Local Commentary

Delegate Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

That we are living in unprecedented times, is an understatement. A little over a week ago, the nation was horrified to watch the real time murder of George Floyd at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect. Police accountability is one of several issues that must be addressed. Moreover, racism is a systemic problem in our society. The situation we find ourselves in is historically rooted and long overdue of our attention. I add my voice to the outrage felt by so many and pledge that Virginia will address the inequities that have clearly risen to the forefront during this time of crisis.

As of this writing, more than 100,000 people have fallen victim to Coronavirus within the shores of this nation. The mental picture of grief and loss is confounding. I send my heartfelt condolences to everyone that has been touched by the loss of a loved one be it family, friend, or neighbor. With its population density, Northern Virginia has been particularly hard hit. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see an increase of confirmed cases as testing ramps up.

Testing is expanding with CVS opening up drive-thru service for self-administered testing based on CDC recommendations. Locations and additional information can be found online as well as my website, www.dicksaslaw.com.

The Virginia Employment Commission is operating at maximum capacity and processing a record number of unemployment claims. Since mid- March, when Coronavirus began its invasion into the Commonwealth, VEC has received more than 720,000 claims. About one in five Virginia workers have been impacted. During the booming economy, staff and funding for VEC were greatly reduced – as they should have been. No one could have anticipated (or prepared) for the economic gravity or reach of this infection. Certainly, the federal government under “denial orders” was caught flat-footed on all policy fronts for this pandemic.

Pushing Congress to meet the demands of the financial catastrophe, the CARES Act created three programs that address unemployment assistance. All these measures are based on claimant eligibility. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC which came online at VEC on April 10) was intended for individuals already collecting unemployment benefits and provides an additional $600 per week through the end of July. “Gig Workers” in the region may receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (VEC had PUA up and running on April 19) for up to 39 weeks if they do not qualify for regular unemployment. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is a potential 13-week resource for individuals that have already exhausted regular unemployment benefits. (VEC will be servicing these PEUC claims starting in the next couple of weeks).

Virginia is phasing into the reopening of the businesses that fuel its economy. Consumer confidence, worker safety, and the business models that propel the economy are essential considerations for progressing into the Phases of Forward Virginia. Generally speaking, the Commonwealth has been better positioned than most states due to its technological competencies than engender telecommuting, as well as grid capabilities that power work from home, and the federal government contracts in the golden crescent.

Legislative foresight and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership have been vital to keeping Virginia’s economy on solid footing. Site readiness and recent strategic investments by the General Assembly, including funding for GO Virginia and infrastructure in many corners of VA., have us well situated in the short-term and for the long recovery.

In the past several weeks, the best and brightest have graduated in a most non-traditional way — without the pomp and ceremony they earned. They have succeeded to their next chapter despite these unprecedented times. We welcome them to the workforce with their new skillset. And to those continuing their educational pursuits, we encourage them to do their best in our new world be it virtual or ivy-clad buildings. Stay well. Wear your mask – it is the right thing to do.

Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.