States Want a $20 Billion Federal Top-Off to ‘Zuck Bucks’ for Future Elections But They’re Already Sitting on a Pile

Graffiti of Mark Zuckerberg "You've been zucked"

Drawing on research from a multimillion-dollar Mark Zuckerberg-linked initiative viewed as pivotal in the 2020 presidential election, 14 states carried by Joe Biden have appealed to him for billions of dollars more to secure elections for the next decade. But most of them have spent less than half their shares of previous federal funding to counter alleged Russian election meddling and other “threats” to election security.

The states’ letter to the president cites a report by the Election Infrastructure Initiative, a progressive nonprofit that estimates $53 billion in taxpayer money will be needed to ensure election security over the next decade.

The Election Infrastructure Initiative is an arm of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which in 2020 distributed nearly $400 million in private grants – $350 million from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan – to local election offices in 48 states and the District of Columbia for the pandemic-challenged presidential election.

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Small Business Administration Spends $14.8 Million in Questionable Costs for Underutilized Small Business Portal

U.S Small Business Administration

This week’s Golden Horseshoe is awarded to the Small Business Administration for lax oversight of a $25 million grant for the creation of a COVID-19 relief small business portal that ran up $14.8 million in questionable costs for an underutilized hub, according to a report by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development (OED) received $25 million through the CARES Act to create a portal to help small businesses during the pandemic. An $18.6 million grant was awarded for the Resource Partner Training Portal program, but the intended results were not achieved. A combination of a failed marketing strategy to let small businesses know of the portal’s existence and unsupported or unallowable invoices led the inspector general to question $14.8 million in costs.

“SBA did not did not ensure the grant recipient developed and implemented an effective marketing and outreach strategy to ensure the hub successfully achieved the legislative purpose of the CARES Act,” Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware stated in the report.

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Universities That Received Billions in COVID Relief Are Still Imposing Delays, Remote Instruction

In 2020, the federal government gave American colleges and universities approximately $14 billion in relief through the CARES Act. As part of the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, the CARES Act allocation mandated that approximately half its funds be used for emergency student aid.

Now, nearly two years after President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act in March 2020, numerous institutions that received aid are delaying in-person learning due to the Omicron variant.

By Jan. 7, seven out of 10 University of California campuses announced “revisions to their winter quarter or winter semester plans.” Winter sessions precede the spring semester, which traditionally starts in mid-to-late January.

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Danville Approves Sales Tax Increase, Pittsylvania’s Sales Tax Increase Hangs in the Balance

Danville voters resoundingly approved a referendum for a one percent sales tax increase to pay for school renovation projects 60.43 percent to 39.57 percent according to unofficial results. But their neighbors in Pittsylvania County may have barely killed a similar proposal; the sales tax referendum is losing by just 44 votes out of 25,404 — 0.18 percent. Elections officials are still counting mail-in ballots, according to Pittsylvania County Schools (PCS) Superintendent Mark Jones.

He said elections officials think there are more than 44 outstanding ballots, and final results will be certified Friday.

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Commentary: Democrat Spending Bill Taxes the Rich and the Poor

“No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on.”

That was President Joe Biden on Oct. 28 unveiling his latest $1.75 trillion spending bill—watered down from $3.5 trillion after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) refused to budge on the topline number—that Congress is expected to vote on this week.

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Commentary: IRS Guidance Would Punish Small Business Owners with Families

Outside of IRS building

Most IRS guidance documents make for poor pleasure reading. Then again, most IRS guidance doesn’t effectively impose a retroactive tax on small business owners merely for having a family. IRS Notice 2021-49, issued on August 4, includes a bizarre interpretation of the law that will effectively raise taxes for business owners with close relatives, even if their family members have no involvement in the company.

A core goal of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed early on in the pandemic was to assist businesses in keeping employees on their payroll even as they dealt with the economic effects of lockdowns. Part of the plan was the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which provides a tax credit against employer payroll tax liabilities.

