Links on COVID-19:
Mark in the News:
Vigils For George Floyd Planned In Alexandria, Leaders React
The Patch Alexandria
Or by mail and phone:
301 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
Phase Two Begins Today in Northern Virginia
(Ready or Not, Here We Come...)
This morning, June 12, Northern Virginia – including Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax – begins Phase Two of "Forward Virginia," Governor Northam's plan for reopening. Most of Virginia entered into Phase Two on June 5th. Here are some of the big guidelines to know.
- Restaurants will be allowed to re-open for indoor dining at 50% capacity.
- Retail stores may operate at 50% capacity.
- Farmer’s markets may permit limited on-site shopping.
- Houses of worship can open at 50% capacity.
- Fitness centers can open indoor areas at 30% capacity.
- Pools can expand operations to indoor and outdoor exercise, diving and swim instruction.
- Social gatherings can have a maximum of 50 people, up from 10 people allowed under Phase One.
This comparison chart gives you a good idea of what's changing from Phase One to Phase Two.
Lots of News this Week!
Please check out left-hand column in this and every newsletter for stories about your Delegate in the media each week. Every story features something, big or small, that I am trying to do for the people of Alexandria, Arlington, or Fairfax. Many folks find the News Section the most interesting portion of the newsletter.
Too many Virginians are struggling to access unemployment insurance (UI). Some folks have had their applications accepted, but they have yet to receive any benefits. Some were denied and they can't figure out why. Many know they're eligible for Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) but can't apply until July.
No doubt the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is overwhelmed right now. In one month, they have been asked to process more than 700,000 claims, seven times the number they had to do during the entire 2007-08 recession. To do this, they have hired hundreds of new employees and opened up three new large call centers. 90% of the claims, totaling $3.8 billion have been paid in 14 days. But if you're one of the 10% who has been held up because your benefits have been exhausted or because the VEC is investigating your particular circumstances, it's extremely frustrating.
With the high volume of claims, VEC expects to take up to seven days to get back to you. When they do, they will give you a status update directly via a phone call. In the meantime, they encourage you to continue to file your weekly certification. If you have an issue on your claim that must be reviewed by a VEC hearing officer, they anticipate your wait time could exceed 4 weeks(!).The VEC will make contact with you through a telephone call or questionnaire to gather facts regarding your issue or separation.
No PEUC claims are expected to be resolved before July. Because the new federal PEUC program has no antecedent in Virginia and there was little federal guidance, the VEC had to build the entire program from scratch, from information technology to hiring and training, and they expect implementation to begin in July.
I know this is extremely frustrating. The only silver lining is that you will not lose any benefits from the delay. Benefits will apply retroactively. But I'm well aware that many of you have bills to pay right now, which is one reason I've been pressing so hard for rent and mortgage relief.
I want you to know that my office is here for you. We will do everything we can to help. If you are experiencing any problems availing yourself of any UI programs for which you think you are eligible, please help my office help you by completing this form.
I think you may also find these informational sheets from the VEC helpful to navigating this confusing and frustrating new process:
- Navigating the Unemployment Insurance Process During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits
- Top 5 Reasons Why Applicants Have Not Received Benefits
Evictions Halted Until June 28th
At Governor Northam's request, the Supreme Court of Virginia has halted evictions in the Commonwealth through June 28th. I had been requesting that the Governor seek that continuance, and I was pleased to see his request honored by the Supreme Court.
You can read the order extending the Judicial Emergency by clicking here. Under the new rule, even renters who have been threatened with eviction but have not been served a formal notice cannot be legally removed from their homes until June 28 at the earliest.
Governor Northam is in the process of implementing a rent relief program for residents facing housing insecurity during the pandemic. I will continue to encourage him to seek extensions of the moratorium on evictions until his plan is set and ready for implementation.
Recover, Redesign, Restart:
A Phased Reopening of Virginia's Public Schools
This week, Governor Northam announced a phased approach that allows Virginia schools to slowly resume in-person classes for summer school and the coming academic year. The K-12 phased reopening plan was developed by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Health, informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Detailed information on each phase can be found in the guidance document available here.
