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Attorney General Miyares announces $3.5 million secured for Virginia consumers deceived by TurboTax

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On May 5, 2022, Attorney General Jason Miyares announced that approximately $3.5 million has been secured from the owner of TurboTax, Intuit Inc. (Intuit), for deceiving Virginia consumers into paying for tax services that were advertised as free.

As a result of a multistate agreement, Intuit will pay $141 million in restitution to millions of consumers across the nation who were unfairly charged. In addition, Intuit must suspend TurboTax’s “free, free, free” ad campaign that lured customers with promises of free tax preparation services, only to deceive them into paying for services.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed the agreement. Virginia will receive approximately $3.5 million for consumers who were deceived into paying to file their federal tax returns.

“TurboTax took advantage of and deceived Virginians. I’m proud of the role my office played to secure substantial relief for the Virginia consumers that TurboTax misled. My office will continue to aggressively go after bad actors that hurt Virginia consumers because they must be held accountable,” said Attorney General Miyares.


An investigation into Intuit began after ProPublica reported that the company was using deceptive digital tactics to steer low-income consumers toward its commercial products and away from federally-supported free tax services.

Intuit has offered two free versions of TurboTax. One was through its participation in the IRS Free File Program, a public-private partnership with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which allows taxpayers earning roughly $34,000 and members of the military to file their taxes for free. In exchange for participating in the program, the IRS agreed not to compete with Intuit and other tax-prep companies by providing its own electronic tax preparation and filing services to American taxpayers.

In addition, Intuit offers a commercial product called “TurboTax Free Edition,” which is only free for taxpayers with “simple returns,” as defined by Intuit. In recent years, TurboTax has marketed this “freemium” product aggressively, including through ad campaigns where “free” is the most prominent or sometimes the only selling point. In some ads, the company repeated the word “free” dozens of times in as short as 30 seconds. However, the TurboTax “freemium” product is only free for approximately one-third of US taxpayers. In contrast, the IRS Free File products were free for 70 percent of taxpayers.

The multistate investigation found that Intuit engaged in several deceptive and unfair trade practices that limited consumers’ participation in the IRS Free File Program. The company used confusingly similar names for both its IRS Free File product and its commercial “freemium” product. Intuit bid on paid search advertisements to direct consumers who were looking for the IRS Free File product to the TurboTax “freemium” product instead.

Intuit also purposefully blocked its IRS Free File landing page from search engine results during the 2019 tax filing season, effectively shutting out eligible taxpayers from filing their taxes for free. Moreover, TurboTax’s website included a “Products and Pricing” page that stated it would “recommend the right tax solution” but never displayed or recommended the IRS Free File program, even when consumers were ineligible for the “freemium” product.

Intuit will pay $141 million in restitution, of which roughly $2.5 million will be used for administrative fund costs.

Under the agreement, Intuit will provide restitution to millions of consumers who started using TurboTax’s Free Edition for tax years 2016 through 2018 and were told that they had to pay to file even though they were eligible to file for free using the version of TurboTax offered as part of the IRS Free File program.

Consumers are expected to receive a direct payment of approximately $30 for each year that they were deceived into paying for filing services. Impacted consumers will automatically receive notices and a check by mail.

Intuit has also agreed to reform its business practices, including:

  • Refraining from making misrepresentations in connection with promoting or offering any online tax preparation products
  • Enhancing disclosures in its advertising and marketing of free products
  • Designing its products to better inform users whether they will be eligible to file their taxes for free
  • Refraining from requiring consumers to start their tax filing over if they exit one of Intuit’s paid products to use a free product instead.

Intuit withdrew from the IRS Free File program in July 2021.

 

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Virginia is building a comprehensive strategy of inclusion in state government employment practices

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RICHMOND, VA – On May 17, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that the Virginia state government has implemented an alternative hiring process for individuals with disabilities, serving as a model for inclusive employment practices. The process embeds the employment of individuals with differing abilities as part of standard hiring policy and the state work culture.

A collaboration of state and community partners, the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM), and the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) have spearheaded the continuing effort to employ, integrate and accommodate more individuals with disabilities in the state workforce.

“My administration fully supports expanded economic and job opportunities for individuals living with disabilities. This is a significant step in the Commonwealth’s commitment to the overall goal of increasing employment opportunities for all Virginians,” said Governor Youngkin.

The state hiring policy will be updated to incorporate the new alternative hiring process.


Applicants with documented disabilities, as certified by a DARS certified rehabilitation counselor, are eligible for consideration.

