WASHINGTON – Today, President Trump signed into law a compromise package that includes Virginia priorities championed by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA). These include an increase in funding for Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts, protections for Virginia agricultural products, increased protections to prevent animal abuse, and funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The 2018 Farm Bill also includes a Warner-Kaine sponsored measure to legalize industrial hemp production, a crop which is already cultivated for research purposes in Virginia but which the agriculture industry cannot currently grow for commercial use.
“We are proud this bipartisan legislation finally ending a ban that has held back our farmers from participating in the emerging industrial hemp market has been signed into law. This is an industry that will help bring new business to Virginia and create new jobs,” said the Senators. “This compromise bill is a big win for Virginia, adding measures to expand successful Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts, protect Virginia commodities like dairy and cotton, and maintain funding for a nutrition assistance program that Virginia families depend on.”
Warner and Kaine’s priorities for Virginia in the 2018 Farm Bill include:
Hemp Farming Act: a bill that would remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as an agricultural commodity. States would be given authority to regulate hemp, and hemp researchers will be able to apply for USDA grants. Hemp farmers would also be eligible to collect crop insurance under this provision. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized industrial hemp to be made available for agricultural research purposes. Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the University of Virginia, and James Madison University have been active in hemp research in recent years. However, Congress must act in order to legalize hemp production for commercial purposes. Hemp is distinct from marijuana in that it has a miniscule concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and thus no narcotic capability. The plant is estimated to be used in more than 25,000 products spanning agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverages, paper, construction materials, and personal care.
Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act: a bill which makes technical changes to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) intended to bring more federal conservation funding into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Farm Bill triples mandatory funding for RCPP from $100 million to $300 million providing farmers with the tools they need to implement effective conservation practices within the Bay watershed. These changes will improve sustainability across the region and result in a cleaner, healthier Chesapeake Bay.
Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI): includes a technical change to the HFFI program that would allow both retailers and enterprises to be eligible for loans and grants under HFFI. Currently, only brick-and-mortar operations are able to receive funding through the HFFI program. This technical change could allow more non-traditional food access projects – such as mobile markets, farmers markets, and food banks to access HFFI funds. These changes closely follow Sen. Warner’s efforts in the Senate to eradicate food deserts.
Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act: a bill that expands existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims with pets. The Farm Bill authorizes $3 million a year for FY2019-2023 for a grant program that will provide emergency and transitional housing assistance for victims of domestic violence and their pets.
In the wake of President Trump’s ongoing trade war, the Farm Bill also includes a significant investment in trade promotion programs and activities. Trade Promotion is used by the United States to pursue trade agreements that support and create U.S. jobs while helping American manufacturers, service providers, farmers, and ranchers increase U.S. exports and compete in a highly competitive, globalized economy.
In addition, the bill includes measures to protect the U.S. dairy and cotton industry. It streamlines a program that allows dairy producers to insure margins—the difference between the prices of milk and feed—and increases its funding. The bill also makes cotton once again eligible to participate in federal crop insurance programs, which are used by farmers to protect themselves against either the loss of their crops due to natural disasters, or the loss of revenue due to declines in the prices of agricultural commodities. Livestock producers will also receive assistance through a new program that will give USDA the authority to operate a disease and disaster prevention program and a vaccine bank, including for foot and mouth disease. The bill also reauthorizes full funding to help vulnerable Virginia families put food on the table through SNAP.
For more information on the 2018 Farm Bill, click here.
Governor Northam announces emergency funding to shelter Virginia’s homeless population
~ Initial $2.5 million in funding will house unsheltered individuals, support case management ~
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today (April 3, 2020) announced an initial $2.5 million in emergency funding to shelter Virginia’s statewide homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. This emergency support will provide temporary housing for the approximately 1,500 Virginians who are currently unsheltered or rely on shelters that require them to leave every day. The funding will also provide housing for individuals in shelters that may need to be quarantined, or where social distancing is not feasible.
“As we battle this unprecedented public health crisis, we must make sure no one is left behind,” said Governor Northam. “I have issued a statewide Stay at Home order, but we know there are many Virginians with no home to stay in. With this funding, we will ensure people experiencing homelessness have access to immediate housing options and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Funding will be used for hotel and motel vouchers, case management, food, cleaning supplies, and medical transportation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will provide partial funding to support individuals experiencing homelessness who are 65 and older, those with other pre-existing conditions, and those who have tested positive for COVID-19. People experiencing homelessness are more likely to have chronic health conditions that go untreated and are among the populations most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. In recent years, Virginia has seen an increase in the number of older adults experiencing homelessness.
