 million to the Department of Health to provide targeted outreach on COVID-19 vaccines in hard-to-reach communities; $10 million to backfill COVID-related revenue shortfalls at veterans’ care centers; and $15 million over two years to address Medicaid eligibility re-evaluations, appeals and operational backlogs at the Department of Medical Assistance Services due to COVID-19.

The budget also contains language clarifying that a state law prohibiting the wearing of masks in certain places doesn’t apply to Virginians wearing a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The issue had been an area of some ambiguity since Virginia’s state of emergency due to the pandemic lapsed at the end of June.

____

Finley reported from Norfolk. Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report from Richmond.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Man who fatally stabbed Pentagon officer had troubled past

By Associated Press | Published Aug. 5,2021 7:25 a.m.

By ERIC TUCKER, MICHAEL BALSAMO and MICHAEL BIESECKER

WASHINGTON (AP) — As officials seek clues about what prompted a Georgia man to fatally stab a Pentagon police officer, details of the suspect’s troubled past emerged Wednesday through interviews and court records.

Austin William Lanz, 27, was arrested last April for a break-in at a neighbor’s home and drew police attention months earlier for a harassment campaign involving sexually explicit photos and messages, according to interviews and records obtained by The Associated Press.

Investigators have not revealed a motive in the ambush-style killing of Pentagon police officer George Gonzalez, 37. But Lanz’s past brushes with the law, and neighbors’ accounts of recent menacing behavior, appear to suggest the violence was more likely the act of a troubled, violence-prone individual than part of a broader conspiracy.

“I wish there was a better way to address those mental health issues that people have,” said Phillip Brent, who shared a backyard fence with Lanz in Georgia and describes repeated harassment directed at himself and his then-fiancee. “It feels like it was just a clear failure of our system to help someone out who needed that help.”

The FBI on Wednesday said the burst of violence began around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday when Lanz exited a bus at the Pentagon Transit Center and stabbed Gonzalez without provocation. The two struggled and Lanz shot himself with Gonzalez’s weapon. Other “officers engaged the subject, who ultimately died at the scene,” the FBI said.

The attack temporarily placed the U.S. military headquarters on lockdown and rattled the nerves of a region already primed to be on high alert for violence and potential intruders outside federal government buildings, particularly after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency described Gonzalez on Wednesday as a “die-hard” New York Yankees fan and an Army veteran who served in Iraq and joined the police force in 2018. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said flags at the Pentagon would be flown at half-staff while the White House saluted Gonzalez as having “lost his life protecting those who protect the nation.”

Meanwhile, investigators were continuing to examine Lanz’s background, including his criminal history, jail records, financial information and any online accounts, in search of a motive, a law enforcement official said.

Officials did not reveal why Lanz picked the Pentagon area for violence. Lanz had enlisted in the Marine Corps in October 2012 but was “administratively separated” less than a month later and never earned the title Marine, the Corps said.

One episode of likely interest to investigators is an April arrest in Cobb County, Georgia, in which Lanz was accused of breaking into Brent’s home in the Atlanta suburb of Acworth in the middle of the night with what police said appeared to be a crowbar.

He was recorded on video by the security system roaming the house for 13 minutes and turned on all the lights, which police said indicated that he’d been “searching through the residence for something or someone.” He left without taking anything, according to arrest reports and court filings.

Lanz was arrested and booked on charges of burglary and trespassing charges. When informed he was being charged, Lanz objected, saying, “but I didn’t take anything,” the arrest report said. He then made statements to a police officer about how planes had been flying over the neighborhood and tracking his cellphone.

While being processed at the county jail, Lanz, who was listed as 6 feet, 3 inches (1.9 meters) tall and roughly 190 pounds (86 kilograms), is alleged to have attacked two sheriff’s deputies in the intake area without provocation, including one who sustained a chipped bone and torn ligament in her knee. After he was restrained, Lanz reportedly accused the officers of being “gay” for teaming up on him and asked to be uncuffed so he could fight them one-on-one.