Interested applicants will apply at jobs.virginia.gov and upload a Certificate of Disability to their employment application.

Approved applicants may receive priority consideration during the recruitment process.

Agencies are strongly encouraged to provide a 6-month provisional period to these new hires to ensure accommodation needs are met, and employees are set up for success.

“This process is only the beginning of our strategy to demonstrate our commitment to individuals with differing abilities to improve the state workforce. It is one facet of a more comprehensive strategy, which includes accommodations, communication, education and awareness, compliance and retention of individuals with differing abilities,” said Margaret “Lyn” McDermid, Secretary of Administration.

The Commonwealth’s continuing commitment to equal employment opportunities for all, including individuals with differing abilities, is highlighted in Code of Virginia §2.2-203.2:3 and §2.2-1213.

“This policy opens doors for job applicants with disabilities to seek state employment, paving the way for new career paths. DARS’ collaboration with DHRM is essential to its success in assisting those who are underrepresented in the state workforce,” said DARS Commissioner Kathy Hayfield.

“To bolster this initiative, DARS received a $9.2 million federal grant called ‘Pathways to Careers using Partnerships, Apprenticeships and Equity,’ that will serve at least 750 Virginians with disabilities to acquire skills-based training and registered apprenticeships in high-wage, high-demand fields, including STEM and state government,” said John Littel, Secretary of Health and Human Resources.

The DHRM website has more information at jobs.virginia.gov, including Frequently Asked Questions for Applicants. A Certificate of Disability may be requested from DARS or by calling 800-552-5019. Sign language users may use the videophone at 804-325-1316.

 

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Virongy Biosciences Inc. to invest $471,000 to begin development of diagnostic technologies for viral pathogens

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On May 17, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Virongy Biosciences Inc., a developer of viral diagnostic technologies, anti-viral drugs, and therapeutic viral vectors, will invest $471,000 to expand in Prince William County. The company recently relocated to occupy over 2,000 square feet of the Northern Virginia Bioscience Center, where it will begin to develop new diagnostic technologies to monitor and quantify SARS-CoV-2 variants and other viral pathogens. The expansion project will create up to 70 new jobs.

“Prince William County has emerged as a hub for the life sciences industry, offering the infrastructure, R&D assets, and talent to attract and retain innovative biotech firms like Virongy,” said Governor Youngkin. “We applaud the company for its groundbreaking developments that will have a positive and far-reaching impact on bioscience advancements and disease prevention and treatment.”

“Virongy’s expansion in Prince William County reinforces the region’s robust industry talent, world-class education institutions, and advanced culture of innovation that supports the company’s mission,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “We thank Virongy for creating valuable jobs while improving the health of our communities and look forward to its continued growth in Virginia.”

“Virongy Biosciences Inc. chose Virginia as its company location mainly because it is inside the rapid-growing biotech park of Prince William County and right beside the Science and Technology Campus of George Mason University,” said Virongy’s Chief Scientific Officer Brian Hetrick.


“I toured the Virongy Biosciences lab at the Northern Virginia Bioscience Center’s grand opening in March, and I was impressed not only by the important discoveries from the Virongy team, but moreover the business’ dedication to hiring from and growing the local talent pool of life sciences employees,” said Chair Ann B. Wheeler, Prince William County Board of Supervisors. “Over the last two years, Prince William County saw significant growth and advancement in the biotechnology industry, and this is validation that we are one of the fastest-growing bio-clusters in the state.”

“I’m excited to see the expansion of a critical arm of the healthcare sector as we continue to build on our successful local economy in Prince William,” said Senator Jeremy S. McPike. “I look forward to working with Virongy.”

“The field of bioscience has made great strides in the last several years,” said Delegate Michelle Maldonado. “With Northern Virginia’s Bioscience Center here in District 50, we are joining this conversation with critical research, contributions, and impact for the Commonwealth through jobs, health solutions, and more. I am excited for Virongy’s expansion in our community and look forward to partnering together for the benefit of all Virginians.”