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Old Dominion University Forgives Students Spring 2021 Outstanding Balance

Old Dominion University (ODU) is canceling any unpaid balance its students incurred in the spring 2021 semester. Vice President for Student Engagement and Enrollment Services Donald Stansberry said that an outstanding balance blocks students from receiving diplomas or registering for fall classes.

“Old Dominion is committed to helping our students reach their academic potential,” Stansberry said in a press release. “At a time when many families are facing financial stress because of the pandemic, these CARES Act funds will help eliminate significant roadblocks so students can continue on their academic journeys.”

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Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa, and St. Louis Among the Cities Experiencing the Highest Consumer Price Spikes

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve Bank and Congress have taken unprecedented steps to stabilize the economy after entire industries and sectors ground to a halt last year amidst the public health crisis. The Fed has kept interest rates near zero, created lending programs to pump trillions of dollars into the economy, and bought securities to support financial markets. Congress passed three major COVID-19 stimulus packages in response to the crisis: the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March 2020, the $900 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December 2020, and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March 2021.

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Virginia Gov. Northam Proposes $353 Million for Small Business Recovery, Tourism from ARPA Funds

Governor Ralph Northam issued his first proposal for spending American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds Monday. Northam’s $353 million proposal includes $250 million for the Rebuild VA small business fund. It also includes $50 million for state agency the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), and $53 million for the Industrial Revitalization Fund and the Virginia Main Street program.

“Virginia is roaring back stronger than we could have imagined one year ago, but small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they need additional support to get back on their feet,” Northam said in a Monday announcement.

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Virginia Politicians Call for Action to Make Sure Unemployment Benefits Don’t Keep People from Getting Jobs

bluecollar

Virginia politicians are calling on Governor Ralph Northam to take steps to make sure unemployment benefits aren’t preventing potential employees from returning to work. Senate Republicans want to use American Recovery Plan funds to create “Back-to-Work” bonuses to incentivize current unemployment recipients to re-enter the workforce. Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Virginia-02) is calling for better enforcement of unemployment benefit eligibility rules.

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Warner, Wexton Highlight American Rescue Plan Opportunities for Broadband Expansion and Small Business Relief

Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-Virginia-10) made two stops in northern Virginia on Friday and Monday discussing impacts of COVID-19 and financial opportunities from federal relief.

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Virginia Finance Secretary Expects $500 Million Revenue Surplus, But Is Cautious About Future Effects of Inflation

Virginia is on track for a revenue surplus of $500 million, according to presentations Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne gave to legislators in the General Assembly this week. Layne was cautiously optimistic when describing Virginia’s financial situation, saying that many jobs have come back, and the housing market is booming.

“This all adds up to a very good performance for the first ten months of the year,” he said in a Tuesday presentation to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “We’re going to have a surplus that’s at least half a billion dollars and I think there’s an upward bias.”

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Virginia Legislators Lay Out Priorities for American Rescue Plan Funds

The American Rescue Plan will provide $7.2 billion for Virginia: $2.9 billion allocated for municipalities, and $4.3 billion for the state government, according to a Tuesday announcement from Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. On Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam and Democratic General Assembly leaders released their priorities for the $4.3 billion, including upgrading public health infrastructure, funding the Rebuild Virginia small business recovery plan, adding funds to the Unemployment Trust Fund, modernizing public schools, and deploying broadband across Virginia.

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Judge Grants Virginia Employment Commission Brief Extension to Respond to Class-Action Lawsuit over Slow Unemployment Claims Processing

Virginia is trailing the rest of the United States in processing certain unemployment claims. That’s led to a class-action lawsuit against the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), filed in April. VEC Commissioner Ellen Hess asked for an extension until the end of May to respond to the lawsuit, but on Wednesday, a district judge ruled that the VEC could only have a four-day extension from May 7 until May 11.

