It’s time for Virginia to invest in services and programs that will support all communities

By Breanne Armbrust

The Commonwealth of Virginia finds itself in a unique position – in the midst of a historic pandemic with a budget surplus of $ 2.6 billion at the start of the new fiscal year. Like many community activists around Virginia, I immediately thought of how these funds could be used to directly benefit Virginians who are reeling from decades of divestment and more than a year of crisis due to COVID-19.

Gaps in Virginia’s government infrastructure existed long before the pandemic. People in our community saw a need and formed self-help organizations, providing financial assistance and resources to help their neighbors. Some nonprofits have also taken unprecedented steps to help families survive.

We spend much of our time at the Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC Fulton) helping families get support, especially those without reliable access to technology. While most of this work is not new, demand has increased during the pandemic. The assistance we provide includes helping individuals navigate online DMV transactions, accessing UI benefits, offering COVID-19 testing and immunization clinics, awareness and outreach. constant community solicitation and scaling up to provide expanded access to food.

The reality is that it is not easy to navigate the services of state agencies during an unprecedented public health pandemic, especially when these state agencies have been historically underfunded for years. This problem is not new to the many families that NRC Fulton supports each month and who earn less than $ 18,000 a year. We find ourselves spending weeks at a time for state agencies to respond to us as we help our neighbors.

We have spent countless hours reaching out to the leadership of the Virginia Employment Commission to assist community members who still have not received payment for unemployment or case-related decisions, some more than a year later. their initial deposit. We even found ourselves advocating for months for COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics to be held at our site. All of this took considerable effort on our part, after community members had already tried it for themselves.

One of the reasons Virginia has avoided an even more serious humanitarian crisis so far is in large part because of self-help groups and organizations like the Neighborhood Resource Center that have rushed into the abyss – this n It’s not because our state government is successful in closing these loopholes.

None of the barriers described above are new – they have been around for decades due to funding decisions by state lawmakers and have widened existing racial and wealth inequalities across Virginia.

Sadly, the $ 2.6 billion surplus is limited one-time funding that has already been accounted for, with a majority deposited into state reserve funds. State lawmakers must act swiftly and boldly to increase the revenue needed to promote racial and economic justice in Virginia. Ensuring that wealthy individuals and businesses pay their fair share of taxes would help adequately fund public education, housing and health care.

We stand on the brink of what appears to be yet another devastating wave of COVID-19 – a disease that will continue to disproportionately impact black, brown, immigrant and white low-income people in Virginia.

We need strong leaders who will make the bold choice to correct the state’s tax code and invest in services and programs that will support all communities in our state.

Breanne Armbrust is executive director of the Grand Fulton Neighborhood Resource Center in Richmond.

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