Sen. Warner addresses arrival of Afghan refugees, highlights local benefits of proposed infrastructure deal


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – In a press conference today, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) detailed some major provisions of the comprehensive infrastructure bill advancing through the senate. The senator also addressed the arrival of a group of Afghan interpreters and their families, who will be temporarily housed at Fort Lee near Hopewell.

Warner indicated in a call with reporters that the bill would include $66 billion in funding for rail projects across the nation – and said a portion of that money could help bring rail service to places like Blacksburg and Salem.

“We will be very much be in the mix for expanding rail across Southside and Southwest,” he said.

But Jim Mathews, President of the Rail Passengers Association, said that may not be enough to fund ambitious new rail projects, “A lot of important work will get done with these funds if they make it to final passage, but this does not pay for the kind of expansion the U.S. needs.”

Warner also said the bill would include provisions to expand affordable broadband access. Currently, 83% of Virginians have access to broadband internet – but only 51% have access to affordable broadband, with prices in many localities of over $60 a month.

“There’s also $65 billion for broadband,” said Warner. “Every community in Virginia should be able to have fully high-speed internet connectivity at an affordable price.”

As Hopewell prepares for the arrival of approximately 2,500 Afghan interpreters and their families, Warner spoke strongly in support of the visa applicants.

“I’ve been strongly in favor of making sure those Afghanis – particularly Afghan translators – who have worked with our forces and other NATO forces for 20 years … are not left to be massacred by the Taliban,” said Warner.

The Afghan interpreters, who assisted U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan for years, are eligible for “Special Immigrant Visas.” WRIC previously reported that some of them would be housed at Fort Lee while they undergo security screenings.

Warner ended on a lighter note, saying he was looking into expanding the “shuttered venue fund” distributed by the Small Business Administration during a proposed round of new funding. The favored recipients? Virginia’s hometown baseball teams.

“Could we go ahead and include minor league ball?” he asked. “Because they actually didn’t get included in the shuttered venue program.”

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