West Virginia’s share of federal pandemic relief funds: $6 billion and counting | News

West Virginia has received nearly $6 billion of federal pandemic relief funds in the past year, according to a Department of Revenue report to the Legislature.

With the pending passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, an additional $2 billion-plus of stimulus funds will be headed West Virginia’s way.

According to a report prepared by Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow, the state has received at least $5.99 billion of stimulus funds in the past year, with total amounts yet to be determined for the 13-week extension of emergency unemployment benefits from September through December, and for payments through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program to self-employed, freelance and gig workers who were out of work.

To put that amount in perspective, the state General Revenue budget for 2020-21 is $4.57 billion, and the state’s total Gross Domestic Product is about $75 billion a year.

West Virginia pandemic relief funds received to date include:

| $1.8 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans of up to $10 million for small businesses that retain payroll during the pandemic.

According to Muchow, more than 17,000 West Virginia businesses obtained PPP loans, averaging $104,000.

| $1.7 billion for individual stimulus payments to nearly 1 million West Virginians.

That includes $1,200 payments authorized last March, and $600 payments approved in December.

Under the American Rescue Plan Act, most of the recipients of those benefits will receive a third stimulus payment of $1,400.

| $1.25 billion in CARES Act relief funds. That funding has been controversial, since Gov. Jim Justice has exerted complete control over expenditures.

Last summer, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., criticized Justice for using the CARES Act money as a “political slush fund,” citing Justice’s decision to use $50 million of the funds for road paving projects.

As of Monday, more than $660 million of CARES Act funds remain unspent, according to the state Auditor’s Office. Most of that money was set aside by Justice to pay state unemployment compensation benefits and to replenish the state Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, to avoid having to increase the unemployment compensation tax paid by employers around the state.

| $900 million for enhanced federal unemployment benefits. That program ran from April 5 to July 31, providing West Virginians receiving unemployment with an additional $600 a week of assistance.

| $200 million for enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds. That program increased the federal share of funding for the state-managed health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled by 6.2%, to 80.5% of total costs.

| $140 million for the extension of federal unemployment benefits. That program provided those receiving unemployment with additional $400 weekly payments from Aug. 1 through mid-September.

Throughout the pandemic, Justice has downplayed the impact of federal stimulus funds on the state economy. In October, for instance, he said it would be an oversimplification to say that federal stimulus funds were driving the economy and keeping state revenue collections in the black.

“It seems like on the surface, the [federal] government has plugged in a lot of money, and that’s what’s making your economy grow,” Justice said at the time, giving what he says is a diversified state economy credit for ongoing budget surpluses.

The feud between Justice and Manchin intensified Monday, when during the state COVID-19 briefing, Justice accused Manchin of authoring a rider in the American Rescue Plan Act that will prevent states from using any portion of stimulus funds to offset revenue losses from state tax cuts, calling the provision “a hit on me.”

“He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t care about the people of the state,” Justice fumed.

In response, Manchin put out a statement saying, “Policy differences do not justify personal attacks. I want to work with Gov. Justice in the best interest of the state.”

In the statement, Manchin highlighted state benefits in the stimulus package. In addition to individual stimulus checks and extended enhanced unemployment benefits, the plan includes $800 million for state schools, $624 million for cities and counties, $260 million for daycare, and $140 million for broadband expansion, among other allocations.