Flood damage in the Pilgrim's Knob section of Buchanan County. Photo by Lakin Keene.

RICHMOND – Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Thursday introduced amendments to the two-year state budget the General Assembly passed last year that not only include another $1 billion in tax cuts, but a $200 million deposit in the newly created Resilient Virginia Revolving Loan Fund for flooding prevention projects statewide, and an additional $11 million in emergency funds for the Buchanan County flood victims.

“Buckle up, because we are going to go fast,” Youngkin said before a joint meeting of the state Senate and House of Delegates money committees at the state Capitol. “The revised budget that I am asking you to adopt is all about two things – going faster and getting more done. And it’s the keystone of our Day 2 gameplan, which is all about accelerating results for Virginians and taking Virginia to the next level.”

Youngkin also called for $20 million to be provided in support of a pilot program for public-private delivery of preschool services for at-risk children in the Lenowisco and Crater Planning Districts. According to the related bill, the funds would be administered as a formula grant “based on unmet family demand” as long as the programs provide high quality, full-day services all year around.

Lawmakers from Southwest Virginia applauded Youngkin’s push for more money to help flood victims that could eventually become a designated flood relief fund. 

“We’ve talked to the governor about that a couple of times, and we asked him to put that in his budget amendments, and he told us that he would,” state Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re just pleased that we have a governor that cares, and from the get-go he told us that he wouldn’t leave the people of Buchanan County to fend for themselves.”

The county was hit with devastating flash floods twice in less than a year and is still working to rebuild. 

In August 2021, rising waters and mudslides overtook the Guesses Fork area of Hurley. One person was killed, and dozens of homes were destroyed or severely damaged. And last July, a similar flood struck the area around Whitewood and Pilgrim’s Knob, about 30 miles away. Thirty-three structures were destroyed, and scores more were damaged. 

In both cases, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to provide financial help to individual homeowners – most of whom did not carry flood insurance – leaving cleanup and rebuilding to be covered largely by private donations and volunteer labor.

In response to FEMA’s denial in Hurley, Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, proposed a statewide flood recovery fund that would pay for property losses that weren’t otherwise covered by insurance or federal aid. That idea morphed into a budget earmark of $11.4 million for Hurley-specific flood relief; the process for disbursing those funds started just last month.

In October, on the same day he announced FEMA’s denial of individual aid for residents of Whitewood, Youngkin said he believed that the framework that had been developed to handle the Hurley relief money could be used to create a similar effort to help Whitewood. He pledged to work with legislators to fund such an effort.

“I look forward to working with our Southwest delegation to make sure that incremental funds are included in this next year’s budget in order to provide the same kind of state support where it’s needed,” he said at the time.

Morefield said in a text message Thursday that Youngkin’s announcement could not have come at a better time. 

“The Hurley flood relief assistance program is officially underway and the governor’s introduction of additional funding in his proposed budget will ensure the most recent flood victims will receive assistance as well. I will be working closely with the governor, his administration, and my colleagues in the General Assembly to ensure the proposed funding is approved,” Morfield said. 

The flood relief guidelines are already in place and will ensure that funding will reach the most recent flood victims much faster than under the Hurley program, Morefield said. “I commend the governor, the Department of Housing & Community Development, the Buchanan County Department of Social Services, and everyone involved for helping at a time when so many families had lost hope.”

Hackworth added that if the politically divided General Assembly approves Youngkin’s request during its upcoming session, Virginia could be one step closer towards the creation of a permanent flood relief fund. 

“We’re hoping that we’ll have some flood relief money left from the Hurley flood, and if we do, we hope to keep this money in the fund and call it a rapid flood relief fund so we don’t have to wait until July or August until the first checks go out,” he said, adding that he had already discussed this idea with the governor. 

“This would be of great help because if there’s a disaster, we can tap into that much quicker. It’s not a matter of if but when the next flood is going to hit, and we want to have a fund that’s available,” Hackworth said.

Youngkin’s proposals benefitting Southwest Virginia are – apart from the $1 billion in proposed tax cuts (which includes the doubling of the current standard deduction) – part of a new round of $2.6 billion in spending commitments, including significant new investments in behavioral health, education, public safety, and economic development.

Republicans signaled their support for the proposed amendments to the budget. 

“Governor Youngkin’s proposals will make Virginia more competitive on the national and international stage, and it will put more money back into the pockets of hardworking Virginia families who are struggling to deal with near record inflation,” Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, the House Majority Leader, said in a statement. “There’s a lot to be optimistic about in this proposal that will particularly benefit Southwest Virginia, in addition to the rest of the commonwealth.”

But Democrats – who currently control the state Senate by a one-seat majority – are less enthusiastic about giving Youngkin a win going into a year when all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for reelection. “The governor’s proposed amendments are looking for long term results with short term commitments,” Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a news release. “For years Senate Democrats have been working to foster a pro-business friendly environment and make the Commonwealth the best place to live, work, and raise a family. While this is a good starting point ahead of deliberations, Senate Democrats will continue to push the governor to ensure we balance the budget, fund underfunded programs, and ensure every Virginian has the ability to thrive,” Saslaw said.

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org or 804-822-1594.

Megan Schnabel is managing editor for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org or 540-819-4969.