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Keep a close eye on the COVID money

The latest federal COVID relief bill, known as the “American Rescue Plan” was signed into law Thursday, sending a total of $1.9 trillion to the states.

Proponents of this legislation say it’s a needed step for the nation to recover and rebuild as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been facing for the last year. Detractors say, while some kind of stimulus is needed, much of the funding will have nothing to do with fighting against the virus or stimulating the economy.It’s filled with excess pork, they say.

I can see both sides of the argument. The ARP involves a lot of money. That’s money generated primarily through tax dollars, and I’m sure we all have ways we would prefer to see it spent. Much of it has little to do with the virus itself. At the same time, there’s a lot that will help keep necessary services going and assist the people as the nation continues to recover. There’s also an effort to improve our current systems in the event the nation would be faced with a similar situation in the future.

According to information provided by Sen. Joe Manchin’s office prior to the ARP being signed, West Virginia will receive at least $4 billion, with additional funds available through grants and federal programs.

These funds include allocations for small business aid, broadband improvements, vaccine distribution, education, child care, senior programs, housing programs, transportation enhancements (including $8 million for the state’s airports and $24 million for transit systems), $2.2 million for veterans nursing homes, support for hospitals and rural health systems, behavioral health systems, food assistance and additional funds for the Assistance to Firefighters and SAFER grant programs to aid fire departments and first responders in the state.

The state itself will receive approximately $1.25 billion to be managed by the governor and Legislature.

Local governments are set to divide a pot of $677 million, which will be sent to them in installments. As we reported, that includes $5.59 million for Hancock County, $4.25 million for Brooke County, and $10.59 million for the City of Weirton. All other incorporated communities in our area also will receive funding, although not nearly at those levels. Wellsburg, for example, is set to receive $1.05 million, while New Cumberland will get $420,000. It’s all based on 2019 Census data and information from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Here’s the catch for that local government funding, though, it “may be used to cover: expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, lost revenue related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.”

So, according to that, these funds potentially could be used for projects such as expansions to water and sanitary services, as an example, but not for vehicle purchases, physical building improvements, the shoring up of pension plans or filling budget holes unrelated to the pandemic.

There is a lot of money that will be floating around in the coming months. The key is whether those receiving the funds are actually using them the way this bill intended.

West Virginia still has some of its allotment from the CARES Act. More than $600 million has been set aside by the governor, and is just sitting in an account instead of going to the people.

The CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan are both supposed to be about helping the people of this nation. It’s up to the people to make sure the money spent the way it is intended.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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