Virginia’s housing support system also relies largely on the use of congregate shelters, which can lack adequate space for social distancing. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) have provided guidance to homeless shelters on best practices to safely serve the homeless population during the COVID-19 epidemic. In addition, DHCD is preparing additional housing options for an estimated 10 percent of the 3,890 Virginians currently in shelters to allow space for social distancing and safe quarantine practices as needed.
The Commonwealth has implemented a number of state and federal protections against housing insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis. The Supreme Court of Virginia has suspended eviction proceedings in all district and circuit courts through April 26, and evictions for all Housing Choice Voucher holders are halted for 120 days.
For all mortgages guaranteed by federal mortgage programs, including Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) mortgages, the mortgage provider will defer mortgage payments—principal plus interest—for up to three months for those who have lost income due to COVID-19.
Additional resources and information about Virginia’s COVID-19 response are available at virginia.gov/coronavirus.
Social Security benefits will be paid on time and other updates related to the COVID-19 pandemic
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, reminds the public that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments will continue to be paid on time during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency also reminds everyone to be aware of scammers who try to take advantage of the pandemic to trick people into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain Social Security benefit payments or receive economic impact payments from the Department of the Treasury.
“Social Security will pay monthly benefits on time and these payments will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Commissioner Saul said. “I want our beneficiaries to be aware that scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping or somehow changing your Social Security payments, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.”
The Department of the Treasury will soon provide information about economic impact payments under the recently enacted law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. Treasury, not Social Security, will be making direct payments to eligible people. Please do not call Social Security about these payments as the agency does not have information to share.
The agency continues to direct the public to its online self-service options whenever possible. Local offices are closed to the public but are available by phone. People can find their local field office phone number by accessing the Field Office Locator.
To allow available agents to provide better phone coverage, the agency is temporarily changing the National 800 Number hours starting on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The hours will change from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time to 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. local time. The agency is experiencing longer than normal wait times on the 800 Number and asks the public to remain patient, use its online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call their local office.
Please visit the agency’s COVID-19 web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/coronavirus/ for important information and updates.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – April 3, 2020
ACLU urges release of some nonviolent offenders to combat coronavirus spread
RICHMOND, Va. — As the coronavirus hits correctional facilities, the ACLU is calling for the release of some nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks and keep residents and staff safe.
The Virginia ACLU submitted a letter to the governor, along with the executive guidance document. The document focuses on reducing the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, including reducing the intake of people. The organization called for an immediate release of all people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at-risk for COVID-19, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, whose sentences would end in the next two years. The ACLU also wants the governor to begin a process of immediate release for anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, anyway.
There are a limited number of eligible parole cases that can be reviewed for early release, according to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, who said at a press conference Monday that an expeditious review is “still ongoing.”
“There are a number of challenges because by the code we have no parole in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Moran said. “It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.”
Moran said the parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals and has expedited release of parole for those already paroled, in effort to eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.
Three inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. One inmate at the Central Virginia Correctional Unit 13 for women has tested positive for COVID-19, according to VADOC. Four VADOC employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus. As of April 3, the Virginia Department of Health reports 2,012 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 46 deaths. From March 27 to April 3, 1,552 cases were confirmed, or 77% of all cases since the state’s first case was reported on March 7.
“We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” ACLU Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said in a press release. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”
Almost two weeks ago the Governor announced measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak among residents and staff, such as modifying sentences, diverting offenders from serving jail terms, utilizing home electronic monitoring and reducing low-risk individuals being held without bail.
Elliott B. Bender, founder of Bender Law Group in Richmond and president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the governor’s measures are great in theory “for the safety of all of us.” However, he is concerned that they are not being implemented consistently and completely. Consistency and getting all branches of government on the same page are important in this process, according to Bender.
Moran said state code mandates the victims involved need to be notified of a prisoner’s potential early release.
“And you have to provide victims time to weigh in on the decision,” Moran said. “And that is an ongoing process as well.”
