Warner, Kaine, Northam Speak to NVTC Members

Virginia’s elected leaders describe supports for businesses and workers—and the challenges to come.

By Mark Toner

Federal and state efforts will support businesses and workers as the nation grapples with the coronavirus outbreak in the coming months, Virginia’s elected leaders told NVTC members, but the road ahead will be challenging.

“We are in uncharted waters. We are dealing with a pandemic. I describe it as fighting a biological war,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) told NVTC members during a conference on Thursday. “Virginia has had a very strong economy up until three or four weeks ago. Things have drastically changed, but we’re going to get through this together.”

In a series of webinars, Northam and both of Virginia’s U.S. Senators, Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D), described the unprecedented efforts at the federal and state levels to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. As of March 31, 2020, the Virginia Department of Health website says there are now 1,250 total cases in Virginia and 27 people have died from the virus. (Visit here to see current numbers.)

Speaking from different parts of Capitol Hill, Kaine and Warner joined NVTC members just days after a late-night agreement on a $2 trillion emergency relief package. Called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the package was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday March 27, 2020. It includes support for individuals including independent contractors, part-timers, and “gig economy” workers; small businesses and nonprofits; industry and larger organizations; state and local governments; and the healthcare sector. A key to these efforts, Kaine said, was shifting the emphasis from loans to grants and direct payments.

“When we get past the public health crisis, the economy doesn't just restart at the same pace,” Kaine said. “If you're trying to climb out of an economic challenge and you suddenly have a balance sheet with a whole lot more debt on it, a lot of the small businesses wouldn't survive.” 

The package also includes direct reimbursements for worker salaries and overhead and other incentives for companies of all sizes “to keep folks on board,” Warner said. 

However, the package brings “mixed results” for government contractors, Warner added. Negotiations added $17 billion for national-security related businesses to the $58 billion earmarked for airlines and other critical industries. 

“My hope is that those funds… will have some flexibility in that universe, particularly to help some of our defense contractors,” Warner said. “This is a place that’s not received a lot of attention yet, and we’re going to need to do some combined work… You’ve got my commitment and Tim’s commitment that we’ll be there, working with you on this.”

Outlook for the Commonwealth

A pediatrician and former military physician, Northam stressed the importance of “flattening the curve” so the state’s healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed and the most vulnerable can be protected. 

“We are in the middle of a health crisis. We are also in the middle of an economic crisis,” Northam said. “The sooner we can get the health crisis behind us, the sooner the economy will recover.”

While declining to outline an exact timetable, Northam said the best data suggests that coronavirus cases will peak in Virginia in about three to four weeks. If that’s the case and cases begin to taper afterwards, “we could get back to business in two or three months,” he added. “But right now, we just have to take this one day at a time, and follow the data as best as we can.” The following Monday, Northam issued a stay-at-home order through June 10, although the order states it could be revoked at an earlier date if conditions improve.

Speaking from the Commonwealth’s situation room with several other state officials, Northam also cautioned that the financial impact of shutdowns would impact Virginia’s financial outlook going forward. The Commonwealth’s budget, as well as many of the more than 1,250 bills approved by the Legislature, will likely need to change, Northam said. 

In particular, key programs of interest to NVTC members—including increased funding for broadband access and ongoing efforts to make community college free—would likely be impacted, Northam said. Even so, the Governor stressed the important role community colleges will play in training and retraining healthcare professionals in the months to come. 

“We are assessing the relief package that’s coming out of Washington, and I think it will have a lot of implications—not only for our budget in Virginia, but for small businesses,” Northam added, noting that the Commonwealth already has accelerated small business loans and unemployment filings. 

“Let’s be vigilant, let’s follow these guidelines, and let’s all get through this together,” Northam said. 

Mark Toner is a Reston-based technology writer.