All PreK-12 schools in Virginia will be required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings. The PreK-12 guidance is aligned with the phases outlined in the Forward Virginia blueprint and provides opportunities for school divisions to begin offering in-person instruction to specific student groups.
The Virginia Department of Education has also developed comprehensive guidance to aid schools in planning for a return to in-person instruction and activities. “Recover, Redesign, Restart” can be found here.
Governor Northam Extends Health Care Executive Orders
Governor Ralph Northam also extended Executive Orders 57 and 58 this week, which were originally signed in April and were due to expire on June 10.
Executive Order Fifty-Seven implements several policies designed to expand Virginia’s health care workforce to assist with the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response. The order allows for the expanded use of telehealth and authorizes out-of-state licensees to provide in-state care at hospitals, nursing facilities, dialysis facilities, physician offices, and other health care facilities. The full text is available here.
Executive Order Fifty-Eight helps ensure Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security recipients have continued access to care during the ongoing public health emergency. The full text is available here.
The Results of Our COVID-19 Constituent Survey
Thank you to the 126 of you who completed the survey from May 12 to May 31. That's an impressive amount of feedback!
Click here to read the full results of the survey. The vast majority of you expressed concern on all four primary categories we asked about: testing, vulnerable residents, frontline workers, and elections.
The primary concern was for adequate testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) (93% agreed, of which 84% strongly agreed.)
Next up was concern for vulnerable residents (91% agreed, of which 69% strongly agreed).
This was followed by concern for frontline workers (84% agreed, of which 62% strongly agreed), followed closely by 83% of you (61% strongly) expressing strong concern for the accessibility and security of our upcoming elections.
Only 12% of you were facing financial insecurity (7% strongly), with 69% of you facing no financial insecurity at all.
As I expect from the caring, charity-minded constituents I'm proud to represent, more of you who responded to my survey were concerned about others than yourselves.
Below is a chart summarizing the issues you asked me to prioritize. Although you could choose more than one answer, it was clear to me that adequate testing and PPE supplies were your primary concern.
Which of these issues would you like to see Delegate Levine's office prioritize?
I was pleased to see your priorities track with mine. I've been complaining about the slow pace of testing in Virginia since March, especially for at-risk populations and healthcare workers. We simply were too slow at first. But in time, our squeaky wheels got the grease, and we are, by all accounts, doing much better in Virginia today with regard to testing. We still need more contact tracers, but I am confident we have sufficient PPE and hospital capacity for now. We are far better off in Virginia than we were months ago.
We have also been searching for what we can do to best increase our mail-in ballot capacity well in advance of November. My staff has helped a number of constituents with their unemployment requests. I've also urged the Governor to release statistics by zip code (which finally happened). My main priorities have thus far been testing, housing, rent relief, promoting the wearing of masks, protecting our most vulnerable communities, and caring for folks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
On the latter issue, I wrote a formal letter to the Governor and the Attorney General seeking to mandate that nursing homes and assisted living facilities be transparent when their residents contracted the novel coronavirus. So far, I've been sorely disappointed in the result. So I intend to introduce and support legislation at the Special Session this summer to require transparency in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
In the vast majority of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in my district, a patient did contract COVID-19. In fact, these cases represent almost half of all COVID deaths in Virginia! But most of these facilities shamefully swept the truth under the rug. So I've helped constituents – including one constituent whose father may have died due to the facility's negligence and intentional lack of transparency – file formal complaints against them. But that's clearly not enough.
January 31 Headline on Front Page of Richmond Times Dispatch
Some lawyers who control the lives of helpless people really don't want any oversight.
But I don't ever run from a tough fight. I will persist until we win.