A judge reduced his bond in May to $30,000 and released him, imposing some conditions, including that he not take illegal drugs, that he undergo a mental health evaluation and that he not possess a firearm. The charges against him are still listed as pending.

A spokesperson for the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Lanz had been held at the agency’s detention center but referred all other questions to the FBI.

An attorney who represented Lanz in the Georgia cases didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Messages left with family members at Lanz’s home in Acworth were not immediately returned.

The April break-in was the culmination of a lengthy harassment campaign that involved sexually explicit and “vaguely threatening” messages that Lanz was caught on surveillance camera slipping into the mailbox of the neighboring home where Brent and his then-fiancee lived, Brent said.

The harassment briefly stopped after the police, presented with the video footage, confronted Lanz with a warning, Brent said.

But it later resumed, including in the form of a massive cardboard sign that was duct-taped on Brent’s front door and said, cryptically, on one side: “I’m done wondering for real” and “Wut is the point of that” on the other.

By the time of the break-in, Brent said, he was so unnerved that he was sleeping at his sister’s house. On April 24, around 4 a.m., he was alerted that the alarm company had reported a break-in at his home. He pulled up the surveillance system video camera on his phone, “and I was like, oh, it’s Austin.”

He said Lanz broke in through the back door with a sledgehammer, opened all the blinds and rummaged through his bed. Though it is not mentioned in the police report, Lanz was also carrying a handgun, Brent said.

“It was terrifying,” he said.

Brent and his former fiancee, Eliza Wells, said they were frustrated with the criminal justice system, which they say failed to initially treat the harassment claims with appropriate seriousness and then permitted him to be out on bond.

Brent said he recently learned from a prosecutor that Lanz’s lawyer was seeking a bond modification that would permit Lanz to travel to the Washington, D.C., area to work with his father, who did not return messages seeking comment.

“It just causes me to wonder what could have been done differently to help Austin mentally and give him the actual tools and resources if he needed, instead of just letting him out on bail and allowing him to travel out of state, and that sort of stuff,” Wells said.

___

Associated Press writers Colleen Long in Washington and Lolita C. Baldor, Matthew Barakat and Sagar Meghani in Arlington, Va., contributed to this report.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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CDC issues new eviction ban for most of US through Oct. 3

By Associated Press | Published Aug. 4, 2021 12:34 p.m.

By JOSH BOAK, LISA MASCARO and JONATHAN LEMIRE

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new eviction moratorium that would last until Oct. 3, as the Biden administration sought to quell intensifying criticism from progressives that it was allowing vulnerable renters to lose their homes during a pandemic.

The ban announced Tuesday could help keep millions in their homes as the coronavirus’ delta variant has spread and states have been slow to release federal rental aid. It would temporarily halt evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmissions and would cover areas where 90% of the U.S. population lives.

The announcement was a reversal for the Biden administration, which allowed an earlier moratorium to lapse over the weekend after saying a Supreme Court ruling prevented an extension. That ripped open a dramatic split between the White House and progressive Democrats who insisted the administration do more to prevent some 3.6 million Americans from losing their homes during the COVID-19 crisis.

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Biden said he pushed the CDC to again consider its options. But he still seemed hesitant as to whether the new moratorium could withstand lawsuits about its constitutionality, saying he has sought the opinions of experts as to whether the Supreme Court would approve the measure.

“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” Biden said. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.”

The president added that the moratorium — even if it gets challenged in court — “will probably give some additional time” for states and city to release billions of dollars in federal relief to renters.

Politically, the extension could help heal a rift with liberal Democratic lawmakers who were calling on the president to take executive action to keep renters in their homes. The administration had spent the past several days scrambling to reassure Democrats and the country that it could find a way to limit the damage from potential evictions through the use of federal aid.

But pressure mounted as key lawmakers said it was not enough.

