Gov. Jim Justice conceded Wednesday that his plan to offer $100 U.S. savings bonds as incentives for 16- to 35-year-olds to get COVID-19 vaccinations hasn’t been fully vetted, and said West Virginia might end up having to offer $100 checks instead.
“We don’t have all the details,” the governor said at the state COVID-19 briefing Wednesday. “In most good ideas and plans, you don’t sit around for 50,000 days and incubate it until it’s perfect.”
Justice made national news Monday with his announcement of the savings bond incentive to encourage younger West Virginians to overcome vaccine hesitancy and get their shots.
As recently as Wednesday’s briefing, Justice seemed to be under the impression that savings bonds are still paper certificates, telling the target audience, “I’m going to give you something you can take a picture of and keep.” According to information on the U.S. Treasury’s TreasuryDirect website, U.S. savings bonds went all electronic in 2012, requiring bond recipients to set up accounts on that website.
“The details of how to do that with Treasury, we’re working through that, and there’s big-time details, and it’s difficult,” Justice said of the savings bond initiative.
“At the end of the rainbow, we may have to say, nope, we just can’t do that. We’re just going to send you a $100 check,” he added.
That’s opposed to $100 savings bonds, which mature to face value after 20 years but can be cashed out after one year for a little over $50.
Justice also conceded that many in the targeted age group might be unfamiliar with savings bonds, but said their parents and grandparents understand their significance.
“It will give our kids something that, in my opinion, we need to infuse in all of us, and that’s an extra dose of patriotism,” he said.
Plunging statewide vaccination rates in April have led the governor to spend significant portions of his thrice-weekly briefings pleading with the vaccine hesitant to get their shots. State vaccination rates have fallen from averaging more than 17,000 doses a day in late March to an average of fewer than 2,000 doses a day in the past week, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 dashboard.
Initially a national leader in vaccination rates, West Virginia, as of Wednesday, ranked 41st among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker.
Also Wednesday, Justice clarified that incentives will be paid retroactively to 16- to 35-year-olds who have been vaccinated prior to Monday’s announcement.
He stressed that the cost of issuing savings bonds or checks, even if he achieves his goal of getting 210,000 West Virginians in the target age group to participate, would still be a fraction of the cost of what the state is paying for ongoing COVID-19 testing.
The costs of the vaccination incentives will be paid out of unexpended federal CARES Act funds, Justice said. According to the State Auditor’s Office, as of April 20, more than $615 million of the $1.27 billion of CARES Act money directed to the state remains unspent.
The governor also said Wednesday the state will be gearing up marketing efforts, including public-service ads, to encourage vaccine hesitant West Virginians to get their shots.
“We’re dedicating the funds to be able to do that. This is not a one-pronged or one-legged approach,” Justice said, without providing further details about the marketing campaign.