2020-4-9

Jean Fitchett Clarke

June 9, 1933-April 6, 2020

Jean Fitchett Clarke, 86, of Emporia, VA, passed away on April 6, 2020. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband of 56 years, L.C. Clarke, two daughters, Pat Clarke, and Debbie Marshall and one grandson, Philip Marshall. Survivors include grandsons, Steven Selph and his wife Getra, Clarke Weeks and his wife Shannon, Andrew Marshall and great grandson Cole Weeks. Jean retired from the VA Department of Corrections where she served as Operations Officer for Greensville Correctional Center. A graveside service will be held at Matthews Chapel United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be sent to Monumental United Methodist Church, 300 Reese St. Emporia, VA, 23847, where she was a lifelong member.

Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

Workers urge Northam to sign minimum wage bill

By Ada Romano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Workers and advocates are urging Gov. Ralph Northam to sign a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 at the start of next year. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 22, and lawmakers will reevaluate recently passed legislation as the state’s economy takes a blow and unemployment climbs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Northam and state leaders anticipate the state’s economy will suffer a major hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Northam didn’t respond directly whether he is considering delaying the increase in minimum wage when asked at a recent press conference. 

“There are a number of pieces of legislation that we are looking at regarding our business environment, and I haven’t made any definite decisions, but we are talking to the patrons of those pieces of legislation,” Northam said. The governor said he will “make a decision in the best interest of Virginia and the best interest of our economy.”

Workers on the front lines of essential businesses continue to serve the public during the COVID-19 outbreak, including many workers who earn minimum wage–currently $7.25 in Virginia. 

Employees at a Virginia Kroger grocery store and Amazon distribution center recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Many essential workers have asked for an increase in pay to reflect the increased need for their services and the elevated risks they take while working. 

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, an advocacy organization, said that raising the minimum wage is necessary to allow these workers to raise their families with dignity. 

“That’s especially true now when grocery store workers, delivery drivers, home health aids and so many more are going to work for low wages and putting themselves at risk of getting sick so that we can stay home and healthy,” Scholl said in a press release. 

The group is asking Northam to sign House Bill 395 into law without amendments or delays that would water down the bill. HB 395 would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 in 2021, $11 in 2022 and $12 in 2023. The minimum wage could go up to $15 by 2026, if approved by the General Assembly. 

Some essential workers also argue that they are not being provided adequate protective gear and supplies to keep them safe from the coronavirus, another reason they are pushing for guaranteed wage increase.

Lisa Harris works at Kroger in Mechanicsville and is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. She has been with Kroger for 13 years and said in a press conference organized by Progress Virginia that she would benefit directly from HB 395. She is urging Northam to sign the bill with no weakening amendments. 

“I find it fascinating how fast grocery store workers like me have gone from being considered unskilled labor to being recognized as essential personnel,” Harris said. 

She compared workers dealing directly with an increasingly infected public to being on the front lines like first responders and said “it would be nice to be paid accordingly.” 

Harris said Kroger is not observing the proper social distancing recommendation of 6 feet or providing workers with personal protective equipment. She said the staff is required to wipe down the self checkout scanners and screens every half hour but argues that this is impossible with the influx of customers visiting the store. Harris said the staff is given Windex to clean equipment and not a proper disinfectant. The company has given full-time workers a $300 bonus and part-time workers a $150 pay boost, but that’s not enough money, Harris said. 

“It means barely being able to support myself, it means making tough decisions about whether to pay a bill or skip a meal, it means calling on my family members to help me as I’m attempting to be a fully enfranchised 31-year old,” Harris said. 

Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger, said the grocery chain provided all hourly workers with a $2 pay increase for hours worked March 29 through April 18. McGee also stated that all Kroger stores in the Richmond area have been provided with Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants to wipe down counters and cash registers. She said employees are required to wipe down surfaces frequently and extra hand sanitizer bottles have been provided at each checkout station.

“As far as PPE, we are encouraging our associates to wear protective masks and gloves, and we’re working hard to secure these resources for our associates,” McGee stated in an email. “Supply has started to arrive for our associates, and we anticipate all locations having personal protective equipment within the next several weeks.”

Kroger said on its website that they want healthcare workers to get a hold of protective gear before they can properly distribute it to their workers. For now employees have limited access to such PPE and are encouraged to use their own.