Established in 2014, Virongy focuses on creating cutting-edge technologies in virology, viral vector-based gene therapy, virus-host cell biology, and viral immunology. The company develops new technologies that can be used for scientific discoveries, clinical diagnostics, and disease treatment. Virongy has discovered and developed key technologies and products, including rapid quantitative COVID-19, neutralizing antibody test, Infectin, Cellment, HIV Rev-dependent Lentiviral Vector, and HIV drug and neutralizing antibody discovery technologies. The company’s mission is to provide scientists and clinicians with innovative technologies for studying viruses and viral vectors and to provide virological services that meet the highest academic and industry standards, facilitating scientific discoveries, clinical diagnostics, and disease treatment.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Prince William County to secure the project for Virginia and will support Virongy’s job creation through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP), which provides consultative services and funding to companies creating new jobs in order to support employee recruitment and training activities. As a business incentive supporting economic development, VJIP reduces the human resource costs of new and expanding companies. VJIP is state-funded, demonstrating Virginia’s commitment to enhancing job opportunities for citizens.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin announces violent crime task force

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RICHMOND, VA – On May 16, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin today formally announced the creation of a task force of executive branch and office of the Attorney General officials to better align strategies to reduce violent crime in cities and communities across the Commonwealth. Leaders from the Task Force will continue conducting community leadership meetings across the Commonwealth. Governor Youngkin attended a community leadership meeting in Petersburg on Monday, May 9th.

Governor Glenn Youngkin meets with local officials and community leaders to discuss the recent violent crimes in Petersburg at the Petersburg Library on Monday, May 9, 2022. Official Photo by Christian Martinez, Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.

“There is a clear recognition of a violent crime crisis in Virginia, and my administration is committed to joining with community leaders, law enforcement, and Virginians around solutions with the Violent Crime task force. We will take a comprehensive look at how we can address the rise in violent crime by providing more law enforcement resources, creating alternative and after-school activities for children, and addressing the fear that results in witnesses failing to show up for a criminal hearing,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

“There’s not a one size fits all approach to combating crime in the Commonwealth. It requires collaboration and communication with law enforcement, local officials, and community leaders. My team is excited to be a part of this new task force, and we’re eager to work with our partners in the executive branch to carry out new, innovative solutions that will help to reduce crime and keep our communities safe,” said Attorney General Jason Miyares.


The Task Force is led by Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier, with additional leadership provided by the Chief Deputy Attorney General Chuck Slemp. Additional participants include leaders from the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, Virginia State Police, and others. To date, state leaders have met with local leaders in Virginia Beach, Newport News, Norfolk, and Petersburg, with additional meetings planned in the coming weeks.

The Task Force will recommend executive, administrative, and legislative actions on an ongoing basis to the Governor.

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Gardeners transform food waste into fuel, aiding the climate

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RICHMOND, Va. — “It’s free cooking gas,” said Monica Alinea.

Monica Alinea and her husband, Tim, are proud owners of a HomeBiogas system.

Situated in the sunny backyard of their Pensacola, Florida home, the system looks like a 7-foot rectangular, black balloon. But it’s not inflated with air, it’s methane.

The Alineas use HomeBiogas, a product that transforms household food waste into cooking gas through a composting process called anaerobic digestion. The product became commercially available in 2016, according to the HomeBiogas website.


Shakira Hobbs is an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Kentucky and did her postdoctoral research at the University of Virginia. Hobbs researches sustainable environmental engineering and compares anaerobic digestion to the human digestive system.

“If I eat an apple, I chew it up, and I break it into smaller pieces, and then it goes down my esophagus and eventually into my stomach,” Hobbs said. “I have these natural enzymes that will further break down that food waste and process it through my digestive system (to) produce two things, a solid and a gas.”

The Alineas take food waste, like vegetable scraps or banana peels, and feed it into the anaerobic digester through a tube. The waste collects in a large chamber, and within a few hours, the microorganisms in the chamber begin decomposing the food waste, which releases methane. The gas rises and collects in a flexible tank and can be piped directly into their kitchen to fuel a stovetop burner, providing them free cooking gas.

The Alineas are part of a growing group of avid home chefs and gardeners in the nation who seek self-reliance and use food waste to tackle climate change.

“We hate to waste things,” Tim Alinea said, “and we knew our food scraps could be used for good.”

Environmental impact of methane

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that carbon dioxide and methane are the most abundant greenhouse gasses emitted from human-influenced actions. This can impact global temperatures, changes weather patterns, and contributes to human health problems.

But methane can be 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, so decreasing methane emissions could have rapid and significant positive effects. Landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

“Composting produces methane,” said Bruno Welsh, founder of Compost RVA, “but it produces far less methane than a landfill.”

The EPA estimates that in 2018, the most recent year of available data, U.S. households generated 25 million tons of wasted food; 66% was landfilled while just 3% was composted. The remainder went to wastewater management or combustion services.

