ARPA Funds and the battle for equity: the Tuesday Morning Group’s unwavering advocacy for marginalized communities in West Virginia

By Crystal Good, Black By God: The West Virginian

Since February 2022,  the Tuesday Morning Group (TMG) has been advocating for the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds towards equitable economic development in West Virginia. In their ongoing correspondence with Governor Justice, the group has underscored the necessity of investing these funds in marginalized and economically distressed communities within the state, as outlined in the 2023 HB-2883 – the Governor’s Supplemental Appropriations Bill.

Black By God (BBG) reported on TMG’s initial requests at the time that they were made, emphasizing the need for the voices of Black communities to be included in decisions about ARPA fund utilization. BBG encouraged careful spending of these funds to avoid negative repercussions. 

Despite these efforts, a May 2023 article by P.R. Lockhart for Mountain State Spotlight revealed that a significant portion of the unspent federal COVID relief funds intended to aid marginalized communities was instead being redirected towards unspecified economic development by state leaders. This redirection disregarded community-based projects like the one led by Rev. James Patterson, aiming to convert a former grocery store into a health center on Charleston’s West Side.

TMG’s open letters to Governor Justice and other elected officials highlighting this disconnect seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The group has expressed disappointment with the state’s application of ARPA money, stressing that these funds could have supported numerous community-based projects and adequately funded existing minority and poverty-oriented legislation. Still, these carefully thought-out and researched pleas seem to go unnoticed.

The recent approval of HB 2883 is a mixed blessing. While it does signal progress, concerns persist about how these funds are allocated, suggesting a missed opportunity to significantly impact the lives of the most vulnerable communities.

The group sent another letter to Governor Justice on August 4, 2023, echoing their initial letters sent some 20 months ago. They insist on their request for a $300 million allocation, supported by laws such as 2004’s Minority Economic Development Law, and 2009’s Neighborhood Housing and Economic Stabilization Law -both of which advocate for economic development in marginalized communities.

While the TMG recognizes the modest allocation of $1 million to Marshall University for economic development in minority communities, they stress that this is only a drop in the ocean. To enact substantial change, a far more substantial commitment is necessary.

In light of the recent passage of HB-2883 and the reported $1.7 billion budget surplus, the TMG argues that there are no more excuses for inaction. The group concludes their letters with a call to action, urging Governor Justice to seize this opportunity to make a lasting impact on West Virginia’s most marginalized citizens and bolster his own legacy.

TMG demonstrates a steadfast commitment to economic justice, fairness, and equity, yet their tireless advocacy that seeks to illuminate the pressing need for state and federal governments to take bold and decisive action to benefit economically distressed communities in West Virginia has yet to garner a groundswell of support, either inside or outside of the Capitol.

The unfolding story of the TMG’s campaign serves as a potent reminder of the critical role of active advocacy in shaping public policy for the betterment of all citizens.

In a series of correspondences, the TMG, through Rev. Matthew J. Watts, has requested that Delegates Sean Hornbuckle and Mike Pushkin encourage Committee Chair Gary Howell to place the letter sent to Governor Jim Justice on the agenda for a future meeting of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee. Unfortunately, that request was unfulfilled for the committee’s August 7 meeting, although the request remains open for the committee’s next meeting in September. The TMG has also appealed to Senator Jeffries to consider their proposal during the Legislature’s Interim Meetings.

Additionally, the TMG has asked the public to support their proposal by contacting Ann V. Urling, the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, expressing their support for TMG’s Economic Justice Plan and urging Governor Justice to adopt it.

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