Gov. Northam announces $111M proposal for undergrad financial aid; says wearing masks indoors is recommended, but not required

New River Valley News

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.: Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday afternoon plans to invest $111 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to provide need-based financial aid for low- to moderate-income undergraduate students. He also shared his stance on wearing masks in light of the CDC’s new recommendations.

“The economic uncertainty of this pandemic has led many to question whether a college degree was still an affordable reality,” said Northam. “Our Administration has worked hard to make higher education accessible to every Virginian, and this targeted investment represents a significant stride towards that goal. Increasing access to financial aid will help create more equitable pathways to opportunity and put a world-class education within reach of even more students.”

Northam was joined in Blacksburg by Del. Chris Hurst, state Sen. John Edwards, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, Deputy Secretary of Education Fran Bradford, and leaders of higher education facilities around the New River Valley.

Northam says the $111 million will be divided among public and private institutions of higher learning. More specifically, $100 million will go to public higher education institutions through the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, while $11 million will go to private institutions for low students eligible for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG).

“In order for Virginia to be the best-educated state in the nation, we must continue to invest in financial aid and improve access to affordable higher education,” said Qarni. “It is critical that we dedicate federal relief funds to build on our past investments in financial assistance and bolster our education and talent pipelines.”

According to Northam, this $111 million supplements the $833 million that will be made available to Virginia colleges and universities through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III. These funds will be received directly by higher learning institutions and must be used for financial assistance for students as well as for qualifying institutional purposes.

“Today, we are following through on our commitment to Virginia’s students and investing not simply in financial aid but in the Commonwealth’s future,” said Hurst, a member of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “This funding will open the doors for higher education to low- and middle-income Virginians across the Commonwealth.”

Northam says he is also committing $10 million to enhance the Online Virginia Network, which facilitates online coursework and degrees with George Mason University, Old Dominion University, James Madison University, and community colleges.

“Higher education faced numerous challenges over the past 16 months and it was an especially difficult time for our students,” said Timothy Sands, President of Virginia Tech. “For many who were already facing financial strain, the impact of COVID-19 threatened to push their higher education dream out of reach. We are grateful to the Governor and General Assembly for these additional funds to support financial aid at this critical time, and for their continued investment in the future of our students and the Commonwealth.”

In addition, Northam says the pandemic hit the workforce hard, with one in three Virginia workers applying for unemployment benefits.

While the economy is coming back and jobs are returning, this ARP financial aid funding also allows Virginians the opportunity to reconsider what they want to do with their lives by letting them get the education or training they need to seek new careers or to advance their current careers.

On Aug. 2, General Assembly will hold a special session to consider this and other ARP budget proposals, improving ventilation and air quality in public schools, reducing water pollution and increasing clean water access, replenishing the Commonwealth’s unemployment trust fund, and addressing ongoing challenges in Virginia’s behavioral health system.

Shortly after his news conference on Thursday, Northam also tweeted about Virginia’s mask guidance, saying that wearing masks in public indoor settings with a higher risk of coronavirus transmission ” is not a requirement, but a recommendation.”

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Gov. Ralph Northam is planning to visit Blacksburg Thursday afternoon to announce his budget proposal for federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.

Northam has already announced a number of project proposals this week that will be funded through the American Rescue Plan, including improving ventilation and air quality in public schools, reducing water pollution and increasing clean water access, replenishing the Commonwealth’s unemployment trust fund, and addressing ongoing challenges in Virginia’s behavioral health system.

Northam’s briefing will take place at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 29 at Virginia Tech. You can watch the news conference live on WFXR-TV, here at, on the WFXR News Facebook page, or on the WFXR News app.

This event comes the day after Northam said his team was reviewing possible changes to Virginia’s mask-wearing guidance following the release of the CDC’s revised recommendations. Virginia officials are expected to release their mask recommendations in the next couple of days.

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