Side note: I've long believed that Virginia's laws are ridiculously inadequate to protect the mentally incapacitated and the aged who are placed in homes or otherwise subject to a professional guardian's whims. This lack of supervision can lead to devastating – and sometimes even lethal –consequences. Under the law, guardian mills are overseen by no one. Courts rubberstamp their reports but have no practical way to tell if any information in it is true. And by freezing out loved ones, greedy guardians can literally profit off the misery they cause innocent families. Obviously, there are many good guardians in the Commonwealth, but generally, they have little to no oversight. And as we've learned from the President, the curtailment of checks and balances often leads directly to abuse of power. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. For three years, I have been fighting a system rife with abuse, for guardianship reform and full transparency.
Reform has powerful enemies, but I intend to continue the fight. I am much more worried about people with little mental capacity or ability to take care of themselves than I am about the freedom of lawyers to act without supervision and who profit by charging family members to visit their loved ones.
Sorry for the digression. Protecting the vulnerable is something I'm particularly passionate about.
Now back to the survey...
An amazing 110 of you left individual comments to the survey, and I read and carefully considered each and every comment. Some of these comments may seem a bit dated now, since I began the survey May 12 and closed it at the end of May. But taking a tally, there were clear trends. The numbers total more than 109, because many of you mentioned several concerns and were therefore tallied more than once.
A large majority – 69 of you – thought Virginia was not ready to reopen and specifically told me so;
26 specifically mentioned lack of sufficient testing (along with a handful of you who mentioned insufficient contact tracing or personal protective equipment) as something we need to focus on and/or the reason why not opening yet was recommended;
19 of you raised the issue of requiring masks in indoor spaces. You 19 were prescient, because you suggested this weeks before the Governor did. (I've been pressing for masks being required in indoor spaces since April);
19 of you told me about the personal precautions you were taking for you and your families;
12 of you have been laid off or are otherwise suffering financial hardship from loss of business. (There were some heart-wrenching stories here. Thank you for sharing them. Interestingly, even the majority of you folks who have suffered the most economically felt it was still too soon to reopen);
10 of you expressed concern for vulnerable people, particularly the Latinx community of Chirilagua/Arlandria and others suffering economically. (I've been particularly focused on this neighborhood in my district since early May when I first discovered, through the zip code data I was demanding, that 22305 had some of the highest percentage of covid infection in the Commonwealth. I pressed private providers and state officials to dramatically step up testing and encouraged localities and hotels to provide housing for those needing to be quarantined. I'm pleased to report the health situation in Chirilagua is significantly improved from a month ago.)
9 of you raised concerns about children: mostly their online education and issues concerning day care, along with care for children with special needs;
5 of you criticized the national response to the crisis;
5 of you criticized the Governor of Virginia's response, particularly as to the lag in testing as compared to other states;
4 of you mentioned you had people close to you who died from COVID-19. I'm truly sorry for your loss;
3 of you expressed concerns about the safety and security of elections;
2 of you (but only one constituent) felt we strongly needed to reopen and were angry we had not done so; and
- another 2 of you felt we needed to reopen but do so cautiously
To be clear, this data is from May 12 - 31, and I suspect many of you are more ready to reopen now than you were a month ago. But I'm still concerned as we enter Phase Two today. The overwhelmingly majority of you were glad that NOVA's reopening lagged behind the rest of the Virginia. You made your preference clear: slow and cautious reopening was better than acting quickly and precipitously. I got the message loud and clear: Better safe than sorry.
Respondents offered many good insights and ideas in the open-ended comments section. Feel free to review them yourself. The complete list of survey comments can be found here, with names and other identifying information removed.
Below I share a few parts of some interesting comments, but please know that I found every single comment valuable:
"If I have to wear a mask and be infrared thermometer tested to be in the office, then I shouldn't be there, unless I am essential personnel."
"My partner and I are among the lucky ones. Sheltering in place, retired. Not venturing out for much. Groceries from Amazon, not an esteemed choice, but best compromise. Our concern is the lack of testing in VA. Our per capita testing is awful. Hard to believe our Governor is an M.D. Can’t blame it all on Trump when compared to other states’ per capita numbers."
"I'm lucky to be teleworking, but the anxiety of trying to go get groceries once a week is pretty awful. People are not wearing masks or social distancing adequately. I am 62 and my husband is 65 and we do not feel safe in this community."
