This week’s newsletter discusses temporarily-averted government shutdown and the impacts that we would see in Virginia if a budget agreement is not reached. I also invite community members to the upcoming grand opening of the renovated General Assembly Building, share highlights from this past week’s Central Virginia Transportation Authority (CVTA) meeting and information about the Senate Page Program, and provide highlights from selected community events of this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
The Housing Crisis and a Potential Federal Shutdown
On Monday, U.S. Senator Mark Warner invited members of the Richmond Delegation, Richmond City officials, and representatives from Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), and other housing officials to join him in a conversation about a potential federal shutdown and its impacts on the housing crisis in our localities. Joining me in this conversation with Senator Warner were Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond City Council President Dr. Michael Jones, Councilwoman Ann Frances Lambert, RRHA CEO Steven Nesmith, representatives from RRHA, the Virginia Housing Alliance, a resident of supported housing, and other city officials to discuss the impacts a government shutdown could have on our existing housing programs.
In this roundtable discussion, we learned about the significant effects that would result from a government shutdown, should Congress fail to act within the 45 day period agreed to in the Continuing Resolution (CR). While much public awareness focuses, as it should, on the shutdown’s immediate impacts on federal workers, the impacts on basic and vital government functions would also be catastrophic for many communities. In terms of housing concerns, a wide range of services funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) could be disrupted or delayed, and a longer shutdown may impact access to rental assistance. Food assistance programs could also be affected. This could happen both while the shutdown is in effect, and after while federal agency staff work to catch up. Such disruptions to federal programs, in both urban and rural communities, would lead to serious housing and food insecurity for thousands of Virginians, including households with young children.
I appreciate Senator Warner’s commitments to the residents and city officials that he – along with his Democratic colleagues in both the Senate and the House – will fight to ensure that a budget is passed and a federal shutdown is averted. However, the next steps are fraught with challenges because of the complete lack of leadership in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
Invitation: Grand Opening of the General Assembly Building
This Wednesday, October 11, the newly-renovated General Assembly Building (GAB) will open to the public. This renovation project started in 2017, and the members of the General Assembly were housed temporarily in the Pocahontas Building on Main Street. The new GAB, a 414,000 square foot, 15-story building, houses state-of-the-art subcommittee and committee rooms with streaming capabilities, a beautiful cafeteria with views of Capitol Square, meeting spaces for members of the public to gather during the legislative session, offices for legislators and staff, and more.
The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for 1:00pm on Wednesday, October 11. I am also hosting an Open House for current and new constituents at my office (Room 616) and invite members of the public to stop by and visit during their tour of the new building.
Commission Meetings: Central Virginia Transportation Authority
Last Friday, the Central Virginia Transportation Authority (CVTA) held its September meeting. The agenda and details are available here. The Fall Line Trail continues to be a critical project for the CVTA. The Fall Line Trail passes through seven localities (Ashland, Hanover, Henrico, Richmond, Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, and Petersburg), and each locality is involved in the project. As the Fall Line Trail develops over the next several months, I will share more details about this exciting project that is designed to connect past to present, locality to locality, urban to suburban to rural, and much more.
Senate Page Application
The application deadline for the 2024 Senate Page Program is less than two weeks away. The Senate Page Program offers a unique opportunity for young Virginians to learn about policy making and state government processes. Applicants must be residents of the Commonwealth and either 13 or 14 years old on January 10, 2024, the first day of the new session.
Pages perform administrative duties, participate in team building, undergo rigorous civics education, and help with day-to-day operations of the General Assembly. While immersed in the program, Pages live in Richmond throughout the duration of the General Assembly, visiting home on the weekends. The well-structured program provides time for Pages to keep up with schoolwork while also engaging in General Assembly activities.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Saturday was a busy day of attending community, legislative, and campaign events. I began the morning by traveling to Henrico County for the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) Central Virginia Chapter’s Mid-Autumn Festival. It was wonderful to celebrate this joyous occasion with friends and community leaders.
After leaving the OCA gathering in Henrico County, I stopped by the ChesterFest celebration in Chester Village to meet with community members, area businesses, and a variety of vendors. The lovely Saturday afternoon weather provided a great opportunity for families to stroll through the festival and enjoy various activities.
