Group zoom call

West Virginia community organizations urged the state’s leaders to ‘be a Santa, not a Scrooge’ on COVID relief during a virtual event held Wednesday.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WV News) — Representatives of West Virginia community organizations delivered a holiday-themed message to Gov. Jim Justice and the state’s congressional representatives during a virtual press conference Wednesday morning.

The groups — which included the West Virginia Council of Churches, the West Virginia Sierra Club and the Kanawha County chapter of the NAACP — urged the state’s leaders to “be a Santa, not a Scrooge, on COVID relief.”

The event even featured a bit of theatrics, with Sally Roberts Wilson, a member of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group board, wearing an Ebenezer Scrooge costume to invoke a miserly leader hoarding resources.

“Are there no poor houses? Are there no food banks? Are there no shelters or underpasses for people to live in after they lose their home?” she asked.

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, who spoke on behalf of Santa, said the groups hope leaders will work to provide “more robust and direct” COVID relief to West Virginia families and individuals.

“I will really plead with the governor and with our congressional representatives to do the right thing,” he said. “Be a Santa, and not a Scrooge. Governor, release some of those COVID funds that are sitting in the state’s bank account and get those into the bank accounts of families and individuals who really, really need the help right now at this holiday season.”

Karan Ireland, of the WV Sierra Club, called on the governor to allocate additional funds and reopen the application process for a utility assistance relief program announced by Justice in October.

“This is at a time when utilities are beginning to start shutting off folks services again,” she said.

Justice originally allocated $25 million for the program, but additional funds are needed, Ireland said.

“$16.4 million of that money of has been spent and basically the application period is closed,” she said. “There’s no way for people to seek those funds anymore and certainly that initial period of eligibility didn’t take into account all the people who are suffering from August until now and ongoing into this crisis that we’re in.”

She would ultimately like to see Justice commit at least $50 million to the program, Ireland said.

“People can’t be expected to wash their hands if there’s no water flowing from tap,” she said. “They can’t be expected to look for jobs or to work from home if they don’t have power to run their internet. This is a real tangible need that can be fixed and that can be fixed immediately.”

Ricardo Martin, president of the Kanawha County NAACP, said Justice should create a minority health advisory team to help address disparities in health care for minority populations.

“Gov. Justice should consider an executive order that creates this minority health advisory team with the composition and duties outlined,” he said. “I believe CARES Act funds could be immediately awarded to move an agenda of this task force, using local county public health officials.”

Dr. Jessica Ice, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, called on the state’s congressional representatives to work towards passing a fourth federal coronavirus stimulus package.

“The CARES funds are a sort of start, but we know that the people of West Virginia, people all over America, they need more help than what’s in that money,” she said. “Right now, millions of working and low- income families need more support.”