Beginning April 7, Kroger will also start to limit the number of customers to 50% of the building code's calculated capacity to allow for proper physical distancing in stores, the company announced this week.

Michael Cassidy, executive director of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, said that the coronavirus is a reminder many essential workers are also minimum wage workers. 

“These individuals are providing a vital service to us right now and they deserve more than $7.25 an hour,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said if the minimum wage increase were to go into effect in January, it would help 46,000 healthcare workers, 100,00 retail workers and over 100,000 restaurant and service industry workers. He said this would allow people to buy more and contribute to businesses and the economy as a whole. 

“That’s important because consumer spending is the foundation of our economy, it’s about 72% of Virginia’s gross domestic product,” Cassidy said. 

Del. Danica Roem said in a tweet that she is extremely disappointed to see groups advocating for bills like HB 395 to be watered down or delayed. 

“We’re $1.50/hr behind West Virginia right now,” Roem tweeted. “You don’t see an uprising of West Virginian business leaders demanding the government lower their minimum wage to match ours.” 

Cassidy said history shows that increasing the minimum wage during a recession has been successful in bringing the economy back.
HB 395 is currently pending signature by Northam with a deadline of April 11.

Governor Northam Announces Additional Actions Providing Relief for Restaurants and Distilleries Impacted by COVID-19 Pandemic

~Executive directive defers collection of annual fees for ABC-issued licenses and permits, allows delivery of mixed beverages~

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued an executive directive authorizing the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) to defer annual fees for licenses and permits that would be up for renewal through June. The Governor also directed the Virginia ABC to allow establishments with mixed beverage licenses, such as restaurants and distilleries, to sell mixed beverages through takeout or delivery, effective at midnight Thursday.

Under the Governor’s executive directive, the Virginia ABC will defer the collection of license renewal fees for 90 days from original expiration date for establishments with licenses expiring in March, April, May, and June. Any penalties that would normally be associated with the late payment of such fees will be waived. If a business loses their license, they would have to go back through the application process, which takes at least 30 days. This deferral will allow more than 6,000 licensed retail, wholesale and manufacturing businesses to reopen and conduct business more quickly once the crisis is passed. An estimated $4.5 million in payments will be deferred.

“This unprecedented health crisis has had a tremendous impact on businesses across the Commonwealth, and restaurants have been hit especially hard,” said Governor Northam. “Allowing restaurants and distilleries that remain open to sell mixed beverages with takeout or delivery orders will help them augment their revenue streams, so they can continue serving their customers and employing Virginians. These actions will give establishments with mixed beverage licenses greater flexibility to operate while their dining rooms are closed.”

Many Virginia restaurants have pivoted from dine-in establishments to a combination of takeout, delivery, or makeshift drive-thrus in an effort to maintain operations amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These establishments often rely on alcohol sales to meet profit margins, and this temporary privilege will support restaurants that have lost a substantial stream of revenue from the sale of mixed beverages, and distilleries that have been unable to provide their products to the public and suffered financial losses.

“These deferrals will allow businesses to continue to operate without concern over choosing between keeping an employee or renewing a license,” said Virginia ABC Chief Executive Officer Travis Hill. “Without this relief, some closed businesses would be in the position of paying a fee for a license they can’t exercise or risk losing their license. Virginia ABC is committed to supporting retailers, restaurants and their employees during this pandemic.”

Earlier this week, Virginia ABC announced temporary in-state direct to consumer shipping privileges for local distilleries to provide industry members both small and large with a mechanism to get their product to consumers.

On March 20, Virginia ABC adjusted licensing regulations to permit businesses with only on-premise licenses to exercise off-premise privileges such as allowing the sale of wine or beer in sealed containers for curbside pickup in a designated area (parking lot, etc.), and delivery of those products to customers’ homes without needing a delivery permit. In order for licensed businesses to use this feature, both curbside pickup and delivery must be facilitated by a customer’s electronic order either online, over the phone or through an app.

Additionally, licensees with off-premise privileges, including breweries, farm wineries and wineries were allowed to sell products for curbside pickup in a designated area or deliveries to customers’ homes without obtaining an additional delivery permit. Distillery stores were enabled to deliver products to customers seated in their vehicle on the premises or in the parking lot of the distillery.

