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’We are not getting the funds to continue to lead the fight’: Health departments struggling during pandemic

Marion County Health Department administrator says his agency hasn't received CARES Act money
(Madeline Edwards)
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 8:23 AM EDT
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FAIRMONT, W.Va (WDTV) - Health departments can’t directly apply for CARES Act money through the state as many are struggling to stay afloat financially while they fight on the front lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

That’s according to Lloyd White, the administrator of the Marion County Health Department, who said his agency hasn’t received CARES Act money yet to help offset costs associated with the pandemic.

“It has taken a major hit on my budget,” White said.

His comments came during a conversation with Marion County delegates broadcasted Wednesday night on Facebook Live.

White said his staff just learned last week how to access CARES Act funding. Governor Jim Justice announced in April that the state would receive $1.25 billion from the federal government in CARES Act funding.

Justice rolled out his plan to spend the money more than two months later.

Under his plan, $200 million would be allocated to local and city governments to offset coronavirus-related costs. As of Wednesday, $68.1 million has been distributed.

“I think it’s ridiculous that other entities can submit directly to the state and we can’t,” White said. “There is absolutely nobody on the front lines more than local health departments in our state.”

He added the pandemic is taking a toll on staff to the point where some are canceling vacation days or being told by other staff members to take days off to unwind and refresh.

“I can tell you people are leaving because of anxiety, stress and burnout. They’re retiring,” White said of public health officials. “It is challenging, it is stressful, and everybody is stressed to the max. And then for us not to be able to get the funding when we’re the number one entity fighting this thing, it’s just mind boggling to me.”

In May, 5 News reported on funding struggles facing the Monongalia County Health Department serving the most populus county in north-central West Virginia.

Marion County delegates Michael Angelucci, Linda Longstreth and Mike Caputo, all democrats, led the live stream conversation with White. Caputo pointed to a letter they signed last month calling on the governor to call a special session of the legislature to “to deal with these types of issues.”

While the House had the support to call a special session, the same enthusiasm wasn’t matched in the senate or by the governor.

“You have our word,” Caputo told White, “We will keep pounding the door to try to get the money flowing down here.”

White said his department has only received a roughly $80,000 federal grant that was used up in a month and a half just with personnel costs.

“We pay overtime to our staff just because they deserve it, they’ve earned it, and quite frankly it’s expensive to work seven days a week when you’re working around the clock,” White said. “Those are the only dollars that we have received.”

His department also got word that it will get a $286,000 grant to eventually expand its staff for two years, but getting that money will take time.

“Local health departments are absolutely leading the fight,” White said. “But we are not getting the funds to continue to lead the fight. If we don’t get the funds, we’re not going to win the battles. If we don’t win the battles, we’re not going to win the war.”

“Those are the only dollars that we have received

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