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An Election about Elections

Voters to determine how redistricting works next year.

When Republicans were in charge of drawing political boundaries for the General Assembly and Congress, Democrats supported an amendment to the Virginia Constitution creating a new mapmaking commission. The idea was to take the power of political gerrymandering out of the hands of the majority and hand it over to a group that wouldn’t be quite so focused on screwing the opposition. But then Democrats seized control of the General Assembly, and most House Democrats flip flopped on the issue.

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At the Crossroads

Lawmakers to slash the state budget and consider criminal-justice reforms.

The threadbare Franklin and Armfield office on Duke Street stands at the crossroads between racial injustice and economic crisis. It’s a ramshackle building now, but it was once the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States, present at the creation of the systemic racism that plagues Virginia cops and courts. It’s also the city’s latest acquisition, and the state budget was to include $2.5 million to help transform it into the Freedom House Museum. But then the pandemic hit, and the governor hit the pause button on that line item as well as all the other spending priorities of the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

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Protecting Paychecks

Restaurants, lawyers and consultants in Alexandria receive millions in forgivable loans.

Restaurants in Alexandria received the biggest chunk of federal cash from the Paycheck Protection Program, landing more than 200 forgivable loans and saving about 4,000 jobs, according to new data released from the Small Business Administration. Lawyers, consultants and home health care workers also scored big, landing hundreds of loans and saving thousands of jobs. Ultimately, businesses in Alexandria received more than 3,000 loans and preserved more than 35,000 jobs.

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Furloughed and Waiting

Uncertainty lingers as furloughed workers hope temporary layoffs come to an end.

When Joy Phansond was furloughed from her job as sales coordinator at the Holiday Inn in Old Town, the temporary layoff was initially supposed to last until April 5. Then it was extended to May 5. Then it was extended again until June 5. She suspects that it’ll be extended again until July at least because the hotel business in Alexandria has been slammed by the collapse of tourism, trade shows and conventions.

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Hunger Rising

Applications for food stamps skyrocket in Alexandria as local economy tanks.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic spike in the number of people in Alexandria with no resources to put food on the table for their families, leading to a skyrocketing number of applications for food stamps as unemployment numbers climb and people in Alexandria suddenly find themselves in an awkward position — asking for help from the government just to buy groceries. Officials at the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services say applications to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have more than tripled since February, before the novel coronavirus pandemic prompted Gov. Ralph Northam to issue a stay-at-home order and shut down most of Alexandria’s economy.

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Loan Sharks in the Water

Lawmakers crack down on predatory lending, although reform won’t happen for eight months.

The LoanMax on Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria is open for business during the pandemic, and colorful signs in the windows announce in English and Spanish that the car-title lender remains open during a stay-at-home order — offering loans at 200 percent annual interest during a time when unemployment claims in Alexandria are skyrocketing. Those kinds of interest rates will be illegal under the Fairness in Lending Act, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last week after lawmakers signed off on some last-minute changes. But the ban on such high-interest lending won’t take effect until New Years Day 2021, which means high-interest lenders have eight months to engage in an unprecedented lending spree during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

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Mounting Layoffs

Businesses notify state officials of 5,000 layoffs in Northern Virginia.

Businesses across Northern Virginia are flooding the Virginia Economic Commission with thousands of layoff notifications, an indication of how deep the region’s economic uncertainty is becoming as the COVID-19 crisis continues its devastating path. Since the beginning of March, the commission has received notification of about 5,000 layoffs in Northern Virginia. That’s more layoffs in one part of the state than all the other regions in Virginia combined.

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Banks to the Rescue

Small businesses wait for banks to get federal money from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Like many business owners across Northern Virginia, Cyrille Brenac is still waiting to hear back from his bank about his application to the Paycheck Protection Program. That’s the $350 billion program that was part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law designed to offer money to small businesses who can demonstrate they are keeping their employees. For Brenac, who lives in the Cherrydale neighborhood of Arlington, the money would help him rehire about 50 employees of his two French restaurants he laid off when the economy abruptly shut down as the result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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Recovering After Disaster

New approach allows disaster loans to become grants, avoiding glut of uncollected debt.

The Small Business Administration has issued more than $1 million in low-interest disaster loans in Alexandria since 1987, and most of those loans were never paid back in full, according to documents received through a public-records request. Now, with the economy in crisis, leaders at the federal officials are rolling out a new loan program that recipients won’t need to pay back in full if they keep their employees during the downturn. The move comes as businesses across Alexandria are trying to figure out how they are going to stay afloat now that Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered residents across Virginia to stay at home until June 10.

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Why a Regional Wage in Virginia?

Effort to raise minimum wage hits snag on Senate floor, leading to regional approach.

It’s shortly after 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) is working the Senate chamber to save the minimum wage increase. This particular Tuesday isn’t just any day of the week. It’s the final deadline for Senate bills to cross over to the House, so the pressure is building as the clock winds down. Senators are tired and cranky, and they will be working past midnight.

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Dieting Sisters in Virginia

From road diets to balancing the books, Alexandria and Norton compare notes.

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Closing All the Loopholes

Democrats poised to impose new regulations on high-interest lenders.

The days of unregulated high-interest lending may be coming to a close in Virginia. Now that Democrats have seized control of the General Assembly, members of the Legislative Black Caucus say cracking down on predatory lending is one of their top priorities for the 2020 session.

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Following the Money

Special-interest groups seek power and influence.

A look at campaign-finance documents from the 2019 election cycle reveals an intricate web of special-interest money, everything from Dominion and Verizon to casino developers and car-title lenders. Members of the Alexandria delegation took money from lobbyists and associations who have pending business during the upcoming two-month General Assembly session, when lawmakers will be forbidden from taking campaign cash.

Living in the Dark

Could you survive without your iPhone? Do you have an evacuation kit? Are you really prepared for the worst?

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Virginia Senate Minority Leader Faces Two Primary Challengers

Dick Saslaw hasn’t had a primary challenge since the 1970s; now he has two.

The last time Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw had a primary opponent, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and the Bee Gees were at the top of the charts. This year, for the first time since 1979, Saslaw has primary opposition. Not just one opponent, but two.

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