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Opinion: U.S. House of Representatives COVID relief bill is the response West Virginians Need

Release from The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy

Charleton, WV – Last night’s passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a comprehensive COVID relief bill is an important step forward. This legislation is the kind of action we need in this moment, when the economy is still weak and the virus is not yet under control. We call on the Senate to pass this bill quickly, before pandemic unemployment benefits expire on March 14. We also urge West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito to oppose any effort to weaken the bill’s assistance for the hundreds of thousands of West Virginians facing hardship or the fiscal relief it offers to the state of West Virginia at this economically devastating time.

The recovery is still far off, and the greatest risk now is that Congress will do too little, rather than too much. The pandemic has caused widespread financial pain, with people of color often hit the hardest. One in 16 workers in West Virginia has lost their jobs. People continue to face food and housing insecurity. Between January 20 and February 1, 37 percent of households with children reported difficulty paying their basic household expenses, and 15.5 percent reported being behind on their rent.

And our state is down 7,600 state and local government jobs and $76 million in tax revenue over the course of the pandemic, even with the support of billions of dollars in federal aid from earlier COVID relief packages propping up state revenues and jobs. Without the American Rescue Plan, which meets the need of West Virginia families and communities, we could see worsening of job losses and state revenues.

Five key elements of the House-passed bill will help struggling people in West Virginia: (1) an extension of emergency measures such as increased SNAP food benefits, the federal eviction moratorium, and pandemic unemployment assistance; (2) rental assistance to keep people in their homes; (3) financial assistance to help meet urgent household expenses such as utility bills and car payments, delivered through expanded tax credits and stimulus payments; (4) improved access to affordable health coverage through enhanced premium tax credits; and (5) much-needed state and local government fiscal relief.

“We urge U.S. Senators Capito and Manchin to embrace this plan to provide relief to families and state and local governments. We ask that they make it even stronger by extending unemployment assistance through September to avoid putting West Virginians at risk for a lapse in benefits,” said Dr. Jessica Ice, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

“We know what works to help our neighbors and communities in West Virginia make it through this pandemic, and the American Rescue Plan meets the immense need of this moment. The danger would be in doing too little to support West Virginians as we do our best to emerge from the pandemic. Now is the time to act,” said Kelly Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

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The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is a public policy research organization that is nonpartisan, nonprofit, and statewide. The Center focuses on how policy decisions affect all West Virginians, especially low- and moderate-income families.

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