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Treasury Dept. sends COVID-19 relief money to localities

Western Tidewater localities will receive more than $40 million among Virginia’s nearly $7.2 billion as part of the American Rescue Plan Act’s coronavirus state fiscal recovery fund. 

The Virginia state government will get nearly $4.3 billion, with an additional $2.9 billion going to local governments. The money will help with revenue losses, helping with public infrastructure and helping those hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among Western Tidewater localities, Isle of Wight County will receive just over $7.2 million, Surry County $1.2 million, Southampton County $3.4 million, Franklin $1.5 million and Suffolk more than $30 million.

“We welcome the $7.2 billion in relief for Virginia and are pleased the Biden Administration has listened to our calls to give states, localities and tribes significant flexibility in determining how best to use these emergency funds,” Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner said in a joint statement. “These funds will allow the commonwealth and localities to recover from the economic harm of COVID, promote public health, invest in broadband, make up for lost revenue and address many of the other impacts of the pandemic. We will keep working with the commonwealth and local governments to ensure Virginians receive this much-needed relief.”

The allocations for non-entitlement local governments — generally those with populations of less than 50,000 people — are expected to be released soon and provide an additional $633 million in relief to state cities and towns. 

Tribal governments will receive money after submitting requests for funding to the Treasury Department. The fund will provide $20 million to support tribes. 

Eligible state, metropolitan city and county governments can now request their allocations through the Treasury Department’s submission portal. 

Suffolk Public Schools held a public hearing May 13 on how to spend more than $27.3 million from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief that it received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. It has until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend the money. 

The money is to be used by school divisions, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, to help safely reopen schools, provide for their safe operation and address the impact of the pandemic on students. 

Of the money to the school division, 20% — nearly $5.5 million — must be set aside to address learning loss by implementing evidence-based interventions and make sure they respond to students’ social, emotional and academic needs while addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student groups, according to the Education Department. 

The Education Department has said the remaining money, nearly $21.9 million, should be spent in the following areas: information technology; professional development; instructional (non-set-aside); special education and facilities and maintenance. It cannot, according to the division’s Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman, be used for raises or bonuses; technology infrastructure outside of connectivity; hiring staff that cannot be sustained; repairs to schools not linked to air quality, sanitizing, cleaning or exposure to environmental health hazards; furniture/replacement equipment not linked to mitigation or virtual learning; addressing needs not connected to underrepresented student groups. 

In a letter from Dr. James Lane, state superintendent of public instruction, he notes that each school division must post on its website a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services within 30 days of receiving the funding. And, within 90 days, each school division has to post on its website a plan to use the money. 

No one spoke during the public hearing.