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Gov. Touts “Absolute Bipartisan” Cooperation to Provide Statewide Broadband Internet

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 West Virginia Governor Jim Justice began his Friday, September 4 media briefing by recounting the latest residents to succumb to the coronavirus. Of the 13 additional deaths referenced by the Governor, seven were residents of Kanawha County. The youngest of Friday’s confirmed deceased was a 60-year-old Kanawha County woman.

 Governor Justice reaffirmed his concerns for the state’s elderly population, particularly those currently in assisted-living facilities.

 “From the standpoint of our elderly, please stay home. And if you can have someone run and get your groceries for you, please do,” Gov. Justice said. “And please, from the standpoint of our staff members from our nursing facilities, where a great amount of these deaths are coming from, please, we can’t afford to run off to Myrtle Beach and come back and do those kinds of things. You know we just can’t do that because they’re going to bring real sorrow to some.”

 The Governor went on to note that “in excess of half of the deaths in our state are at our nursing facilities.”

 From there, Governor Justice moved on to the state’s ongoing efforts to expand broadband internet access across West Virginia. Referencing a September 3 conference call attended by many in state-leadership.

 “Everybody was working in an absolute bipartisan way for the good of West Virginians. To be able to bring $766 million into this state for the construction of broadband for people that did not have access today…121,000 homes in W.Va. have no broadband today,” Justice said.

 As reported by the Associated Press, Justice signed an executive order on Thursday, September 3. That order will allow W.Va. to access $766 million worth of federal-funding over the next 10 years, in order to incentivize ISPs to install and expand broadband-infrastructure across the state.

 However, it should be noted that U.S. Senator Joe Manchin referred to the Governor’s guarantee of access to federal-funds as “misleading,” as ISPs within the state would not be eligible for the money. Despite Senator Manchin’s comments, Gov. Justice was seemingly pleased with the level of bipartisan-cooperation.

 “This was the step to bring W.Va. into the future … many businesses won’t come here because we don’t have the ability to have broadband like they do in other states,” Justice said.

 Moving on with the briefing, Justice confirmed the state’s ability to financially support the efforts of county schools to safely reopen. The Governor stated that $91 million of the money allocated to W.Va. through the CARES Act has been designated for use by schools, and that an additional $50 million of those funds has been placed into a “bucket” for any potential additional Covid-testing or PPE that may become necessary.

 Gov. Justice further stated that “in addition to that, you remember that there is another stimulus package on the way. We don’t know if it is going to be here in a week, or if it is going to be five weeks away. But it’s coming. I’ve told you about it, and told you and told you.”

 The Governor did not elaborate on what he meant by “another stimulus package on the way.” Negotiations for another relief-bill have stalled at the federal level, and Congress is not expected to return from recess until September 14.

 Based on his comments, Gov. Justice was referring to President Donald Trump’s executive order providing unemployed persons with an additional $300 for each week of eligibility.

 The Governor went on to say “what we have done now is we have come to the absolute mathematical conclusion that there are more people going back to work in W.Va., and things are getting better and better. We have set aside $78 million (of the $400-million in CARES funding) to pay everybody, that most other states are not doing, but some are. But we set aside that $100 for people that are unemployed along with that $300 coming from the Federal Govt., giving them $400.”

 According to CNBC, 43 states have applied for the enhanced benefits afforded under the “lost wages assistance program” thus far, but only a handful of those states, including W.Va. and Montana, have agreed to contribute the additional $100 on top of the standard benefit.

 “All together, we’ve got $150 million too much, (remaining from the CARES funding) and we’re setting aside $50 million in a bucket for whatever schools may need,” Justice said.

 The Governor’s next media briefing is scheduled for later today, September 8.

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