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Government

American Rescue Plan Sends Billions In Pandemic Aid To West Virginia. Most Of Our Congressional Delegation Voted Against The Help.

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This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. For more stories from Mountain State Spotlight, visit www.mountainstatespotlight.org.

West Virginia is about to get another large infusion of coronavirus relief money, including loans for businesses, stimulus checks for most residents as well as money to state and local governments for pandemic-related spending and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

But four out of five of West Virginia’s members in the U.S. Congress did not vote for it.

President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11. West Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Reps. David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney joined all other members of the GOP in voting against the $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s only Democrat in Congress, supported the package and has been touting it at media events with local leaders and in a newspaper commentary discussing the funding rollout.

Manchin has a lot to tout. The state will receive at least $4 billion in direct relief, with more to come, the senator says.

“The end is within reach and this COVID-19 relief package is what West Virginia needs to put this pandemic behind us once and for all,” Manchin said.

The state government will get another $1.25 billion in money, and state and local governments will get a collective $677 million, according to a funding summary provided by Manchin’s office. The first half of the money will be distributed in 60 days. The second half is slated for roughly a year later.

Most Americans are eligible to receive another round of stimulus checks, worth $1,400. More than 890,000 West Virginia households will receive payments, and that money has already begun popping up in bank accounts.

A part of the plan expands a child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child. This affects about 346,000 West Virginian children, according to the summary.

Roughly $800 million will go to West Virginia’s K-12 schools. The package also provides direct aid for many businesses, and extends unemployment assistance at $300 a week until early September. More money will also be allocated to the Paycheck Protection Program to provide loans to businesses.

West Virginia’s Republican senator accused the legislation of going too big and being too partisan

“President Biden and the Democrats had the perfect chance to demonstrate to the country that we can unify behind delivering targeted relief to Americans who need it most,” Capito said. “Instead of joining together, Democrats took advantage of a pandemic and chose to poison this relief bill with a trillion dollars of unrelated spending items that have been on their wish lists for years.”

Capito said the plan risks preventing our economy from recovering. She said now that it’s law, the top concern should be transparency and accountability as to how the money is spent.

Miller expressed similar concerns about the bill, claiming it wouldn’t “crush” COVID-19 or create jobs.

“I raise bison,” Miller said in late February. “I know bull when I see it, and I know manure when I see it. Less than 10% of this so-called stimulus package actually focuses on the pandemic.”

That depends what you mean by “focuses on the pandemic.” The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget found that about 85% of the aid was related to the pandemic. PolitiFact notes that while around 9% of the funding goes to direct disease containment like vaccines, testing and tracing, much more goes toward pandemic relief.

Miller also complained that the bill “stifles America’s gig economy at a time when it needs our support the most.”

That refers to a provision of the American Rescue Plan that lowers the threshold at which companies such as Uber and Airbnb must report workers who have earned money from them. Supporters of the provision say it just means gig workers will pay taxes they should have been paying all along.

In a press release following his no vote on the aid package, McKinley pointed to parts of the package he viewed as extraneous, such as the $300 weekly unemployment aid, the K-12 funding and the “$350 billion to Democrat-led states.” Yet that $350 billion is for state and local government funding, and Republican-led West Virginia and every other state will receive portions of it. Republicans have spoken against the K-12 education aid because many schools are still closed and only a portion of previously-allocated money for schools has been used to date.

McKinley also took issue with the idea that “illegal immigrants and prisoners would be able to receive stimulus checks.” People who are incarcerated were allowed to get the previous stimulus checks. As for illegal immigrants, CNN noted that “a minority” of those in the country illegally have a Social Security number, since people keep that number even after their work visa expires. Biden’s plan does not distinguish between the Social Security numbers of those in the country legally or illegally when dispersing checks — nor did past Trump relief legislation.

Mooney cited the U.S. deficit as one of the reasons he opposes the bill, a common talking point among Republicans.

“This is debt that your children will have to pay,” he said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently responded to such stated concerns by pointing to the need for the money.

“We are in the midst of twin crises, from the pandemic to an economic downturn that is impacting tens of millions in this country,” she said. “The president’s focus is on addressing those crises.”

The congressional members are not the only Republicans in West Virginia with some concerns about the legislation.

While Jim Justice, West Virginia’s Republican governor, expressed support for the American Rescue Plan even months before its passage, he has since expressed anger at a provision in the legislation that restricts the use of the new stimulus funds to directly or indirectly offset tax cuts, even while at the same time denying he ever planned to do so.

Ohio’s attorney general sued the Biden administration Wednesday over this provision, expressing worry that it would prevent states from making any tax cuts and claiming such restrictions are unconstitutional. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has also taken similar exception to it.

Reach reporter Douglas Soule at douglassoule@mountainstatespotlight.org


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