Governor Jim Justice

CHARLESTON — West Virginia has more than $2.2 billion available in federal dollars to help with pandemic expenses and recovery, funds that will soon be distributed.

Gov. Jim Justice last Friday provided details of how much of that money will go to specific areas, including $200 million to localities.

Justice also during his pandemic briefing said the state will end up this fiscal year, which ends June 30, with a surplus of almost $10 million.

The (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act provided $1.25 billion, which he said is “in a bucket,” and another more than $970 million is available from other federal grants.

All of that money came directly to West Virginia, he said.

The bulk of the CARES Act money, $687 million, will go to WorkForce West Virginia, $287 million for 2020 and $400 million for 2021.

“We have to ensure the solvency of our unemployment fund,” he said. “We drained that $287 million this year and the $400 million is for future claims for the rest of the year.”

Justice said it’s important to keep money in that fund to avoid tax raises on businesses and to avoid deflation of the state’s bond rating.

The rest of the CARES Act money will be see $200 million for localities, which can now apply for money.

Justice said how much goes to which city or county depends on the size (population) and specific needs outlined in applications.

Small businesses will see $150 million.

“We have 15,000 small businesses in the state,” he said, referring to businesses that employ between five and 35 people. “Each business can apply for up to $10,000 in relief.”

Justice said the grants will go directly to the businesses “with very few strings attached.”

Another $100 million will go toward COVID highway projects, allowing money already earmarked for some projects to go toward other highway work.

The state will receive $57 million for COVID expense reimbursement.

Public Service Districts will get $25 for relief of non-payment of bills; $16 million will be used for contingency funding reimbursement; and $10 million for Fairmont Hospital.

Funding from the more than $970 million will be divided in many areas, he said, including rural hospitals, local health departments, broadband, higher education and K-12 public schools.

“Rural hospitals are getting a ton of money,” he said, although specific amounts have not yet been announced. Dollars will also be set aside for manufacturing millions of masks and gowns and other needed supplies.

“Those grants will give you the assurance that if we have another outbreak, we are prepared,” he said.

The financial future also looks solid, he said, with a surplus on the horizon.

Justice outlined the state’s finances, saying the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, will not have a once anticipated $525 million shortfall.

In fact, he said, the state has plenty of cash on hand and not expecting a deficit at all, thanks to better than predicted revenue, federal Medicaid reimbursement and federal dollars for pandemic relief. The state will also go into July (starting the next fiscal year on July 1) with the state income tax money revenue that was delayed from April 15 to July 15.

At the end of March, the state had about a $6 million deficit, he said, dropping from an earlier $66 million.

“Then in April we had a $192 million deficit because of the COVID,” he said.

At that time, deficit predictions shot up to more than $500 million.

Justice made no cuts and maintained a wait-and-see attitude, especially with the influx of the $1.25 billion from the CARES Act.

“I knew all along the economic engine was still running,” he said, with essential businesses continuing and the deficit continuing to drop.

Now, the deficit is at $282 million, he said, but that will end up being diminished by federal dollars match of Medicaid and more revenue coming in.

“We are going to run across the finish line with a surplus of a little less than $10 million,” he said.

Justice also said he expects a fourth federal stimulus package coming, possibly including more money for residents.

“We are going to be fine economically,” he said.

On the pandemic front, Justice said during his briefing that Myrtle Beach travel remains a problem.

“Myrtle Beach outbreaks continue,” he said. “It’s now in 18 counties and we will probably end up with 55 (the beach is a popular destination for residents.”

More than 100 confirmed COVID cases have now been confirmed related to travel to Myrtle Beach.

Justice said, though, he is not ready to require a 14-day quarantine on those returning from the area but does recommend they get tested.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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