CHARLESTON, W.V.a – Thursday, Democrat members of West Virginia’s House Finance Committee sent a letter to Governor Jim Justice calling on him to allocate a portion of the $1.25 billion the state has received in Federal stimulus money to the “West Virginia Small Business Emergency Relief Fund,” according to a news release.
“This fund was created through a bill that I was lead sponsor on back in 2014, to help small businesses recover from the chemical spill in the Elk River,” said Del. Doug Skaff (D-Kanawha). “The framework for the Fund still exists in code, it just doesn’t have any money in it.”
The legislation passed both the House and Senate unanimously. It gives the Governor wide latitude to distribute emergency relief funds for small businesses on a case-by-case basis whenever a state of emergency is declared, the release said.
“The Federal Government has issued guidelines on how the CARES Act fund must be spent, no matter what the Governor says in his press briefings,” said Del. Mick Bates (D-Raleigh), Minority Chair of the House Finance Committee. “And Secretary Hardy, in a response to me dated April 21, stated that the Governor has the express statutory authority to spend the funds without legislative appropriation.”
Section Five, Point 1 of the Federal Treasury’s guidelines — sent out on April 22 — states that the stimulus money may be used for “Expenses associated with the provision of economic support in connection with the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as: Expenditures related to the provision of grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures.”
“Our stimulus money isn’t stimulating anything while it sits in a bank account,” said Del. Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton). “While the Governor is waiting for the Federal government to change the rules to allow him to backfill the state’s revenues, our small businesses are deciding whether or not they can afford to stay in West Virginia.”
Additional Democrat members of the House Finance Committee who signed the letter are Dels. Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley), Brent Boggs (D-Braxton), Bill Hartman (D-Randolph), Linda Longstreth (D-Marion), Dave Pethtel (D-Wetzel), Larry Rowe (D-Kanawha), and John Williams (D-Monongalia).
The letter comes on the heels of a statement U.S. Senator Joe Manchin issued earlier this week, also calling on Gov. Justice to put the stimulus funds to use:
“I disagree with the Governor, this is not political it is a matter of survival for all West Virginians. Simply put, the state of West Virginia has $1.25 billion in the bank that Congress allocated through the CARES Act. Governor Justice already has permission from President Trump’s Department of Treasury on how the state can use this money. The money can be used to pay for things that would help West Virginians right now like testing, personal protective equipment, sanitation efforts, homelessness, grants to small businesses, food delivery to seniors, expenses for our struggling rural hospitals or payroll expenses for employees responding to COVID-19 – just to name a few,” Senator Manchin said. “Beyond that, our municipalities and counties are facing tough decisions as they confront the very real possibility of cutting essential services West Virginians rely on, like trash pickup and emergency services, and laying off employees. Other rural states have received the same amount as West Virginia and have already taken steps to distribute the funds. There is no excuse for the state to sit on this money any longer. I urge Governor Justice to please distribute a share of this funding as soon as possible to West Virginians – they need help and they need it now. I will continue to work with both Republicans and Democrats to make sure the state has the resources and flexibility we need to respond to this crisis.”U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV