Source: The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register
March 9, 2021
WHEELING — Mayors representing two of West Virginia’s largest cities joined frontline workers in a virtual meeting this past week to urge lawmakers in Washington to get the American Rescue Plan passed.
The U.S. Senate narrowly passed the plan Saturday — 50-49, with no Republican support — but the amendments to the bill made in the Senate sent it back to the House of Representatives for another vote. The House plans to vote on the COVID-19 relief bill Tuesday.
This past week in an “urgent call for aid,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams joined others to plead the case that the $1.9 trillion bill needed passed.
The mayors were joined by representatives from the United Mine Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in West Virginia communities where frontline workers continue to perform essential jobs to keep the economy and crucial public services going throughout the pandemic.
“This should not be a partisan debate,” Elliott said. “This should not be something where we don’t take every step to get this done as quickly as possible.”
Regardless of the push and pull lawmakers have over various points contained in the bill, once passed, it is expected to deliver direct aid to states, cities, towns and villages impacted by the coronavirus crisis for the last year.
“We’re at a critical point right now against this pandemic, building back from the lingering effects that this health and economic crisis is going to have on our communities, and our fear is that this is going to last much longer,” Williams said.
Larger cities like Huntington and Wheeling have remained fiscally sound and continued operations through the pandemic, with much thanks to federal assistance through past CARES Act funding. Yet many other cities in the state have not been as fortunate, Williams noted, and countless privately owned businesses have struggled to stay afloat.
“Huntington has been able to weather the devastating economic effects of the pandemic,” Williams said. “Others have not and have had to lay off and draw back on their services. Many are fearful of what is to come.”
Cuts to public services in any community will negatively impact the entire state in the future, officials stressed. The same can be said for the local business communities.
“A lot of small businesses are really feeling the brunt of it,” Elliott said. “We try to do what we can within our budgetary restraints to help, but we need more assistance right now. We’re far from out of this pandemic. It’s going to go on for months and months as it eases its grip.”
Wheeling officials passed a measure that will waive the Business and Occupation tax for the current quarter for eligible small businesses. City leaders have committed to redirecting federal assistance directly to those in the community who need it once the new stimulus package is passed.
“We need a bold investment,” Williams said. “We need to double down on the challenge and not shrink from it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well. With that, we have one opportunity to get this right, and that’s where the American Rescue Plan gives us a chance to do this.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle share the notion to “go big” on the new stimulus package, and the mayors urged that now is the time to get the aid flowing.
Elliott noted that, before the pandemic, Wheeling was gaining steam with private investments planting the seeds for the future in the Friendly City. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has pumped the brakes on many endeavors of the past year simply because of the economic uncertainty.
The community-wide economic slowdown in the wake of the pandemic was a “punch to the gut” to a lot of the ongoing revitalization efforts that had been gaining momentum in the city of Wheeling, the mayor said, particularly for local businesses and private investors.
Both mayors said the pandemic has also brought with it increases in cases of drug addiction and homelessness, as well as strains on local food banks. Stimulus funding, they said, will help in battling these side effects of the already challenging health and economic crisis.
Written by: Eric Ayres