By Bobby Bordelon
Throughout Greenbrier County approximately $377,000 has come to support local governments during the pandemic thanks to the West Virginia Coronavirus Relief Fund (WVCF) picking up tabs for medical expenses, payroll for emergency responders, and more.
In March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated funds to states in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this, the WVCF was created and managed by the office of Governor Jim Justice, looking to provide support for local governments. According to data provided by the state, $377,309.01 was awarded to Greenbrier County, including $288,048.13 to Lewisburg, $38,057 to Ronceverte, $18,289.81 to White Sulphur Springs, $17,126.38 to Alderson, and $15,786.71 to the Greenbrier County Commission. These funds, according to the data, are for a variety of purposes, including payroll, medical costs, and COVID-19 safety compliance.
“On behalf of the citizens of the great state of West Virginia, we want to thank you and all the essential workers … for your incredible efforts during this unprecedented time. Together, we will continue to to keep this virus at bay,” reads one letter from Ann Urling, deputy chief of staff in Governor Jim Justice’s office.
The CARES Act provides that payments from the Fund may only be used to cover costs that:
• are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19).
• were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the State or government.
• were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 30, 2020.
In speaking to administration for several Greenbrier County municipalities, one common refrain was uncertainty about what could and could not qualified as COVID-19 related expenses. As a result, most explained they followed the guidelines as best they could and trusted the process to sort out what did and did not qualify.
A large portion of the awarded funds go to covering payroll for several non-volunteer emergency response departments in municipalities. According to the guidelines provided by the treasury department, the WVCF “is designed to provide ready funding to address unforeseen financial needs and risks created by the COVID-19 public health emergency. For this reason, and as a matter of administrative convenience in light of the emergency nature of this program, a State, territorial, local, or Tribal government may presume that payroll costs for public health and public safety employees are payments for services substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, unless the chief executive (or equivalent) of the relevant government determines that specific circumstances indicate otherwise.”
Of note in the awards was Lewisburg’s grant funding, totaling approximately 76 percent of the total Greenbrier County funding. City Administrator Misty Hill emphasized that although the funds have been awarded to the city, they still need to be considered by Lewisburg City Council before they can be utilized.
“Each county is awarded differently because it depends on what you’ve allocated the money for, what you’re requesting,” explained Hill “Each [municipality and] county has received different amounts of money. It all depends on what you’ve have to spend for COVID.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the United States, the local municipalities will continue to apply for additional funding through the program. As of July 27, the state still had $1,161,009,690 remaining from the CARES Act.
“Every little bit helps,” Ronceverte Mayor David Smith said.
More information about the WVCF, including where else in the state is receiving funding, can be found by visiting https://stories.opengov.com/westvirginia/published/mnOzKr2wB. Frequently asked questions about the federal and state support to local governments can be found here; https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Coronavirus-Relief-Fund-Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf.