The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt strongly in West Virginia. In just a matter of weeks, the state lost 92,000 jobs and the unemployment rate spiked to 15.9 percent. As West Virginia has begun to reopen, some jobs have returned, but the unemployment rate remains above 10.0 percent, more than double its pre-pandemic rate of 4.9 percent.
With tens of thousands of West Virginians losing jobs and income, many are struggling to pay rent or make mortgage payments, even after receiving federal aid related to the pandemic.
With housing insecurity on the rise just as these relief measures expire, housing support should be a key part of the next federal relief package, including significantly increased funding for homelessness services, eviction prevention, and housing vouchers.
Read Sean’s full blog post.
As the United States Senate reconvenes to negotiate what may well be the final COVID-19 relief package, addressing food insecurity must be a top priority. The lasting negative impacts of hunger, especially for children, are widely known. Congress has not only the opportunity, but the duty to act to avoid those consequences and support families across the country by raising the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit by 15 percent.
Recent surveys conducted by the United States Census Bureau confirm the impact COVID-19 has had on food security across the country. In West Virginia, there were dramatic increases in household food insecurity over a short period of time. Households are considered food insecure if they experience limited access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources. Over 20 percent of households with children faced food insecurity in the first week of June as the school year came to a close. While food insecurity has decreased since that initial spike, it still remains higher than it did pre-pandemic.
SNAP has been a critical tool for responding to rising food insecurity in West Virginia, and has seen a six percent increase in enrollment from February to May of 2020. During the next round of COVID-19 legislative relief measures, Congress must leverage the institutional power of the nation’s most successful food assistance program by increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent. Boosting SNAP benefits will pay immediate and long-term dividends for low-income families and the very poor, helping them to put food on the table and weather the current crisis.
Read Seth’s full blog post.
ReImagine Appalachia is a coalition whose mission is to create a future for the Ohio Valley that’s good for workers, communities, and the environment.
The group released its policy blueprint this week outlining how it plans to expand opportunity through public investments, build a 21st century sustainable Appalachia, and rebuild the middle class. The coalition framework was created by and for Appalachians, and we are excited to be a part of this innovative and ambitious new effort.
Take a moment to learn more about the coalition here.
The $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits from the CARES Act is set to expire at the end of July. As millions of Americans anxiously wait to see if the enhanced benefits will be extended, our senior policy analyst Sean O’Leary provided his insight to West Virginia MetroNews:
“‘Things would be much, much worse without it,’ Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said of the effects of the extra unemployment.
“O’Leary estimated more than 70,000 West Virginians stood to lose significant household funding with the expiration.
“In addition to supporting families, he said the money was supporting West Virginia’s economy.”
Read the full article here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated West Virginia’s already significant childhood hunger problem. Even pre-pandemic, it is estimated by Save the Children that one in five West Virginia children struggled to access food. With schools now closed, accessing meals has become even more difficult, and the feeding programs established to fill in the gaps are often inadequate.
The Food for All coalition has been applying consistent pressure on Governor Justice to allocate money to address the issue of food insecurity, especially amongst children.
Our policy outreach director Seth Distefano was featured this week in a Mountain State Spotlight article on the topic:
“DiStefano said the coalition is asking the governor to give the Department of Education $12.5 million, 1% of the state’s CARES Act budget, to get food to families.
“A large chunk of the requested money, DiStefano explained, would be spent on making sure a food delivery system that includes bus drivers is in place from now through the upcoming school year. The coalition also asked the governor to require superintendents to publish concrete plans for feeding children during the pandemic.
“‘There are a lot of kids left behind,’ DiStefano said. “We are clear that it is the government’s responsibility and the Justice administration’s responsibility to make sure kids are fed, period.'”
Read the full piece here.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has led to severe levels of unemployment across the country, large numbers of West Virginians have lost not only their jobs, but also their health insurance. This week, our interim executive director Kelly Allen was interviewed by West Virginia Public Broadcasting to discuss the implications of these losses for individuals’ health care.
Watch the Facebook Live video here.
On Monday, August 3, join national expert Professor Alex Vitale and state and local leaders for an in-depth discussion on redefining policing and public safety in West Virginia. Professor Vitale will give a presentation about the research and analysis in his book The End of Policing which he summarizes this way:
“I would say that we over-rely on policing as the only mechanism to create public safety and that we need to create specific, targeted interventions at the community level to make communities safer in ways that don’t rely on armed police, while we work to address larger issues of economic and racial injustice.”
Professor Vitale’s presentation will be followed by a discussion with panelists and will also include a Q&A.
The event will be hosted online via Facebook Live. Find more details and RSVP here.
West Virginia’s coal-impacted communities have been heavily burdened with economic, environmental, and public health problems as a result of the mining industry. The RECLAIM Act would release $1.6 billion from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund to jumpstart the reclamation of mine land abandoned before 1976. In West Virginia, the RECLAIM Act would make available approximately $200 million over five years to support reclamation projects that would work to clean up our communities.
Urge your senators to pass the RECLAIM Act here.
The next few weeks are critical for West Virginia. Please join us in urging Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin to continue their support of West Virginia’s workers and families during the COVID-19 crisis and throughout our economic recovery.
Sign the petition here.
The Center is proud to support this series diving into important dialogues that are too often neglected in our state.
Join us and register here.