West Virginia officials announced a one-time, $500 payment to current recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as part of the state’s ongoing response to the coronavirus.
Gov. Jim Justice today also acknowledged 120,000 unemployment filings since March 1 and described continued efforts to process them all.
And state officials identified another “hotspot” of increased coronavirus spread — Jackson County, which joins a dozen other counties now under heightened social distancing guidelines.
“I would ask you to please, please stay the course,” Justice said during a Monday news briefing.
WV Works, state’s name for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, provides monthly cash assistance for qualifying families.
The one-time payment announced Monday, which will not count against other DHHR benefits, will be issued to families who were active in the WV Works program in March 2020 and eligible to continue participation in April 2020. Payments will begin processing this Tuesday.
“This payment will provide low-income families with additional financial help during the COVID-19 pandemic and may be used to supplement monthly living expenses or other needs of the family,” stated Linda Watts, commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families.
West Virginia continues to process tens of thousands of unemployment claims prompted by the slowing or shutdowns of businesses across the state.
Many of those attempting to file describe being unable to get through on telephone or through the Workforce West Virginia website.
State officials have described ramping up personnel to file claims by assigning members of the National Guard and other state employees to augment the usual staff. Three call centers have opened with the intent of being available 24-7.
“We’re working those claims as diligently as we can,” Justice said.
Justice said self-employed workers or independent contractors can’t file yet, but will be able to soon. “All these benefits will be retroactive when available,” he said today.
The governor urged state residents to take advantage of aid through the recently-passed federal stimulus, whether through unemployment benefits with $600 additional pay per check and extended weeks of eligibility or through forgivable small business loans.
“Every last one of you work the stimulus stuff,” he said. “There’s real live dollars, and it’s out there for your taking right now.”
Jackson County became the state’s latest official hotspot, with 29 coronavirus cases confirmed to the state through Monday morning.
“They had the highest increase in cases over the past 24 hours out of all of our 55 counties, so I feel like now we’ve absolutely got to bring Jackson County into that fold.”
So it joins the counties already designated hotspots: Kanawha, Monongalia, Marion, Harrison, Morgan, Berkeley, Jefferson, Cabell, Wayne, Wood and Ohio.
All those counties are subject to executive orders tightening down social distancing guidelines — although the entire state remains under a stay-home order.
Justice’s executive orders for hotspots are meant to limit groups to a maximum of five people and directs all businesses to require employees to work from home “to the maximum extent possible.”
It authorizes the county health departments to limit occupancy of any businesses that remain open to the public and designates support from the State Police and the West Virginia National Guard.
“We are the highest risk state, and we’ve done amazingly well from the standpoint of all of you and what you’ve done as West Virginians,” Justice said.