"I think that trying to push "reopening" before ubiquitous testing capability is available and contact-tracing processes and staff are in place seems like government valuing economy over humanity. We can haggle over the appropriate role of government in society, but certainly keeping citizens safe and alive is certainly an appropriate role of any government."
"The greatest impact at our household has been the anxiety, fear and uncertainty created by the pandemic."
"I work directly with covid positive patients, inserting breathing tubes in patients that require mechanical ventilation. Since we are not yet seeing a reduction in cases sufficient enough to reduce the risk of another flare of the virus, I do not think it is safe to reopen the state. I am afraid that while we narrowly missed overwhelming our healthcare resources this time, we will not be so lucky if we open prematurely and relax the guidelines that have enabled us to get an initial handle on the virus. Seeing first hand how devastating this virus can be, I can assure you that we as a community are not ready to fully open back up. And while many people think they “need” to be able to leave their homes, they cannot fully comprehend how devastating that could be for the community if done too quickly and if we allow the virus to have a full resurgence."
As I said, these are a just a tiny portion of the 110 responses you all gave me. All the survey comments can be found here.
Again, I want to thank everyone who completed the survey. Your responses are already helping to guide my work moving forward.
THIS WEEK: Police Brutality in Fairfax County
Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano
took immediate and decisive action to charge the offending officer.
A few days ago, in Fairfax County, a white Fairfax police officer sadistically tasered a black man who was not harming anyone or doing anything wrong other than muttering to himself semi-incoherently in the middle of an empty residential street. Perhaps the victim was mentally ill or drunk; it's hard to know. But most of the Fairfax police officers on scene were doing the right thing, trying to encourage him to leave the road and seek help. Then one officer arrived and walked straight up to the victim. Without asking any questions or seeking to understand the situation, the new officer violently tasered the confused man who began screaming out in pain. His vicious electric shocks apparently not enough, the officer brutally beat the man in the head with his taser. I don't know whether this despicable officer was wearing a body camera or not. But another officer was, and the footage is extremely disturbing. Because of that, I won't share it here, but I've given you enough information to google it. I was particularly disheartened to see this ruthless misconduct occur in Fairfax County.
There's only one silver lining to this gruesome episode: the quick and decisive action taken by the Fairfax Chief of Police and Commonwealth's Attorney. The day after the attack, this barbarous police officer was immediately removed from the force by Chief Edwin Roessler and charged with assault by Fairfax's Commonwealth Attorney's Steve Descano. (You may recall I endorsed Mr. Descano for Commonwealth's Attorney a year ago. Fairfax voters certainly made the right choice!) Chief Roessler then came forward and shared the disturbing video publicly and hosted a news conference that same day. But while I appreciate their transparency, I'm still extremely troubled that such a monster was hired in the first place. I look forward to the results of the internal investigation. What could possibly have have persuaded this police officer he could do such a vicious act and think he could get away with it?
I've received as many as 100 emails over the last couple of weeks on the twin scourges of systemic racism and police brutality. I decided to write back at some length to everyone who wrote me. This weekend, I'll share my response to them with you. I will also share the video from my listening session on the topic and links to some organizations I support who are well placed to address these issues head on.
My Appointment to Six Commissions
This month marked the official start of my service on six commissions to which I have been appointed by Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn.
One of these groups – the Advisory Committee on Sexual and Domestic Violence – I have been unofficially serving since 2016. Many of you know how close this issue is to my heart, and I am honored to have been officially appointed to the committee. With the help of this committee, I was able to finally get passed into law "Tyler's Law," a bill I had put forward five years in a row: to require child abuse and domestic-partner abuse be considered by courts determining parental custody.
I'm particularly pleased to have been asked to serve on the Commission on Civic Education, another commission I requested. Most of you know I have a considerable interest in history and government, and I care strongly how the framework of such vital knowledge is conveyed to future generations. We need to teach all of American history: the good, the bad, and ugly. And we must learn the lessons of history and our civil duties if we are to preserve our tarnished constitutional republic today.
