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West Virginia groups urge passage of new federal relief package

More than a dozen West Virginia groups have signed on to a letter pushing for additional federal COVID relief for families and communities.

“Across West Virginia, food and housing insecurity are growing, local governments are facing budget crises that threaten public services, and unemployed workers are struggling to make ends meet as the economic and health crisis rages on,” the groups wrote.

“Despite these challenges, Congress has failed to pass any meaningful COVID relief for families and communities since March, and most of the programs that were passed have since expired with the crisis no less challenging.”

The letter came from groups like The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the National Association of Social Workers West Virginia, American Friends Service Committee West Virginia, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, the West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers West Virginia and others.

They addressed the letter to Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

A fifth federal relief bill has been stuck for weeks.

The House of Representatives passed a $3.4 trillion stimulus measure in May, but Republicans rejected it as too costly. Senate Republicans pushed for a “skinny” bill providing only $350 billion in new spending, but it fell short of the necessary 60 votes.

President Trump on Wednesday urged Republicans to embrace a larger coronavirus stimulus package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to keep the House in session until a deal with Republicans and the White House is worked out. She is facing pressure from some members of the Democratic caucus to work out a deal.

A $1.5 trillion stimulus proposal put forth this week by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 members, is meant to aim for middle ground.

The proposal by the caucus includes $450 a week in federal unemployment benefits for eight weeks, $500 billion in state and local relief, direct payments to American workers and additional Paycheck Protection Program funds.

During regular briefings about West Virginia’s coronavirus response, Gov. Jim Justice has often described optimism that another federal stimulus will pass, even as talks have dragged in Washington, D.C.

The West Virginia groups that sent the letter praised Manchin for voting against the “skinny” bill and described disappointment in Capito for voting in favor of it.

The groups would like to see:

  • An extension of the $600 weekly federal Unemployment Insurance benefits and of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program so that unemployed workers will be eligible for continued weekly benefits as the unemployment remains high;
  • A 15 percent increase in maximum SNAP benefits and reauthorization of Pandemic EBT;
  • Funding for child care centers to remain open and help for families struggling to afford the cost of child care;
  • Increased rental and housing assistance for those struggling with housing insecurity;
  • An emergency fund for states to help people who are falling through the cracks and to create subsidized jobs programs when workers can participate safely; and
  • Additional, temporary federal funding for Medicaid programs and direct grants to states, territories, and tribes to protect core public services such as education, infrastructure, and first-responders, in addition to aid for local governments.

They wrote that West Virginia has the highest percentage of adults in the country at risk of severe complications from covid-19 because of underlying medical conditions — along with one of the highest virus transmission rates in the country.

State residents are also suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic recession, with 68,300 unemployed and the highest percentage of people under threat of eviction in the nation.

“The time for meaningful action by the United States Senate is now and failing to act is not an option. COVID is a bigger threat today than when the U.S. Senate acted in March with overwhelming bipartisan support to pass a first round of relief,” the West Virginia groups wrote.

“An additional package now is necessary to help our families and communities recover.”


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