The first weekend in June will begin with West Virginians registering for cash and prizes in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine lottery and end with the Legislature allocating federal COVID-19 relief money to at least two state agencies, Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday.
Justice called the Legislature in for a special session next week to allocate money from the American Rescue Plan to the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Education.
The governor also wants the Legislature to allocate $150 million to the Division of Highways for road projects. The special session will convene Monday, when lawmakers already were scheduled to be in Charleston for interim committee meetings.
“If our Legislature is willing to support this move, we’ll be on our way, and we’ll be on it immediately,” Justice said.
The $150 million will come from a $152.24 million budget surplus for the month of May. Justice announced the surplus Tuesday.
He didn’t indicate how much of the $677 million in American Rescue Plan funds the state received would be allocated to the DHHR and Education.
West Virginia’s government and its county and municipal governments are receiving $1.355 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11. The law requires state and local governments to allocate the money by December 2024 and spend it by December 2026.
The Legislature passed a law during the recent regular session that prevents the governor from spending more than $150 million the state unexpectedly receives from the federal government outside of a legislative session. That gives Justice the ability to allocate the first $150 million from the American Rescue Plan, and leaves the lawmakers to allocate the remaining $527 million.
The Legislature is to convene at noon Monday, the second day of lawmakers’ three-day interim meeting schedule.
Justice also announced Thursday that registration for the state’s COVID-19 vaccination lottery will open up at 5 p.m. Friday.
The governor and his team dubbed the lottery program “Do It For Babydog,” after the governor’s English bulldog, which he frequently brings to the Capitol for appearances in his news conferences.
The lottery, in which West Virginians who have received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine may enter, offers $1 million and other prizes, including: two four-year scholarships to state public colleges, open to ages 12 to 25; two custom pickups; 25 state park weekend getaway packages; five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses; five custom rifles and five custom shotguns.
The first drawing will take place on West Virginia Day, June 20.
Weekly drawings will be conducted through Aug. 4. On Aug. 4 there will be two final cash prizes, one of $1 million and another of $588,000, a play on Justice’s “Beat 588 Bad” slogan, based on his belief that he is reaching out to 588,000 West Virginians who are vaccine hesitant or anti-vaccine.
“Look at this darling little face,” Justice said, holding Babydog in his lap in the Governor’s Office at the Capitol. “You can’t possibly turn her down. That’s all there is to it. You may have turned down yourself. You may have turned down your family. But how can you possibly turn down this face?”
West Virginians age 12 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of Thursday, 59% of eligible West Virginians had received at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine. Justice has said he hopes to get that number up to 65% by June 20.
Also during Thursday’s briefing:
- Justice would not say if he plans to allow members of the news media into the Governor’s Office for his twice-weekly COVID-19 briefings.
The governor said he doesn’t have a problem with doing the briefings in person, but he said the teleconferences, which members of the news media participate in via Zoom, have been “an orderly way to move things along and not get distracted over some little incident that might not be significant to the people of West Virginia.”
Reporters must pre-register with the Governor’s Office to participate in the briefings and are limited to asking one question, typically without any opportunity to follow up.