BLUEFIELD, W.Va (WVVA) - WVVA is helping to answer viewers' questions about small business. John O'Neal, the Executive Director of the Development Authority of Mercer County, is helping to answer questions every Wednesday on WVVA News at 5 p.m.
WVVA: John, we have finished the Christmas Holiday season, and closed out 2020. As we start the new year, where do things stand with our economy?
O'Neal: There is no doubt that 2020 will go down as one of the most challenging years in history. Some of us lost loved ones, some lost their jobs or their business. As we review 2020 we must remember that the year started out in tremendous form. The economy was booming. We were experiencing high levels of growth and low levels of unemployment. Then the COVID virus hit, and state and local governments instituted various degrees of lockdowns and restrictions which severely impacted our economy.
In West Virginia, we went from a relatively normal number of about 44,000 people seeking unemployment benefits in February, to over 122,000 seeking benefits in April. The good news is that the number of West Virginians submitting unemployment claims has steadily declined, and at the end of December was back down to the pre-pandemic level of 44,000.
The unemployment rate has also steadily declined throughout the year. At the height of the pandemic, the unemployment rate in West Virginia was 16%. It has now declined to 6.2%, which is a little better than the national rate of 6.7%.
Recently Congress passed a second stimulus bill just before Christmas, which President Trump signed into law. There are some of the highlights of this bill that will be of concern to our viewers. The $900 billion stimulus bill that President Trump signed into law contains a variety of measures aimed at addressing the needs of many Americans.
Probably the most anticipated component of the legislation is the $600 direct payment, going to individual adults with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 a year, or $1,200 per couple who earn up to$150,000 a year. Eligible families with dependent children receive an additional $600 per child.
The agreement revives enhanced federal jobless benefits for 11 weeks, providing up to $300 per week until March 14. The legislation also extends a program aimed at freelancers and independent contractors for the same period, providing an additional $100 per week.
The agreement also contains targeted aid for small businesses, with $285 billion for additional loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, renewing the program created under the initial stimulus legislation.
The compromise extends a moratorium on evictions through Jan. 31, as well as a moratorium against foreclosures on loans backed by the Federal Home Administration through Feb. 28. The bill also provides $25 billion in rental assistance, which will be distributed to eligible applicants through state and local governments.
The legislation sets aside $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, $8 billion for vaccine distribution and an additional $20 billion to help states continue their test-and-trace programs.
The bill also provides billions in funding educational systems which have been hurt by the pandemic, as well as funds to help low-income persons with their internet bills, childcare, and increased SNAP benefits.
Viewers can check the status of their stimulus checks here.