The full text of Executive Directive Ten is available here.

Visit abc.virginia.gov/covid-19 to learn more about actions Virginia ABC has taken in response to COVID-19. For additional information and resources to support Virginians impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus.

*CONSUMER ALERT* ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES VIRGINIANS TO REMAIN WARY OF COVID-19 SCAMS

~ Scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to try and take money from hardworking Virginians ~
 
RICHMOND (April 1, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today issued a consumer alert urging Virginians to continue to be wary of COVID-19-related scams including federal stimulus related scams, cyber scams, telephone and text messaging scams, counterfeit product offers, bogus door-to-door tests and virus-related products, and phony charity donation requests.
 
“The sad truth is that we continue to see bad actors in Virginia and across the country taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and trying to scam money from people,” said Attorney General Herring. “I again want to urge all Virginians to remain vigilant during this time and use common sense when you encounter seemingly too good to be true offers either online, over the phone or in person. Before purchasing any coronavirus related products or donating to any charities please do your research and make sure that you are giving your money to a legitimate business or organization.”
 
Last week, Attorney General Herring warned of scammers trying to get personal information as part of a new federal stimulus payment scam. There have been reports of scammers using the news that, as part of the federal stimulus package, the government will be sending one-time payments to millions of Virginians and Americans as an opportunity to try and steal personal information. These phishing scams will likely ask for things like bank account information under the guise of direct depositing money from the stimulus package into your bank account. Also, remember that the government will not ask you to pay any money up front to get a stimulus check. So if someone asks you to pay something, it’s a scam.
 
Utility or Government Imposter Scams
Many people are understandably very concerned when they get an e-mail, letter or phone call from someone identifying themselves as a representative of a government agency or one of their utility companies. Scammers are constantly improving their techniques to fool their intended victims into thinking they work for the government or utility, including fake identification and spoofed phone numbers on Caller ID. This scam employs the fear factor to lead you to part with your money or provide financial information to them. They may even threaten to have you arrested or cut off your electricity or water if you do not comply.
 
If someone reaches out to you saying they are from a government agency or a utility company DO NOT give your information to them over the phone. Instead find a legitimate phone number on the utility company or the government agency’s website and call them back to check and see if they actually need you to send them something.
 
Cyber Scams
Look out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other healthcare organizations, offering to share information about the virus. Do not open attachments or click on links within unknown emails, as scammers are using phony COVID-19 tracking websites to infect electronic devices with malware, putting residents at risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
 
Take extra precaution to avoid spoofed or phony websites by only visiting websites with clearly distinguishable URL addresses. Scammers seek to exploit individuals by directing web traffic to similar, but falsely identified website names where they can provide misinformation or attempt to gain consumers’ personal information or finances in exchange for pandemic updates.
 
Be on the lookout for emails asking for the verification of personal data, including Medicare or Medicaid information, in exchange for receiving economic stimulus funds or other benefits from the government.  Government agencies are NOT sending out emails asking for residents’ personal information in order to receive funds or other pandemic relief opportunities.
 
Telephone and Text Messaging Scams
If you find that you’ve answered a robocall – Hang Up. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are calling with offers involving everything from COVID-19 treatments and cures, to work-from-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will direct you to a live operator or even remove you from their call list, but it also might lead to more robocalls.
 
Similar to email phishing scams, text messages from unknown sources may offer hyperlinks to what appears to be automated pandemic updates, or interactive infection maps.  These are just two examples of ways scammers can install malware on your mobile electronic device, putting you at increased risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
 
Counterfeit Product Offers & High Demand Goods
Ignore offers for COVID-19 vaccinations and home test kits. There are currently no vaccines, pills, medications, or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure the Coronavirus disease. This applies to offers made online, in stores, by electronic message, or over the phone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any home test kits for COVID-19.
 
As many have seen firsthand, some consumer products are in extreme demand. Household cleaning products, sanitizers, personal hygiene products, and health and medical supplies may be offered via online or in-person sellers aiming to capitalize on under supplied or unavailable products. When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction. 
 