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Hospitals Saw 10 Percent Decrease in Inpatient Volumes in 2020, Driving Lower Revenue

Virginia hospitals saw a 10 percent decrease in inpatient volumes in 2020 and a 30 percent decrease in emergency department visits, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA). On Wednesday, VHHA staff held a virtual press conference presenting an update on hospitalization and emergency department visit trends. Hospitalization data does not show a COVID-19-lockdown baby boom, but rather a decrease in usage of hospital pregnancy services when compares to previous years. On the other hand, inpatient discharge data shows an increase in treatment of alcohol, drug use, and related mental disorders, a trend that began before COVID-19.

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General Assembly Will Need Another Session to Allocate American Rescue Plan Funds

The General Assembly will probably have another special session in 2021, which is necessary to allow the legislature to allocate federal funds granted to the Commonwealth in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) passed by Congress and signed by President Biden Thursday.

Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said, “It will require another session, but it probably will be sometime in the future weeks or possibly months because the Governor has made no decision. But part of that is because we have not received a specific certification on the actual monies yet from the Feds.”

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Billions of Coronavirus Stimulus Money Still Hasn’t Been Spent, Republican Senators Say in Letter to Biden

US Capitol

A group of ten Republican senators outlined a less expensive coronavirus relief compromise bill and said much of the past stimulus passed during the pandemic hasn’t been spent yet.

The proposed stimulus framework builds on prior legislation that passed with bipartisan support, the 10 senators wrote in the letter Sunday. The group, which included Sens. Mitt Romney, Thom Tillis, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, also requested a meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss the bill.

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Northam Administration Moves to Tax PPP Loan Recipients

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s administration has recommended to the General Assembly that the state not conform its tax code to specific provisions included in the recently-signed federal emergency relief bill that gives businesses who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans a significant tax benefit.

Under the provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law by President Donald Trump in late December, businesses in the Commonwealth that got forgivable PPP loans would not be taxed on that income and could deduct their business expenses covered by the federal payment.

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Delegate Cox Still Calling for Cash for Virginia Families Affected by Virtual Learning

President Trump issued an executive order on Monday allowing states to use COVID-19 funds to be provided as emergency learning scholarships for students who don’t have access to in-person learning. The funds are directed at families, not schools, and can also be used by homeschooling students. Gubernatorial candidate Delegate Kirk Cox’s staff (R-Colonial Heights) said the program is similar to one that he introduced in the General Assembly.

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Guaranteed Income Coming to 55 Richmond, Virginia Families for Two Years

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is expanding a guaranteed income program, thanks to new funds from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. In October, days before Stoney was re-elected, he announced the Richmond Resiliance Initiative (RRI) would provide $500 per month for two years to 18 needy families, according to a press release. On Tuesday, Stoney announced that the city would receive a $500,000 grant that would allow them to expand the program to 55 families, thanks to a $15 million donation from Dorsey to association Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

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Follow the Money: CARES Act Update

Congress passed the CARES Act last March, sending many taxpayers $1,200, giving $100 billion to health providers, and boosting unemployment benefits by $600 a week, according to Govtrack. The $2 trillion stimulus bill also sent $150 billion to states and localities across the country. Virginia received about $3.1 billion dollars, with a separate $200 million sent directly to Fairfax County.

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Governor Northam Signs Revised State Budget

Governor Ralph Northam signed Virginia’s new biennial budget, according to a Wednesday press release. The budget is the product of a recent months-long Special Session held by the General Assembly and features key provisions for homeowners, children, and businesses.

“This budget gives us the tools we need to contend with the challenges brought on by the ongoing pandemic,” Northam said in a press release.

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VA Democrats Want To Issue Mandatory ‘Vaccination Cards’ Costing $121 Million

Virginia plans on spending nearly $121 million on CARES funding for COVID-19 vaccine equipment and advertisement. This according to a proposal draft, reportedly submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week.

Nearly $6 million will be spent on equipment: over $111 million on administration and staffing and $3 million in a “public education campaign.”