I was also chosen to serve on the House Commission on Interstate Cooperation and the bicameral Virginia Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation, which both work on increasing cooperation between Virginia and other state governments. I requested these appointments as well. Some of the most creative ideas come from out of state, and I know how much we can learn from what other states have done. I also think it's critical we work together, particularly since I represent a district that borders both Washington DC and Maryland, and lots of my constituents work throughout the DMV.
Finally, I accepted appointments to two boards I did not even ask for: the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (which deals primarily with how to prevent, punish, and treat drunk drivers) and the Geographic Information Network Advisory Board (I'm still learning about this one, but hey, I've always loved maps! I've been known to spend hours perusing an atlas...)
I thank the Speaker for my many appointments, and I'm anxious to learn more about the great work each of these boards and commissions do so I can serve them (and you) well.
ARLINGTON SPECIAL ELECTION ON JULY 7
Elect Takis Karantonis to the Arlington County Board!
Arlington has a special election on Tuesday, July 7 to fill the seat vacated by the late Erik Gutshall on the Arlington County Board
I am proud to endorse the Democratic nominee, Takis Karantonis.
You can learn more about Takis by clicking here.
Takis is an economist and a progressive urban planning expert who has been serving our community in a variety of capacities ever since moving to Arlington 14 years ago. Takis and I share a passion for ensuring broad participation in civic processes. He has a reputation for working to ensure that all voices are heard. That skill will be very important as we come out of the pandemic and have to adapt our practices and policies.
I strongly encourage you to vote – absentee! – for Takis Karantonis for County Board.
June 30 is the last day to apply for an absentee ballot.
I've made it easy to apply for an absentee ballot
by putting a form on my website.
Every year at this time of year, I have done two big fundraisers:
one in May, the Rainbow Democrats Extravaganza, where I join a diverse LGBT community at Freddie's Beach Bar with committed local Democrats to host an evening of stories and song, laughter and tears as we celebrate Virginia's rainbow community and raise money for Democratic candidates;
- and one in July, the Fireworks on the Potomac, which I hold in my home as we sample a smorgasbord of delights from (im)peach minT rum punch to frozen grapes on a stick, sitting on a hillside to ooh and ahh watching Alexandria's birthday/ Independence Day fireworks bursting over the Potomac River.
I know both these events are popular and beloved by the community every year, with the July event always bringing the largest crowd. Both events are hard work but labors of love for me.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, I could not host either event in their usual manner. We simply can't have large crowds closely packed together either at Freddie's or in my home this year. Hopefully, by July of next year, a vaccine will allow us to Biden our time joyfully together once again while (im)peach minT rum punch is consigned to the dustbowl of history.
I hope and pray we will be able to bring back these traditions in 2021. In the meantime, we live virtually, and in addition to Mark's Monthly Meetups, I'm quite busy, whether it's hosting town halls on police reform and racial justice, or attending numerous virtual events described in the Upcoming Events section below.
I fully realize this is a tough time for everyone, with health concerns, financial concerns, and issues of racial justice and police reform at the forefront of everyone's minds. In particular, the critical election of 2021 seem far away. But this election, the first one after the 2020 census will be particularly impactful. After all, if the gerrymandering amendment passes this November, it will give a Republican-appointed panel absolute, unrestricted, and unstoppable authority to draw all of Virginia's district lines in their partisan favor, as they did in 2001 and 2011.
As you know, I've long opposed gerrymandering. I don't believe a single party should control the redistricting process. It should either be under the charge of both parties or a completely independent citizens' commission, using strict guidelines to ensure that the people of Virginia choose their elected leaders and not the other way around.
Since the proposed amendment gives Virginia Republicans full and absolute power to gerrymander all the district lines, Virginia Republicans have said they're counting on its passage to bring them back into power in 2021 where they intend to undo all the extensive progressive gains we achieved last year.
