Last week, Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., published an op-ed attacking House Democratic leadership for their new system of proxy voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of West Virginians are on the cusp of losing pandemic unemployment insurance when it expires at the end of July. That includes self-employed and “gig economy” workers who are not typically eligible for any kind of unemployment benefits.
These provisions of the CARES Act (passed in April in response to the pandemic) are expiring just as COVID-19 cases have been taking off in West Virginia and levels in the state are still double those of the 2008-09 recession. If allowed to expire, West Virginia’s economy will lose $40 million a week.
To give a more personal example, I spoke recently to a self-employed massage therapist in Charleston who had to wait until mid-May to receive any form of unemployment assistance. She now faces the expiration of that assistance, even though she is unable to safely reopen her business.
At the same time, 30% of West Virginians either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment or have little to no confidence they’ll make next month’s payment on time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Food pantries in West Virginia continue to experience high demand. And some of our state’s largest utilities plan to be restarting utility shutoffs in August and September. It is clear that the relief provided by Congress in the CARES Act was not enough for the thousands of West Virginians who have lost jobs or seen their hours drastically cut as a result of the pandemic.
And our state and local governments are losing revenue. The federal government has yet to provide states with funding that could be used to cover these budget shortfalls, despite the fact that forcing state and local government budget cuts and layoffs during an economic depression would only further prolong the depression.
We know that economic activity will not recover to pre-COVID levels just by declaring our economy to be “reopened.” As long as people do not feel safe returning to basic activities, like shopping, eating out and vacationing, our economy will be depressed.
Perhaps it is overly optimistic to hope for this during an election year, but Congress needs to get beyond partisan politics to address the very real pain that West Virginians — and Americans across the country — are experiencing.
Congress will be taking up another round of coronavirus relief this month. We need to push our congressional delegation to extend the relief measures from previous legislation, as well as provide support to state and local governments.
Unfortunately, Mooney voted against one of the earlier rounds of coronavirus relief legislation, which provided for free COVID-19 testing and expanded paid sick days for workers.
Instead of playing partisan games around proxy voting, I would like to hear more from Mooney about what he is doing to ensure that West Virginians can meet basic economic needs — food, health care and rent — as we struggle through this pandemic.