CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates has moved quickly to help businesses impacted by the ongoing water emergency in parts of nine counties.
The House passed a bill Thursday. 97-0, that would provide loans and grants to businesses, particularly small businesses, that are impacted during a state of emergency.
Bill sponsor Del. Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, told fellow House members the business owners had no control over the contamination of their water supply from a chemical spill on the Elk River last week.
“Think about for a moment about going to work one day and you’re told you’re not allowed,” Skaff said.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said businesses are struggling.
“I have had people say to me, quite specifically, that without assistance they will not be able to reopen their businesses and I think that is a very serious concern,” Armstead said.
The bill puts a framework in place to help the businesses. It provides no specific funding. It leaves that up to the governor’s office. Lawmakers would later consider the specifics for the program in rules legislation.
Del. David Walker, D-Clay, supported the bill but said he was disappointed it didn’t include an avenue to financially help residents who have missed worked because of the water emergency.
“Now they have to make a decision whether to buy groceries or a new hot water tank,” Walker said. “But he’s not going to get the paycheck next week to buy his groceries.”
Some other delegates said workers might be eligible for emergency unemployment benefits from the federal government because President Barack Obama approved federal disaster assistance in connection with the emergency.
The House waived its regular rules and passed the bill quickly Thursday afternoon. Armstead said in this situation it’s important not to delay.
“Is it unusual for us to try to move forward on a piece of legislation in one day? Yes, it’s unusual, but there are times when that’s what we need to do and I think this is one of those times,” Armstead said. “We are talking about small businesses, restaurants, hair salons, the type of businesses you visit in your community everyday.”
The bill provides an avenue for the state to try to recover money from Freedom Industries where the leak occurred to try to pay for the program.
The legislation now heads to the state Senate for consideration.