A Virginia lawmaker is hoping to loosen restrictions on how money is spent from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act. Specifically, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., would like for smaller cities and counties in Southwest Virginia to receive more federal money to help offset revenue losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virginia has received more than $3 billion from that act but, so far, localities can only be reimbursed for expenses related to the pandemic, not to make up for lost revenue. Localities such as Tazewell County are currently dealing with a loss of revenue as a result of the pandemic.
Warner addressed the issue last week during a conference call with a group of professionals from Tazewell County, including Richlands Mayor Paul Crawford, Clinch Valley Medical Center CEO Peter Mulkey, Tazewell Today Executive Director Amanda Hoops, and Tazewell County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Stacy.
Crawford told Warner that 60 business licenses in the town of Richlands are currently delinquent and revenue from the municipality’s meals tax is almost gone.
Hoops told Warner that restaurants in particular are struggling, adding that two in Tazewell County have not yet reopened.
Stacy said the school system also is facing uncertainty due to a decrease in local revenue, adding that he does not know yet how much local money the school system will receive so it’s difficult to prepare a budget.
According to Warner, there are too many restrictions in place at the moment with the CARES Act that prevent the state and localities from using the money as needed.
“If you are not collecting the sales tax and you are not collecting a meals tax and you’ve got to lay off a police officer … to me, that’s related to COVID,” Warner said. He believes restrictions in the federal measure will be worked out by Congress moving forward.
“Let’s not restrict the state government or local government from filling in lost revenue,” Warner said.
In neighboring West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice also is calling upon Congress to loosen restrictions on how funding from the CARES Act can be used. The Mountain State has received approximately $1.25 billion in revenue to date from the measure.
Given the current shortfall in local and state revenue, small cities, towns and counties are in need of assistance too. Without help local budgets will face shortfalls and municipalities could be forced to furlough additional employees.
Finding a way to provide additional relief to smaller cities, towns and counties that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic shouldn’t be viewed as an unreasonable request.
If the CARES Act can be amended, as Warner has suggested, then that could be one way to help the smaller, rural communities.