When food waste goes to a landfill, it decomposes with inorganic materials like plastic and metal. Consider a kitchen garbage bag. Airflow is diminished and the food rots, slowly leaking methane into the atmosphere.

But when captured, methane can become a form of renewable energy called biogas. It can be converted to electricity or used as fuel for cooking and heating.

“We can produce [BioGas] in about ten days, depending on the substrates and the conditions,” Hobbs said. This is in contrast to natural gas, a commonly used non-renewable form of energy, which could take millions of years to form.

Benefits of household biogas

Zak Dowell’s suburban home sits in the rolling hills of Blacksburg, Virginia. Dowell, who has a background in building science and environmental design, is a Virginia Tech BioBuild fellow researching anaerobic digestion systems for household use. He’s built several anaerobic digesters in his backyard over the past decade, but he also purchased a HomeBiogas system a few years ago.

“I’ve got a 6,000-watt solar system on my house,” Dowell said, “but I’m doing my part for the environment more by sorting my food waste and disposing of it responsibly.”

Dowell diligently composts for his family of four and hasn’t thrown away a scrap of food in almost 15 years.

Dowell views anaerobic digestion as an eco-innovation. Most anaerobic digestion users say they spend several hours a week feeding and maintaining backyard digesters.

For people interested in anaerobic digestion, it’s possible to build a system using commonly found hardware store supplies. HomeBiogas produces a system for residential and backyard use.

The basic HomeBiogas system costs less than $1,000 and can generate up to two hours of cooking fuel per day, according to its website. But that timeframe depends on other factors, like climate and how consistently the system is fed. Warm weather allows for faster decomposition and methane creation.

“The HomeBiogas, it’s meant for Florida; you can drop that thing in the warm weather, and it will produce gas, it’s an awesome product,” Dowell said. But people in Northern U.S. climates may be limited to only using a digester during the warmer months or be forced to build a greenhouse to keep temperatures up during the winter.

Michael and Britney Maness live on a 6-acre farm in Puerto Rico and use renewable energies, including solar and biogas.

“I like to drink tea daily, and I no longer have to feel bad for boiling water,” said Brittney Maness with a chuckle.

She grows her own tea and uses biogas for cooking which provides a sustainable way to do something she enjoys, Maness said.

Byproducts and limitations of anaerobic digestion

The EPA explains how anaerobic digestion also produces digestate, which is a biofertilizer or effluent. When considering the human digestive system analogy, this would be the “solid we all produce,” Hobbs said.

“A big plus is the biofertilizer,” Mike Maness said. “That stuff is really good for plants.”

The Manesses have a passion for horticulture and noticed a significant improvement in their crop yields since using the digestate.

But for households without a robust vegetable garden or small farm, the biofertilizer may turn into buckets of sludge that must be dealt with.

Some municipal wastewater management facilities and large-scale farms in the U.S. have been producing biogas and digestate for decades.

When Roy Vanderhyde installed an anaerobic digester on his Southwest Virginia dairy farm in 2008, he wanted to use the digestate as a pathogen-free bedding for his animals. But he soon found the value in the biogas.

The digester’s only input was manure, and the biogas was converted on-site into electricity. Vanderhyde’s electric bill was $13,000 per month before the digester, he said.

“(It) was generating enough electric power that I did not have an electric bill,” Vanderhyde said. “Plus, I would sell enough kilowatts for the average 300 homes.”

The Central Marin Sanitation Agency in Northern California is a wastewater treatment plant that runs two 80-foot anaerobic digesters. The biogas is transformed on-site into electricity and powers the facilities for an average of 19.3 hours per day, according to the agency’s Green Business Report for the fiscal year 2021. The digestate is processed and used locally as fertilizer and daily landfill cover.

Food waste from local restaurants and grocery stores was added to the agency’s digesters in 2014. The agency now accepts nearly 6 tons of food waste each day. The digesters created about eight hours of electricity per day before food waste was used, which is less than half the energy it currently produces, according to General manager Jason Dow.

But anaerobic digestion has other drawbacks in addition to managing the digestate. Systems often have complicated pieces that could require sophisticated engineering to troubleshoot. Residential users, such as the Alineas, cite the time commitment to feed the system as a limitation. The Manesses find the system to be water-intensive.

Posters on the HomeBiogas System Owners’ Facebook group frequently visit the page to troubleshoot system problems. Owners have experienced leaks, insufficient methane production, trouble inoculating new systems, and pH imbalance, according to user posts. Since HomeBiogas is headquartered in Israel, receiving new parts can be time-consuming for Americans, some U.S. users say.

