With West Virginia sitting on a cash balance of more than $983 million of the total $1.27 billion in federal CARES Act funding received in April, Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday all of the funds have been committed to be spent.
“There’s no pet projects. There’s no hoarding of the money. There’s nowhere Justice has kept the money back and not sent it out,” Justice said during his Wednesday COVID-19 briefing.
During Monday’s briefing, Justice called on Congress to put aside partisan differences and approve another round of federal stimulus funding, noting that many out-of-work West Virginians are having trouble paying bills, mortgages or rent payments.
Asked Wednesday if some of the CARES Act cash balance could be used to provide assistance to West Virginians while the next round of stimulus funds remains in limbo, Justice said there are no excess funds, and went on to break down how the entire amount of federal funding has been committed.
Justice said the largest portion — totaling about $678 million — was used to replenish WorkForce West Virginia for unemployment compensation payments and to set up an unemployment compensation reserve fund. Keeping that fund solvent is critical to avoid having to sharply increase unemployment taxes paid by employers, he said.
Another $200 million has been set aside for grants to cities and counties, along with $150 million for small-business grants, paid out in denominations of $2,000 or $5,000.
Justice noted that demand for those funds has come in well under what was budgeted, despite his repeated calls encouraging cities, counties and small-business owners to apply for funding.
“We’ve done better than what we thought we were going to do, so that makes more monies available to us,” he said.
To date, cities and counties have been awarded about $147.4 million, and small businesses have received about $22 million.
Justice also said $50 million each has been committed for broadband expansion, for enhanced testing and personal protective equipment at public schools, and for the funding of “Medical Access Highways.”
Other commitments, he said, include $25 million for public service districts, $10 million for the new Fairmont branch of WVU Hospitals, and an unspecified amount for reimbursements to the National Guard.
While some funding could be freed up for additional needs, Justice said, “It’s nowhere close to $900 million. I don’t know where we come up with some of this stuff.”
As part of its West Virginia Checkbook spending-transparency program, the State Auditor’s Office website tracks CARES Act spending. As of Wednesday, it showed that the state has spent slightly more than $283 million of the original total appropriation of $1.27 billion, leaving a balance of $983.37 million.
Ultimately, Justice said, the fund will be down to a net balance of $0 by Dec. 31, the deadline for states to spend CARES Act funding.
“We would be absolutely silly if we absolutely have to send one dollar back to the federal government,” he said.
While contending that all the funding is, or will be, committed, Justice said, “I don’t know exactly how the money is going out.”
Justice has drawn criticism for the slow pace of expending CARES Act funding, most recently during Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate, when challenger Ben Salango said the state needs to do a better job of getting the funds out to struggling businesses and individuals.
Justice closed Wednesday’s briefing by further addressing the criticism, saying, “A lot of people have brought this up, and said, ‘Well, governor, we think you’ve got a bunch of CARES money, and it’s just sitting there, and everything.’ Who knows what they’re going to come up with next?”