Governor Justice

CHARLESTON — Loans are still available for small businesses that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Jim Justice said in his press briefing Tuesday he understands the “outlook is bad” for some small businesses, especially restaurants, but money is still available from the SBA (Small Business Administration) Payroll Protection Program (PPP) that issues partially forgivable loans for funds spent on payroll.

“They had $350 million in that program,” he said, but too many signed up and the money was gone was gone quickly.

“Now, more money is available,” he said, with another almost $500 million, adding that a business of any size can apply, even a small family-run farmer’s market.

Justice expressed a particular concern for restaurants that have faced having only carryout service and can reopen Thursday, but at only 50 percent capacity.

“Our federal government is still out there … to do more and more and more to be able to help that industry,” he said.

Any percentage of the loans spent on payroll do not have to be repaid, he said, adding that federal legislators are working on the issue as well, and another stimulus package will be coming.

Justice also once again encouraged counties and cities to apply for funding from the $1.25 billion the state has received from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act to pay for direct expenses related to the pandemic, like equipment purchases.

A new web portal is now available for city and county government officials to apply for this grant funding, at grants.wv.gov. Interested parties can also call the helpline: 1-833-94-GRANT.

“We will process it and get money to you as fast as we can,” he said, adding that applications should not include everything “and the kitchen sink” and guidelines must be followed.

Justice also again expressed confidence those guidelines will be changed enough at some point for the state and localities to use those funds to backfill revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic.

West Virginia’s finances may not be as dire as first predicted, though.

“We have enough cash to the end of June,” he said, adding the expected ability to use the funding for a revenue backfill will make the state and localities “whole.”

But if that scenario does not unfold a special session to handle a shortfall, which as been projected to be as high as $500 million because of the revenue loss, can be called.

“If we have to call legislators back in session we will do so,” he said.

With about 200,000 unemployment claims filed, Justice said some have been delayed because of questions regarding claims but all will be processed as soon as possible as WorkForce WV is doing all it can to take care of them.

“We usually have about 3,400 (claims) during the month of March,” he said, but 200,000 have been filed since early March.

Those claims have also pushed the state’s unemployment rate from 4.9 percent in February to more than 15 percent at the end of April.

On another economic benefits issue, Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR), said EBT cardholders for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can soon use them for online purchases.

The first Walmart participant in the state will come on board May 21 and others around the state will follow, he said, and Amazon will also participate using SNAP or West Virginia Works benefits.

Crouch called it a “major step” for clients to gain access to food.

In a COVID-19 testing development, Justice said the state Department of Corrections reported a positive test in the Huttonsville facility in Randolph County.

“It’s the first inmate in our state facilities to test positive,” he said, adding that a correctional officer also tested positive but the two cases were unrelated.

Testing of the “block” the inmate was in started immediately, he said.

If any more positives are found, either inmate or staff, they will move forward with testing the entire facility, he added.

“We have to be prepared to run to the fire,” he said, referring to the rapid response plan for cases in congregate settings to avoid an outbreak. “The National Guard and health officials are doing great work.”

Justice said his plan to reopen the state continues.

He has issued an Executive Order that will formally allow businesses in Week 4 (effective Thursday) phase of the Governor’s reopening plan to resume operations if they so choose.

Businesses that are part of the Week 4 reopenings include:

• Indoor dining at restaurants (50 percent capacity)

• Large/specialty retail stores

• State park campgrounds for in-state residents only (Guidance for ALL campgrounds)

• Hatfield McCoy Trail System

• Outdoor recreation rentals (Kayaks, bicycles, boats, rafts, canoes, ATVs, and similar equipment)

• Outdoor motorsport and powersport racing with no spectators

• Tanning businesses

• Whitewater rafting

• Ziplining

• Indoor malls and similar facilities

The order will go into effect at midnight on May 21.

The new order also rescinds the requirement for out-of-state travelers visiting West Virginia to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival, a mandate originally put in place on March 30.

Responding to a question about high school football training, which usually starts in mid-June, Justice said that when they begin training is a decision to be made by the state Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

“They are careful,” he said. “I am sure they will have guidelines.”

Precautions may include restricting workouts to a certain number of players at a time.

“They will protect their kids,” he said of the WVSSAC.

Justice said a lot of tough decisions have been made and will continue to be made, but he as a businessman is accustomed to making such decisions and handling situations that present challenges during rough times.

“I believe God above put me in this position,” he said of his role as Governor.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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