Efforts to secure state, federal funds for storm recovery hit snags

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – Recovery efforts following the severe weather outbreak last week have run into roadblocks, as state funding is mired in a back-and-forth between the Governor and the legislature, and FEMA funding is unlikely due to the scale of the destruction.

In his latest briefing, Governor Jim Justice again reiterated his frustration that the legislature did not pass the $50 million dollars in natural disaster relief funds that he asked for in his State of the State address and proposed budget.

“The finance chair with more knowledge than of us put together said ‘no we don’t need that,” he said. “It is frivolous for us to not create a bucket where we can help folks with a bad situation, whether it be a mudslide or a flooding event or, God forbid, another tornado event. All that being said, we have to have the foresight.”

Justice said he would put it on the agenda when he calls the legislature back for a special session.

Shortly after the briefing, House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw issued a statement, saying that even if the legislature had passed that budget item, it would not have taken effect before the next fiscal year began. Further, he said the Governor has millions in funds he can authorize now.

“The governor’s Civil Contingent Fund currently contains $85 million, and those funds are at his disposal for emergencies such as this. The governor is granted even more flexibility in directing funds during a State of Emergency. If the governor wishes to respond to this tragedy in any way, he has the full capacity to do so, unfettered by the Legislature,” Hanshaw said.

Governor Justice issued a statement in response to Speaker Hanshaw’s remarks, saying that the civil contingent fund has never been used for specific members of the public.

“The Governor maintains that these funds are to be utilized for purposes outlined by the Legislature during the appropriation process, such as economic development, water and infrastructure projects, higher education capital improvements, and, most recently, to maintain our jails and prisons,” he said. “If lawmakers genuinely support the Governor utilizing the other contingency monies, he is fully prepared to employ them as a down payment. Additionally, he is willing to meet with them to negotiate fully funding the resiliency account.”

Both the Governor and local emergency agencies say it is unlikely that the disaster will qualify for FEMA relief due to its lack of widespreadness.

“The problem with FEMA is, they want a great number of people that are affected, or a great amount of property damage,” Justice said.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito told Newswatch in her weekly briefing that her office is leaning on FEMA to authorize funds to help people affected. However, there are additional criteria that need met.

“You have to have a federal declaration of a disaster. we will be working with and for that as we quantify the destruction,” Capito said. “We will be following FEMA, we will be pressuring FEMA, but we have to have all of the parameters of a federal disaster in place before we can move forward with FEMA dollars.”

She said the Red Cross is on the ground helping individual counties.

“I do know that the Red Cross has been working in all of these areas to try to help individuals with individual cases, so I would encourage folks that are individually impacted to contact the American Red Cross to see if there’s some possibility of some financial assistance there,” she said.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect a release issued by the Governor’s office in response to Speaker Hanshaw’s comments.

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