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Manchin: Plan proof Congress can compromise

Joselyn King MANCHIN — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., addresses local officials and answers questions about the money their communities will receive through the American Rescue Plan.

WHEELING — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin says compromise and progress are possible in Congress, and the “American Rescue Plan” stimulus package passed this year stands as proof.

Manchin, D-W.Va., joined West Virginia Auditor J.B. McCuskey, a Republican, in Wheeling on Thursday to answer questions from local officials whose communities are set to receive generous sums of money from the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.

Representatives from municipalities throughout the Northern Panhandle turned out to speak with Manchin and McCuskey at the City-County Building in Wheeling.

They were told they will receive their stimulus allocations in two installments, with the first half coming in “30 to 60 days,” according to Manchin.

By the time they receive the money, McCuskey will have put “guardrails in place” as restrictions to keep their spending on track, Manchin said.

The second stimulus installment won’t come to municipalities until 2022. Manchin explained the move to break up the allocations was done so as not to put a hit on financial markets all at one time.

The municipalities will have until 2024 to spend the money they receive.

“This is the first time — I believe — in history that we are sending money directly to communities,” he said. “There are no strings attached. Once we get all the guardrails and guidelines in place, we will be working with you to make sure you stay within those guardrails.”

America still has a health crisis, but is coming out of it, Manchin said.

“We’re trying to keep it from becoming an economic crisis, but it has affected a lot of lives…,” he said. “We’ve been told the economy is going to take off like a rocket, and it will. Savings are up more. Bank deposits are up more, and we’re ready to go.”

But that rocket will run out of fuel, and it’s up to Congress to make certain the country doesn’t take a dip, Manchin said. That is why the money is coming to municipalities in two installments.

“We are not going to overheat this market,” he explained. “We’re going to prevent it from going up, then coming down.”

Guidelines to be set in place by the state likely will limit spending by municipalities to covering costs they incurred as a result of COVID measures. An example would be the hiring of any additional first responders needed, according to Manchin.

McCuskey said he is looking for ways municipalities in a region can join together to bundle their construction projects, as bigger projects attract more bidders — and usually a lower price tag for municipalities.

“Contractors are more likely to bid on a $30 million project than a $3 million project,” he said.

McCuskey also vowed to track and list all stimulus money spent by municipalities. This would provide a record that could be taken to Congress if the state would need to ask for additional funds, and other states did not have one, he explained.

“We want West Virginia to be the poster child of transparency, and how it spent its money,” Manchin said.

He said many believed a partisan Congress wouldn’t be able to achieve a stimulus plan, but it came together when members decided to sit down and work together.

“If we put in the same amount of time and energy and try to work together instead of basically trying to do it without the other side, we get a lot more accomplished,” Manchin said.

Democrats said they wouldn’t go “a penny under $1.3 trillion” for spending on the stimulus bill, while Republicans said they couldn’t accept a plan for “a penny over $500 billion.”

The final bill approved was for $1.9 trillion.

“We didn’t look at what Democrats or Republicans wanted … we looked to find out what we needed to do. That’s what we did. That’s how we moved the ball,” he said.

“So don’t tell me it can’t be done. It takes a lot of work. A lot of effort. But we got to where we had an idea and comfort level of what needed to be done. It was more than anyone else had done, and I know it can be done,” he said.

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