If the amendment passes, giving Republicans the unlimited power again to gerrymander Virginia and/or if there is a conservative backlash in Virginia after Joe Biden is elected President, it will be very tough to maintain a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates in 2021. We have to start building a nest egg now to protect Democratic incumbents whom the Republicans intend to gerrymander out of our seats using the unfettered redistricting power granted to them and them alone under the proposed constitutional amendment.
So that's going to cost a lot of money. And as you know, money from my campaign funds all our tight races, as my campaign has always been one of the House Democratic Caucus' largest donors.
Plus there are the ordinary expenses of sending you these newsletters. This email and financial compliance software alone costs thousands of dollars a year, and my staff of one – Jacob Weinberg – and a couple of campaign interns (whom I would like to pay more than a token amount!) have been working very hard trying to respond to the much greater demands of helping constituents navigate through these unique times. That, combined with a special session this summer both on COVID-19 and police reform (which I've been pushing for), means lots of time working and very little time fundraising.
All of this is to say that if you appreciate the work I have done and continue to do – and, critically, you have the financial wherewithal in these difficult times – I would ask you to consider contributing at least what you would have given if you had been able to attend the much more joyful Rainbow Democrats Extravaganza and/or the Fireworks on the Potomac.
If you can afford it, we could use the money, both to keep the lights on and to pay my staff, to contribute to COVID needs in our community, and to begin to prepare for what may be a critical 2021 campaign for the House of Delegates. If we lose the Constitutional Amendment (which, at this moment, unfortunately appears likely), we may very well lose all of the progressive gains we obtained this year for decades to come.
There's nothing Republicans would like more to do than put guns back out on our streets, in our schools and churches, and in the hands of criminals and other unstable people; to abolish the minimum wage; to increase the cost of health care to most of us and to deny it entirely to others; to restrict women's right to choose; to increase discrimination against blacks, immigrants, and LGBT Americans; to increase police militarization and brutality toward peaceful protesters; to bring back Confederate statues to our central squares; and, most of all, to sharply restrict our rights to vote once again.
That's their agenda. And you know ours.
If, as I strongly suspect, you prefer our agenda over theirs, a little donation would go a long way.
Even a very small contribution is a really nice way to let me know you appreciate all we do.
Upcoming (Mostly Virtual) Events
(I personally participate in the events in blue.)
(If you wish to join me at any of these virtual events,
please contact the organizers or email us to learn how.)
11:15 am-12:00 pm
Shabbat Sermon at Congregation Agudas Achim
(I'll be delivering a Sermon on my life and values.)
Tuesday, June 16
7:00 pm-9:00 pm
Mt. Vernon Democratic Committee
(I'll be reporting on the 2020 Session.)
Thursday, June 18
7:00 pm-8:00 pm
Arlington County Democratic Committee
Debate on Redistricting Amendment
Saturday, June 20
Alexandria City Council Hearing on Gun Ordinance
(I'll be advocating for the ordinance to limit civilians
carrying firearms in Alexandria's public buildings and parks.)
Saturday, June 20
Democratic Party of Virginia State Convention
(I'm a delegate to this convention. We'll vote on DNC Members,
Electors, and delegates to the national nominating convention.)
Tuesday, June 23
6:00 am-7:00 pm
Republican Primary for US Senate
(to choose who will run against Senator Mark Warner)
(I strongly support Mark Warner. So this primary is one rare election that I will miss.
There is no Democratic primary, because there is no contested Democratic race in the 45th district.)
Mark's Monthly Meetup
Meeting ID: 817 6404 6761
(Don't miss it! This is your chance to speak up, ask questions, and tell me what's on your mind.)
Tuesday, July 7
6:00 am-7:00 pm
Arlington County Board Special Election
(If you live in Arlington, vote for Takis!)
Click here to get an absentee ballot.
(No election for my Alexandria or Fairfax residents.)
Sunday, I'll send another newsletter entirely devoted to the battle against systemic racism and police brutality. Racial justice doesn't just happen. We make it happen. And I will work hard at the Special Session this summer to pursue needed reforms.
Black Lives Matter.
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Proudly serving Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax
in the Virginia House of Delegates