CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials yesterday for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.
ADDITIONAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS TO BE DISTRIBUTED NEXT WEEK
During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that, beginning early next week, WorkForce West Virginia will begin distributing an additional $400 per week in Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) payments to West Virginians who are unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.
“I am very happy to announce that these dollars are going to start flowing to those in need,” Gov. Justice said.
These benefits are the result of a series of recent executive orders by President Donald J. Trump, extending federal enhanced unemployment insurance benefits through the end of 2020. Under the order, $300 of the weekly total is being paid for by the federal government, while the remaining $100 is being paid for by the State.
“Keep in mind that we were only one of four states that stepped up to the plate and said we were going to do the extra $100,” Gov. Justice said.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) initially approved West Virginia’s application for these LWA funds two weeks ago.
“It’s taken a little while because, once we got the go-ahead from FEMA, we had to devise our own system to administer the monies and get them going out, while making sure the right fraud protections were in place,” Gov. Justice said. “Now we’re going to get everyone their money and will be doing so very quickly.”
During his remarks Wednesday, acting Commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia Scott Adkins reported that, as of today, FEMA has approved West Virginia to utilize $103 million in LWA benefits.
West Virginia is currently approved to pay five weeks of benefits, retroactive to the week ending Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, running through the week ending Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020.
“If you’re eligible for all five weeks, you’ll get a single check or a single deposit in your account for $2,000, minus any taxes you have chosen to withhold,” Adkins said. “Any individuals who returned to work prior to August 1st will not be eligible.”
To be eligible for LWA, recipients must receive at least $100 in weekly unemployment benefits and they must certify that they are unemployed or at least partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.
Individuals receiving unemployment benefits at a rate of less than $100 per week are not eligible for the $300 FEMA share of the LWA funds, but will receive the $100 State share in addition to their regular unemployment benefits.
“West Virginia is the only state in the union that is providing that particular benefit,” Adkins said.
‘We understand this benefit is critical to many West Virginians,” Adkins continued. “We are diligently planning and testing our systems to make sure we are paying people as quickly as possible.”
Adkins added that, once the FEMA benefits are fully exhausted, those benefits will cease.
RELEASE TIME MOVED UP FOR DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’S SATURDAY COUNTY ALERT MAP
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice and State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch announced that, in an effort to provide more preparation time for students, parents, teachers, and service personnel, the release time for the West Virginia Department of Education’s Saturday County Alert Map has been moved up to 5 p.m.
For the past two weeks, the map had been released at 9 p.m.
“We’re going to back that up to give you a few more hours to line up what you would need for the next week if your county would happen to slip into orange,” Gov. Justice said.
“On Saturday night, we had 3,700 people per minute trying to log on to look at the map, so we know how important it is to everybody,” Superintendent Burch said. “We’ve also heard from many parents who have indicated that earlier would be better.”
WEDNESDAY MAP UPDATE
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided a look at West Virginia’s latest mid-week map update.
The map is updated live on the DHHR’s COVID-19 Dashboard (Click “County Alert System” tab) throughout the week for informational purposes and to provide an indication of how each county is trending ahead of each Saturday; the time when each county is assigned its official color designation for the next week, which determines the level of scholastic, athletic, and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for that particular week.
As of Wednesday morning, a total of 28 counties were green, while 18 counties were yellow.
Eight counties were orange: Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, Monroe, Pocahontas, Putnam, and Wayne counties.
One county was red: Monongalia County.
COVID-19 CASE NUMBERS UPDATE
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that West Virginia’s statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission – also known as Rt – increased to 1.35, the worst such rate in the country. The Governor added that West Virginia’s number of active cases has reached a new record high of 2,806.
“This situation is getting more critical by the day,” Gov. Justice said. “I’m calling on all West Virginians; you’re going to have to buckle down, we have to do better.”
Still, West Virginia’s COVID-19 numbers have been among the best in the nation. West Virginia has outperformed the national average, as well as the rates of all of its bordering states, in percentage of population tested, percentage of population positive, and percentage of positive test results. West Virginia has also outperformed the national average in case fatality rate.
GOVERNOR AGAIN URGES AGAINST EVICTIONS DURING PANDEMIC
Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided clarification that, while he continues to urge landlords to cease evictions throughout the duration of the pandemic, he is not legally able to force landlords to stop evicting people if they choose to do so.
“I can tell you my personal feelings, I can plead with our landlords to please not evict people, but I cannot make them do that,” Gov. Justice said. “Now, there may be governors out there in other states that have that authority. I do not. But our Supreme Court could possibly act on this and halt those actions if they chose to do so and President Trump gave some relief under his executive order which directed the CDC to temporarily halt evictions through the end of the year. But it all takes cooperation.”