1CHARLESTON — The large majority of the approximately 22,000 students in West Virginia who are either home-schooled or attend private schools that don’t use the National School Lunch Program aren’t eligible for grocery relief payments, the Charleston Gazette Mail reports.

The roughly $313 per child will go to all students who already qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch, and families should receive the money by the end of June without having to apply.

The state Department of Education previously said those who did not already qualify could apply online to become eligible, but it has clarified to the paper that the state’s home-school students cannot qualify for the relief. As of 2016, that was about 11,000 children, Education spokeswoman Christy Day said, although a change in state law makes more current numbers hard to determine.

And private-school students can only qualify if their school participates in the federal lunch program. That covers only about 3,150 of the state’s 11,350 private schoolers, according to numbers from the state Department of Education.

Day said the application at schoolcafe.com is for families that didn’t qualify for free or reduced price meals prior to COVID-19, but believe they would qualify now because their financial situation has changed.

There are still ways for ineligible families with hungry children to get help. They include rapidresponsewv.org or the WV Food ER 2020 group on Facebook. Families can also search for free summer meal locations at https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids.

Nearly 6K file for

unemployment aid

2CHARLESTON — Almost 6,000 West Virginians applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel the state’s economy, according to federal records released Thursday.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice, joining governors across the country, is pushing forward with a plan to lift virus restrictions on businesses in a desperate bid to restart the economy. State officials have said they have already processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since mid March.  

Justice is easing the state’s lockdown in a phased out strategy that has already allowed hospitals to resume elective procedures and reopened drive-in theaters, physical therapy centers, outdoor seating at restaurants, small businesses, and barbershops.

He has timed his most aggressive step for May 21, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, when he will allow restaurants to open at half-capacity and let big-box stores and a host of recreational services reopen.

The governor has said lifting restrictions is a balance between safety and economics, warning that the virus could lead to severe damage in a state with a high number of senior citizens and people with underlying health problems.

The steps of Justice’s reopening plan requires the state’s positive test rate to remain below 3 percent for three consecutive days, reversing a previous goal of having the number of new cases decline for two weeks. His administration has not explained why it loosened the standard but officials have said the state has enough downward trending metrics to lift restrictions.

At least 62 people in the state have died from the virus and around 1,400 have tested positive, health data show.

1 in 5 voters request absentee ballots

3CHARLESTON — Nearly 18 percent of West Virginia’s registered voters have requested absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election.

Secretary of State Mac Warner said Wednesday that nearly 215,000 absentee ballots were requested and nearly 87,000 of those ballots, or 7.1 percent of registered voters, had been returned to county clerks.

All registered voters are permitted to use an absentee mail-in ballot under the “other medical reason’’ excuse due to the coronavirus.  


Feds, state reach agreement on

addiction recovery

4CHARLESTON — West Virginia cannot bar people in addiction recovery programs from adopting children, according to an agreement announced Wednesday between federal civil rights officials and the state health department.

The agreement makes clear that people recovering from addiction are covered under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and cannot face discrimination for participating in opioid treatment programs.

The federal Office of Civil Rights said it found “systemic deficiencies’’ in the West Virginia’s disability rights policies following an investigation into a claim that health officials wouldn’t allow a man to adopt his niece and nephew because he was in an addiction recovery program.

“People in recovery from opioid use disorder should never be stigmatized for seeking appropriate medical treatment that can save their lives,’’ said Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino.

The state admits no wrongdoing under the agreement and has agreed to update its nondiscrimination policies. The Office of Civil Rights will monitor the state’s compliance with the agreement.

Forestry director

dies in accident

5CHARLESTON — The director of the West Virginia Division of Forestry has died, Gov. Jim Justice announced last week.

Justice said forestry department director Barry Cook died from a “terrible accident.” He offered no additional details during a news conference where he announced the death.

Andy Malinoski, a spokesman for the state commerce department, said Cook died Saturday. He did not release a cause of death. A funeral home obituary said Cook died at 70 years old.

“Barry was a committed, dedicated employee who embraced the mission to protect and preserve our forests and all the value they bring to our state. He will be missed by his family, the employees of the Division of Forestry and all who knew him,’’ Ed Gaunch, West Virginia Secretary of Commerce, said in a statement.

Cook was born in Williamson and had a roughly 50-year career in forestry.

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