By Carol Vaughn —
Virginia will use $50 million in federal CARES Act money to help residents with rent and mortgage payments.
The new Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program starts Monday, June 29, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press briefing Thursday.
He said the program will have “an equity lens” to ensure fairness for communities of color.
A statewide moratorium on evictions was declared in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium ends June 29.
Northam asked circuit court judges in Virginia to extend the moratorium as is appropriate in their localities, and said the administration is confident the new program will help.
“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.
Eligible households must demonstrate an inability to make rent or mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly rent or mortgage must be at or below 150% Fair Market Rent, and eligible households must have a gross household income at or below 80% of area median income, according to a press release.
To identify the local organization administering the program and to conduct a self-assessment for eligibility, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility or call 211 VIRGINIA by dialing 2-1-1 from your phone.
Visit StayHomeVirginia.com for additional information and resources.
Additionally, Northam said federal funds will be used for one-time payments to help people pay their energy bills.
The Virginia Department of Social Services will open the one-time energy assistance program in mid-July and will give details soon, he said.
Northam also announced an additional 90-day extension for certain DMV transactions, including license and registration renewals, noting DMV offices are open only by appointment.
Chief of Staff Clark Mercer commented on the state’s school reopening guidelines, saying the final decision for what reopening will look like in each school district lies with the local school board.
Mercer said the administration has received numerous questions about school reopening guidelines the state released a few weeks ago.
The guidance is “intended to inform the discussions happening at the local level, but it does not mandate any one particular approach — guidance is not law,” he said.
The guidance document recommended three phases of reopening — the third phase is starting July 1 for both businesses and schools.
Phase Three recommends all students be served in person, with consideration for mitigation strategies, such as physical distancing, that may trigger altered schedules.
“All of this…is predicated on doing so responsibly and making sure that that graph we see with the infection rate stays steady or declines. We do not want to see Virginia in the position of several other states that are seeing sharp increases.That’s the worst thing that can happen,” Mercer said.
He noted people ages 18-29 are now the group with the fastest increasing rate of positive COVID-19 cases.
“We have plenty of teachers and faculty and staff…who are in that age set where they would be very susceptible to COVID,” Mercer said, adding, “As anyone that has children knows, once something starts spreading in a school, you will get it at home — and we expose our familiy members, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, and folks throughout the community.”
“It’s important to note that Phase Three is not the end state for our schools,” he said.
Future guidance beyond Phase Three is being discussed now with education and public health experts, but will include “a path to getting every student in school every day and increasing opportunities for athletics and activities, while remaining vigilant about the health of our students and staff,” Mercer said.
Northam said a General Assembly special session later this summer, in addition to addressing budgetary changes related to the pandemic, needs to include discussions about racial injustice and police reform.
“I have had conversations with lawmakers about potential legislation and I will continue to meet with them and others as we shape this reform agenda,” Northam said, adding, “I am committed to continuing this work and making meaningful change.”
Northam said Thursday’s briefing would be his last regularly scheduled briefing related to COVID-19, but he will continue to hold briefings as needed.
The governor and others in the administration have held 47 pandemic-related press briefings since March 4, he said, thanking the press for covering them.
“A free press is essential to a functioning democracy,” he said.