March 14, 2021

Biden's Plan Will Help Keep Us West Virginia Strong | Charleston Gazette-Mail

Almost one year ago, the first West Virginian was diagnosed with COVID-19. In the time since then we have seen our schools close and reopen, small businesses shut their doors and watched in awe as our hospital workers, grocery store clerks, first responders and front line workers became superheroes. We got used to wearing masks and frequently using hand sanitizer, social distancing when we are around loved ones and doing everything possible to contain the virus.

Despite our best efforts we still lost more than 2,300 West Virginians to the virus.

But we are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and the American Rescue Plan is going to help us finally kill COVID-19 and start rebuilding our economy. This COVID-19 relief package will deliver at least $4 billion of vital assistance for West Virginia to rebuild from the health and economic crises that we’ve weathered in the past year.

Our state government will receive $1.25 billion to be administered by the governor and Legislature. Kanawha, Clay and Putnam counties will receive $47.15 million and this bill will deliver $37.81 million in direct funding for Charleston alone. South Charleston will receive $5.01 million and Nitro will receive $2.65 million. This funding can be used to fill COVID-19 losses or to make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. For the first time in generations, our towns and counties are receiving direct funding to address the specific needs facing each individual community.

The financial impact for those who have lost their jobs as a result of this virus has been devastating. Over 891,000 West Virginians households will receive a $1,400 check for each member of their family. That’s over $2 billion directly in the pockets of West Virginia families. We also extended enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 for those still out of work through August and added $152 million in emergency housing assistance. This bill also includes child tax credits, earned income tax credits, health insurance assistance and student loan assistance to make sure nobody is left behind as we rebuild our economy. And because of the bipartisan efforts of my colleagues and myself, we secured an additional $800 million to help our kids experiencing homelessness, a heartbreaking issue that affects over 10,000 West Virginian students.

With canceled school and extracurricular activities, our children have not been spared the pain of this pandemic. This package has $800 million for West Virginia schools so we can equip every school with the safety measures necessary to get our kids back in the classroom to safely learn in person again, visit with their friends and get back to extracurricular activities. This funding can also be used to help address the learning loss many students have experienced as a result of virtual learning. There is $190 million for West Virginia’s higher education institutions to get our college students back on campus. For our toddlers and preschool age Mountaineers, there is $10 million in emergency funding for Head Start programs and $260 million for child care facilities.

I know I speak for every West Virginian when I say I am incredibly proud of the way West Virginia has led the nation in vaccine distribution. This COVID-19 relief package has $11 million to help increase COVID-19 vaccines in West Virginia to ensure there are enough vaccines for every West Virginian who wants one.

West Virginia rural healthcare providers operate on shoestring budgets, yet they have risen to the challenge throughout the entire pandemic. This bill includes $8.5 billion of dedicated support for rural hospitals like we have in West Virginia. There’s also $7.6 billion for community health centers to support their efforts to distribute the vaccine and increase testing and tracing programs. In addition, there is $9.1 billion to invest in public health workforce in our communities and $500 million in rural healthcare grants that will create an emergency pilot program to increase vaccine capacity and distribution.

The lack of access to reliable internet connectivity has created additional challenges for West Virginians as we struggled to work and learn from home this year. This bill delivers approximately $140 million in dedicated funding for broadband infrastructure, hotspots and Internet-connected devices, and other connectivity initiatives in West Virginia. This is on top of the funding going to every town, city, and county in West Virginia that can also be used to improve broadband infrastructure.

Our small businesses are the heart of our economy in West Virginia and they have struggled immensely as a result of the pandemic. Over the past year, over 27,000 West Virginia businesses have received economic support through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Emergency Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) totaling in over $1 billion in assistance for businesses across the state. This bill expands lending authority of the PPP by $7.25 billion and expands eligibility as well. It provides another $15 billion for the Small Business Administration to administer additional EIDL to support small businesses through the duration of this pandemic.

This pandemic has tried us in ways we never imagined. Through it all, West Virginians have banded together to produce handmade masks for our frontline workers, shop small to keep our businesses afloat and sacrificed in-person parties for drive-by parades to keep our loved ones safe. The end is within grasp and this COVID-19 relief package is what West Virginia needs to put this pandemic behind us once and for all.

Together we are West Virginia strong.

By:  Senator Joe Manchin
Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail