BLUEFIELD — The Bluefield Union Mission is being offered $250,000 from the balance left in the CARES Act.
Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement Thursday morning during his pandemic briefing as he detailed how the state will distribute the remaining $122 million left in the CARES funding, which totaled $1.25 billion and was given to the state by the federal government last year to help with the pandemic.
Several other missions around the state will also receive the same as Bluefield to help provide services to the needy, including missions in Charleston, Clarksburg and Huntington.
Craig Hammond, director of the Bluefield Union Mission, said it is a “very nice gesture” by the state and it’s a “first” for the mission.
“We have a 90-year tradition of relying on God and His people for our resources,” he said. “This is new to us.”
Hammond said the news will be presented to the Mission’s Board of Directors and the board will make decisions regarding the money.
Justice said the leftover $122 million is being put into “buckets” and spread across the state.
He had already announced $48 million will go toward expanding nurse training programs in the state, including starting a new one at Concord University.
Those are long-term solutions to the nursing shortage but some of that money will also be earmarked to help recruit nurses and other medical professionals to come to West Virginia now and incentives to retain professionals already here.
Justice said $10 million of the $122 million will be used for an “emergency management crisis fund” for first-responders.
“They are the true heroes,” he said, but no more details of exactly how that money will be spent have been released.
“More details will be coming,” he said, but local first-responders “will be involved in this.”
Another $22 million will be used to offer incentives to entice people back into the job market.
Although the unemployment rate in the state has reached record lows, he said many people have not returned to work in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“We have folks still at home,” he said, “and we need to get them back in the workforce … Our economy needs these people. We are begging for more and more people to be in the workforce.”
Justice said details related to the incentives have not been finalized, but to qualify “you have to get a job and have to be at that job in excess of 90 days” and then have the option of earning an incentive.
“The state still has hungry people,” Justice said, explaining why $7.25 million will be distributed to food pantries and homeless shelters.
Another $6 million is earmarked for the Salvation Army in the Potomac Region, which includes Beckley and its building, which needs work.
Justice said the money will help expand programs and provide services.
Two universities will also receive some of the funding.
West Virginia University will get $3 million to help expand remote work facilities across West Virginia, which will be open to the public and have free WiFi available.
Shepherd University will receive $500,000 to help fund photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy, where a practitioner applies low-level lasers or light-emitting diodes to the surface of the body to improve tissue repair and reduce pain and inflammation. PBM is seen as a way to treat some pain-causing medical conditions instead of using opioids.
“Light therapy can manage pain and do many things and may help with COVID,” Justice said.
The WV Game Changer program, which has been vital during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the increase in drug use, will get $2 million, Justice said. The program is a student-powered, substance misuse prevention movement, connecting West Virginia students and the educators who care about them through a coordinated, comprehensive prevention education program.
Some funding will also be used for upgrades at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds in Fairlea, including the West Virginia Building, which Justice said is “falling down.”
In the end, $15.2 million will remain and go into a “cleanup” as agencies do a “deep dive” and see if any additional expenses surface.
“That should wrap up the balance of the CARES money,” he said.
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