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OPINION — Resources for DMV and unemployment help

On May 14, Governor Ralph Northam announced his administration was ending the mask mandate in Virginia immediately, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The full text of the seventh amendment to Executive Order 72 can be found at: www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-72-SEVENTH-AMENDED-and-Order-of-Public-Health-Emergency-Nine-Easing-of-Commonsense-Surge-Restrictions-Due-to-Novel-Coronavirus-(COVID-19).pdf.

Those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask, either indoors or outdoors. Businesses retain the discretion to require masks or not.

The end of the mask mandate is not the end of the mask mandate for everyone. Those who are not vaccinated are asked to continue wearing masks, and those who work in close personal contact businesses such as retail, fitness, personal care and entertainment must wear masks if not vaccinated. Masks will also be required for everyone on public transportation and in hospitals.

Schools, where most teachers have been vaccinated and students are being vaccinated at an increasing rate, are still required to use masks. In addition, keeping the mandate in schools, where transmission among children is all but nonexistent and teachers are mostly vaccinated, does not follow the science and makes no sense.

The state of emergency declared last year will continue through at least June 30. If current trends continue, all COVID distancing and capacity restrictions will be lifted on May 28.

That does little for Virginia businesses, however, as they remain under new regulations enacted by the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI). Those regulations will remain in effect at least 14 days after the state of emergency ends. More information on those regulations can be found at www.dol.gov/coronavirus.

There are a few changes with local DMV Select offices that I would like to share with my constituents.  The DMV Select office in Dillwyn, located within Foster Tire Company on Oak Street, will close June 30.

Buckingham County leaders expressed a desire for the office to remain open but stated they are unable to partner with the DMV to open a new Select office within the county at this time.

While DMV Selects are independently operated by local governments and private businesses, the agency maintains an interest in ensuring safe, equal access to services for all residents in those locations. The decision not to renew the contract at the Dillwyn Select office was out of need for a facility more accessible to customers who have disabilities and one with ample parking and convenient customer restrooms.

DMV does offer customers service in several nearby communities. The DMV Select office located in Cumberland is also a 20-minute drive from Dillwyn. DMV’s full-service office in Farmville is 30 minutes from Dillwyn. Customers can make an appointment at the Farmville Customer Service Center by visiting dmvNOW.com/appt. 

DMV has reached an agreement with the Town of Scottsville, and a new DMV Select office will open in the Town Office on August 16. This DMV Select office will conduct mostly vehicle-related transactions, such as titles and registrations, disabled placards, transcript requests, license plates and more. This office will also help supplement DMV’s nearby Charlottesville full-service DMV office.

Additionally, DMV will open more windows in its customer service centers beginning June 1. As of Monday, May 17, customers can now schedule these new appointments. Additional windows will open in stages June 15 and into July as DMV continues to hire and train new employees. In all, these changes will create 184,000 additional appointment opportunities across the commonwealth. 

I also wanted to provide an update from the Virginia Employment Commission. For the filings of the first week of May, state unemployment insurance claims were down slightly but still four times pre-pandemic levels. Continued weeks claimed under state unemployment totaled 57,844, a slight increase from the previous week. Of most significance, weekly claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) declined by more than 22%. PUA activity has the potential to be volatile on a weekly basis, but VEC continues to monitor this positive sign as businesses continue to reopen and people return to work.

For additional information on unemployment insurance in Virginia, please access the VEC’s UI claims data dashboard- https://www.vec.virginia.gov/ui-claims-dashboard.

The agency has repaid the federal loan to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The current balance is $155.2 million. Although this remains significantly below the $1 billion needed to achieve 50% solvency and suspend the fund builder tax, it marks a significant turn as the economy recovers. VEC notes that it is important to factor that depending on claims activity, the next few months may necessitate another round of borrowing.

Last week, the governor directed the VEC to invest $20 million to “speed up” the claims process. Information on Executive Directive 16 can be found at: www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2021/may/headline-895383-en.html.

The agency has signed a contract for 300 hearing officers to augment agency staff in the completion of adjudications. This is in addition to current contractual support and other active procurements that expect to yield increased capacity as well. Furthermore, the agency continues with robust hiring activity. For constituents that may be interested in state employment, you can visit www.jobs.virginia.gov. The VEC is also hosting a Virtual Hiring Event for South Central Virginia on June 17 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.