West Virginians help one another. Without thinking twice, we take meals to parents who’ve had a new baby, form ad hoc neighborhood child care arrangements when schools close because of the coronavirus pandemic and pick up groceries for our at-risk elderly neighbors.
Our people know that working together is how we overcome our biggest challenges. But right now, our federal elected officials are failing to work together to overcome COVID-19, the biggest economic and health challenge of our lifetimes. Concerns are growing that Congress and the Trump administration will fail to pass a robust COVID-19 relief package this year if they don’t act by the end of this month. If so, they will leave hundreds of thousands of West Virginia families to face an ongoing and worsening COVID-19 crisis on their own.
The comprehensive measures that Congress enacted in March via the CARES Act were key to supporting families and propping up our state’s economy. Programs that had bipartisan support in March, when West Virginia had zero COVID-19 cases, are just as important today, with West Virginia setting record daily case numbers. But without any congressional action since March, many of these measures have now expired and families are being forced to navigate impossible scenarios.
Take, for example, parents of young children. Schooling is remote or virtual in many counties because of spiking COVID-19 cases. But there is no funding support to help parents stay home or hire someone to take care of their children during the day, no increase in SNAP food benefits and not enough testing, personal protective equipment or contact tracing available to ensure that schools that do open are safe for teachers and children.
Workers who have underlying medical conditions have few options if they refuse to return to unsafe working conditions and federal unemployment benefit provisions have expired with no plan to extend them, even as there are three times more unemployed workers than job openings.
Local governments face budget shortfalls because of an increased need for public services right as tax revenue has declined because of the economic crisis, with no federal support in sight that can close budget gaps and keep services intact.
All of these issues are dire but, without pressure from constituents, it appears that no federal assistance will be provided to support families, communities and state and local governments at the time they need it most.
Because of Congress’ inaction, the burden of risk and responsibility during the pandemic has been transferred from our leadership down to individuals, despite the fact that collective action is needed for all of us to get by and for our economy to recover. Without much-needed federal support, parents can’t balance school and work, displaced workers can’t get jobs that don’t exist and local governments can’t provide critical public services without revenue.
West Virginians are resilient, but the COVID-19 crisis facing our communities is too big to solve on our own. At the end of this month, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to go home until after the November election, while our communities are still reeling from the health and economic effects of COVID-19.
Last week, Senate leadership put forth a so-called “skinny” partisan COVID-19 relief package that was never meant to gain bipartisan support to pass, let alone be signed into law. The proposal failed to address the growing food and housing insecurity faced by our people, ignored the revenue needs of state and local governments, and it contained far too little health and child care funding to adequately address the health crisis and fuel our recovery.
It failed to recognize the suffering West Virginia families are facing and that helping our people helps our economy.
If our senators don’t act soon — and put politics aside — West Virginia families, workers and communities will be left to face this crisis alone, and our recovery will be much slower and more painful than it has to be. Failing to act is not an option.
Please call the offices this week of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and urge them to support West Virginia’s recovery with a robust relief package now.