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Federal, state aid on the way to out-of-work West Virginians, Justice says

CHARLESTON – Gov. Jim Justice tried to reassure worried and out-of-work West Virginians that financial assistance was on the way during his daily press briefing Tuesday.

With the help of the West Virginia National Guard, WorkForce West Virginia, the state agency that processes unemployment claims, made it through 28,500 claims in one day Monday – about 31 percent of all claims filed in March, the governor said.

During his 1 p.m. briefing, Justice said members of the National Guard had been deployed to help WorkForce West Virginia process the large number of claims, the majority of which are related to COVID-19. WorkForce West Virginia operates under the umbrella of the state Department of Commerce.

“We were being overrun by unemployment claims,” Justice said. “For example, we had 90,000 claims in the month of March, and for a typical March, we usually get around 3,400. And I knew that taking an aspirin for cancer wasn’t going to help us. I knew we had to make a real move.”

Justice said he ordered the Guard to “triple” the manpower WorkForce and the Guard believed the agency needed to plow through the claims. The governor noted WorkForce is still receiving between 2,000 and 6,000 unemployment claims per day in April.

“Today, I am reporting two different things: I can very, very proudly tell you that in one day (Monday), we processed 28,500 of those claims, so we are catching up, and we are catching up really, really fast,” the governor said.

Justice said that amounts to almost $20 million in benefits.

The governor also said starting today, Tuesday, April 7, WorkForce West Virginia will begin distributing an additional $600 a week in federal aid on top of the normal state unemployment amount provided through the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

Justice urged West Virginians to “keep on keepin’ on” by working from home, adhering to the stay-at-home order and social distancing to the maximum extent possible.

Before concluding, he also delivered an update on the Eastbrook Center, a skilled nursing facility in Charleston, where one patient had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday. Charleston Area Medical Center volunteered to test all residents and employees, and Justice reported the results.

“We have now tested 124 patients and 29 staff, and we have now four patients and one employee who tested positive,” Justice said. “It’s another nursing home situation. We’re on top of it, but at the same time, we’ve got to be concerned about it. This is exactly where we don’t want this [virus] to be.”

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