MORGANTOWN — Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and West Virginia Auditor J.B. McCuskey were in town Thursday afternoon, to answer specific questions about how funds released as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan can be utilized.
But there really are no answers. At least, not yet.
Those will begin once the U.S. Treasury Department issues official guidelines, which Manchin said he expects in the next 30 to 60 days.
Instead, Thursday’s full house in the Monongalia County Commission meeting chamber took on the tone of a unity rally as Manchin, a Democrat, and McCuskey, a Republican, said they’re working closely to ensure West Virginia leads the country in the transparent and effective use of the funds.
Manchin said the political divide in Washington and beyond has only made challenging times more challenging.
“Guys, we’ve allowed in this country for politics to divide us instead of unite us. That’s not who we are, and it’s never who we’ve been in West Virginia. I like to tell’em, we’re a little bit different,” Manchin said. “That’s why it’s so rewarding to work with J.B. and his staff, because they’re truly professionals.”
Manchin walked through the various aspects of the rescue plan, noting he fought to keep expenditures on water and sewer infrastructure in the plan when many in Washington wanted that pulled out and placed in President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill.
McCuskey expanded on that point.
“We talk about broadband a lot, but it’s hard to build a house in a place where you can’t flush your toilet, and you can’t build a business in a place where it floods every time it rains,” he said, noting a large percentage of the state has basic, but expansive, infrastructure needs.
McCuskey’s office will monitor the expenditure of the funds through special revenue accounts set up for every county and municipality. Expenditures will be reported to the auditor’s on a monthly or bimonthly basis and published online.
The auditor’s office has also divided the state up into regions and is encouraging municipalities and counties to pool their funding for major projects, when possible.
“There’s three things that we’re going to make sure happens. That this money gets spent legally, that it gets spent transparently and that it gets spent effectively,” McCuskey said. “At the end of the day, it’s money coming from the government, but it’s coming from every single person’s pocket, right? So it’s going to be our job to make sure people know how this money is being spent.”
McCuskey went on to say that no state will be able to produce as much data on exactly how the funds have been utilized.
“I’m certain of that,” he said.
Manchin pointed out that the money can be spent up through late 2024 and noted that with the addition of this rescue plan, more than $7 trillion in stimulus money has been injected into the economy going back to last year. He said the national budget is about $4 trillion.
“I truly intend, and J.B. feels the same way, that West Virginia should be the model for the United States. We should be the model. The naysayers have been saying, “Oh, if you give this money to the counties and the municipalities, they’re going to throw it away, waste it. There will be fraud.’ And I said ‘Wait a minute. They’re elected officials. They take the same oath of office I take.’ ” Manchin said.
“I don’t believe that whatsoever. I know you all will do it and do it right and J.B.’s going to make sure you’re going to do it and do it right,”
As part of the American Rescue Plan, Monongalia County is expected to receive $20.48 million. The city of Morgantown is anticipating $10.65 million.
Those dollars are part of the $677 million in direct funding for West Virginia’s cities and counties, which also includes $1.74 million for Westoverl, $1.31 million for Granville, $810,000 for Star City and $70,000 for Blacksville.
The state of West Virginia will receive $1.25 billion directly.