Following ChesterFest, I joined a panel at the Save the Children Action Network conference for a discussion on the importance of early childhood education and childcare in the Commonwealth and the challenges that we are facing in delivering both. These challenges include workforce shortages and inadequate pay for childcare providers; high costs of child care that may be equivalent to a college tuition; fewer spots and long wait lists for families needing child care. During the 2024 General Assembly session, we have a tremendous opportunity to invest in our children and families, and I look forward to working with advocates on some of the policies we discussed.
I followed the discussion at Save the Children Action Network for a second panel session, this time focused on public education. That same Saturday afternoon, I joined educators, parents, and advocates at the Raise Your Hand for Healthy School Environments conference. In my particular panel session, we discussed our vision for public education, the disturbing efforts to privatize public education, and the dangerous underfunding of Virginia’s public education system for well over a decade.
My long Saturday concluded with a journey up I-95 to Manassas to celebrate Delegate Danica Roem’s birthday and to support her campaign for Senate District 30. I was joined by Senator Jeremy McPike (pictured) and former Speaker of the House, Eileen Filler-Corn (pictured), for a lively and fun evening. Danica’s success will help to ensure a Democratic majority in the Senate. Already established as an advocate for students, infrastructure efficiencies and resilience, and government transparency, Danica will continue to fight for these key issues in the Senate.
Sunday was a busy day as well. After a warm and welcoming worship service at the historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church, I joined the Blue United PAC (a committee recently organized to support the candidates of Chesterfield County) for a meet and greet at a private residence in the Bermuda District. Many members of the community joined us, and we were especially honored to be joined by the legendary Clarence Dunnaville, who has spent his life fighting for social justice, civil rights, and educational opportunities for all.
That same Sunday afternoon, back in Midlothian, I joined a very special event for Chesterfield County School Board member Dot Heffron, who is running for re-election this November. Dot has worked extraordinarily hard for the children and the families that she represents. Her voice continues to be a necessary and vital one for Chesterfield County Public Schools, families, teachers, staff and administrators.
On Tuesday morning, I participated in Alliance for Unitive Justice’s first Unitive Justice International Conference. I joined the panel on “Unitive Justice in Politics: A Path to Unified Goals” with civil rights activist and attorney Clarence Dunnaville, and President and Executive Director of Alliance for Unitive Justice, Sylvia Clute. We discussed the role of political philosophies and approaches as we integrate unitive justice with lawmaking and ethical governance.
On Wednesday, Delegate Kathy Tran and I, along with our staff, traveled to New York City for a special event with supporters in the Big Apple. Progressives across the country are focused on Virginia this year because of our state elections. Virginia and New Jersey are the rare states that hold off-cycle elections, and so many people are watching Virginia’s results because they provide insights to voters’ concerns and serve as a bellwether for national trends in 2024.
On Thursday, I attended the 10th Annual Executive Briefing on the Economics of Early Childhood, co-sponsored by the Virginia Chamber and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. Dr. Cynthia Osborne, Executive Director and Professor of Early Childhood Education and Policy at Vanderbilt University, shared findings from a groundbreaking study she and her team conducted on the estimated return on investment from Virginia's early childhood education system. According to her analysis, in the next year alone, Virginia’s investment in affordable child care will generate a return of at least $364 million in increased family earnings and disposable income.
On the heels of the Executive Briefing and in a similarly timely conversation that Thursday afternoon, I joined the Virginia Alliance of YMCAs for Legislator Day. The Virginia Alliance of YMCAs shared details about the before- and after-school programs offered for K-5 students, collaborative partnerships with Richmond City and Chesterfield County schools, and the child care services provided through the YMCA. As the Executive Briefing highlighted and as the VA Alliance for YMCAs shared, we are facing a funding cliff when it comes to sustaining our early childhood programs, and we will need to address these serious concerns in the next legislative and budget cycle.
I concluded Thursday at a lovely event for Delegate Betsy Carr. Delegate Carr has been a committed voice and champion on many issues that impact Richmond: public education, the environment, women’s rights and reproductive health care, housing, and much more. I am truly honored to serve in the General Assembly and represent Richmond along with Delegate Carr.
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