Justice says COVID-19 relief bill could have done more

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Monday he appreciates Congress reached an agreement on a second federal COVID-19 relief bill but expressed disappointment that it could have done more for individuals and businesses.

The package, signed by President Donald Trump on Sunday night, included $319 billion for small business grants and loans, including $284 billion in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans. It also included an additional $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits for 11 weeks and direct payments of $600 to adults that make less than $75,000 a year, including an additional $600 per child.

The bill didn’t include additional COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, which was supported by members of the business community. These protections would have heightened the burden of proof standard for someone contracting COVID-19 as a customer if the business had been practicing proper safety protocols.

WorkForce West Virginia, which handles unemployment claims, will hold off on implementing the additional federal unemployment benefits until the state receives guidance from the federal government.

“While we wait on additional federal guidance, I have directed WorkForce West Virginia to be prepared to respond as quickly as possible and deliver this much-needed relief to eligible West Virginians,” Justice said in a statement. “As we always have been, we are all in, and will be a leader in turning this legislation into resources for West Virginia.”

Scott Adkins, the acting commissioner for WorkForce, suggested West Virginians should wait until the state receives guidance before filing for additional claims to avoid a potential delay in receiving benefits.

“We are diligently working to build additional programs and adjust our unemployment computer system to deliver these benefits,” Adkins said in a statement. “Until we receive additional clarification and guidelines, those who feel they are eligible for these benefits should pause until Workforce West Virginia provides additional information.”

The legislation also included $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium. It included $82 billion for schools and universities, with $10 billion dedicated to child care. It also included $7 billion for expanding broadband internet access and more funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

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