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Northam Announces More Money for Closed Schools

Governor Ralph Northam is sending an additional $220 million of Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to Virginia’s schools, according to a Thursday press release. The money is intended to help purchase testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitation, and virtual learning technology.

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Commentary: Pelosi Holds Millions of Small Businesses Hostage While Working Families Struggle

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a lot less was known about the virus and how to counter it, and while the nation was still ramping up production of testing and hospital resources including ventilators needed, 25 million jobs were lost across the country, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Since labor markets bottomed in April, 13.8 million jobs have been recovered, as states have begun steadily reopening in the months since.

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Gov. Northam Announces Flawed Rebuild VA Grant Fund Eligibility Expanded

The eligibility for the REBUILD! VA Grant Fund for businesses, nonprofits impacted by COVID-19 has been expanded to a wider scope of small businesses, according to a news release. 

The expansion of grant program, administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD), now includes small hotels, bed and breakfast facilities and Virginia film companies as well as companies that provide goods or services to eligible businesses. 

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Study: 68 Percent of Workers Earned More on Unemployment with $600 Weekly Enhancement

Some unemployed workers received nearly twice as much money through unemployment insurance (UI) payments authorized through the CARES Act than they earned when they were employed, a new study from the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) found.

In response to states shutting down economies over coronavirus fears, Congress passed several relief bills, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These two bills expanded the UI benefit period, suspended work search requirements, included newly eligible individuals, and added a $600-per-week unemployment benefit enhancement through July 31.

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Treasury Department: States, Local Governments Spend Only 25 Percent of CARES Act Subsidies

As deliberations continue in Congress over how to allocate another $1 trillion worth of stimulus money, governors and mayors say they need more than the $139 billion already allocated to their states in March to cover revenue shortfalls.

A total of $150 billion was allocated to help state, local and tribal governments with specific COVID-19 response programs.

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Federal Unemployment Benefits Expiring as Democratic Leaders Demand Non-COVID-19 Related Policies

The additional $600 weekly federal unemployment benefits expire Friday after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected a White House offer to temporarily extend them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that, “Senate Republicans tried several ways to extend the expiring unemployment assistance. Democrats blocked them all and refused another dime for COVID-19 relief unless they get to pass a bill that includes an unrelated tax cut for rich people in blue states.”

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Senate Republicans Propose New $1 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Package

Senate Republicans’ latest COVID-19 stimulus package proposes another round of direct payments to Americans and more enhanced federal unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs during coronavirus restrictions.

The $1 trillion package, called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act was released Monday.

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Democrats Seek Coronavirus Aid Bill Provision to Limit Federal Agents from Patrolling Cities

Senate Democrats are planning to insert a provision in the coronavirus relief bill that would place restrictions on the Trump administration’s ability to send federal agents to help quell protests in cities across the country.

The provision would require federal agents to identify themselves, use marked vehicles and stay on federal property rather than patrol city streets, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday, according to NBC News. Local officials including mayors and governors would need to approve the use of federal agents patrolling streets.

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Study: Unemployment Pays Better Than Work for 68 Percent of U.S. Workers

The federal unemployment insurance emergency payments of an additional $600 per week to those laid off because of COVID-19 restrictions discourages work and slows down economic recovery, several reports indicate. Several congressmen have introduced proposals to address the issue.

A report published by the Foundation for Government Ability (FGA) found that by nearly tripling average unemployment benefits through the CARES Act, “Congress has created a situation where unemployment now pays better than work” for roughly 68 percent of U.S. workers.

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Republican Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Cut Waste from Coronavirus Bill

U.S. Representatives Ted Budd (R-NC-13) and Ken Buck (R-CO-04) introduced the Getting Americans Back to Work Act to amend a portion of the CARES Act, which resulted in some unemployed filers receiving higher wages through unemployment compensation than through their previous jobs.

The bill caps the amount an individual can receive from unemployment insurance at 100 percent of their previous wages.

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