Justice defends stewardship of funding
CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice again Friday defended his stewardship of more than $1.25 billion meant to help state and local governments with expenses from the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice praised a report from the U.S. Department of Treasury released July 23 that showed West Virginia was quickly getting money from the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act to counties and municipalities.
According to the report from the Office of Inspector General, West Virginia has spent 48.6 percent, or $607 million, of the $1.25 billion given to the state by the C.A.R.E.S. Act. The funding is meant to be used for reimbursement for coronavirus-related expenses by county and municipal governments and agencies.
“This report is significant because all states had to report and be measured exactly the same way, by the guidelines,” Justice said.
Compared to other states, West Virginia had the fourth-highest rate of spending, with many other states only spending a fraction of their allotted funds through the C.A.R.E.S. Act.
“I’ve been saying it every day how hard and how good that we’re doing as far as getting the monies out to our people,” Justice said. “We are only behind California, Colorado, and New York.”
According to the proposed plan by the governor’s office for C.A.R.E.S. Act spending, $687 million is parked in WorkForce West Virginia for future unemployment benefit costs. Another $200 million was set aside for county and municipal coronavirus reimbursements.
According to a report by the State Auditor’s Office on July 24, 153 county and municipal governments and local agencies, such as utility boards, parks and recreation boards, emergency medical services and health departments, have submitted 450 applications for reimbursement totaling $98.1 million. So far, 300 applications have been approved for $56.9 million in reimbursements, while 150 applications are pending review. More than 28 percent of the $200 million allocated for local government reimbursement has been spent.
The U.S. Treasury Department guidelines require that the $1.25 billion be used for necessary expenditures related to coronavirus response by state and local governments. The reimbursements cannot be for anything already budgeted for, and the reimbursements can only cover expenses between March 1 and Dec. 30.
Justice has come under fire from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, Justice’s Democratic opponent in the general election for governor, for not distributing funds fast enough to municipalities and counties. Updated guidelines recommend, but don’t require, that 45 percent of C.A.R.E.S. Act funds go directly to local governments. Even then, the funds can only be distributed to local governments for eligible coronavirus expenses.
“There’s never a time where it can be fast enough,” Justice said. “But being criticized of it is completely unfair, it’s unfounded and it’s untrue. Here is a report by the Treasury Department that is telling you and everyone what our great people have done in pushing dollars out the door and getting money in the pipelines.”
In other proposed C.A.R.E.S. Act spending, the new $5,000 grant program for small businesses affected by COVID-19 economic issues received $150 million, the new Fairmont Medical Center received $50 million, local public service districts will received $25 million to cover costs of overdue utility payments, $16 million is earmarked for the Governor’s Civil Contingency Fund, $57 million was used to cover the state’s COVID-19 expenses, and $100 million will be split between broadband expansion and repair of roads leading to hospitals and medical centers.