Top Democratic leaders joined Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who has been camped outside the U.S. Capitol for several days. Overnight Monday Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., and others gave her a brief reprieve so she could rest indoors. The freshman congresswoman once lived in her car as a young mother and pointed to that experience to urge the White House to prevent widespread evictions.

As she wiped her eyes before a crowd at the Capitol after the CDC’s announcement, Bush said she was shedding “joyful tears.”

“My God, I don’t believe we did this,” she said. “We just did the work, just by loving folks to keep millions in their homes.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was a day of “extraordinary relief.”

“The imminent fear of eviction and being put out on the street has been lifted for countless families across America. Help is Here!” Pelosi said in a statement.

Administration officials had previously said a Supreme Court ruling stopped them from setting up a new moratorium without congressional backing. When the court allowed the eviction ban to remain in place through the end of July by a 5-4 vote, one justice in the majority, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote that Congress would have to act to extend it further.

But on Tuesday, the CDC cited the slow pace of state and local governments disbursing housing aid as justification for the new moratorium.

Aside from the moratorium, Biden has insisted that federal money is available — some $47 billion previously approved during the pandemic — that needs to get out the door to help renters and landlords.

“The money is there,” Biden said.

The White House has said state and local governments have been slow to push out that federal money and is pressing them to do so swiftly.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen briefed House Democrats Tuesday about the work underway to ensure the federal housing aid makes it to renters and landlords. She provided data so that lawmakers could see how their districts and states are performing with distributing the relief, according to a person on the call.

The treasury secretary tried to encourage Democrats to work together, even as lawmakers said Biden should act on his own to extend the eviction moratorium, according to someone on the private call who insisted on anonymity to discuss its contents.

Yellen said on the call, according to this person, that she agrees “we need to bring every resource to bear” and that she appreciated the Democrats’ efforts and wants “to leave no stone unturned.”

The CDC put the initial eviction ban in place as part of the COVID-19 response when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. The ban was intended to hold back the spread of the virus among people put out on the streets and into shelters, but it also penalized landlords who lost income as a result.

National Apartment Association president and CEO Bob Pinnegar said the organization “has always held the same position — the eviction moratorium is an unfunded government mandate that forces housing providers to deliver a costly service without compensation and saddles renters with insurmountable debt.”

Democratic lawmakers said they were caught by surprise by Biden’s initial decision to end the moratorium even though the CDC indicated in late June that it probably wouldn’t extend the eviction ban beyond the end of July.

Rep. Maxine Waters, the powerful chair of the Financial Services Committee, has been talking privately for days with Yellen and urged the treasury secretary to use her influence to prod states to push the money out the door. But Waters also called on the CDC to act on its own.

After the CDC’s announcement Tuesday, Waters released a statement thanking Biden “for listening and for encouraging the CDC to act! This extension of the moratorium is the lifeline that millions of families have been waiting for.”

___

Associated Press writers Michael Casey and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.

___

This story has been corrected to show that the last name of the California Democratic congressman is Jimmy Gomez, not Gonzalez.

(All contents © copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Rental assistance is still available through UWNSV

online charity auction

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium on eviction may have ended but there is still help available.

You can still apply for Emergency Rental Assistance.

Find out more by contacting the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley by calling (540) 773-3178.

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This weekend is a VA. sales tax free holiday weekend

emergency funding for homeless

Virginia’s sales tax free holiday begins this Friday.

School supplies and many hurricane and emergency preparedness products will be sales tax free.

Some water and energy saving items will also be sales tax free August 6 through the 8.

You will find a complete list of items that are sales tax free here.

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VA. earmarks funds for safety and crime prevention

emergency funding for homeless

Gov. Northam announced that Virginia plans to direct more than $114 million in federal and state funding to support public safety initiatives.

The funding will be state wide and help in addressing many issues from hazard pay to victims of crimes.

The plan includes $62 million in hazard pay and compensation for public safety officials.

$35 million are earmarked for addressing COVID 19 concerns in correctional facilities.

$17 million will go toward crime reduction and prevention programs as well as services for victims of crimes.

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