To combat the virus, visitation and volunteer activities remain closed at correctional facilities, according to the VADOC. People entering VADOC correctional facilities will be screened using thermometers. In addition, the department ordered 112,000 additional bars of soap. Virginia Correctional Enterprises, which employs incarcerated people to produce a variety of goods, is now manufacturing about 30,000 sneeze and cough guard masks per day for inmates and staff, according to VADOC. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to work.
Also, there are measures taken to ensure safety once a person leaves a VADOC facility. All inmates leaving a correctional facility are screened for COVID-19 on the day of their release, according to VADOC.
By Rodney Robinson
Capital News Service
Virginia receives major disaster declaration from Federal Government for COVID-19
~ Declaration provides additional support, federal funding to aid statewide response ~
RICHMOND—On April 2nd, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia has received a Major Disaster Declaration to aid in the Commonwealth’s response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Governor Northam requested this federal disaster assistance on Monday, March 30.
A Major Disaster Declaration designation provides federal public assistance for all areas in the Commonwealth of Virginia affected by COVID-19 at a federal cost share of 75 percent. This allows state agencies, local governments, and certain non-profit organizations to purchase additional supplies and receive reimbursements for COVID-19 related costs under its Public Assistance program. In addition, the Major Disaster Declaration authorizes federal agencies to provide direct emergency assistance to Virginia.
“We thank the federal government for moving quickly to approve Virginia’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration,” said Governor Northam. “This critical funding will support our ongoing, statewide efforts to fight this virus in our Commonwealth and keep Virginians safe.”
On Friday, March 27, the Commonwealth received authorization for Title 32 funding to support the Virginia National Guard. Governor Northam has taken several additional actions to protect the health and safety of all Virginians amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including issuing a statewide Stay at Home order, closing all K-12 schools in Virginia through the remainder of the academic year, and mandating strict social distancing guidelines.
For additional resources and information about Virginia’s COVID-19 response, please visit virginia.gov/coronavirus.
Congressman Cline announces 2020 Congressional Art Competition
Congressman Ben Cline (VA-06) announced the 2020 Congressional Art Competition today. The Congressional Art Competition is sponsored by the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and is an opportunity to recognize and encourage the artistic talent in the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia.
The Congressional Art Competition is open to all high school students in the District. The winning artwork will be displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol alongside other pieces from across the country and will also be featured on House.gov’s Congressional Art Competition page.
While schools remain closed due to the coronavirus, the Congressional Art Competition will continue as planned. This competition will allow students to remain engaged and hone their skills.
“All students from Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District are encouraged to participate in this year’s art competition,” Cline said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase artistic ability and for the selected winner to have their art on display for thousands of Capitol visitors throughout the next year. I am pleased that the competition will continue on as planned, and that the event has moved to electronic submissions to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved.”
Artwork must be two-dimensional. Each framed artwork can be no larger than 26 inches high, 26 inches wide, and 4 inches deep. If your artwork is selected as the winning piece, it must arrive in Washington, DC, framed. Even when framed, it must still measure no larger than the above maximum dimensions. No framed piece should weigh more than 15 pounds.
Accepted mediums for the two-dimensional artwork are as follows:
- Paintings: oil, acrylics, watercolor, etc.
- Drawings: colored pencil, pencil, ink, marker, pastels, charcoal (It is recommended that charcoal and pastel drawings be fixed.)
- Collages: must be two-dimensional
- Prints: lithographs, silkscreen, block prints
- Mixed Media: use of more than two mediums such as pencil, ink, watercolor, etc.
- Computer-generated art
Each entry must be original in concept, design, and execution and may not violate U.S. copyright laws. Any entry that has been copied from an existing photo or image (including a painting, graphic, or advertisement) that was created by someone other than the student is a violation of the competition rules and will not be accepted. For more information on copyright laws, we recommend you visit the Scholastic website.
Due to COVID-19, submissions will only be accepted electronically. Students should submit photographs of their entry and the Student Release Form to ArtCompetitionVA06@mail.house.gov.
The Student Release Form can be found here.
Entries are due by May 1, 2020. A winner will be announced May 7. For more information, contact District Director Debbie Garrett at (540) 885-3861 or Staff Assistant Tyler Hook at (202) 225-5431.
Congressman Ben Cline represents the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia. He previously was an attorney in private practice and served both as an assistant prosecutor and Member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Cline and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Botetourt County with their two children.