Northam requests federal aid to fully mobilize Virginia National Guard

Members of the Virginia National Guard deployed on a rescue mission during flooding in 2012. (Photo by Capt. Clint Harris/Virginia National Guard)

Virginia’s congressional delegation sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday urging him to “quickly approve” a request for federal funding for the Virginia National Guard.

Gov. Ralph Northam requested funding on Tuesday under Title 32, a section of the U.S. code that enables the federal government to fully pay for a state’s National Guard. 

Under Title 32 status, state governors still command the National Guard, but the federal government fully absorbs the cost, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins said at press briefing on Friday. Without that status, states are responsible for paying National Guard troops when they go on active duty.

Northam activated the Virginia National Guard to “state active duty” when he declared a state of emergency on March 12 in response to the current outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus. Currently, there are roughly 100 personnel on active duty, most of whom are helping load medical supplies onto trucks for distribution from a state warehouse, said Virginia National Guard spokesman Cotton Puryear.

The majority of those personnel are being paid by Virginia (except for a small number of full-time National Guard members who receive federal funding, Puryear added). But if Northam was to deploy additional forces — which include 7,200 Guard soldiers, 1,200 Guard airmen, and 300 Virginia Defense Force members — the state would be responsible for the cost unless it received Title 32 status.

The final amount of federal funding depends on the number of National Guard members called to duty, Northam’s press secretary, Alena Yarmosky, wrote in an email on Friday.

“Virginia requires immediate capability and capacity for military administrative, logistics and operational missions in direct support of COVID-19 pandemic emergency response,” Northam wrote in a letter to national Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Earlier this week, Trump gave Title 32 status to National Guard troops in California, Washington, and New York — an effort to provide relief to states hit hardest by the current coronavirus pandemic. 

Northam has requested the same funding for Virginia’s National Guard “as they work to respond to incidents related to the preservation of life and property in connection with COVID-19 emergency response efforts,” according to the letter from the congressional delegation.

“Under Title 32, Virginia’s governor would have the authority to deploy units to communities across the commonwealth to help distribute food, support local test facilities and assist first responders and health providers,” a spokeswoman for Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D), wrote in an email on Friday. “Additionally, this request would allow the federal government to cover the cost for these critical missions.”

On Tuesday, Northam “determined the need to increase the Virginia National Guard force to full time status and intends to utilize the Virginia National Guard to fulfill immediate COVID-19 emergency response requirements across the commonwealth,” according to the congressional letter. 

Multiple states have requested Title 32 status as they wage increasingly costly battles to contain the disease. 

Northam has dedicated roughly $10 million in emergency funding through the summer for COVID-19 response efforts. Virginia is already projected to lose $2 billion in revenue over the next two years if the economy continues to suffer under the public health emergency, Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said in a press briefing earlier this week. 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to add comments from state officials at a Friday press briefing.