If you are concerned about price gouging in your area, please reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
 
Bogus Door to Door Tests and Virus-related Products
To ensure your personal safety, DO NOT answer the door or allow into your home or residence any unknown individuals or business representatives moving door-to-door offering to sell consumer products, medical kits, vaccines, cures, whole-home sanitization, or in-person COVID-19 testing. There are no FDA approved at-home tests, medicines, cures, vaccines, prescriptions or other coronavirus-related products and anything like this that someone is trying to sell is a scam.
 
Phony Charities & Donation Requests
Coming together in a time of need and extreme hardship is testament to the kindness of Virginians; however, when disasters and life changing events such as the current pandemic occur, be cautious as to where donations are going. Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services. Be especially cautious if you do not initiate contact with the charity. Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
 
Crowdfunding sites are particularly popular. Here are a few things to remember:
  • Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness.
  • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures.
  • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people.
If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs ("OCRP") at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online.
 
Remember these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
  • Never wire money or send cash or a pre-paid card—These transactions are just like sending someone cash! Once your money is gone, you can’t trace it or get it back.
  • Don’t give the caller any of your financial or other personal information—Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know exactly who you're dealing with. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate — but you think the collector may not be — contact the company to which the caller claims you owe money to inquire about the call.
  • Don’t trust a name or number—Scammers use official-sounding names, titles, and organizations to make you trust them. To make the call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code or generate a fake name on caller ID. So even though it may look like they’re calling locally or somewhere in the United States, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Join the National Do Not Call Registry and don’t answer numbers you don’t know—This won’t stop scammers from calling but it should make you skeptical of calls you get from out of the blue. Most legitimate sales people generally honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get.
Attorney General Herring advises consumers to watch out for the following red flags and to keep these tips in mind to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud:
  • The Offer Seems Too Good to be True—If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Examples include money left to you from an unknown relative, being awarded a loan or grant for which you did not apply, winning a lottery you did not enter and being selected to receive a share in funds in return for using your bank account.
  • Requests for Fees or Payment in Advance—Scammers will want advance payments or fees to clear the funds or complete their offer. It might not be clear what the fees are for, but the scammer will tell you they have to be paid or the money can’t be released. They might suggest they are only trying to help you out and the fees are a small sum compared to what you will be receiving. Never pay fees or taxes in advance.
  • Pressure—Scammers will often put pressure on their victims and urge them to pay immediately or lose the opportunity, or may even threaten them with legal consequences or disconnected utilities unless a payment is sent right away. A genuine business or government entity will not pressure you to act immediately.
  • Know who you are dealing with—Technology has made it easy for scammers to disguise or spoof their telephone number or create a website that looks very legitimate. Do an online search for the company name and website and look for consumer reviews. If you cannot find a seller’s physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number it should be a red flag. It is best to do business with websites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card.
  • They Want Private Information—Many scams involve getting hold of your bank account details. Scams involving identity theft also seek personal information. A common scenario is an email supposedly from a bank asking you to click on a link to confirm your bank details and password. Banks generally don’t do this, but if you think the email has really come from your bank, pick up the phone and confirm with them. Never click on links or attachments in emails from people you don’t know or you risk your computer becoming infected by viruses, trojans, or other malware.
  • Untraceable Payment Method—Scammers prefer payment methods that are untraceable, such as wiring money through Western Union or other services. Be very suspicious of demands for wire transfers or cash payments. Never wire money to someone you do not know. 
  • Grammatical Errors or Poor Production Values—Scammers may be clever, but they are not always careful and English may not be their first language. Their grammatical errors can give them away. If the correspondence you receive is full of errors, low-resolution images, or unsophisticated formatting, be very suspicious.
  • Suspicious Email Domains and Web Addresses—Look carefully at email addresses and domain names. Businesses rarely use free email services like Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail. Even if the business seems legitimate, do some research to make sure they have readily available contact information and have not scammed others.
  • Suspicious or No Addresses—Scammers do not want their victims to know where they live. If there is no physical address and your contacts won’t give you one, it’s a sure bet you’re being scammed. If there is a physical address, check it out using the Internet or Google Earth and see if it’s a real address.
  • Request for Access to Your Computer—A common scam is a phone call from someone claiming to be a technician who has detected problems with your computer and would like to fix them for you free. Never give anyone remote access to your computer
If you think you have been a victim of a scam please reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:
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