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Report: West Virginia Families Need Congress to Pass Stimulus

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A quarter of West Virginia's families with children are experiencing mental-health issues during the pandemic, according to a new report. (Adobe stock)
A quarter of West Virginia's families with children are experiencing mental-health issues during the pandemic, according to a new report. (Adobe stock)
 By Diane Bernard - Producer, Contact
December 22, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The new coronavirus stimulus bill will bring some food assistance to hungry Americans, and it couldn't come soon enough for West Virginia's families with children who aren't getting enough to eat during the pandemic.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found since March, 17% of families with kids in the Mountain State often go hungry.

Sean O'Leary, senior policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Policy and Budget, said that's three percentage points higher than the national average.

He added closing schools contributed to a lack of food because the state's schools offer free meals to kids.

"If you go back before this, West Virginia is a poor state and food insecurity has always been an issue," O'Leary explained. "Looking at that food insecurity number, it's doubled and tripled some weeks when we've tracked it week by week, particularly for, you know, it's always higher for those households that have children."

The report also found 18% of the nation's families with kids don't have confidence they'll be able to pay their mortgage or rent on time. In West Virginia, that number is 16%.

The report is based on census survey data taken last spring.

It shows a quarter of families in West Virginia reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless during the pandemic, higher than the national average of 21%. O'Leary attributes it to stresses from the pandemic-induced recession and a loss of stimulus assistance in a state that lost more than 90,000 jobs.

"The enhanced unemployment benefits expired in July," O'Leary noted. "So a loss of that aid that sort of aided as time has gone on, that sort of created a lot of economic insecurity, a lot of stress, and I think that helps explain some of these mental-health numbers."

He reported West Virginia's weekly unemployment benefit is only $230 a week, so the new unemployment stimulus package of $300 additional dollars a week Congress is expected to pass will help.

But he cautioned 11 weeks is not a lot of time for families to recover from the last five months.

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