Engineering obstacles are not isolated to individuals doing backyard anaerobic digestion. One of the two digesters at the Marin County wastewater treatment facility experienced a failure in 2021, which halted electricity generation for over six months, Dow said.

The pre-formed concrete dome on Vanderhyde’s digester collapsed in November 2017 due to a buildup of sulfuric acid, according to Vanderhyde. This ended his nine-year production of renewable energy and sparked a four-year legal battle with his insurance company on whether the system was covered.

Despite the potential shortfalls, experts and users like Dowell still find the technology magical.

“Being able to see something that’s considered to be waste … be able to produce energy, was eye-opening to me,” said Hobbs, who first learned of anaerobic digestion in college.

Hobbs has since earned a doctorate in the field of sustainable environmental engineering and started a nonprofit called BioGals, which seeks to empower women of color and engage communities to co-create solutions for a more sustainable world. According to its site, a major project for the organization is building and implementing anaerobic digesters.

By LARIN BRINK
Capital News Service, Virginia Commonwealth University

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin statement on baby formula shortage

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RICHMOND, VA – On May 13, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin made the following statement on the nationwide baby formula shortage:

“My administration remains engaged with industry leaders on their production capabilities, and the Virginia Department of Health is working to ensure that there are adequate supplies of baby formula state-wide.

Additionally, my administration has asked the FDA to utilize all resources to get the U.S. plant back into production as quickly as possible. Simply put, acquiring baby formula shouldn’t be a challenge in the United States,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

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Youngkin: April 2022 General Fund Revenues exceed forecasts

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RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin today announced that April revenue collections exceeded forecasts, growing 45.7 percent over April of 2021. General fund revenues were approximately $1.9 billion higher year-to-date than the mid-session revised forecast issued in February. Total revenue collections have risen 19.0 percent through April, well ahead of the revised annual forecast of 9.2 percent growth.

“Virginia’s economy continues to show encouraging signs of growth. We’re growing jobs, growing paychecks, and more people are joining the workforce,” said Governor Youngkin. “This report confirms the strong trajectory forecasted for state revenue, and we continue to see mounting evidence that the time is now to cut taxes. Inflation is stealing more money from the paychecks of hardworking Virginians, who are paying near-record prices at the pump, and we know there’s plenty of money in the system to reduce taxes and lower the cost of living in the Commonwealth.”

“Much of the extraordinary year-over-year growth in April in non-withholding collections was driven by the change in the federal tax filing date back to April in 2022 versus May in 2021,” said Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings. “We will need to look at the combined results of April and May compared to last year to know the overall trends in this category. However, general revenue categories unaffected by that timing difference, mainly payroll withholding and sales tax collections, continued their strong growth over the prior year, and this trend speaks to the uptick in jobs, consumer activity, and inflation.”

In percentage terms, payroll withholding and sales tax collections grew 4.8 percent and 8.4 percent in April, respectively. Fiscal year-to-date, withholding revenues are up 9.5 percent, ahead of the full-year forecast growth rate of 9.0 percent, and sales tax collections are up 14.4 percent, ahead of the annual 11.4 percent forecast.


Continued revenue growth is supported by a steady economy as well as recent improved job growth. From January to March, the number of employed Virginians increased by 42,000, ranking Virginia 14th among the states for employment growth during that time. The labor participation rate in Virginia has improved slightly, but Virginia’s drop in labor participation since the start of the pandemic remains among the worst in the nation. Despite the recent strong performance, more work is needed in this area since Virginia has yet to recover more than 170,000 jobs that were lost during the pandemic and ranks 47th in jobs recovered since the pandemic.

The full April 2022 revenue report is available here.

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Kids’ Fishing Tournament @ Shenandoah River State Park
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Held in the picnic area by the river. 2 prize categories: biggest catch and most unique catch Children ages 15 years and younger are eligible to compete Check in with the ranger at Shelter 1[...]
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Sensory Explorers’ Trail Join Shenandoah Chapter Master Naturalist Margaret Wester and explore the habitat of birds and the woodland wonders utilized for their survival. Discover the diverse stories of the Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, Wood[...]
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National Kids to Parks Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
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National Kids to Parks Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Common Scents: Historic Perfume ... @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Historic Area. Have you ever wondered how to harvest the fragrance of a flower or capture the irresistible aroma of sandalwood? Then this hands-on workshop is for you! Join us and learn how people in[...]
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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