CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia will receive nearly $1.4 billion from the federal government to offset economic setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic, but likely not all at once. An additional $516 million is earmarked for every county and some larger cities.
The $350 billion national program launched Monday is part of President Joe Biden’s larger $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that became law in March.
Because West Virginia’s current unemployment rate is not significantly higher than its pre-pandemic level, the state is eligible to receive just half of its allotment immediately, with the rest being provided one year later. Some 20 states currently are eligible to receive their entire allotment right away. The other 30 states, including West Virginia, would get their money in two equal annual payments, based on current federal data.
The withholding determination will be made based on unemployment data on the date a state submits its funding request.
West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped from 5.3% in March 2020 to 15.6% in April 2020 as employers shut their doors at the start of the pandemic. The rate has fallen steadily since, hitting the lowest mark in a year in March to 5.9%.
Along with the funding for the state, an additional $348 million will go to West Virginia’s 55 counties, ranging from $1.1 million for Wirt County to nearly $35 million for Kanawha County. Calhoun County, which had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 14.9% in March, will receive $1.4 million.
Direct cash payments totaling $168.2 million also are heading to nine of West Virginia’s largest cities, including $36.8 million for Charleston and $40.6 million for Huntington. Other cities in the funding are Beckley, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Weirton, Wheeling and Vienna. Fairmont, the state’s sixth largest city in 2019 Census estimates, was left out.
The money can be used by state and local governments for relief from the public health crisis. Under guidance the Treasury Department released along with the numbers, it also can be used to offset harm to workers, small businesses and affected industries, to invest in water, sewer and broadband systems and to replace lost public sector revenue. Essential workers also can qualify for premium pay under the program.
Officials cannot cut taxes, pay down debt or bolster the state’s rainy day fund with the relief package.