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United Way offering free virtual tax preparation service ahead of July 15th federal tax filing deadline

Virginia households earning under $66,000 are eligible for United Way’s free virtual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

RVAHub Staff

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With the federal tax-filing deadline extended to July 15, and Virginians receiving an extension for state returns, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg is offering free virtual tax preparation services to households with incomes below $66,000.

Traditionally, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is held at 16 tax sites across the region, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit has shifted its focus to assisting taxpayers virtually until the tax sites can safely be reopened.

United Way partnered with Code for America to bring GetYourRefund to the region, allowing its local team of IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers to virtually assist taxpayers with completing and electronically filing both federal and state returns. To utilize the program, participants need just a smartphone with a camera or a computer with access to a scanner.

The program also encourages people to think about ways to save, implement financial best practices, and make plans for achieving financial independence. And for those with low to moderate-income, the service helps eligible taxpayers take advantage of potential tax savings through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

“For many around the region, the last few months have been difficult to navigate, but we’re pleased to be able to ease some of the anxiety and stress that those who haven’t filed yet might be feeling,” said James Taylor, president & CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. “We knew a shift to virtual preparation was important because this service has made a tangible difference for local families over the past 10 years, particularly for those who have taken advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

In 2019, local United Way volunteers helped secure more than $3 million in tax refunds for 3,667 households in our area. Families who took advantage of the service received a total of $838,300 in EITC funds from the IRS. The average household income for customers was $22,900.

Find more information here.

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Downtown

VDH launches first of its kind contact tracing app to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

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Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” Governor Northam said in a news release. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Officials say widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

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Henrico County names Meghan F. Coates new Finance Director after leading county through budget shortfall negotiations

Coates joined the county staff in 2019 as deputy director of Finance and most recently served as acting director of the department. She will succeed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. in the position. Smither had led the department since 2017.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County has appointed Meghan F. Coates director of the Department of Finance, effective Saturday, August 1st.

Coates joined the county staff in 2019 as deputy director of Finance and most recently served as acting director of the department. She will succeed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. in the position. Smither had led the department since 2017.

Coates was key to the county’s efforts this spring to navigate a $99 million shortfall — brought on by the sudden economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic — as Henrico was beginning its budget process for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

As director, Coates will head an agency with more than 160 employees and a budget of $13.7 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Finance comprises the divisions of real estate assessment, treasury, management and budget, accounting, purchasing, and revenue. Among its scope of duties, the department prepares and administers the county’s operating and capital budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report; reviews, assesses, bills and collects taxes, licenses, and fees; assesses real estate and certain personal property, and purchases goods and services for general government departments and Henrico Schools.

Coates also will serve as commissioner of revenue and treasurer for the county, as prescribed by the Code of Virginia.

Prior to coming to Henrico, Coates held several positions with Chesterfield County, including budget analyst, budget manager and director of budget and management. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College and a Master of Science from Virginia Commonwealth University. Coates is the mother of two daughters.

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Downtown

Stoney administration commits $25-50 million for commemoration, memorialization of “complete history”

The first investment of $3.5M will fund the Shockoe Area Memorial Park campus.

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Surrounded by members of the Shockoe Alliance on Tuesday, Mayor Stoney committed to funding a capital improvement budget amendment of between $25 and 50 million in the city’s five-year CIP plan specifically for the commemoration and memorialization of what he calls “Richmond’s complete history.”

The mayor asserted that the shared priority of the Shockoe Alliance and city leadership is embracing and “telling the truth about Richmond’s history, centralizing the turmoil, resistance, resilience, and triumphs of Black Richmond.”

“Black lives built this city. Black lives have defined Richmond’s history. They matter,” Stoney said. “The story of Black lives should span our skyline, our landscape, and our textbooks accordingly.”

Priority investments will include the Shockoe Area, various African American burial grounds, and the Slave Trail. The effort will begin with a $3.5 million investment in the Shockoe Area Memorial Park.

The memorial park, a vision developed by the Shockoe Alliance and informed by decades of community work in the area, will use greenspace and structural sites such as a heritage center or museum to create a space of memorialization, education, and atonement.

The space will encompass the African American Burial Ground, the Devil’s Half Acre site, and the two blocks east of the railroad tracks that may constitute a future archeological site.

“In this city, we care about our history. We are our history, no matter how painful that may be to confront, and we are committed to telling our full story,” said Mayor Stoney. “That story, and so rightfully that investment, begins here. On the ground of Shockoe, and in honor of our ancestors.”

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