CHARLESTON — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is ready to back a COVID-19 relief package that supports vaccine distribution, people who are out of work, struggling businesses and the safe reopening of schools. However, she will not support a “bloated” bill that includes money for things that have nothing to do with the pandemic, she said Thursday.
The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, expected to pass the House of Representatives on Friday, has a lot of things Capito said she can stand behind — vaccine distribution, testing and other health measures.
It’s the rest of the bill she can’t support, West Virginia’s junior senator said.
“This bill now coming before us has about 10% of that, that covers the health issues,” Capito said during a call with reporters Thursday afternoon. “The other 90% is loaded with long-term spending — a lot of things that really are not critical to getting that help to individuals.”
After it passes the House, Democrats in Congress are hopeful the Senate will take action on the bill fast enough to have President Joe Biden sign it by mid-March.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., hasn’t outright declared his support for the relief package, but has spoken out in the past week about the measure in the bill that would increase the minimum wage to $15. Manchin said he would prefer a measure that increases the minimum wage to $11, according to The Washington Post.
Capito and eight other senators have met with Biden to discuss provisions of the bill. She said there’s plenty of common ground they were able to agree on, even if they didn’t have the same ideas when they first met.
She said she can stand behind $1,400 stimulus checks and unemployment enhancements.
“What I can’t support is a bloated bill that has all kinds of extraneous materials on it of about $1 trillion,” Capito said.
Capito also said the latest bill likely will have more direct guidelines for how money is to be distributed once it’s out of Congress’ hands.
She said she has heard frustration from county and municipal leaders in West Virginia that either have received no money or nowhere near enough money from the federal CARES Act funds the state received last year to implement COVID-19 prevention in their communities, particularly as county health departments are administering vaccines against the virus.
When asked about the West Virginia Legislature considering bills to limit Gov. Jim Justice’s authority to distribute federal relief money amid frustration with how Justice has administered the CARES Act funds, Capito said more transparency is always better.
“I would say that we’ll probably direct, in this next package, more directed money to cities and counties directly, bypassing the state, to alleviate the issue,” Capito said. “I think that’s probably going to be very, very smart. Our intention was for that to happen, but it didn’t quite happen.”
West Virginia still has about $600 million left of the $1.25 billion the state received from the CARES Act in spring 2020.
The bill making its way through the House also won’t allow states to backfill any revenue shortfalls by using federal relief money, unless the state can show its losses, Capito said, noting that some states have mismanaged their COVID-19 response.
“I think we need to further scrutinize this,” she said. “I hope that’s the way it comes out.”